Archives For Faith

Personal belief, salvation, spiritual disciplines, formation

Decatur, Ill. | Two days after a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Texas, Illinois pastor Randy Johnson urged pastors to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel.

Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, filled in at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who was slated to preach during the conference but is in Texas ministering to First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, Nov. 5, a gunman killed 26 people at the small church outside San Antonio.

Preaching from the book of 2 Timothy, Johnson encouraged pastors to check their measure of gospel urgency. Preach like it could be your last message, he said, and also like it could be your hearers’ last opportunity hear the gospel.

“As a preacher of the gospel, your highest calling is to preach the word,” he said. “It is your responsibility to stand before your people in your church and tell them what is right, what isn’t right, and how to get right.”

Johnson exhorted pastors to not only remember that every message could be their last, but also that every hearer will have a last moment.

“Preach like it’s their [the congregation’s] last moment. They don’t know when it’s going to be… You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say. Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”

On Wednesday morning, Ed Stetzer (below) spoke to Pastors’ Conference attenders about working for and journeying toward the long view of ministry. Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, urged pastors to have an eternal perspective and to recognize the contrast between life now and eternal life in heaven.

Ed Stetzer web

“It’s a long hard slog sometimes in ministry,” Stetzer said, “and we’re going to see Jesus one day.” That sounds very “old-school Baptist,” he acknowledged, but Baptists a few generations ago talked about heaven a lot more than we do now.

Christians have a confident hope, he said, because they walk by faith and not by sight.

“The afterlife is a sighted life, but life now is not. You don’t know everything. But you have a confident hope, because you know Jesus does.”

 

 

 

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. 

The Briefing

SBDR Irma response to begin; Harvey relief work continues
Preparations are being made by the Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York and Virginia Baptist conventions to respond to the needs of hurricane survivors as Irma continued to crawl up Florida and into Georgia and S. Carolina. As of Sept. 11, Hurricane Harvey SBDR response has witnessed 29 professions of faith and initiated 508 Gospel conversations; provided 444,765 meals, 7,240 showers and 4,534 loads of laundry; and completed 109 construction jobs including 47 roof repairs.

Justice Dept. backs Christian baker
Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding has a major backer as his case heads to the US Supreme Court this fall: the Trump administration. The Department of Justice has sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, arguing that governments “may not … truncate the First Amendment by compelling a person to create a piece of artwork—particularly one that violates the artist’s conscience.”

Churches no longer face overtime pay increase
Just before Labor Day, a federal judge in Texas struck down a US Department of Labor (DOL) mandate that full-time, salaried workers—including church and parachurch staff—who earn up to $47,476 must be paid time-and-a-half for any overtime they work. This week, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue the matter.

Tillerson decries ISIS genocide
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom Tuesday, highlighting the Islamic State as one of the biggest threats to liberty around the globe. “ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death,” he wrote.

Senator criticized for religious questions
Senator Dianne Feinstein is coming under criticism from prominent academics and university leaders for her “chilling” line of questioning of a Roman Catholic judicial nominee last week during a Senate hearing.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), World Magazine, Christianity Today

White common daisy flower isolatedAs warm weather descended on San Francisco that year, so did the hippies, as many as 100,000 of them. The Haight-Ashbury District became ground zero for a festival that lasted for weeks: young people with flowers in their tresses singing and dancing and cavorting in public spaces, doing a little protesting of the Vietnam War, and smoking a lot of what their mothers wouldn’t approve.

They called it the ‘summer of love.’

Ironically, that summer in 1967 was also marked by fear and terror and rioting, as large sections of Detroit went up in flames just as Watts in Los Angeles had two years earlier. In Detroit, the violence that started after police raided an unlicensed bar ended with 2,000 buildings destroyed, more than 7,000 people arrested, over 1,000 injured, and 43 deaths. Free love on the West Coast, and unrestrained hate in the Midwest.

Here, 50 years later, we have witnessed another season of dichotomy, a tense summer of issues—and people—in conflict. The political tensions and threats of nuclear attack were topped by violent marches in Charlottesville that killed one young woman and revealed the breadth of a racial rift in America that few imagined existed.

As is 1967, the summer of 2017 was on some fronts a summer of hate. But from our vantage point, we can say, too, it was a summer of love.

There were stories in our pages that attested that: mission trips around the world where the love of Christ was shared. In downstate Cairo and Brazil and many other places, people received Christ as Savior. We saw children learn about Jesus at IBSA camps and Vacation Bible Schools everywhere.

And to cap it all, the eclipse. Carbondale was epicenter this time as millions from Oregon to South Carolina looked upward, many seeming to search for something beyond themselves. A famed Chicago weatherman wept on air for the beauty of nature. More important, Baptists in southern Illinois shared Christ, and lost people came to faith.

When they look back on the summer of 2017 to give it a name, no one will look at the protests and nuclear threats and political martial arts and call it ‘the summer of love.’ But seeing the totality of our Christian outreach this season, and the genuine outpouring from God’s heart, maybe we will.

-Eric Reed

The Briefing

Illinois family killed in ISIS attack in Egypt
An Illinois man and several of his relatives, including two sons and a grandchild, were among 29 killed during an ISIS attack on a church bus in Egypt. Family members say the bus was full of Christians on their way to a remote Egyptian monastery when they were attacked by members of the Islamic state.

Illinois House approves transgender ID change bill
The Illinois House has endorsed a plan to make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates. The bill would allow transgender citizens to change their gender designation with authorization from a medical professional confirming they have undergone medically appropriate treatment. Current law requires proof of a surgical operation.

Evidence against Planned Parenthood disappears from YouTube
Last week, lawyers for The Center for Medical Progress released more footage of abortionists discussing late-term abortions at National Abortion Federation conventions. The video, along with other footage under temporary injunction after a civil suit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood, disappeared from YouTube after U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered it taken down.

TX governor signs bill to ‘shield’ pastors’ sermons
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed legislation that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders. Four of the five Houston pastors whose sermons became the target of a sweeping 2014 subpoena “fishing expedition” by City of Houston attorneys and then-Mayor Annise Parker joined the signing ceremony.

Christian school bans pregnant teen from graduation
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”

Sources: News Channel 20, US News, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Washington Post

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