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Church sues Chicago

ib2newseditor —  March 23, 2017

City tried to limit building use

An IBSA church has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago, which is enforcing a zoning ordinance that won’t allow the church to purchase its building near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

“Agonizing” is how Nathan Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, described the decision to either seek other meeting space or file the lawsuit. His congregation has met in its current location since 2011, and was set to close on the purchase of the building last summer, when city officials blocked the sale because they determined Immanuel had not established legal use.

70320Immanuel BC

The main issue is parking; the Chicago Zoning Ordinance requires religious assemblies to have a certain number of parking spaces based on how many people they’re able to seat. Immanuel needs 19 spaces to comply with the ordinance, but like many organizations in their neighborhood, the church utilizes street parking. Immanuel and the law firm representing them, Mauck & Baker, are arguing that the ordinance violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by requiring stricter standards of religious assemblies than for other organizations.

The space at 1443 W. Roosevelt had been rented by another church previously. Churches are a permitted use in the zoning, and the City’s building department gave Immanuel an occupancy permit in 2011. City officials assured Carter the sale wouldn’t be blocked despite the church’s use of street parking. But the City returned a different verdict in July 2016, informing Carter “the church still needed to meet the city’s parking requirements and that the city must determine if a religious assembly use is something it wants to promote on a commercial corridor such as Roosevelt Road,” according to a press release from Mauck & Baker.

The church’s ensuing lawsuit was a “last resort,” said the pastor. “We’ve been courteous and kind throughout the process and not adversarial, seeking to bend over backwards to meet their demands. We have our alderman’s support.”

Plus, Carter continued, “We have many of the same goals for the neighborhood as the City does. We’ve communicated that if they don’t fight it, then we won’t seek damages or fees. [The suit is] framed in such a way that they can admit they are bound by the letter of a current zoning ordinance, but then point out how that zoning ordinance is federally illegal (because of RLUIPA) by requiring more parking spots for religious assembly than it does for non-religious assembly uses that courts have determined are comparable.”

Carter referred to a sign on the door of his local library, which clearly states the library has no parking and patrons are to park on the street. City ordinances also state “live theater venues” with fewer than 150 seats need no parking, nor do libraries or cultural exhibits within the first 4,000 feet. Mauck & Baker is arguing Immanuel meets both of these requirements: their building seats 146 people and has less than 4,000 square feet.

Carter said the church is praying they can settle the suit within the next month, but if the City decides to continue to fight the purchase, the process could be a lengthy one.

Still, he said, the church sensed the Lord leading in this direction, albeit a somewhat frightening one. “Since 2005 our church has had a vision for being a long-term, stable gospel presence in our specific area of the city—a cluster of neighborhoods that surround the University of Illinois at Chicago,” Carter said. After meeting in four rented locations over the years and doing an exhaustive search of their community for other spaces, the purchase of their current building seems like a strategic decision.

“If the Lord closes this door, we have no doubt that he will open up another one,” Carter said. “But at the moment this was the only one that was cracked open, and there are scary lights coming from behind it, but we sensed the Lord wanted us to knock.”

-Meredith Flynn

Nathan Carter

Nathan Carter

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out. One of the questions is, “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?” We strongly believe these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States. His assessment of the religious scene here was “Protestantism without Reformation.” This critique still largely holds true. We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th century Europe be present in 21st century evangelicalism? I am afraid so.

The five solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
I think there are many churches who say on paper that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God. But in practice, you cannot tell. Scripture does not saturate their worship services. The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God. The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks. Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis. And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

Sola Fide (faith alone)
If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with this true or false question—“People get into heaven by doing good”—I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE. But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.

We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do…to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families…instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family. The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

Sola Gratia (grace alone)
We like grace—when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk. The polls are heart-rending that show the number of Christians who think that the quote “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace? If so, we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

Solus Christus (Christ alone)
We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up? We live in a highly pluralistic society. Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ? Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share with them the gospel of what Christ has uniquely done?

Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ. Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ. We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone)
Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand. We like to take the credit for our successes. Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness in our culture which has seeped into our churches. We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs. Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around. We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit easily from this fad to that fad.

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket. But they truly represent our only hope. We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The BriefingClash of worldviews on defunding Planned Parenthood
Evangelicals have long advocated for the end of government funding of Planned Parenthood. President Trump recently offered to keep the funding in place if Planned Parenthood would agree to stop performing abortions.  Here are two different views on the subject:
– Trump to Planned Parenthood: Halt abortions, receive funds
– Abortion ‘vital’ to Planned Parenthood mission; Southern Baptist leaders respond

Church sued after baptism made public
After a Syrian Muslim man converted to Christianity, he asked to be baptized by First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. The man said the church promised to keep his baptism quiet, since shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. He flew to Syria almost immediately after his baptism to marry his fiancée. A few weeks later, while still in Syria, he was kidnapped by Islamist extremists who said they learned about his conversion from the church’s website.

