Archives For Bible

The Briefing

Calif. OKs third gender, protects religious liberty
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 179, which adds a third gender option on official state identification documents for those who reject the designation of male or female and opt instead to be considered “nonbinary.” Among his vetoes, meanwhile, was Assembly Bill 569, which would have made it illegal for religious organizations to prohibit their employees from having abortions or engaging in sex outside marriage.

Mo. Satanist challenges pro-life laws as ‘religious tenets’
Pro-abortion activists have adopted a new legal strategy against pro-life laws in Missouri, challenging them as violations of religious liberty protections. In 2016, a self-avowed Satanist sued the state, claiming its abortion regulations are “religious tenets” and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Missouri’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The case now heads to the state’s Supreme Court for what could be a final decision.

Apple removes pro-life prayer app
Tech giant Apple removed a pro-life prayer app from its App Store following backlash from pro-abortion advocates. Human Coalition’s app, still available on the Google Play Store, displays a list of prayer requests, such as, “Someone considering abortion in Dallas, Texas.” When users signal with a swipe of their thumb that they’ve prayed for the situation, the app updates a daily tally of prayers. The group said Apple removed the app shortly after unfavorable media reports appeared on news outlets Slate and the New Statesman.

African-American leaders defend Col. baker
A group of African-American have spoken out in defense of Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips as his religious freedom case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court in December. Three conservative African-American public policy groups launched a new website titled WeGotYourBackJack.com in support of Phillip’s First Amendment right. Using videos and images, the campaign’s message emphasizes the incomparable struggle between African-American civil rights and LGBT rights.

Museum of the Bible: lots of tech, ‘very little Jesus’
The Museum of the Bible, a massive new institution set to open Nov. 17, is just as notable for what it includes as for what it leaves out. While the $500 million museum sports vivid walk-through recreations of the ancient world, one of the world’s largest private collections of Torahs, and a motion ride that sprays water at you, it doesn’t encourage visitors to take the Bible literally. And on floor after gleaming floor of exhibitions, there is very little Jesus.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine (2), The Christian Post, The Washington Post

The Briefing

How do we find meaning in yet another mass shooting?
Al Mohler asks that question following the tragedy in Las Vegas.
In the face of such overwhelming news, we naturally seek after facts. But the facts of who and what and where and how, still unfolding, point to the even more difficult question — why? We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories.

Gov. signs HB40 into law; Baptists deeply disappointed
Gov. Bruce Rauner ended months of speculation last week when he signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. Reaction has been swift and strong.


So. Baptists, others release letter on ‘alt-right’ to Trump
A letter drafted by a group of Southern Baptists and others has called on President Trump to denounce clearly the racism of the “alt-right.” The letter commends the president for signing a joint congressional resolution rejecting white nationalism and supremacy, but it tells him the country “needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves.”

Pew surveys governments on religion
More than 40% of the world’s countries have an official or preferred state religion, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center. The most common official state religion is Islam, which is named in the constitutions or basic laws of 27 countries. That’s 63% of the 43 countries that officially designate a religion. Thirteen countries list Christianity as their state religion—nine in Europe, two in the Caribbean, one in Africa, and one Pacific island nation.

Sources: AlbertMohler.com, Springfield State Journal-Register, Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today

What Baptists have forgotten (or never knew) about our heritage

Dockery text

The Lord blessed me with the wonderful privilege of growing up in a Christian home—a faithful, Baptist home. Sundays for our family included Sunday school, church services, and afternoon choir practice, as well as Bible Drills, Discipleship Training, and Sunday evening after-church fellowship. It was generally a very busy day. Wednesdays included church suppers, prayer meetings, mission organizations, committee meetings, and another choir practice.

During the week there were opportunities for outreach visitation, WMU, and other activities. Summer calendars were built around Vacation Bible School, church camps, and other church-related events. My family planned weeks and seasons around church activities. Our heroes were Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and Bill Wallace of China. But apart from a world history course as a high school student, I do not recall ever hearing stories about the Reformation, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, or other early 16th-century Protestant leaders in any church-related activity.

My guess is that my experience parallels that of many other readers of the Illinois Baptist. Why then should Baptists pay attention to the many events and programs taking place this year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for we are not Lutherans, nor Anglicans, nor Presbyterians. Yet, whether we realize it or not, many of our core convictions as Baptists have been influenced or shaped by those 16th-century thinkers.

