Month: December 2011

Obama’s contraceptive changes a ‘fig leaf,’ says pro-life congressman

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration announced changes on Friday to its controversial “contraception mandate” with a policy that shifts the responsibility to offer free birth control—including abortion-causing drugs—away from religious organizations to their insurance companies.

But pro-life advocates were taking no comfort in the changes, charging that the increased costs to insurers would be passed on to religious organizations in paying for the broader insurance group plans.

House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told LifeNews.com: “This ObamaCare rule still tramples on Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion. It’s a fig leaf, not a compromise. Whether they are affiliated with a church or not, employers will still be forced to pay an insurance company for coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs,” he said.

The new policy, the White House said, would allow religious institutions to avoid offering contraception in their insurance plans. Instead, the new plan “ensures … (the) insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.

“The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and addresses important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception,” according to a White House “fact sheet” on the changes.

GuideStone Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, which provides health insurance coverage and other services to more than 200,000 people, expressed strong opposition Monday (Feb. 6) to the mandate in its earlier form, especially its failure to provide adequate conscience protections.

The mandate required all methods approved as birth control by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge. Those FDA-endorsed contraceptives include ones that have abortion-causing properties — “ella;” emergency contraception, such as Plan B, and the intrauterine device (IUD).

Under the revisions, insurance companies would be required to offer these contraceptives directly to women free of charge if they work for a religious institution that refuses to cover them directly in their insurance plan.

—Compiled by staff and Baptist Press reports

CULTURE DIGEST: Marriages at record low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Only 51 percent of Americans age 18 and older are married, compared to 57 percent a decade ago, according to a new study, and while young adults aspire to marry, it's not a priority.

The median age when women first marry is at a new high of older than 26, and the corresponding age for men is almost 29, the Pew Research Center said.

By comparison, in 1960, 72 percent of all adults were married in the United States, and the median age for brides was barely 20 and grooms were just a couple of years older, The Washington Post noted Dec. 14.

In 2010, 7.5 million couples were living together without being married, representing a 13 percent increase in just one year. The Post said the economy is largely to blame, with dating couples struggling to support two households but not being willing to commit to marriage.

A sociologist at Johns Hopkins University told The Post that in the 1950s marriage was mandatory but now it's “culturally optional.” Just last year Pew found that more than four in 10 Americans under 30 consider marriage old-fashioned.

Yet most young adults today express a desire to marry eventually, once they've had time to establish careers, travel the world and indulge in hobbies.

Matt Statler, a 29-year-old resident of the nation's capital, told The Post he'd like to marry someday, but he's “definitely in no hurry.” He wants the freedom to do what he wants for a time without feeling that he should be spending time in a committed relationship.

“It's just easier to date around and not be as emotionally invested in someone when I have other goals in life right now,” Statler told The Post.

Another major factor in the declining marriage rate is a generation of youth who have experienced their parents' divorces and fear repeating the mistakes. 

The newspaper quoted a 30-year-old woman whose divorced father advised her to wait at least until age 35 to marry. Such young adults, Pew found, believe that living together is a safer first step.

BARNA REFLECTS ON 2011 TRENDS — Americans are struggling to determine how faith, Christianity and church fit into modern life, The Barna Group said in its reflection on six top trends of 2011.

“Only Billy Graham, the Pope, Barack Obama and Joel Osteen were mentioned by more than 1 out of 50 adults as the most significant Christian leaders,” Barna said. “What's more, 41 percent of Americans are unable to identify who they consider to be an influential Christian.”

Also among the year's trends: 

— People are living with a redefined American dream that includes less spending, more saving and less charitable giving. A growing number believe the economy will not recover from its current slump.

— Nearly 85 percent of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests, Barna found. Young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church.

— Technology has become a modern addiction and, while bringing notable good to everyday life, has increased conflict within families. Barna said churches can help families navigate the digital world by helping them reimagine the role of sabbatical living, such as taking meaningful breaks from technology. 

— While most Americans claim to be Christians or at least spiritual people, the spiritual transformation of lives is hard to find. Most Christians “simply do not understand the obstacles they face on the spiritual journey,” Barna said, identifying four common barriers: lack of commitment, unwillingness to fully repent, confusing activity for growth and failure to engage in genuine, accountable community. 

— More than ever, young women are preparing to live independently by getting educated and finding a job, Barna said, adding that research shows teenage girls aspire to most of the same careers as teenage boys, including the military, law enforcement, firefighting and government. 

“Another surprising fact about the changing views of young women is that only 1 percent of teen girls explicitly identifies 'domestic work' or 'homemaking' as their future occupational choice,” Barna said. 

BALE'S VISIT TO FORCED ABORTION FOE REBUFFED — Christian Bale, star of the latest “Batman” movie franchise, was repulsed by authorities Dec. 15 as he sought to visit a leading opponent of China's coercive abortion program.

Bale and a CNN television crew were blocked by the guards at a checkpoint as they sought to walk from their car to the home of Chen Guangcheng in Dongshigu Village in eastern China. The guards — dressed in olive green military-style overcoats — pushed Bale and the others back, CNN reported. When Bale pulled out a small camera, the guards hit him as they aimed punches at his camera and tried to drag him away from the others.

“Why can I not visit this free man?” Bale asked repeatedly, according to the report.

The actor and the CNN crew had driven eight hours from Beijing in an effort to see Chen, who has been under house arrest for more than a year. He and his wife reportedly have been tortured and denied medical care during that time. Prior to his home detention, Chen served more than four years in prison on what his supporters describe as trumped-up charges by the government.

Chen, a 40-year-old lawyer who is blind, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi on behalf of women who had been forced to have abortions or sterilizations. In the county in which he lives, there were 130,000 coerced abortions and involuntary sterilizations in 2005 alone, according to the ChinaAid human rights organization.

