Month: April 2008

Pastors offer regenerate membership resolutions for SBC

Most likely, messengers to this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis will vote on a resolution calling for SBC churches to take church membership more seriously.

In what is perhaps unprecedented, at least three resolutions dealing with the biblical requirements of local church membership are available for public vetting in the weeks leading up to the June 10-11 meeting.

Pastors from Texas and Florida are offering separate resolutions calling churches to return to the historic Baptist principle of a regenerate, or born-again, church membership.

A Baptist pastor from North Carolina is offering a third resolution, similar to the others, focusing on the restorative aspect of church discipline–something all three resolutions advocate.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and Thomas Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., confirmed April 29 their intentions to submit their resolutions to the SBC’s Resolutions Committee for consideration by messengers during the convention’s annual meeting.
Barber, Ascol and Chris Hilliard, pastor of Newell Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., have posted their respective resolutions online.

Each year the SBC Resolutions Committee reports for messengers’ consideration only a few of the resolutions they receive.

During the convention proceedings, messengers may seek to amend the committee’s report to include resolutions not reported out, or amend the resolutions up for consideration.
In phone interviews with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, Barber and Ascol said they attempted to merge their two resolutions into one document but could not agree on revisions.

Hilliard, on his Internet blog, wrote that his resolution is “in no way competing” with Ascol’s resolution, which he said he supported last year and would support again if it comes to the floor.

At the 2007 annual meeting in San Antonio, Ascol’s resolution, titled “On Integrity in Church Membership,” was refused by the SBC Resolutions Committee and later by convention messengers after Ascol offered it from the floor.

Ascol argued that it is dishonorable to claim 16 million Southern Baptists when only about 6 million Southern Baptists attend church regularly, he said.
Barber’s resolution is taken from one drafted by Malcolm Yarnell, a theology professor at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, which messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention passed last November. Yarnell spoke against Ascol’s resolution at last year’s annual meeting, arguing that the resolution said nothing about believer’s baptism by immersion as foundational to a regenerate church.

Ascol added language about baptism this year, but the two camps could not resolve other details in the resolutions.

Barber told the TEXAN: “We are both passionate about trying to accomplish the same thing…I know already of several individuals who will put their names in support of both of these resolutions, who see them as complementary. This is not an armwrestling match between Tom Ascol and me. This is two brothers both trying to do the same thing in a slightly different way.”

Ascol said he affirms all of Barber’s resolution, “but beyond that, I want to call attention to our Annual Church Profile statistics. He’s not convinced they’re relevant. I think they are indicative of the reason why we need such a resolution. To put them in the context of this resolution gives the rationale for it.”

“And then beyond that, I want to call for repentance for neglect of this Baptist principle,” Ascol said. “Some people think that is unkind. But last year we passed a whole resolution on repentance… It’s directed to churches, and I include myself in that. Our church has by God’s grace worked through these things. I’m not standing up and saying ‘you guys need to repent.’ We need to repent. This is a family issue. I don’t get the hesitancy.”

Barber responded: “I think it’s important to recognize that most Southern Baptists have not willfully rejected regenerate church membership. For many, it’s never been emphasized or taught to them. So I think there’s a good biblical precedent for gently instructing someone in an area where they need to grow and giving them an opportunity to respond to that before responding more sternly.”

Regenerate church membership refers to the principle historically advocated by Baptists of a covenant church community comprised only of regenerate, or born-again, members who have been immersed through water baptism to mark their identity with Christ.

Both resolutions appeal to article one of the Baptist Faith & Message confession, which states that the Scripture is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”

The differences include Ascol’s call for churches to “repent” of irresponsible church membership practices where Barber’s resolution “humbly asks” churches to “renew” responsible membership practices.

Another difference is Ascol’s call for “denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches.” Ascol also calls for a commitment to “pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.”

Ascol’s added clause on believer’s baptism states: “WHEREAS the significance of believers’ baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members …”

The Barber resolution mentioned baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the “resolved” portion of the resolution.

It calls on churches to “renew their commitment to the congregation as a convenantal assembly entered only by immersion of those who evidence a credible profession of faith in Christ …” and “we humbly urge our churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a meaningful memorial celebration according to the New Testament …”

Both resolutions call for churches to embrace redemptive church discipline as a biblical mandate, citing verses such as Matthew 18:13-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11.

“I appreciate and respect that Tom Ascol has brought this issue to the forefront,” Barber said. “He was the first one to bring this up. Even though there are differences, I’m appreciative for his efforts in this regard.”

Ascol, director of Founders Ministries, a group dedicated to the renewal of the Calvinist doctrine of some early Southern Baptists, noted that his resolution should not be viewed as a Calvinist statement.

“This has nothing to do with how we understand the workings of God in salvation,” Ascol said. “It has everything to do with the doctrine of the church.”

