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The Briefing

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a June statement from Paige Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe. His statement is available in full at Baptist Press.

Southwestern trustees issue unanimous decision to terminate president emeritus
The executive committee of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously resolved to terminate former president Paige Patterson May 30, following weeks of controversy and a previous decision to remove him from office and name him president emeritus.

According to a statement from the trustees, the decision was based on “new information…regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Patterson was named president emeritus of Southwestern May 23 after trustees deliberated for 13 hours in a meeting to address Patterson’s comments on women and domestic abuse. The day of the meeting, the Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson in 2003 told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was president at the time, not to report an alleged rape to the police. The student, Megan Lively, later identified herself on Twitter.

Trustees reported after their May meeting that Patterson had complied with reporting laws regarding abuse and assault, but later indicated their findings dealt with a 2015 rape reported at Southwestern. While it was reported to the authorities, trustee chair Kevin Ueckert said following the decision to terminate Patterson, the former president sent an email to the chief of campus security that discussed meeting with the student alone so he could “break her down” and “that he preferred no officials be present.”

“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email,” Ueckert said, “is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.”

On Monday, June 4, Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, issued a media release defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.” Among Sharpe’s claims, “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Megan Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”

Sharpe also said “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”

Patterson is still slated to preach at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this month, a role he was elected to at last year’s annual meeting. SBC President Steve Gaines said in May that in order for Patterson not to preach, messengers in Dallas would have to vote to remove him, or Patterson would have to step down.

In other Southwestern news, Nathan Montgomery, the seminary student and dining hall employee who lost his job after retweeting an article calling for Patterson’s retirement, has been reinstated as an employee.

Church apologizes for treatment of abuse victim
Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., issued a detailed statement of apology and repentance to the Washington Post regarding how church leaders reacted to former member Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly call attention to Larry Nasser’s horrific abuse of gymnasts. Immanuel’s statement reads in part, “…we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.”

Baker wins high court case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 in favor of Jack Philips, the Colorado baker penalized by his state for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The 7-2 decision is a win “not only for those of us who are Christians who hold to a pro-marriage, pro-family viewpoint,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, “but also for all Americans for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.”

American Bible Society adopts employee doctrinal statement
Even 200-year-old organizations aren’t too old to tweak their employee policies, leaders at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society have decided. Effective next year, ABS will adopt an “affirmation of biblical community” and ask employees “to uphold basic Christian beliefs and the authority of Scripture, as well as committing to activities such as church involvement and refraining from sex outside of traditional marriage,” Christianity Today reports.

-Baptist Press, Immanuelky.org, The Christian Post, Christianity Today

 

 

The Briefing

EC exec. VP Augie Boto named interim president
August (Augie) Boto has been named interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Meeting in Nashville April 4, the EC officers acted according to EC Bylaw 6 in tapping Boto for leadership following the March 27 retirement of former EC President Frank S. Page, who cited a “personal failing” in announcing his immediate departure.

Gaines names SBC Committee on Committees
Appointments to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee on Committees have been announced by SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. The Committee on Committees has 68 members, two from each of the 34 states and regions qualified for representation on boards of SBC entities. See the Illinois committee members.

China bans Bibles from online sellers
The Chinese government has banned online retailers from selling the Bible, moving in the wake of new rules to control the country’s burgeoning religious scene. It released a document outlining how it intends to promote “Chinese Christianity” over the next five years. According to the document, one of the government’s key objectives is to reinterpret and retranslate the Bible in order to enhance “Chinese-style Christianity and theology.”

Rwanda closes thousands of churches, arrests 6 pastors
An estimated 6,000 churches have been closed across Rwanda and six pastors arrested in a government crackdown that began March 1 with 700 closures in the nation’s capital of Kigali. The closures come as the Rwanda Governance Board (RGO) is conducting a national review of proposed new regulations controlling faith-based institutions for not complying with building regulations, safety and hygiene standards and pollution limitations. The six pastors, who reportedly tried to rally public support for the churches in Kigali, were accused of “masterminding” a plot to disobey the government.