What was the Reformation?
The Reformation was a wide-ranging movement of theological and spiritual renewal in 16th-century Europe. Many people across Germany and Switzerland over a period of several decades contributed to this movement, but the most visible event, according to tradition, took place on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), a monk and university professor, nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther was concerned with papal abuses and the selling of indulgences (essentially a ticket out of purgatory for loved ones) in the Roman Catholic Church, along with what he considered to be faulty understandings of justification by faith, biblical authority, and other important doctrinal matters.

Philip Melancthon, one of Luther’s colleagues who knew him as well as anyone, called Luther “the Elijah of Protestantism” and compared his influence to that of the Apostle Paul in the first century. Martin Luther roused the church from her slumber, reopened the fountain of God’s Holy Word for many people, and was responsible for directing a generation to know Jesus Christ as their Lord.

When one thinks of the Reformation period, one reflects upon the titanic force of Luther, the good sense and preaching ministry of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, Switzerland, and the biblical exposition and theological articulations of John Calvin (1509-64) in Geneva. Among these three important leaders of the Reformation, there is general agreement that the one with the greatest influence was Martin Luther.

Closing the gap from Luther to Southern Baptists
Many people reading this article have grown up in a home or church with experiences rather similar to those I described earlier. Somehow we had a sense that our parents, grandparents, and pastors had received an understanding of the Christian faith as if it had come directly to them from the 1st-century apostles. We were quite naively unaware of what went on in between then and now. By and large, Baptists do not know very well our heritage, our history, or our theological identity.

The reality is that while we are “a people of the Book,” shaped, formed, and informed by Holy Scripture, we also have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us who stood on the shoulders of others.

Francis Wayland, a most significant Baptist leader in the 19th century, wrote these words in “The Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches” (1861): “I do not believe that any denomination of Christians exists, which, for so long a period as Baptists, has maintained so invariably the truth of their early confession…The theological tenets of the Baptists, both in England and America, may be briefly stated as follows: they are emphatically the doctrines of the Reformation, and they have been held with singular unanimity and consistency.”

With Christians through the centuries, Baptists stand with the Reformers in confessing that there is one and only one living and true God, who is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal being, the creator, redeemer, preserver, and ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections.

Furthermore, our confession as Baptists maintains that God is triune and that there are within the godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can say that God is one in his nature and three in his persons.

More specifically, we confess that there is only one God, but in the unity of the godhead, there are three eternal and equal persons, the same in substance, yet distinct in function.

Baptists are “people of the Book.” With Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other 16th-century Reformers, Baptists believe it is impossible to define or even describe Christian orthodoxy apart from a commitment to a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture. Baptist theology and spirituality rest on Scripture as the central legitimizing source of Christian faith and doctrine, the clearest window through which the face of Christ may be seen.

The Reformers were also in agreement regarding the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, a belief with very real consequences. Such an understanding of Holy Scripture led to a rejection of the medieval belief and practice concerning papal authority and church tradition.

The Reformers recognized that these matters could no longer be acknowledged as an authority equal with Scripture or as a standard independent of the Bible. Martin Luther summarized well these things when he said, “Everyone indeed, knows that at times the Fathers have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.”

Salvation by grace through faith
The Reformers believed that medieval thinkers had led the church astray by teaching that human effort and good works, as well as moral or ritual action, would earn favor in the eyes of God, enabling sinners to achieve salvation. A serious ongoing study of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, however, led Luther to the conviction that sinners are granted forgiveness as well as full and free pardon only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sinners are justified by grace through faith, not by their own achievements. The Reformers were in full agreement that justification is a forensic declaration of pardon, which Christ has won through his victory over sin, death, the law, and the devil.

Standing on the shoulders of the Reformers, Baptists believe that justification is accomplished at the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:10), guaranteed by his resurrection (Rom. 4:24-25), and applied to believers when we confess our faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Experientially, we still sin, but God views us as totally righteous, clothed in the robes of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:1-8). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). Thus, justification is even more than pardon, as wonderful as that is; it is the granting of positive favor in God’s sight based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).

It was John Calvin who emphasized the perseverance of the saints, which Baptists sometimes refer to as the doctrine of eternal security. Our salvation is secured in Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:31-39), yet our response to this truth brings our assurance.