Ascol posted his resolution April 29 on the director’s blog linked at founders.org. Barber posted his resolution on April 30. It is linked from his blog at praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com. Both men have sought endorsements for their resolutions leading up to the SBC.

Hilliard said of his “Resolution on Church Member Restoration,” “I felt the issue needed to be focused more on the positive aspect of ‘church discipline’ rather than what many feel to be the ‘negative’ or harsh aspect of it.”

Hillard said if more than one resolution is submitted, “there was a better chance that some type of resolution on the subject would make it to the floor.”

His resolution calls on churches to “repent of our failure to pursue and rescue wayward church members.” I urges churches and pastors to implement plans to do this and SBC entities to “provide support, counsel, encouragement and resources” toward that end.

SBC resolutions are consensus statements that are non-binding on the convention’s churches and entities.

Mommy’s boy

It was a long time ago in a place far, far away that I served as a youth director. It was my first full-time position as a paid staff member. Every other week I had Friday and Saturday off. Although I had a social life (not much), I wanted to go home to see my parents at least once a month. I will never forget my pastor calling me into his office and telling me I needed to take my down time in town. When I told him I was going home to visit my parents, he scoffed, “What’s the matter? Are you a mommy’s boy?” To which I replied, “Yes, sir!”

God blessed me with a wonderful home. My dad was a sweet man who loved Mom and me. He worked hard, lived clean and left a Christian legacy. Yet, I was a mommy’s boy. Mother would play ball with me. She was the athlete in the family. She had this incredible insight that made me feel like she was almost omnipresent and omniscient. Mother was a wonderful witness. She lived for the Lord Jesus. I miss her more today than the day she went to Heaven.

God also blessed me with an incomparable mother for my children. June is the most caring and gentle person I know. She is sacrificial and loving to a fault. I have observed her for 35 years pouring her life into others, especially our children and me. She is a fantastic wife. She is a model mother. If anyone personifies the Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman, it is June.

Now God has given me a serendipitous blessing. I have two daughters who are mothers. Our youngest daughter, Rebekah, had our first grandchild almost three years ago. It has been a joy to watch her mother Hannah Grace. Rebekah always liked to play with dolls. Rebekah is the frillier of our two daughters and now Gracie is her real-life doll. Pink toenails and princess beds are in order. Gracie has no choice but to be her mother’s daughter. Now Rebekah is scheduled to deliver Julia the first week in June. Another girl will get a loving mother who will shape her in her most feminine image.

Rachel was our first born. She was more of a tomboy growing up. When she was in the eighth grade I believe she could have started as quarterback on the football team. She has developed into a cultured lady who is scheduled to give us our first grandson in the middle of June. Rachel is worried about how she is going to adapt to motherhood. I don’t think there will be much difficulty. She was especially close to my mother and will take cues from what she learned from both her and June. I think Rachel will probably end up with a mommy’s boy.

If I live long enough I may get to see Nathan get married and have children. If God is gracious to allow that, I just know he will find the kind of woman who will love her children too.

Some people can’t relate to what I have written because they do not have the precious memories I have. You can experience love and acceptance that is even greater than a mother’s love, the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. God is able to fill the void. You can then touch someone else with his love.

May you celebrate our Lord’s grace and have a happy Mother’s Day. From a mommy’s boy!

Earthshaking implications of ID explain fuss

There’s an urban legend that goes like this: “Evolution is a proven fact. The Scopes ‘monkey trial’ in Dayton, Tenn., back in 1925, closed the book on it, and today ‘mountains of evidence’ add to the proof of it. Of course, Bible-thumpers question it, believing instead that God created all there is. Remember though, youngsters believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, don’t they?”

What the masses don’t hear is that these “mountains of evidence” show subtle changes within species–adaptation, microevolution, whatever you choose to call it. Most don’t know that 150 years after Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species,” there remains no sustainable evidence of species evolving into other forms. When most people speak of evolution, they mean the kind that has man evolving from some ape-like ancestor.

So when a vocal minority of scientists and philosophers began looking into the growing evidence of design in the universe and in its life forms beginning in the 1980s and gaining steam in the last decade, they were dismissed, then scorned, by the greater scientific community.

Mostly, though, they were kept under the radar except within evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic circles, where they gained a following. Finally, something cheeky comes along with mass appeal, and the “big science” establishment is livid and hopefully embarrassed.

The movie documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which opened in theaters across the country on April 18, has drawn the science establishment’s wrath by exposing the mistreatment of scientists and educators who question that grand faith position and sweeping meta-narrative of our day–Darwinian evolution.

Darwinism and its later variations say a primordial soup ripe with possibility plus random good luck and hundreds of millions of years explain bio-diversity and complexity–from dust mites to dogs to space-traveling, navel-contemplating humans.

Realizing the legitimate threat to the status quo from “Expelled,” big science has detonated a series of verbal dirty bombs aimed at derailing the film, which stars comedic actor, economist and former presidential speechwriter Ben Stein and a notable cast of smart guys on both sides of this fight.