China's population control program — known as the one-child policy and instituted officially in 1980 — generally limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if the husband and wife are both only children. 

The program has been marked by forced abortion — even in the final trimester — and sterilization. Infanticide, especially of females, also has been reported.

After Bale was turned back from visiting Chen, he told CNN, “What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is.”

He said on the drive to Chen's village, “This doesn't come naturally to me, this is not what I actually enjoy — it isn't about me. But this was just a situation that said I can't look the other way.

“I'm not brave doing this. The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beat or detained, I want to support them.”

According to CNN, Bale learned about Chen while he was in China for the filming of “The Flowers of War,” which portrays the brutal 1930s invasion of Nanjing by Japanese troops. He returned to Beijing for the movie's premier and invited the CNN crew to accompany him as he sought to visit Chen. The movie is China's official entry in the Academy Award competition.

Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, described Bale as “a hero. He is starring in the most expensive film ever made in China, which China hopes will win an Academy Award. Nevertheless, he has the courage to stand against official injustice and has greatly raised the visibility of Chen's case.”

Women's Rights Without Frontiers works to combat coerced abortion and sexual slavery.

Bale is best known for his role in the “Batman” movie series, which will resume next summer with “The Dark Knight Rises.” He won an Academy Award as best supporting actor earlier this year for his role in “The Fighter.”

EX-PLANNED PARENTHOOD CLINIC DIRECTOR JOINS AUL — Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, joined Americans United for Life Dec. 8 as senior policy adviser.

She also announced Nov. 21 the launch of a ministry to reach out to abortion clinic workers. Its name will be And Then There Were None.

Johnson has become a leading pro-life advocate since resigning in 2009 as director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. She left the clinic she had worked at for eight years after viewing an abortion by means of a sonogram. At the time, Johnson said she had already become disillusioned with her job, recounting that a Planned Parenthood supervisor had been urging her to find ways to increase profits by performing more abortions.

Johnson's knowledge of Planned Parenthood will help Americans United for Life in its effort to eliminate government funding of the abortion giant, the organization's president said.

“No one understands better than Abby how intertwined abortion policy and government funding have become…. She will be an integral part of our work to expose and defund the abortion industry,” Charmaine Yoest said in a written statement. 

Planned Parenthood clinics performed more than 332,000 abortions in 2009, making the organization the country's leading abortion provider. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates received more than $363 million in government grants and contracts from federal, state and local sources in 2008-09.

Johnson and six other former Planned Parenthood employees volunteered Dec. 7 to testify in a congressional investigation into alleged illegal and unethical behavior by the abortion giant.

PA. LAWMAKERS TIGHTEN STANDARDS FOR ABORTION CLINICS — Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have approved a bill that will require abortion clinics in the state to meet the same health and safety standards as other outpatient surgery centers.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is expected to sign the legislation into law.

The Senate voted 32-18 for the proposal Dec. 14, a day after the House of Representatives passed it in a 151-44 roll call, according to the Pennsylvania Independent.

The measure requires abortion clinics to expand the size of operating rooms, install elevators and have driveways and parking lots large enough for ambulances, the Independent reported.

Planned Parenthood and other organizations that support abortion rights oppose the bill, saying it will reduce access to the procedure.

Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute and a backer of the measure, welcomed the standardization between abortion clinics and other outpatient facilities. He told the Independent, “If that is what the state is requiring for arthroscopic knee surgeries, what is special about abortion that it should be granted allowances for lower standards?”

Lawmakers proposed the legislation after a grand jury report in January revealed a West Philadelphia clinic owned by abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was marked by deplorable conditions that resulted in its closing and Gosnell's medical license being suspended. 

Gosnell and eight others, including his wife, were charged with counts that include first-degree murder, third-degree murder, conspiracy and corruption. Six former employees have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Gosnell.

On Dec. 14, Gosnell's wife Pearl pleaded guilty to charges that included taking part in an illegal, late-term abortion, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gosnell, 70, has been charged with eight counts of murder — one in the death of a woman and seven in the deaths of viable, fully delivered children who were killed. Those babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at the clinic, the grand jury reported. Gosnell destroyed most of the files, limiting prosecution to only seven cases.

Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach and Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

Do you have a Bible-reading plan for 2012?

JACKSON, Tenn.—Nelda normally came to church, sat in the back and made her exit quickly with the final “Amen.”

Having come to faith as a teen, this single grandma had seldom been nurtured and had yet to make a public profession of her faith in Christ. And although Nelda had been attending our church for a dozen years, we had never been able to pull her into our small-group community.

Then she heard about “Read the Bible for Life,” a nine-week small group study that would be followed by a year of walking and worshipping through the pages of the world’s greatest book. Nelda thought, “I’ve never read through the Bible before; I probably should do that.”

She got hooked.

The nine-week study, which focuses on how to read the Bible better, drew Nelda into the small group experience and gave her a compelling vision for reading the Bible in a fresh life-altering way. Then, through the following year, our small groups read through the Bible chronologically. Each week small group leaders helped the participants explore discussion questions, and the week culminated in a whole-church worship service with a sermon focused on a key passage from that week’s reading.

The combination of individual reading, small-group discussion and worship was powerful and brought great changes to Nelda’s life. She made a public profession of her faith and was baptized. Last summer she and her teenage grandson went on a mission trip to Romania. As a result of that trip, her grandson has come to faith in Christ and was baptized a few weeks ago. And Nelda is ministering to Kathy, who has yet to make a profession of faith but has gotten involved in Nelda’s small group.

As Nelda has engaged God’s Word in the past year, two dynamics have been vitally important.