Married lesbian Baptist co-pastors say all ‘beloved’
Rev. Maria Swearingen stood in the pulpit for the first time as the lesbian co-pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., her wife and fellow co-pastor, the Rev. Sally Sarratt, smiling over her left shoulder as they began their new joint roles. Raised in Southern Baptist households, at one point in their lives they thought the best path for ministry might be to become pastor’s wives. “The spirit works in mysterious ways,” said Swearingen.

How many Americans have a Biblical worldview?
Millions of Americans call themselves Christians, but how does their faith shape their worldview? A new Barna Group study says, “not so much.” Researchers asked American Christians about their views on issues like lying, cheating, the nature of God, and sin. They found that while more than seven out of 10 Americans call themselves Christians, just one out of every 10 were able to answer basic questions about the Bible and the faith.

Islam largest religion by 2070
Pew Research analyzed demographic change among the world’s major religions and found that the world’s population of Muslims will grow by 73% between 2010 and 2050, compared to 35% for Christians, the next fastest-growing faith. The world’s population will grow by 37% over the same period. If those rates of growth continue past 2050, Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, the report found.

Sources: Fox News, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, CBN, The Telegraph (U.K.)

Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017

Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director, talks with a pastor at the Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017 in Springfield.

“Personal development requires surrender and sacrifice,” shared leadership expert Mac Lake.

“If I want to grow myself there’s a price I have to pay…Discipline is often the cost we’re not willing to pay.”

More than 250 leaders gathered in Springfield for the Jan. 24-25 Illinois Leadership Summit. Mac Lake, the architect of The Launch Network, a church planting network, served as the summit’s keynote speaker and was joined by 18 break out session leaders. Together, they taught the men and women in attendance practical ways to became better leaders and how to use what they’ve learned to develop leaders in their own churches.

Visit our Facebook page to watch video from Tuesday evening’s session, and learn from Lake:

– Why people don’t do what you want them to do
– About the strengthen conversation
– How to do one minute goal setting

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter hear from some of the breakout session leaders, and read the Feb. 6 Illinois Baptist newspaper for complete coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit.

The BriefingCastro death unlikely to halt revival or spur liberty
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who died at age 90, is being remembered as both an unwitting catalyst of revival and an opponent of religious liberty. His death, said Southern Baptists with ties to Cuba, is unlikely to yield significant increases in religious liberty for the island nation until the fall of the communist government he inaugurated 57 years ago.

3 dead, 5 sickened after church’s Thanksgiving dinner
Three people have died and five more were sickened after eating Thanksgiving dinner at an event organized by a church in the San Francisco Bay Area, health officials said. Sutter Delta Medical Center said it received eight patients with probable symptoms of foodborne illness Friday and Saturday. Three of the patients died, four patients were treated and released and one remains hospitalized. It remains unclear exactly what caused the illness.

Violent Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago
Chicago saw one its most violent Thanksgiving holidays in years, with eight people killed and 62 others wounded. The toll towers over the number of shootings in the previous two Thanksgiving holiday weekends, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Why Jerry Falwell Jr. turned down Trump’s Cabinet position
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. believes that Donald Trump “will become America’s greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.” But that wasn’t enough to persuade him to accept Trump’s offer to become secretary of education. Falwell told RNS the decision was due to concerns for the health of his family and the university he leads.

Pope challenged by conservative cardinals
Four senior Catholic cardinals went public with a private letter they sent to Pope Francis, asking him to state plainly whether he is liberalizing Church practice on divorced, remarried Catholics. The letter also questions whether the Pope is relaxing traditional and biblical standards on morality in general. Francis refused to respond so, the cardinals published their letter on various Catholic news sites.

Sources: Baptist Press, Fox News, Chicago Tribune, Religion News, CNN

Go Church Go!

ib2newseditor —  November 14, 2016

People in the form of  church.First let me say I how much I appreciate my many friends who are St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox fans, even those who seemed to suddenly become Cleveland Indians fans just prior to the 2016 World Series. I try not to be an annoying or gloating Cubs fan, though some might say that simply writing about the Cubs here makes me so.

But it’s not really the now-world-champion Cubs team or organization that I want to draw on for inspiration with these thoughts. Rather, it’s the persevering, always hopeful, and now victorious Cubs fans. Though I grew up a Cardinals fan like many in southern Illinois, five things have always drawn me to Cubs fans, and made me one of them.

Worldwide – The WGN cable network is probably most responsible for giving the Cubs a more than regional fan base. When wearing a Cubs logo, I have found other fans all around the country, and even around the world.

Wrigley – You just can’t deny the old world charm of the historic yet modernized stadium that the Cubs call their friendly confines. For true baseball fans, it’s one of the most inviting places in the world.

Waiters – As almost everyone now knows, Cubs fans had not seen a World Series championship since 1908. As the Series approached, numerous writers listed things that are more current than a Cubs championship, including the toaster and sliced bread itself. True, faithful Cubs fans are by definition those who patiently wait.