Scientific journals have trashed “Expelled,” and big-city daily papers have followed their lead. The result is that hardly an original appraisal of the movie is found in the mainstream press. Within the circles of power–big media, big science, and big academia–no one dares dissent.

The Dallas Morning News, for example, ran only a syndicated review of the film the day it opened. The reviewer from the Orlando Sentinel graded it an F, dismissing it out of hand as empty propaganda.

It is propaganda, but it’s far from empty. Even if one doesn’t agree with its premise, it is well done, albeit polemical. The same day, the Dallas paper gave a movie called “Zombie Strippers” a D. Yes, really.

Darwinism and its offspring, neo-Darwinism, have influenced nearly every nook and cranny of culture–religion to politics to bioethics. Where possible, religionists have blended this grand story with theirs and are safe so long as they stay on their side of the fence. “Stay on your side,” they’re told, “and you won’t get punched in the mouth.”

And so it goes. Only this time, the proponents of intelligent design (ID)–the view that the universe bears remarkable evidence of intent–have an unprecedented opportunity to make their case to the masses on a large scale.

There lies the danger for big science. Much of the public rejects evolution outright–48 percent according to a Gallup poll last summer–and most of the rest believe God somehow directed it (theistic evolution), or they have no opinion.

So the science establishment must wage war against ID by character assaults and claims of a dressed-up creationist agenda, or else contend with an already skeptical public.

Note that intelligent design is not creationism. ID acknowledges the marks of design in the universe. It is a non-sectarian endeavor. It leads to the metaphysical question, “Who or what caused us to be?” But it doesn’t answer the question. Those who charge that ID is a Trojan horse for biblical creationism are ignorant or evil or both. The last thing I want in 2008 is a public school teacher instructing my kids on Genesis. How about you?

The gist of what ID proposes is that the deeper researchers probe into microbiology, the more machines they see that display the marks of complex engineering, making the explanation of their existence through evolutionary processes not just difficult, but statistically absurd.

The implications of ID are earthshaking, which explains the ardent assault on the movie. Accept that ID has legs, and the foundations of the neo-Darwinian scheme collapse, which affects a good number of academic pursuits that use a Darwinian template. Psychology, bioethics, anthropology–all would require a new base.

John Rennie, editor in chief of the journal Scientific American, in his review of “Expelled” called ID proponents “anti-intellectual” and “cranks” who don’t grasp science fundamentals.

In the film, Stein plays a game of “Who’s on First?” with evolutionist Michael Ruse over how life may have arisen on the backs of crystals, as Ruse suggested. Ruse’s circular reasoning finally causes him to concede that he doesn’t know the answer as to what the catalyst for life was. His, too, is a faith position. He has admitted as much lately, calling evolution a philosophical belief. So the question remains: Whose faith position holds more water?

Rennie of Scientific American wrote: “‘We don’t know yet’ is what defines the fruitful frontier of science; it is what directs scientists’ curiosity and motivates them to spend years on research. Research starts where knowledge and certainty drop off. It’s one of the many ironies of Expelled that Ben Stein says he wants this movie to free people to ask questions about science, but the ID theories he defends would close off inquiry with nonanswers.”

Rennie claims “mountains of evidence” for evolution while dismissing ID as a “smattering of vanity-press pamphlets.”

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski of Southwestern Seminary, who appears in the film, told the TEXAN in an e-mail: “John Rennie’s review of ‘Expelled’ for Scientific American illustrates the very intolerance for freedom of inquiry and expression that Ben Stein unmasks in his film? Materialistic approaches to life’s origin have failed. In Rennie’s words, they constitute ‘nonanswers'” while “intelligent design promises to do far better than Rennie’s atheistic approach to science, and certainly can’t do worse.”

By the way, Dembski’s resume includes postdoctoral work in math at that watered-down excuse for an academic institution called M.I.T. At the University of Chicago he earned a doctorate in math and did advanced study in physics. At Princeton, he earned a master of divinity in its theological school and did post-grad work in computer science. From the University of Illinois at Chicago he holds an M.S. in statistics and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He has held prestigious National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships also.

Another “anti-intellectual crank,” Baylor distinguished professor of engineering Robert Marks, in responding to the Scientific American’s critique, said “the idea of ID is not to ‘close off inquiry’ but to broaden the frontier of investigation with a richer set of possibilities.”

Imagine if one has committed his life’s work to a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian explanation of biology, only to hear what he feared all along might be true: Absurdly improbable luck and eons of time–even hundreds of millions of years–won’t do. The improbability is too great and becoming greater with each day’s findings.

The human tendency is to fight back as if one’s years of primary research, publications and career depended on it. And that has been the typical response in the last 15 years or son as ID has ascended as a viable challenge to materialist orthodoxy.