First, she has learned how to read the parts of Scripture well. Too often we hand people a Bible, this ancient, sometimes complex book, and say, “Here. You should read this.” Learning how to hear God speak variously through a psalm, or a parable, or a letter from Paul, and learning how to apply the Bible’s truths to life responsibly can make all the difference. It has made a big difference for Nelda as she has met the Living God in the pages of His living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

Second, Nelda has gotten drawn into the Bible’s grand story. When I asked her about the main impact reading through the Bible has had on her life she replied, “I never knew how all the stories fit together to make sense.” She woke up one morning and realized that the stories of the Bible are one story, and that big, beautiful story is her story. As she understood how the Bible’s story fits together, she saw more clearly the purpose of her own life.

So how about you? Do you and your community have a plan for reading, walking and worshiping through the Word in 2012?

Check out the tools at www.readthebibleforlife.com. Among other things you will find downloadable reading plans, a chronological Bible called Reading God’s Story, and a Reader’s Guide to the Bible that will coach you day-by-day through the year. 

In the final week of 2011, we will release a free audio podcast of the chronological reading plan, which you can access through apps, Facebook or Twitter.

Frank Cooke, a British Baptist leader in the 20th century, once said, “The foundation of every reformation of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God made plain to the people.” We need reformation; we need to read the Word in the coming year. This could change everything in our lives, our families and our churches.

Nelda still sits in the back during worship each Sunday, but now she has a big smile on her face and her HCSB Study Bible tucked under her arm. She lingers after the service, enjoying the people and presence of God. Her life and the lives of those around her will never be the same.

George H. Guthrie is the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and author of “Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word,” published by the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources. For more information, visit www.readthebibleforlife.com.

Through Scripture, Reformation began in Luther’s heart

Editor’s note: The Jan. 23 TEXAN will include a special report on the Anabaptists and their continuing influence. Martin Luther’s reforms were foundational to what later became the Baptist movement. The following first-person article is part of that special report.

WITTENBERG, Germany—On a cold, crisp, late October day in 1517, a concerned professor in a small German university town posted a list of ideas he wanted to discuss on the town bulletin board, which also happened to be the wooden door of the Castle Church. Little did 33-year-old Martin Luther realize, as he nailed what has now been famously called the “95 Theses” to that door, that he would soon become a lightning rod throughout Germany and that the town of Wittenberg would become the epicenter of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther’s accusations against the pope, the Catholic Church’s views on purgatory, and the heretical idea of purchasing the forgiveness of sins rang a resounding alarm. Aided by the rise of the printing press, the young monk’s questions flooded the German countryside. Alongside this was his call for a scriptural view of salvation, not by works but by grace alone through faith alone.

Yet Luther’s quest to return the church to its foundation did not spring from self-seeking motives or power-hungry ambition. In fact, the Protestant Reformation started with a personal reformation in Luther’s own heart as he studied Scripture and sought the Lord fervently in prayer.

It was Luther’s love for the Bible that fueled his resolve against the pope’s threats of excommunication, which would brand him a criminal in the eyes of the empire. When he received the label of “heretic,” his friends kidnapped him and hid him in Wartburg Castle to protect him from those who sought his life.

During those 10 months of hiding, Luther translated the New Testament into the German vernacular, a feat that would burst open the doors of the Reformation as it now made the Scriptures available and understandable to the common man. No longer would the Scripture be shackled in the Latin tongue and sequestered from the people. They could now read the Bible for themselves and experience the same life-transforming power it gave Luther.

This high view of Scripture and trust in its absolute authority paved the way for a spiritual revolution across Western Europe whose ripples are still felt today in modern evangelical churches. However, the sad truth of the story is that this fidelity to the Bible did not stand the test of time, as Germany became the breeding ground in the 19th and 20th centuries for liberal theology, which jettisoned the conviction of biblical inerrancy and has left only a few embers of evangelical Christianity in the country as well as in the rest of Europe. Although Oct. 31 is recognized as Reformation Day in Germany, I wondered how many Germans realize its significance.

So as my wife and I waited to board the train headed for the small, out-of-the way town of Wittenberg on Reformation Day last October, I did not know what to expect. We were headed to the tiny university town because I am a church history buff, and since we were in the country, I could not pass up the opportunity to visit on such an historic day. Would we be the only people on the train headed to our destination?

To my surprise, I found myself standing among a small crowd waiting to board the same train. As we made the hour-long journey, more people hopped on at the various stops, and we all exited the train together in Wittenberg. My excitement escalated further as we entered the town and saw the main street packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. Maybe I had short-changed the German people and their knowledge of church history after all.

Then, I saw it.

A banner over the street read, “Wittenberg Renaissance Music Festival October 23-31.” As we pressed into the crowd, there were booths with food vendors and merchants in medieval period garb selling their wares. Street performers entertained the crowds as minstrels plucked away. Although there were groups in the Luther Museum and visitors to the Castle Church that day, it became apparent that the masses were there to celebrate the Renaissance, not the Reformation.

Ironically, a statue of Luther holding a Bible towered above the crowd in the town square. Had it been the real Luther, I imagined a tear or two running down his cheek. Surely he would weep over the dearth of Christianity in his homeland.

A German friend of mine recently said, “Martin Luther brought the Bible back to the people. Today, we have to bring the people back to the Bible.”

As I heard these words, I could not help but consider Christianity in America and, more specifically, among Southern Baptists. History shows that trends in Europe reach the shores of America within a decade or two. Many see the writing on the wall that the United States is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation, if it has not already become so. Even the buckle of the Bible belt shows signs of rust.

Among Southern Baptists, the Conservative Resurgence of the last few decades defied odds and signaled the only Christian denomination to turn from its slide toward liberalism back to a faithful commitment to the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. Verbally, we claim to be “people of the Book,” but practically, signs of dusty, unopened Bibles often loom over our churches.