About priests and believers
The Reformers were in full agreement in their affirmations of scriptural authority and the essence of the doctrine of salvation. Likewise, they rejected the superiority of the priesthood, of vocational ministry, stressing instead the priesthood of all believers. Not only did this mean that all believers in Christ had access to God (Heb. 10:19-25), but it underscored the Christian dignity of ordinary human callings, including artists, laborers, homemakers, and plowmen. By implication, this elevated the importance of family life, opening the door for clerical marriage.

The Reformers rejected the mediation of Mary and the intercession of all the saints, insisting that Christ alone was our high priest to bear our sin and sympathize with our weaknesses. They rejected the medieval teaching regarding the seven sacraments, insisting that the New Testament only taught two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers unanimously rejected the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s Supper, refuting the church’s teaching regarding transubstantiation. Baptists have emphasized a view of the Lord’s Supper that reflects much of the perspective of Ulrich Zwingli.

The Reformers also departed from the medieval teaching which affirmed that the church was dependent on communion with the papacy. Instead they insisted that the church was called into being by God’s Spirit and was established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

Baptists have shaped their beliefs regarding the triune God, Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the church, the ordinances, Christian service, and the family in recognition of their gratitude for and indebtedness to the courage and conviction of the 16th-century Reformers. Yet, Baptists have chosen not to be content merely with the basic teachings of the Reformers. They have also modified these teachings and moved beyond them in key areas that we often call “Baptist distinctives.”

Baptists shaped their own distinctives
While Baptists are heirs of the 16th-century Reformation (with influence also from the “radical reformers” like Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Balthasar Hubmaier), they have moved beyond the Reformers in at least five key areas.

  • Baptists affirm believer’s baptism by immersion, instead of the Reformers’ view of infant baptism.
  • Baptists have contended for a voluntary understanding of the church and congregationalism based on a regenerate church membership, instead of an inherited understanding of church membership connected with infant baptism.
  • Baptists repudiate church-state ties, stressing religious liberty along with the local organization of church life, instead of state control or even denominational control.
  • Baptists believe that the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be practiced as matters of obedience and fellowship, rather than as a means of grace.
  • Baptists, more so than any of the 16th-century Reformers, have consistently stressed the priority of the Great Commission and global missions.

We recognize that Baptists are a people committed to the primacy of Scripture, who are heirs of the best of the Reformation. The gospel-focused, scripturally grounded core to which we all must hold has been greatly influenced, both directly and indirectly, by the teachings of the Reformers. It is important for us during this year of commemorating and celebrating the Reformation to clarify our confessional commitments and reappropriate, retrieve, and reclaim the very best of both the Reformation heritage and our Baptist heritage.

We pray that the reminders to which we have pointed in this brief article will enhance our understanding of the gospel and deepen our commitment to Scripture and to our Baptist confessional heritage, bringing renewal to our churches and our shared service as we seek to pass on this heritage in a faithful manner to the next generation, and as we seek to take the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and needy world.

– David S. Dockery is president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in metro Chicago. 

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

As we approach July 4th, many pastors preach about Christians in America repenting of sin and turning back to the Lord so that He will bless His churches. One text they often use is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB):

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Is that an appropriate application of this text?

To be clear, these are God’s words spoken to Solomon, King of Israel. Likewise, the “land” referred to was the land of Israel. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, He would send the plagues mentioned in verse 13. But if they responded by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can Christians in America find any appropriate application from this text?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word “Scripture” in this text referred to Old Testament Scripture. That would include 2 Chronicles 7:14, rightly interpreted.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul cited Old Testament examples of rebellion in Israel’s history that prompted God’s punishment, he noted that they also served as warnings for Christians living under the new covenant. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB), “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Is America Israel? No. Is God an American? No. But can warnings and promises to God’s people in the Old Testament be applied to Christians today? Absolutely.

Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is very appropriate for any Christian to obey the spirit of this text by endeavoring to humble himself or herself, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wicked ways, trusting that God will hear, forgive and heal.

The apostle Peter, speaking to a group of first-century Christians, said this: “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10 NASB). Today, followers of Jesus are God’s people. Christians are those who are “called by [His] name.” Therefore, it is appropriate that we apply the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14. How suitable for all Christians in America, and in any other nation, to humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways, asking Him to graciously hear from heaven, forgive our sin and bring spiritual healing to the ailing, impotent churches in our land.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we note three precepts that are consistently called for by God throughout Scripture: humility, hunger and holiness.