As Dembski has written, this film will not change hardened minds, but hopefully it will embolden future scientists and thinkers to engage the evidence and follow it where it leads. This fight is about preserving honest inquiry and freedom of conscience in a free marketplace of ideas, and the worldview implications of this debate play out in the bioethics questions of our day. Baptists should care deeply about this.

As Christians, we should also rejoice that ID raises, without attempting to answer, the deeper question of “Who or what designed all this?” From that starting point, we are a step forward in engaging honest seekers in the marketplace and across the back fence with well-reasoned answers to the deepest questions.

SBTC’s SENT missions conference draws double from last year’s event

AUSTIN?The SBTC’s SENT missions conference drew 500 participants April 19-20 to Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin to hear plenary speaker Reggie McNeal and to network with missionaries from around the world.

“We want to mobilize churches and help them live missionally in their communities,” said Tiffany Smith, the SBTC’s missions mobilization associate. “Throughout SENT, we see the spontaneous networking of church leaders and lay leaders with missionaries and with each other, and that personal contact is invaluable in raising the missions bar in the local church.”

The conference doubled in attendance this year.

Smith said lay leaders, particularly, who attend the conference magnify their churches’ missions effectiveness because they get training reaching different cultures and are able to spread their enthusiasm to their fellow church members.

“This is a unique conference because it is so diverse in age,” Smith said. The conference drew everyone from teenagers to college students, she said.

McNeal, director of the leadership development office at the South Carolina Baptist Convention and a prolific author, talked about the rise of the missional church and detailed how churches and church leaders may capitalize on an increasingly diverse culture.

McNeal urged attendees to get out of the church business and get into the kingdom business.

He asserted, “We have been looking at the kingdom through church lenses; we need to look at the church through kingdom lenses.”

He also challenged the crowd to move beyond a church-centric view of God’s work in the world and join God in the streets.

Nicole Leighman of Christ’s Way Baptist Church in Bryan, said, “It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to get home to put everything I’ve learned into action.”

Representatives from the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board were among missions organizations attending, as well the Hudson Valley Baptist Association of New York, which has a missions partnership with the SBTC.

Breakout sessions covered topics such as “Globalization: Living Missionally in a Flat World,” “How Your Church Can Start Many New Congregations,” “Christianity Facing Islam,” “Reaching Those Who Will Not Come,” and ‘Skipping Samaria: The Cultures We Miss On Our Own Continent.”

The SBTC recognized the top giving churches to the convention’s Reach Texas state missions offering.

Per capita leaders were First Baptist Church, Clayton (1-100 members); Grace Community Baptist Church, Dayton (100-250); First Baptist Church, Quitman (250-500); Parkside Baptist Church, Denison (500-750); First Baptist Church, Henderson (750-1,000); First Baptist Church, Odessa (1,000-1,500); First Baptist Church, Rockwall (1,500-2,500); and Houston’s First Baptist Church (2,500+).

Total giving leaders were: First Baptist Church, Rockwall; First Baptist Church, Odessa; Castle Hills FBC, San Antonio; Cielo Vista Church, El Paso; Parkside Baptist Church, Denison; First Baptist Church, Dallas; Spring Baptist Church, Spring; Houston’s First Baptist Church; Lazybrook Baptist Church, Houston; and Nassau Bay Baptist Church, Houston.

Church profiles show SBC baptisms lowest since 1987

NASHVLLE, Tenn.?The number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the convention’s lowest level since 1987.

Although the SBC added 473 new churches and gave more than $1.3 billion to support mission activities around the world, Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said there’s no escaping the fact that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did. LifeWay gathers the year-to-year information on the convention’s behalf.

According to LifeWay’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), baptisms in 2007 dropped nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, compared to 364,826 in 2006. (Baptism is a public act administered by the local church in which new followers of Christ are immersed in water. Baptism symbolizes believers’ identification with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection; signifies their new life in Christ; and anticipates the day on which Christ will raise them from the dead, demonstrating his victory over sin and death. Therefore, the number of baptisms is a key measurement of the SBC’s effectiveness in evangelism.)

“This report is truly disheartening,” Rainer said. “Total membership showed a slight decline. Baptisms have now declined for three consecutive years and for seven of the last eight years, and are at their lowest level since 1987. Indeed, the total baptisms are among the lowest reported since 1970. We are a denomination that, for the most part, has lost its evangelistic passion.”

Membership in SBC churches, 16,266,920, fell from 2006’s total of 16,306,246, or .24 percent. It is the second drop in membership experienced by the SBC in the last decade. In 1998, membership fell 1.02 percent but increased the next year and recovered to a positive trend in 2000. Prior to that, the last drop in membership was 1926.

From 2000 through 2006, membership growth essentially was flat, registering .68, .58, .53, .42, .39, .02 and .22 percent respectively.

Not all the news coming out of the ACP was negative. The number of SBC churches grew by 1.1 percent to 44,696; primary worship attendance increased slightly to 6.15 million; and total mission expenditures topped $1.3 billion.