Yet we are not without hope. Revival is not impossible.

So how do we fan back into flames those fires that once burned so brightly? The answer is simple: it starts the same way as the Reformation. True revival starts with a personal reformation in our hearts as we study Scripture and seek the Lord fervently in prayer.

You may never be a Martin Luther, and you may never lead wide-scale national reform, but you can be an agent of change in your family and in your church. Remarkable things happen among those who love the Lord and are fully committed to living out his Word.

As 2012 approaches, will you join me in a renewed focus on daily prayer and Scripture reading? Sure, many Christians commit to this every New Year, but what if this year it was less about checking the boxes and more about loving the Bible and, more importantly, its Author.

But one word of wisdom as you read and pray: You may want to post discussion questions on your church’s Facebook page rather than nailing it to the church’s front door.

—Keith Collier is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in preaching and church history.

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Nativity scene symbolizes ‘greatest gift,’ Texas rally told

ATHENS—The estimated 5,000 people who attended a rally in support of an embattled nativity scene in Henderson County heard more than just sentiment bemoaning the efforts of secularists to remove religious symbols from public spaces.

They also heard the gospel.

The Saturday (Dec. 17) rally in Athens took place more than two weeks after the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), at the behest of an anonymous Henderson County resident, sent a letter to county officials stating that the religious display on the courthouse lawn was in violation of a United States Supreme Court decision and should be removed from county property.

County Judge Richard Sanders and a majority of Henderson County commissioners have opposed moving the nativity scene, which is owned by a civic group called Light Up Athens.

“We stand here today because we believe in the One whom the nativity scene represents,” proclaimed Robert Welch, pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in nearby Brownsboro, who went on to explain the Christian meaning of the incarnation.

The babe in the manger, Welch said, was “fully God, fully man.” He was also “the Lamb of God” who took on the world’s sins, Welch proclaimed as the crowd erupted in applause. “And 2,000 years later he is still the Lamb of God.”

“This baby was called not just to be the Jewish messiah but was called to be the Savior of anyone who would call upon him to be saved—whether black or white, male or female, young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated…. The nativity is the greatest gift ever given.”

The nativity is joined on the courthouse grounds by other Christmas-related displays, mostly non-religious. Sanders said the county’s attorney had reviewed pertinent cases and found Henderson County to be in compliance with federal law.

After asking area pastors in the crowd to raise their hands, Welch invited the crowd to “grab one of these men by the hand” to learn how they might begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.

On Dec. 16, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter to Sanders expressing his support for the county and offering to write a brief on behalf of the county should FFRF follow through on its threat to sue for the nativity scene’s removal.

Erick Graham, pastor of Sands Springs Baptist Church in Athens and a fifth-generation Henderson County resident, told the crowd that he hoped the rally marked a new beginning for cooperation among area pastors.

Graham lamented the county’s social ills, with high rates of methamphetamine use, teen pregnancy, child abuse and domestic violence.

Despite those, he said he had never been so proud to be from Henderson County.

“We stand in the gap today between those who have gone before and those who have yet to come, between our ancestors and our offspring,” Graham told the crowd. “Many have been asking, ‘What can we do?’ Until now our response has been ‘Pray and show up for the assembly.’ But today is just the beginning. Everything changes today.”

As the applause quieted, Graham called on churches to unite across denominational barriers to push back the spiritual darkness in the county. To date, “we have been wiping the runny nose of someone in cardiac arrest,” said Graham, alluding to the county’s spiritual and social ills.

“Though we don’t all agree on every doctrinal issue, we do agree that Jesus is the answer” to the problems the area has, he said.

Nathan Lorick, pastor of First Baptist Church of Malakoff, closed the rally with an appeal for Christians to no longer be “the silent majority” but rather to “take America back to a place of spiritual health and vitality” where “the truth of the Bible was not a mere afterthought but instead a foundational basis on which we live.”

“This is our heart today,” Lorick said.

Such a task is not accomplished by militant activism, Lorick emphasized, but through caring for the needy, protecting children, “and giving every child the right to live,” Lorick added to loud applause.

“It’s done,” Lorick said, “by daily being proactive in service and humility. Standing up to the things that are robbing our children of a future. This is how the message is heard—by putting action to our faith.”

One of the few references to FFRF during the rally came from Welch, the Brownsboro pastor. The atheist group sent a banner of its own to Henderson County that read, “At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.”

Welch responded, “My friends, this is what the nativity states: At this season of Christian celebration, let faith prevail. There is one true God. And there is a devil, and there are angels. And there is a heaven and a hell. There is a supernatural world. Religion is not myth. It is not a superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. But the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks the hard heart … and frees the mind that surrenders to him.”

“This is what the nativity stands for and this is why we stand,” Welch said.

The East Texas display is one of a dozen nativity scenes that the non-profit Wisconsin-based FFRF is working to eliminate.

 

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Criswell accreditation status reaffirmed

DALLAS—The accrediting agency for Criswell College voted Dec. 5 to reaffirm the school’s accreditation status. “Criswell College has been providing the highest-quality education for Christian leaders available for 40 years, and we are pleased that SACS has re-affirmed us to continue providing that same quality for years to come,” college President Jerry Johnson said in a statement.

As part of his Dec. 2 report at the Criswell College Board of Trustees meeting, Johnson told trustees to expect a decision on re-affirmation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The Criswell board also acted at that meeting to approve a new degree plan in church planting and revitalization (CPR) following extensive interviews with 12 nationally known leaders in the field of study who shared what Johnson described as “the best courses, best professors, best practices and best books.”