The first requirement for such spiritual healing is humility. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves.” It is always good for Christians to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God will share His glory with no one because God alone can handle His glory. Every redeemed human being should give all glory to Jesus for salvation and every benefit it brings.

Frankly, modern Christianity is marked by far too much arrogance and condescension. For instance, all of us need to use great caution and wise deliberation when posting on social media. The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB). The word “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros, meaning “rotten.” Here it refers to speech that is likened to “garbage” or “trash.” Frankly, there is too much “trash-talk” on social media. Humility is always becoming in any child of God.

The second requirement for spiritual healing is hunger. We see it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in the words: “(If) My people who are called by My name … pray and seek My face.” Jesus urged His followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NASB). All Christians in America — and other nations — would do well to increase our hunger for godliness. We should taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The final requirement for spiritual healing is holiness. “[If] My people who are called by My name … turn from their wicked ways.” Holiness comes by means of repenting from sin. Repentance means to confess our sins and turn away from them. That leads to true holiness.

These three emphases from 2 Chronicles 7:14 — humility, hunger and holiness — are much needed among Christians today, whether we live in America or not. Just because 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to Americans does not mean that Christians in America cannot benefit from its admonitions by obeying its precepts. Again, “all Scripture is profitable.” The warnings in the Old Testament “were written for our instruction.”

Many Christians in America are praying for a fresh spiritual awakening and revival among those of us who know Jesus Christ. I for one am praying for American Christians to embrace genuine humility, hunger and holiness. I am also praying that the Lord will graciously see fit to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and send His much-needed healing.

When I think of it that way, I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that serves as a better guide for praying for revival than 2 Chronicles 7:14.

–Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. This column originally appeared at BPnews.net.

The Briefing

Immigration raids target Iraqi-American Christians
Chicago’s Iraqi immigrant community is bracing for raids by U.S. immigration officers after witnessing a sweep in Detroit, where federal agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqis, most of them Christians, and sent them to a detention center in Ohio, pending deportation. Federal agents took Detroit’s Iraqi-American community by surprise, showing up at a Chaldean church during Mass, at restaurants frequented by the Iraqi Chaldean community, and at homes bearing orders to arrest and deport residents.

Baptists deny CSB translation is ‘gender neutral’
Conservative Christian groups and intellectuals are rejecting a recent claim that the latest version of the Christian Standard Bible has been edited to be more “gender neutral.” The Atlantic published a piece on Sunday that claimed that the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention was embracing a more gender-neutral version of the Bible.

SBC Phoenix wrap-up: Alt-right resolution & evangelism draw focus
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

Chicago records 300th homicide
Chicago recorded its 300th homicide over the Father’s Day weekend, just like it did last year. The somber milestone was reached around 2:30 a.m. Monday when a 33-year-old man was gunned down during a burst of violence that saw four people killed and 13 others wounded over just five hours Sunday evening through early Monday, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Catholics launch conversation about female deacons
Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons. Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

Sources: World Magazine, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Religion News, Chicago Tribune

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

The Briefing

Christian nation no more?
Most Americans do not believe America is a Christian nation today, even if many say it was in the past. About one-third (35%) of the American public believes the U.S. was a Christian nation in the past and is still a Christian nation today; close to half (45%) say the U.S. was once a Christian nation but no longer remains so; and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation.

SWBTS apologizes for photo
Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, apologized for a photo of white professors posing as rappers that appeared on Twitter and was instantly deemed racist. The photo featured senior School of Preaching faculty members gesturing and wearing bandannas and chains and was labeled “Notorious S.O.P.” One of them appears to hold a handgun.

Cedarville’s Philippians 4:8 rule
This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content. The university has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

Religious freedom dying in Russia
Russia’s nationwide outlaw of Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said Donald Ossewaarde, an independent Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in that country. He has exhausted his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. Ossewaarde, who is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill., said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult.

Students: Biblical views on sex ‘unChrist-like’
A student club at Seattle Pacific University recently protested against the Christian university because it adheres to biblical views on human sexuality and gender identity.  The club, called SPU Haven, which advocates for gay students, claims that the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” is “unethical, unscientific and unChrist-like,” according to College Fix.

Sources: Facts and Trends, Religion News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Christian Post