Missions giving is significant and far reaching. Through the SBC’s Cooperative Program, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world.

For example, Cooperative Program funds support more than 10,250 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world. In addition, CP funds support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the Ethics & Religions Liberty Commission, and other SBC entities. (LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources are self-funding.)

At the same time, CP funds support statewide efforts in evangelism, as well as children’s homes, disaster relief efforts, volunteer missions, colleges and universities, camps and much more.

Rainer pointed out that numeric/percent changes for certain categories could not be accurately figured for the 2007 ACP, as some state conventions did not ask for some items to be reported, or asked in a way that gave results that were not comparable to totals reported in the 2006 ACP. Also, 1,300 fewer churches submitted 2007 ACP data than the number in 2006.

Impacted categories and their 2007 totals include:
?Sunday School enrollment: 7,876,611
?Discipleship training enrollment: 1,664,348
?Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $10.85 billion
?Music ministry enrollment/participation: 1,444,837
?WMU enrolment: 778,555
?Men / boys mission education enrollment: 381,355.

?Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Chinese rearrest businessman for printing Christian materials

BEIJING  Shi Weihan, a Chinese bookstore owner in Beijing, has been rearrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature during a time when a shortage of such materials has been reported in China.

Shi, a 37-year-old father of two daughters, was taken into custody for a second time March 19 and has been held without family visits, China Aid Association said in a news release April 22.

“His wife said she received no word on her husband’s condition, and she has been prevented from bringing any food or change of clothing since his rearrest,” Daniel Burton, a spokesman for China Aid, told Baptist Press. “She is very concerned about his health due to his diabetes and the deprivation and torture that’s often used by Public Security Bureau officials on the arrested.”

Burton said Shi’s second arrest was unexpected.

“It comes as a big surprise to us because he was released on insufficient evidence back in January,” Burton said, referring to Shi’s first imprisonment, which began in November.

Another bookstore owner, Zhou Heng, was arrested and detained in Xinjiang province in August for receiving a shipment of Bibles. Zhou revealed last week that he had been cleared of charges and released from prison in February, the news release said.

Shi is not a dissident and had not faced any difficulties with Chinese authorities prior to last fall, Illinois businessman Ray Sharpe told Baptist Press in December. Rather, Shi is “a solid Christian believer who wants to practice his faith in his private life and his business.”

Shi’s Christian literature bookstore is located in a modern high-rise business tower within two miles of the Olympic Village, Sharpe, a longtime friend, said. Shi also is a travel agent and, as an entrepreneur, has been involved in exports and advertising. Shi’s bookstore only sold books for which he had received government permission, Sharpe said.

Police confiscated computers, business records and Christian materials from both Shi’s home and business when he was arrested in November. His wife, Zhang Jing, was arrested and later released after questioning as were Shi’s younger brother and his wife. Zhang’s arrest was witnessed by the couple’s two daughters, Grace, 7, who is a U.S. citizen by her birth in the United States during a 2000 visit, and Lily, 11.

In January, prosecutors assigned to Shi’s case said they were unable to proceed due to “insufficient evidence” related to the charges that were eventually filed: illegal printing and distribution of Christian literature.

Compass Direct News said April 18 that Chinese pastors both from house churches and the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement have reported a shortage of Bibles and Christian materials in Beijing and other parts of the country. The shortage, the news service said, is due in part to church growth and also to Bible confiscation.

Shi apparently had been concerned about publishing unauthorized books but because the churches needed them, he decided the risk was worth taking, Compass Direct said.

Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, told Baptist Press in March that he has noticed a crackdown on Christians ahead of the Beijing Olympics, scheduled for Aug. 8-24.

“Whether that’s to send a message to the church to lay low or whether it is to make sure that anybody who might cause international embarrassment is taken care of ahead of time, I don’t know,” Nettleton said. “But we do see an increase in the level of arrests, the level of house church services being raided, that sort of activity.”

China Aid, in its 2007 Persecution Report released in February, identified four categories of persecution: against house church leaders, against house churches in urban areas, against Christian publications and against foreign Christians and missionaries.

Concerned individuals are urged to contact the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 011-86-10-65592311 or 011-86-10-13910869861; the Beijing Public Security Bureau’s Haidian District Substation at 011-86-10-82510110 or 011-86-10-82519350; and their congressmen and senators, via the Capitol switchboard, at 202-224-3121. Burton of China Aid also suggested calling the Chinese Embassy in Washington at 202-338-6688.

Enough is enough

I should have said this before now. The International Olympic Committee’s choice of China should have been more controversial than it was from the start. We’re supposed to accept the largely fictional notion that the Olympic Games are not political, but it requires too much naiveté.