A committee of three Criswell professors developed the content, which could be studied as a major for the bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies or for a certificate in church planting.

“We have people who are middle-aged or seniors who want to come and learn church planting, but we’re also hoping to equip a lot of church planters who are not even looking for the degree,” Johnson told the board.

Among those who offered input on the curriculum were Barry Calhoun, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church planting team leader, International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and numerous church planters.

For information on enrolling in the program contact the school toll-free at 800-899-0012 or visit criswell.edu.

The board also elected Barry K. Creamer as the new vice president of academic affairs, replacing Lamar E. Cooper Sr., who requested a return to full-time teaching in the areas of Old Testament and archaeology. See related article at http://texanonline.net/news/creamer-elected-criswell-vp-of-academic-affairs.

Trustees approved for re-election include: David Galvan, Garland; Curtis Baker, Lindale; Paul Pressler, Houston; Richard Land, Nashville; Susie Hawkins, Dallas; and Barbara Stephens, Dallas. Each was recommended by the SBTC and the W.A. Criswell Foundation.

The board also approved a recommendation establishing a standing Investment Committee, housing allowances for 2012, the annual audit report, a tuition assistance policy for full-time faculty members to pursue more graduate and post-graduate level education, a faculty travel fund for attendance at professional conferences, and proposed college departmental outcomes.

Resolutions of appreciation honored the 25 years of service by Cooper and expressed appreciation for the life of Edward J. Drake, a former board member from Dallas who died Nov. 25.

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Athens rally to protest atheists’ demands

ATHENS—The debate over religious expression in the public square will be center stage as church groups gather in Athens at noon on Dec. 17 to protest an atheist organization’s demand that the annual nativity scene be removed from the Henderson County courthouse lawn.

A Facebook page for the event stated: “There is a rally being planned … to respond to the threat to the nativity scene on the courthouse square. Organizers said they are hoping that Christians can use this rally to come together in love, to unite and show the world the true spirit of Christ and Christmas.”

Organizers were sponsoring a food drive benefiting area food banks in conjunction with the rally. Rally participants were asked to bring non-perishable food items for collection. “We’re expecting a large turnout,” said one of the rally organizers, Nathan Lorick, pastor of First Baptist Church Malakoff.

Since Lorick’s appearance on the Fox and Friends television show on Dec. 8, he said he has been inundated with calls and e-mails from across the country and around the world—including Iraq and Honduras—in support of efforts to keep the nativity in place. Supporters from as far away as Oklahoma said they planned to attend.

The nativity is only part of an annual display set up by the community organization Light Up Athens. Also on the lawn of the county courthouse are Santa and elves. Most of the displays are more festive than religious.

But the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) charges the nativity scene constitutes an endorsement of religion by the government. Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders said the county's attorney had reviewed pertinent cases and found Henderson County to be in compliance with federal law.

The atheist organization’s request rattled enough people to make national headlines. When news of the demand broke, Lorick and fellow pastors Erick Graham, Robert Welch, and Derrick Rogers put out a YouTube invitation for all pastors in the area to meet and determine a plan of action to address what Lorick called another attack on the freedom of speech by Christians.

More than 70 area pastors from various denominations gathered on Dec. 9. That so many pastors from different denominations came together with a common cause was a sign to Lorick that God’s hand is at work in Henderson County.

“I believe this rally is an answer to prayer,” Graham added in an e-mail. He pastors Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens.

“We have been asking God to push back the powers of darkness in our county and for God’s people to move forward with the power of the gospel,” he said.

Welch, pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, also wrote about his reasons for supporting the rally.

“The majority of Americans still believe that Christ is the meaning of Christmas and the reason for their celebration,” Welch said. “Over the past decade I’ve watched the politically correct movement aggressively seek to limit the expression of this belief. We who believe Christ is the meaning of Christmas can sit silently or stand and speak out.”

Graham agreed that Christian expression has become stifled and believers, to a degree, are to blame for letting it happen.

“Our Christian liberties have been taken little by little and we have been backing up bit by bit. How far do you have to back up before you are backed against a wall?” Graham asked.

All of the pastors said the rally would be a positive show of faith and unity among believers and a demonstration of love to the community.

Graham admitted there is the potential for heated rhetoric and disruptive actions. One disagreeing post on the Facebook page stated, “I'm the one coming to kick the baby jeebus out of the public square back into your homes and churches where he belongs. Why force your nonsense on everyone else?”

 The pastors are encouraging believers not to react angrily to such disagreeable words or actions but, instead, be guided by Christian principles.

Citing Galatians 5:22, Graham said, “We are going to act with love … and self-control instead of anger and bitterness. In a time where Christians are known for what we are against, we want to show that we are for some things too.”

Since his Fox and Friends appearance, Lorick as been interviewed on local and national TV and radio shows such as Glenn Beck and by Focus on the Family and Family Research Council. Because of the media attention leading up to Saturday’s rally, Lorick saids the event could have a national platform.

The other pastors agree and want to ensure that what is seen and heard is for the glory of God.

Welch said: “It’s an opportunity for us to visually show our support of our county officials who have refused to remove the nativity and to pray for them. It’s an opportunity for the church to communicate the love of Christ to our community. It’s an opportunity for Henderson County Christians to set a precedent that might encourage believers all over our country to stand up to the threat of the politically correct movement and keep Christ in Christmas.”

Lorick said the gathering “is not a pep rally for believers. It is a call for people to contend for the faith.”

Ultimately, it’s not about the nativity seen, he said. The demand to have the symbol of Christmas removed is only a symptom of the disease that plagues the nation. The pastors said America was founded on biblical principles and yet to assert those principles in word or deed incites angry protests.

“There are very real and daily examples in America where Christianity is being repressed,” Lorick said.