For #MLK50, Christian schools launch $1.5 million in scholarships
Twenty Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, including several Baptist seminaries and evangelical colleges such as Wheaton and Gordon, have raised $1.5 million in scholarships to offer minority students in Memphis. This is part of an initiative in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated there 50 years ago on April 4.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), New York Times, Christianity Today (2)

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, IllinoisHaving practiced daily devotions for many years, I spend some time each day (mornings usually work best for me) reading my Bible and praying. I read a certain number of chapters of the Bible, underlining as I go. And I spend time praying by praising and thanking God, confessing sin, asking for my needs and praying for the needs of others.

I will tell you that sometimes I don’t feel much like doing that. But feelings are terribly fickle.

I rarely feel like exercising or eating healthy or all kinds of things that need to be done. I like the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” I am to discipline myself in my devotional life.

But I will also tell you that feelings often follow discipline. I am glad I exercise and eat right when I do. And I feel especially glad that I regularly spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.

The longer I’ve practiced daily devotionals the more I’ve recognized its value, including:

1. It reorders priorities.

It is easy for me to prioritize the wrong things. Getting my relationship with God at the top of my list helps the rest of my list fall into proper alignment. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer is a reminder of what matters most and helps all the rest of my life to realign.

2. It promotes truth.

God’s Word is true and it leads us in the way of truth. Listen to enough commercials and you can begin to think the truth is that the world is to revolve around what you want or think you need. The lies of the world are everywhere. We need the truth of what God says. Our time with God helps us to know and remember what is true and real and lasting.

3. It teaches lessons.

By reading the Bible for yourself you begin to take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. By all means, learn in a Bible-believing church and get in a small group Bible study. But read for yourself. Time alone with God in prayer allows you to learn lessons of faith and thankfulness and dependence upon God.

4. It changes perspectives.

A devotional life helps you to begin to think like Jesus thinks and see life from God’s perspective. It encourages you to see the big picture of faith and to deal with adversity in a proper manner. It discourages self-centered living and promotes greater dependence on the Lord’s strength for life.

5. It deepens our relationship with God.

The more I read God’s Word given to me, the more I see the kind of relationship God wants me to have with Him. I see the beauty of His grace and the riches of the Christian life. The more I pray, the more I connect with the heart of God. We talk to those we love. God talks with us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We talk with God through prayer.

I want to encourage you to begin or expand a devotional life. Spend some time reading God’s Word. If you haven’t yet read the entire New Testament, start there. Keep a pen and paper handy to underline or note things that especially stand out to you. And then spend some time in prayer. Praise and thank God. Confess sin. Pray for your needs and the needs of others. Consider keeping a prayer list of specific people you are praying for.

Spending time with God makes all the difference in the depth and joy of our spiritual lives.

Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This article appeared at BPnews.net.

The Briefing

Court rules against bakers
Sweet Cakes by Melissa shut down after a heavy fine was levied against its owners for not participating in a same-sex wedding ceremony. Aaron and Melissa Klein took their case to court, but on Dec. 29, the bakers lost in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Former fire chief gets partial court victory
Kelvin Cochran, the former Atlanta fire chief terminated for writing a devotional book in which he advocated a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, won a partial victory in court Dec. 20, when a judge decided the city rules under which he was fired are unconstitutional. In other religious liberty issues related to the case, however, the judge ruled against Cochran, Baptist Press reports.

Kasich approves Down syndrome abortion ban
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a law Dec. 22 prohibiting abortions in cases where prenatal tests reveal Down syndrome or if there’s “any other reason to believe” the genetic condition exists. North Dakota and Indiana have similar laws, although the Indiana measure has been blocked by a federal judge, CNN reports.

New data explores evangelical diversity
One in three people who identify as evangelical is nonwhite, according to 2017 research. The numbers rises to four in 10 of those who are evangelical by belief, reports Christianity Today in its analysis of research on diversity and the church.

The year’s most popular passages
The most popular Bible verse around the world in 2017 was a command to be strong and courageous, according to Bible app YouVersion. Joshua 1:9 was the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted verse by the global YouVersion community, The Christian Post reports, while in the U.S., Romans 8:28 topped the list.

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.