Shi Weihan, a Chinese Christian who has been arrested in the past for distributing Christian literature is in jail again at this writing. Seeing this story reminded me of how wrong this government is and how we tend to handle it as though it’s somehow different from other tyrannical states. This is a regime that curtails religious expression regularly, that has a barbaric and misogynistic notion of population control, and that has violently suppressed free speech throughout its reign. Shame on us for lending them the slightest opportunity to amend their image.

U.S. athletes no doubt are going to Beijing for the games. I’m not mad at them for doing that. It is too late for our nation to get a conscience about a China that has done nothing out of their ordinary in the last couple of years. If we weren’t already tired of this cruel giant, we won’t be, short of some overt military action against a Western ally. OK, I get that.

We shouldn’t show up, though. We shouldn’t go there and spend our money, or watch it on TV, or buy the commemorative junk. The cute pandas and round-the-clock coverage of the host country should instead be a time of shame and mourning for the civilized world.

Would we support Sudan in this way? How about Venezuela or North Korea? Think of this as the 1936 Olympics and the host country is a newly prosperous Germany. Jesse Owens’ bright moment aside, we shouldn’t have gone. China only appears different because of what we don’t yet know, and because we want it to be different. In principle, it’s the same mistake.

Any support we, as churches and individual Christians, give this year’s games requires we overlook so many ugly things, we’re compromising with evil. The money, the pageantry, the vague notion of some positive influence we might have while we’re there?it’s not enough to drown out the cries of the persecuted or the cynical laughter of the host government.

Criswell College students sift for ancient artifacts with Israeli archaeologist

DALLAS?Over 10 days at spring break, a team of Criswell College students, led by college Provost Lamar Cooper, helped unearth ancient artifacts during an archaeological dig near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The students and Cooper and his wife worked on the Temple Mount Salvage Project, sifting through roughly 1,200 buckets of dirt. They discovered 11 coins, some pottery mosaic, plaster, and some stones.

“One student found an onyx tile that is believed to be a floor tile from the inner Second Temple.” Cooper said.

Noted Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, with the cooperation of the Israeli National Parks Authority, leads the Temple Mount Salvage Project. While the dirt of the Temple Mount Salvage Project is from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the location of the project is just outside of Jerusalem.

“About three years ago, the Arabs requested permission to build a fire escape from the mosque, Al-Aqsa, located underneath the Dome of the Rock.” Cooper said.

When the Israeli president signed the documents granting permission, he did not pay attention. The fire escape instead became a grand entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque. Over several days the construction crew removed 20,000 tons of dirt, carving a slanting hole leading into the Temple Mount and the mosque.

“The dirt was then dumped into the Kidron Valley after it was excavated,” Cooper said.

When the Israeli Antiquities Authority discovered what had happened, they impounded the dirt.

“Normally when a construction project is being done the Israeli government sends in archaeologists to remove everything of historical value.” Cooper said. “But because of the way that this construction project was carried out the archaeologists did not get that chance.”

After the dirt was impounded, it was moved to Tzurim Valley National Park on the slopes of Mount
Scopus, the project’s current location. Here the team of archaeologists led by Barkay are going through the dirt bucket by bucket.

“When we were there we used a method called wet sifting.” Cooper said.

Wet sifting involves the students taking a bucket of dirt and filling it with water. After allowing the bucket to sit, the contents are dumped into a sieve and hosed off.

“Then we would go through the pieces left over and look for items that stood out,” Cooper said. “The team was trained to recognize the items of importance by the staff at the Temple Mount Project.”

Currently, the project has unearthed many items of importance.

“At this time the Temple Mount Salvage Project has unearthed over 3,500 coins,” Cooper said. “These coins contain important information about history. Some of the coins discovered are the first coins discovered of their type. By the time the project is completed they will probably have at least 6,000 to 7,000 coins.”

While on the trip Cooper sat down with Barkay and looked over some of the 3,500 coins discovered thus far.

“I was looking at the coins and I turned to Dr. Barkay and said, ‘This dig would be well worth it, just for the coins that were found.'”

The Temple Mount Salvage Project is allowing archaeologists the first look in at what the First and Second Temples were like.

The project is important in another way as well. Though there have been no archeological digs on the Temple Mount, this soil is soil from the Temple Mount.

“They will not be able to make the same kind of conclusions about their discoveries, but they will be able to draw a lot of conclusions from what they have found,” Cooper said.

The project has found evidence of both the First and the Second Temple.

The project and archaeology in general are important for the Christian, Cooper said.

“There are some people who do not believe that the Temple ever existed,” Cooper explained. “But this project is able to give us evidence that the Temple existed and gives us an idea of what it looked like.”

The historical accuracy of the Bible has been attacked for years, but archaeology is able to prove the existence of places that were long thought mythical.

“Every time the historical accuracy of the Bible is placed up against archaeology, the Bible is always proven true,” Cooper said.

Cooper gave an analogy: “Imagine that one day your house was destroyed by a tornado and a man came up to you and said, ‘Your house never existed.’ You would be able to say to him, ‘Yes it did.