He noted the visceral commentary targeting outspoken Christian Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He also cited New York City’s recent court victory that lets stand a ban on churches renting New York City public schools for worship services.   

Lorick continued, “It’s not just defending the symbol of our faith but the fact that this nation was built on Christian and biblical foundations.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a banner to a Henderson County resident who has agreed to post it on the courthouse law. The organization argued the nativity display is a de facto public forum and they are adding their comments. The banner states: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.”

Lorick said the FFRF has the same right as religious organizations to freedom of speech. But he argued the banner’s message is degrading to all religions and is not an example of civil discourse.

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Wilton among preachers at SBTC evangelism conference

FRISCO—South Carolina pastor Don Wilton will be among the speakers at the 2012 SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference, Feb. 27-29 at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. The theme, “I Am Not Ashamed,” is taken from Romans 1:14-17.

This year’s conference will feature many familiar names, and one of those is Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C. and president of The Encouraging Word, a ministry that broadcasts Wilton’s preaching and teaching across the United States.

In addition to his pastorate, Wilton has served on the faculty of New Orleans Seminary and has been a frequent speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. A close friend of Graham, the noted evangelist considers Wilton his pastor.

He is the author of numerous books such as “Starting for the Finish,” “Totally Secure,” “The Absolute Certainty of Life After Death,” and “When God Prayed.”

Other scheduled guests at the Empower Evangelism Conference include Alabama evangelist Junior Hill, pastors such as Florida’s Ted Traylor and Bob Pearle of Fort Worth, and denominational leaders such as International Mission Board President Tom Elliff.

Also among the speakers will be Steve Scheibner, a former pastor and American Airlines pilot who was bumped at the last minute as pilot of one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. A video about Scheibner’s experience titled “In My Seat: A Pilot’s Story” may be viewed at youtube.com.   

Musicians for the conference will include Charles Billingsley of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and Grammy-winning vocalist Larnelle Harris as well as Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. Praise teams from First Baptist Church of Odessa and Birchman Baptist in Fort Worth will also appear.

RELATED EVENTS

  • The Spanish-language sessions that coincide with the conference include a Saturday workshop (Feb. 25) at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano that includes breakfast and lunch, and a Sunday evening rally (Feb. 26) at the Dr. Pepper Center in Frisco.
  • The Ladies’ Session of the conference is planned from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27.
  • The Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists will meet at the convention center from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and will feature the preaching of Larry Taylor, Jon Randles and Don Cass.

The Monday evening session will include Gardendale, Ala., pastor Kevin Hamm, Steve Gaines, pastor of Belleview Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, and Scheibner.

Tuesday morning will feature Pearl, Georgia evangelist Jerry Pipes, and Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marc Farnell, pastor, Crossridge Church in Little Elm, will preach, as will First Baptist Odessa pastor Byron McWilliams and Wichita Falls evangelist Jay Lowder.

On Tuesday night, preachers will include Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas; and Robert Smith, professor of divinity and Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

Wednesday morning’s conclusion will feature Traylor, pastor of Olive Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., Hill, a longtime Alabama evangelist, and the IMB’s Elliff.
Watch for more details online at sbtexas.com/evangelism.

Criswell College trustees approve church planting and renewal degree

DALLAS—The Criswell College Board of Trustees approved a new degree plan in church planting and revitalization (CPR) following extensive interviews with 12 nationally known leaders in the field of study who shared what school President Jerry Johnson described as “the best courses, best professors, best practices and best books.”

A committee of three Criswell professors developed the content, which could be studied as a major for the bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies or for a certificate in church planting.

“We have people who are middle-aged or seniors who want to come and learn church planting, but we’re also hoping to equip a lot of church planters who are not even looking for the degree,” Johnson added.

Among those who offered input on the curriculum were Barry Calhoun, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church planting team leader, International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and numerous church planters.

For information on enrolling in the program contact the school toll-free at 800-899-0012 or visit criswell.edu.

The board also elected Barry K. Creamer as the new vice president of academic affairs, replacing Lamar E. Cooper Sr., who requested a return to full-time teaching in the areas of Old Testament and archaeology. (See related article.) Trustees recommended by the SBTC and the W.A. Criswell Foundation were approved for re-election and include: David Galvan, Garland; Curtis Baker, Lindale; Paul Pressler, Houston; Richard Land, Nashville; Susie Hawkins, Dallas; and Barbara Stephens, Dallas.

The board also approved a recommendation establishing a standing Investment Committee, housing allowances for 2012, the annual audit report, a tuition assistance policy for full-time faculty members to pursue more graduate and post-graduate level education, a faculty travel fund for attendance at professional conferences, and proposed college departmental outcomes.

Resolutions of appreciation honored the 25 years of service by Cooper and expressed appreciation for the life of Edward J. Drake, a former board member from Dallas who died Nov. 25.

States move toward Great Commission thrust

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The Great Commission Resurgence that arose within the Southern Baptist Convention last year is being embraced by many state Baptist conventions as they restructure for greater efficiency and provide increased funding of missions and church planting efforts in North America and around the world.

What once appeared to be the biggest hurdle to accomplishing GCR priorities—state conventions shifting more of their undesignated Cooperative Program receipts from local churches for use beyond the state—is now a popular movement as nearly every state convention has within the past five years increased the percentage forwarded to the SBC.

“I think 27 of the 42 state conventions have either approved or are in the process of considering moving toward a 50/50 split in their CP giving,” said SBC President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

“That’s a change in focusing on not keeping so many dollars in the state, but seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and taking the gospel to those areas where there’s such a great need for that witness,” Wright told Baptist Press. “I’m really just amazed at how God is moving, and very thankful.”