Winsome – While I’m sure we all know an abrasive Cubs fan or two, the overwhelming majority of Cubs fans I’ve known are friendly, hopeful, optimistic, and deeply loyal. Even though “lovable losers” is a label that’s practically become part of the official Cubs brand, you can’t get a rise out of a Cubs fan with that kind of insult. After all, until this year, what defense was there to that label? Cubs fans just smile, and winsomely recite their equally well-known mantra: “Wait ‘til next year.”

Winners – And finally, this year, we can add a new capital W that could only have been used in small case a few times over the past 108 years. This year, Cubs fans are winners. Their perseverance finally paid off. Next year has finally come. And in a demonstration of support and celebration that has now been labeled the largest gathering in American history, and seventh largest in world history, more than five million fans flooded the streets and parks of Chicago to relabel their lovable losers—beloved winners.

Now, how do I rationalize writing about baseball here? Well, almost any time I am moved or inspired by something in secular culture, I find it’s because I see in that event a reflection of something larger in God’s Kingdom, or God’s character, or God’s people. In this case, I think I find Cubs fans so inspiring (admittedly, some Cubs players are not) because I see in them a faint reflection of the same qualities I see in faithful Christians, and churches.

Throughout much of the world, including our own nation and state, faithful Christians are not seen as current winners. But, at least when we’re at our best, we are seen as winsome people who are patiently waiting for our victorious Lord Jesus to return. We are seeking to take our love and loyalty and gospel message worldwide. And yet we seek to make each local gathering place as inviting and friendly as the confines of Wrigley Field.

There will be a day when the five million that gathered to celebrate in Chicago will be a pale comparison to the tribes, tongues, and nations that will gather at the feet of Jesus, to worship him forever. But for now, a long-suffering group known as Cubs fans have reminded me of a more important group of people whose patient, faithful, hopeful perseverance will eventually be rewarded by victory. Go Church Go.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

ivoted

A look at the electoral map says it all. A swath of blue on the West Coast and Northeast, and mostly red in the vast middle. Except for Illinois and Minnesota. We live in a divided nation.

For Christians, the issue today is how do we live Christ-like, now that the nation has chosen a president after a divisive and nasty two-year contest. Can we begin, as one observer put it, to love our neighbor who has “the wrong political sign” in his yard? Or to pray for political leaders of all parties to overcome division for the sake of the nation?

White evangelicals, white Catholics, and Mormons all supported Republican Donald Trump according to exit polls, while Black Protestants and Latino Catholics went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election.

At 81%, the majority support for Trump by white evangelicals was a surprise to some, after leading evangelical leaders split on the candidate. His conservative stance on moral and political issues traditionally important to born-again believers was at odds with his irreligious lifestyle.

Russell Moore of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is one of the few Southern Baptists who spoke against Trump, based on the candidate’s behaviors. Moore consistently urged Southern Baptists to keep conservative politics from swamping biblical beliefs. And his view the day after the election? He tweeted congratulations and called for prayer.

“The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics,” Moore wrote on his blog. “We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election—as we have seen in every election in recent years—that this election is our ‘last chance.’”

But Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, counters, “Trump’s line—‘Let’s make America great again’—and his last-minute saying—‘look folks, I’m your last chance’—was really powerful for white evangelicals who see their numbers in the general population slipping.

“White Christians are declining every year by a percentage point or more as a proportion of the population,” Jones told Religion News Service. “So when Trump says, ‘I’m your last chance, folks,’ there’s a real truth to that.”

Some analysts attribute Trump’s victory to a middle-class, middle-of-the-country rebuke of the Obama legacy and the liberal cultural shift during his administration, as exemplified by the legalization of same-sex marriage and the recent actions on transgender issues. Others say Clinton lost, in part, because she ignored evangelicals.

“We asked for the votes of evangelicals and the Clinton campaign didn’t,” said Michael Wear, who served as faith outreach director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. “It’s a campaign, you ask for people’s votes. And Hillary asked for just about every vote except this group of voters,” he told World magazine.

More prayer, more power

Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd didn’t endorse Trump while he served as SBC President. But the week after he was succeeded by Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines, Floyd was one of a handful of SBC leaders who attended Trump’s meeting with nearly 1,000 evangelicals. Now, Floyd advises prayer.

“Please prioritize praying for Trump….(and) for Vice President-Elect Mike Pence,” Floyd wrote on his blog. “Pray for wisdom, future, security, protection and leadership that will be extended to our nation. Pray for Trump as he selects members for his cabinet and begins the appointments of hundreds of people.”

The next move by evangelicals is to “stay in the game,” says Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Evangelicals who helped give Trump the office have a responsibility to help mold his presidency.

“There are many evangelicals who voted for Trump, and many Evangelicals who advised him,” Stetzer wrote for Christianity Today. “It’s time to advise him now that immigrants are made in the image of God, women are not tools and toys, racial and religious prejudice must be confronted, and so much more.”

Stetzer noted the decided shift on the importance of a candidate’s character to evangelical voters who supported Trump. “The answer is not for us to change our views on character, it’s to help a flawed candidate become a President of character.

“Evangelicals elected Trump,” Stetzer said. “Now they need to call him to a better way,” Stetzer said.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.