Here are the pieces.’ It is that way with archaeology. It finds the pieces to prove history. Archaeology proves the truth of the Bible.”

The Criswell trip did more than just help unearth information about the Temple Mount. Trace Bailey, a Criswell student and Texas pastor who attended this year’s trip, said, “It was an incredible experience to experience Israel and Jerusalem and to have your hands in the very ground of the Temple Mount.”
Bailey said he left Israel with a new burden.

“I realized the importance of global Christians and left with a new understanding of missions. To see the Jews weeping at a wall hoping to gain a relationship with God and how devout the Muslims are and know that they are lost, I have a new appreciation for the lostness of the world that I didn’t have before.”

Criswell College began sending out an archaeology team early in its history. The archaeology program is in conjunction with the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell. Cooper revived the program when he returned to Criswell in 1997.

Criswell has regularly sent out a team since then. Cooper said.

“The Temple Mount Salvage Project probably has at least another year of sifting left. We are hoping to be able to go back,” Cooper said.

SBTC bypasses Ft. Worth because of city’s unusual requirements

Several thousand Southern Baptists will bypass Fort Worth next year to attend the annual Empower Evangelism Conference. Following nearly six months of negotiations, the city of Fort Worth refused to accommodate the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in setting a limit to the amount of liability the convention must assume when leasing facilities. While the Charitable Immunity Act caps liability exposure for non-profit organizations like the SBTC, the city of Fort Worth requires all entities covered by the act that lease its facilities to relinquish this protection and accept unlimited risk.

“The city of Fort Worth is the only entity that has ever made the waiver of the protection of the Charitable Immunity Act as a requirement for a lease,” said Shelby Sharpe, general counsel for the SBTC. “It would seem that the city of Fort Worth is way out of step with the rest of the municipalities and counties in Texas with whom the SBTC has licensed facilities.”

Sharpe said the SBTC has entered similar contracts with city governments in Arlington, Houston, Lubbock and Corpus Christi since the founding of the convention a decade ago.

Sharpe explained the reasoning of the 1987 act, stating, “The Texas Legislature determined it was in the best interest of the citizens of Texas to place a cap on liability exposure a charitable organization might incur in conducting its activities.”

He said the Charitable Immunity Act was designed to prevent these organizations “from being wiped out of existence by one lawsuit,” capping damages in a maximum amount of $500,000 for each person, $1 million for single occurrence of bodily injury or death and $100,000 for each single occurrence for injury to or destruction of property.

In seeking to satisfy the concerns of the city of Fort Worth, the SBTC offered to purchase additional insurance of up to $6 million. Sharpe told an attorney for the city of Fort Worth that setting an agreed upon amount for insurance liability “should accomplish the city’s purpose and at the same time provide a cap on damages consistent with the purpose of the act to protect the viability of the SBTC.”

Fort Worth Public Events Director Kirk Slaughter responded on Feb. 26, stating, “The city of Fort Worth respectfully declines to cap damages at a specific amount. The city would like to host the SBTC Convention and will do so with the Charitable Immunity language as proposed by the city,” he added in reference to the required waiver of the right allowed under Texas law.

SBTC Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis expressed his frustration over what he found to be an unreasonable demand. “It appears that there is no insured amount which the city of Fort Worth feels would adequately protect its constituents,” Davis said, referring to the demand for unlimited liability.

In a letter dated Dec. 20, 2007, Assistant City Attorney Maleshia B. Farmer told the SBTC the city of Fort Worth would not remove paragraph 29 of its license agreement. The language requires that charitable organizations entitled to any immunity or limitation of liability under the provisions of the Charitable Immunity and Liability Act of 1987 “expressly waives its right to assert or plead defensively any such immunity or limitation of liability.”

While Sharpe asked the city of Fort Worth to justify its demand, Farmer simply stated that “the provision has been included in all license agreements for use of city facilities for a number of years.”

Another area of disagreement involved a contract provision requiring the leasing entity to be liable for any negligence on the part of the city of Fort Worth.

“I have never encountered another entity that feels justified in asking me to be liable for their negligence,” Davis said. “It appears a standard practice of the city of Fort Worth to over reach most of its customers by requiring the customer to be liable for the city’s negligence.”

After some debate, Davis said the city of Fort Worth agreed to change the contract with the SBTC to make the city liable for its own negligence.

With Fort Worth officials refusing to budge on their charitable immunity clause, SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass expressed his disappointment at “the unacceptable policy of the city of Fort Worth toward the more than 2,000 churches that make up the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention” regarding use of municipal facilities. “Our plans were to take our annual Empower Evangelism Conference to the Tarrant County Convention Center for the next five to seven years,” Cass said.