Messengers in many of the state conventions adopted budgets designed to accomplish the GCR challenge to send the SBC a greater portion of CP receipts that will then be used to fund the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) as well as six SBC seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operations by the Executive Committee.

Many state conventions tightened their in-state budgets—some making dramatic cuts, such as the 44 percent reduction by New York Baptists in approving a $1.4 million budget for 2012 compared to $3.19 million in 2011. In spite of that change, the Baptist Convention of New York continues its incremental move toward splitting CP receipts 50/50 between the state and SBC causes, increasing the portion forwarded to 28.25 percent next year.

Twenty-four of the state Baptist conventions reduced their budgets, oftentimes reducing allocations to convention-related entities such as colleges, children’s and retirement homes and foundations in order to keep expenses in line with CP receipts from local churches. That was the case in South Carolina where seven institutions received significant cuts after CP giving decreased from $34 million in 2009 to an anticipated $28.6 million next year. The Northwest Baptist Convention eliminated 13 staff positions as part of their budget-cutting process.

Nine state conventions kept their budgets flat for 2012, while only six—Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—approved increases.

Oklahoma Baptists approved the greatest increase in the percentage forwarded to the SBC, moving from 40 to 46 percent in one year, followed by Michigan Baptists increasing the SBC portion from 25 to 30.5 percent and New Mexico Baptists increasing the SBC portion from 30.5 to 35 percent.

The 2 percent-of-budget increase in CP giving to the SBC by Maryland-Delaware Baptists is in conjunction with a move to increase CP giving toward the year 2020, reaching the goal of keeping 49 percent in the state convention and 51 percent going to national and international causes. Reaching the goal is tied to churches increasing their giving.

Conventions approving increases in the portion sent for CP ministry beyond the state include Alabama (from 42.5 to 43 percent), Arkansas (42.57 to 42.77 percent), California (30 to 30.5 percent), Colorado (29.75 to 30 percent), Florida (40 to 40.5 percent), Indiana (36.5 to 37.5 percent), Maryland-Delaware (41 to 43 percent), Michigan (25 to 30.5 percent), Minnesota-Wisconsin (13.5 to 14 percent), Mississippi (35.25 to 36.25 percent), Missouri (37 to 37.25 percent), Nevada (30 to 30.5 percent), New England (21.75 to 25 percent), New Mexico (30.5 to 35 percent), New York (28 to 28.25 percent), North Carolina (35 to 35.5 percent), Northwest (25.5 to 26.5 percent), Oklahoma (40 to 46 percent), Penn-Jersey (25.3 to 25.4 percent), Tennessee (40 to 40.25 percent) and Wyoming (32.5 to 32.75 percent).

In a number of cases, increases in the portion to be allocated to the SBC will be figured after deducting items deemed to be “shared ministries” of the state convention and SBC.

Oklahoma Baptists followed a GCRTF recommendation to move toward a 50/50 split of Cooperative Program receipts with the SBC after consideration of allocations for shared ministries. In the new $24.9 million budget total, $3.1 is designated for shared ministry causes between the SBC and Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, with the remaining percentage divided 46 percent to the SBC and 54 percent to remain in Oklahoma. In 2011, the BGCO forwarded 40 percent to SBC causes.

“This actually allows us to send $65,000 more to the SBC,” according to Doug McClure, finance committee chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Hugo, Okla.
The division of CP receipts will remain unchanged for 2012 in Alaska (33 percent), Arizona (26.05 percent) Dakotas (16 percent), Illinois (43.25 percent), Iowa (20 percent), Kansas-Nebraska (32 percent), Kentucky (43.54 percent), Louisiana (36.49 percent), Montana (22 percent), Ohio (40.25 percent), South Carolina (41 percent), Texas-BGCT (21 percent), Texas-SBTC (55 percent), Utah-Idaho (25 percent), Virginia-BGAV (34 percent in one of three pre-set giving tracks), Virginia-SBCV (50.75 percent) and West Virginia (38 percent).

Several states endorsed challenge budgets that, if reached, will be divided 50-50 between the SBC and the state convention, including Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada and Tennessee. The two newest state conventions achieved or surpassed the 50/50 split early on—the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention forwards 55 percent to the SBC while retaining 45 percent for in-state missions and ministry. The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia forwards 50.75 percent to the SBC while retaining 48.25 percent for in-state missions and ministry.

Churches in every state are being challenged to increase CP giving by 1 percent of their budget, a proposal that l17 pastors in Illinois agreed to promote to their churches for 2012. The Executive Board of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey affirmed the 1% CP Challenge in their official report. Anticipating a similar challenge from a study committee in South Carolina, 31 congregations pledged to raise CP giving by 1 percent or more next year.

Some states responded to task force reports that echoed some of the themes of the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Alabama’s meeting theme of “Great Commission Ministries Together” underscored a strategic partnership strategy that begins in 2013 to connect missionaries from Alabama with the International and North American mission boards with other Alabama Baptists.

California’s Focus 21 Task Force offered their report a year early, recommending how Southern Baptists in the state could more efficiently focus their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. In spite of several messengers voicing objections to the move toward a 50/50 split of CP receipts, the motion was approved to refer the report for implementation to the convention’s executive board, passing with the support of 70 percent of those voting. In addition to the 50/50 split of CP funds, other recommendations relating to GCR include clarifying what constitutes a cooperative church and prioritizing church planting to receive a fourth of the budget funding.

Colorado messengers, with the approval of a task force report, affirmed streamlining staff and expenses to release more funds for church planting and ministry. Restructuring Task Force chairman Bob Bender of Black Forest, Colo., described the “mid-course directional change” as moving the ministry emphasis from the convention office to the local churches and associations.