“It is unfortunate that we were unable to reach an agreement on the terms of the license event for the 2009 convention,” said Fort Worth City Manager Dale A. Fisseler in a letter dated April 14. “After careful and thorough consideration, a business decision was made that the revision would not offer sufficient protection for the city and its constituents, our taxpayers. The standard clause is included in all of our license agreements, our insurance coverage is based upon its inclusion, and we do not feel comfortable making such a change for any single user group,” Fisseler wrote.

Sharpe told Slaughter the SBTC would hold its conference at another location after the city refused to agree on a limit to liability.

“Considering the number of people who would be renting hotel and motel space, that would eat in restaurants and buy other services and products, this is a substantial loss to the citizens of Fort Worth,” wrote Sharpe, noting the economic loss would be magnified by the SBTC not coming to Fort Worth for the five to seven years as planned.

Cass added, “Texas Baptists love to come to Fort Worth and would have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship between our convention of churches and the city. What could have been a wonderful partnership is no longer a possibility.”

Cass said he appreciates First Baptist Church of Euless for their willingness to host the conference again in 2009 with a date set for Feb. 16-18.

Two Texans spend 5 months on mission assignment to West African village

NIGER, West Africa?The long wail of the Muslim call to prayer breaks with the dawn. Roosters are crowing. HandsOn missionaries Kelsi Kelso and Brittany Breedlove awake in their hut in a West African village.

Walking around on their sand floor, they make breakfast from scratch on their gas burner. The only electricity is two light bulbs. Breedlove sometimes takes a run out through the rice fields as the sun rises, watching the rich colors reflected through the water on the paddies.

Life is beautiful and rough here for these two Texans, but they knew that when they signed up for the HandsOn West Africa program. And that’s why they came?to speak the name of Jesus in hard places.

Kelso is from Rocky Point Baptist Church in Stephenville and Breedlove is from First Baptist Church of Gunter.

“Living out here without running water and just one light and cooking from scratch and living in sand isn’t the ideal life for me because I’m American,” said Kelso, who recently recovered from malaria.

“But this is life for them [the Zerma people], and for me to understand who they are, I have to become like them.”

Kelso and Breedlove are part of a five-month International Mission Board program that places people aged 18 to 29 in different ministries around West Africa. While there are currently just two HandsOn programs, this one in West Africa and another for Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, HandsOn will open up worldwide next year.

The program challenges these missionaries to take up the Great Commission, leaving behind their American life. HandsOn is part of an IMB effort to raise up a younger generation of career missionaries.

“I think one thing about this region that is distinctive is that people really want to have a spiritual conversation about God,” said Greg Sharpe. He and his wife, Laura, are the coordinators for the HandsOn West Africa program.

While West Africa is known for being a difficult place to live, the local people love to discuss spirituality. This opens the scene to spreading the word about Jesus. Most HandsOn missionaries live directly among the people and often find ample opportunities to share Christ as they experience life in Africa.

“You get to put your whole mind, body, soul and spirit into what that feels like,” Greg said.

Culture in an African village is often comparable to culture in Bible times because time has, relatively speaking, not changed this place since the days of Jesus.

“It’s like being in a time warp,” Greg said.

For example, Kelso is in the process of witnessing to a woman who draws water from the well near her house, just like Jesus spoke with a woman at the well in the Bible (John 4:7).

The girls studied the African language of Zerma for three weeks before beginning their ministry. Now their hard work is paying off.

Kelso, 23, is getting to know the women her age in her neighborhood. Most of them already have a baby or two.

“At first I thought it would be hard to relate to them, but it’s not,” Kelso said. “Right now we’re just trying to get to know what they like to do.”

When one of their host mother’s goats ran away to give birth, Breedlove spent the next two hours helpingher host familysearch.

“The people here aren’t so different from you and me. I feel like I’m a part of their family. I have friends here like I have in America that I can talk with and joke with just like I would in America,” Breedlove said.

A man found the goat and the new kid later and brought them back to her host mom.

The girls have also been able to help people medically.A little boy cut open his toe one night outside their house. The girls cleaned the cut, bandaged it and sent him home. More people with injuries showed up the next day, wanting help.

“We had a little clinic under the tunda [Zerma word for porch roof] outside our house. We were fixing people and teaching them how to wash their sores and giving them Band-Aids,” Kelso said.

Their missionary supervisor, Kanesa Snow of Borger, said these women have blown away her expectations.

“I’m really amazed at what they can do after being here only for such a short time. And it really gives me a desire to mentor more people all the time,” Snow said.

Each evening the two meet with the leader of their compound?a grandfather who recently gave his life to Christ. They share Bible stories with him as night encroaches. Then when the rouged African sun turns it head toward night, the girls go back to their house in the sand. Darkness finds them sleeping.

“I have been stretched more beyond measure on this trip than I have ever been in my life. Nothing else matters than serving the Lord. No matter what you do,” Kelso said. “Whether you’re sitting back at a desk back in the States or being a real missionary in Niger. You need to be a missionary wherever you’re going to be.”

To find out more about the IMB’s HandsOn program, visit hands-on-africa.com.