“It streamlines staff and expenses,” Bender said, “to release more funds for church planting and ministry resulting in greater stewardship of monies. It focuses statewide efforts on doing fewer things better. It re-emphasizes the priority of prayer in achieving our vision.”

Noting that he is “driven by an unquenchable passion” for the Great Commission, D.C. Baptist Convention Executive Director Ricky O. Creech related in a recent report that he will begin a dialogue about the future focus of the D.C. convention, “pushing for a grassroots movement focused on adding value to the relationship of the Convention and the local church.”

Of the 37 proposals developed in response to Florida’s GCR Task Force formed last year, five were presented for a convention vote and were approved with little discussion. A seven-year CP budget plan will achieve the 50/50 split of CP funds by 2018. The original motion indicated the 50/50 split would occur after “shared ministries” of both Florida Baptists and the SBC were allocated, but an amendment in the State Board of Missions the day before messengers were to consider the plan removed “shared ministries” and incorporated that funding within the state convention portion of the budget.

The amendment urged every Florida Baptist church to increase CP giving to a sacrificial level while attempts were made from the platform to clarify the 50/50 split is not contingent on increased CP giving by the churches.

Georgia Baptists approved the report of a GCR Task Force that emphasizes spiritual renewal, Kingdom generosity, church revitalization, church planting and authentic evangelism.

In Montana, the 2020 Vision report initiated last spring will move the state’s Baptists toward a goal of sharing 30 percent of CP receipts with the SBC by the year 2020 while also focusing on the needs to penetrate lostness, engage in missions at home and abroad and cooperate in denominational effectiveness.

“No matter what one may think about the 20/20 Vision Report, we who are Christ-followers cannot ignore the desperate spiritual condition of the people in our communities and state,” Montana Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Fred Hewett said following the meeting. “Montana Southern Baptists must respond with urgency to make this mandate our priority,” he said, making the appeal to “roll up our sleeves and work together.”

Nevada Baptists heard reports from their Executive Board concerning compliance with a restructuring approved the prior year, merging the state’s four associations and state convention into one organizational and administrative structure.

South Carolina Baptists approved the report of a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, increasing contributions to the International Mission Board by nearly 22 percent over the next three years and moving toward a 50/50 split of CP receipts over the next five years. Church revitalization, missions mobilization/evangelism and church planting will be the primary focus of the state convention.

In West Virginia, a reorganization plan adopted by a 60/40 margin puts a sharper focus on prayer and church planting by the state’s Baptists. The portion of CP receipts sent beyond the state to SBC causes will grow from 38 to 40 percent by 2013, followed by a 1 percent increase each year for 10 years.

Several states emphasized responsibility for reaching lost people in their own states, including Arizona with its call for “a culture of accountability” in fulfilling the Great Commission and Colorado Baptists resolving to work together in assisting local churches in saturating the state with the Gospel. Florida Baptists, in approving “Revision Florida,” also set a priority on a greater release of resources in order to refocus on Great Commission efforts.

New York Baptists approved a motion to establish a task force to develop a vision and strategy that will encourage churches and associations to evangelize lost people, strengthen and plant churches and accomplish the Great Commission. Task forces were launched in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey state convention and Dakota Baptist Convention to evaluate the future course of their ministries.

“There are a lot of unknown things,” acknowledged Dakota Baptist Steve Ford of Vermillion, S.D. “We’re going to find we’re standing on the solid rock.”

A few state conventions voiced frustration that the GCR Task Force’s promise of more resources to the under-reached and underserved areas of North America was in conflict with decisions of the North American Mission Board to lower its level of funding in their states.

With a state population exceeding 11 million, Ohio Baptists are striving to reach 1 million people with the gospel by 2020, and passed a resolution asking NAMB to reconsider its decisions that “threaten a potentially disastrous impact upon the unified mission effort” of churches and associations in the state. The anticipated loss of $3 million is a result of NAMB changing the percentage of funding for Mission Ohio from 62 to 50 percent, expecting Ohio Baptists to increase their commitment from 38 to 50 percent.

As in Ohio, West Virginia messengers approved a resolution asking NAMB to continue funding for missionaries in the state. New Mexico Baptists heard from Executive Director Joseph Bunce about “seismic shifts” in Baptist life, including the impact of reduced NAMB funding that requires the state’s Baptists to become more responsible for the future of their convention.

New Mexico Baptists rose to applaud a resolution urging the SBC and LifeWay Christian Resources to insure that the conference center at Glorieta “continue its vital ministry.”
David Waltz told Penn-Jersey Baptists of an idea of altering the convention structure to include regions divided equally by population. As executive director of the two-state convention, Waltz called the “radically new and different way to do our work” a direction in which he believes God is leading their state in light of NAMB funding cuts.

In order to match funds promised by NAMB for church planting, Minnesota-Wisconsin churches are being challenged to increase their giving through the convention. The annual meeting theme of “All 4 One and One 4 All” was carried over from a series of one-day meetings conducted by MWBC Executive Director Leo Endel in each association this year. During those meetings, he explained the importance of the Cooperative Program and challenged churches to commit to increase their missions giving percentage by 1 percent each year for the next three years—.75 percent a year through the Cooperative Program and .25 percent a year to their association.

Endel said the response to the meetings was positive and many churches are considering increasing their CP and associational giving.

Wright, in his comments to Baptist Press, said the movement of state conventions to forward more CP dollars beyond their borders is a motivation to the local churches to increase their own CP giving, as well as contributions to mission offerings and all Great Commission causes benefiting the SBC.

“It certainly gives churches a greater motivation to do so in seeing a higher percentage of their dollars are going outside the state and especially to areas where the witness for Christ is either nonexistent or very weak.”

Wright concluded, “It’s a dramatic step in the right direction that I’m very thankful for.”