Month: October 2012

How to share Christ with your Mormon friends

CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP) — Mormons are family oriented, clean-cut and prominent in political and economic circles, fervent in their faith and all-around nice folks. In so many ways one could erroneously assume that Mormons represent just one more facet of fervent evangelical Christianity.

Many would like to think that theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians aren’t enough to have any real significance. Sadly, they are badly mistaken.

According to Scripture, being nice, family oriented, clean-cut and fervent fulfills none of the requirements to be right before the Lord. Consequently, we can respect Mormons (who call their religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for much of the way they live, but we also need to accept that their understanding of God, Christ, Scripture and salvation as well as other matters of faith are outside what Scripture teaches.

Here are a few of the highlights of the theological differences between the Mormon belief system and what Southern Baptists and other evangelicals believe, drawing from my book, “How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith”:

God: Mormons believe that God is the ruler of our planet. He is the ruler of only this particular planet. He acquired that status over the earth over a progression of time. He has a physical body and flesh.

We Southern Baptists believe that the Bible teaches about only One True God (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6). He is not one of many gods. He is one God in three forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus: Mormons teach that Jesus is God’s firstborn spirit son. Jesus, like God, was a human being but attained his godhead status by living an upright life. His death provides for the physical resurrection of all people. This doesn’t mean that on death everyone will go to heaven, but everyone at some point will have an opportunity to be resurrected.

We Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches that Jesus has always existed (John 1:1) and is one with the Father (John 10:30). He was born of a virgin in a non-sexual union. He is far above the angels (Hebrews 1), including Satan.

The Holy Spirit: Mormons believe the Holy Spirit does not have, as God and Jesus have, personhood in the Trinity. Instead, he is nothing more than a spirit manifestation that is from the Father.

However, we evangelicals believe the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father (Acts 5) and has personhood (Ephesians 4:30) in the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20).

After examining just the differences in belief about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the evidence is clear that Southern Baptists and Mormons are incompatible in theology. To further study the differences, I recommend www.4truth.net, a North American Mission Board website that succinctly details all of the differences.

Allow your Mormon friend to explain his or her beliefs. Show genuine interest and respect. Then succinctly share your personal testimony about your own personal faith in Christ. Always mention that your friend can have the same experience.

Whenever your conversation moves toward the theological differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity, explain that these are very serious. Start by noting these differences. Then share with your Mormon friend how he or she can experience true salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember to explain that Jesus is defined by how He is portrayed in the Bible alone, not by any other book.

I cannot think of a greater act of love than taking the time to show individual Mormons how they can know the Truth.
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Jeff Brawner is chairman of the department of missions and assistant professor of missions, theology and church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn. His book, “How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith,” is available at hannibalbooks.com and such online sites as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Hearts, homes changed in tent revival

FORESTBURG—Latasha Hicks was one of those people who didn’t consider herself a church person. Used God as a crutch at times, she admitted, but never was sincerely interested in a heart change. The bounce houses for her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter were the draw. The free food and festive atmosphere didn’t hurt either.

The church had a magician in the auditorium entertaining a group of kids mostly, and sharing the gospel.

Across the highway under a big tent, Lastasha and her husband, Joe, stayed for the revival service. “I was stuck,” she recalled. Kentucky pastor Garry Mitchell, a friend of Bill Kimbley, the host church pastor at Forestburg Baptist in Forestburg, preached the tent meeting Sept. 16-22.

When the invitation was given that first night, Latasha Hicks, 32 weeks pregnant, her marriage on the rocks, was the first one down the aisle to make a profession of faith.

Joe was close behind. They were both baptized in a trough that week along with 46 others in a community that numbers around 300 people. Today, she said, their marriage is improving and for the first time she is genuinely interested in the Bible, not merely looking for ways for God to get her out of trouble. At 7 a.m. on Sundays, she’s springing out of bed. Can’t wait for church.

Their 7-year-old daughter, Courtney, attended the church’s Vacation Bible School last summer and made a profession of faith, but she didn’t tell her parents because “you and Daddy don’t do church stuff,” she told her mother. She will be baptized soon, Latasha Hicks said.

Shelle Balthrop, the church secretary, saw some long-held bitterness her husband had toward church removed. “After the revival, he’s just a different person. His demeanor is different,” she said.

Steve Sandusky, a lifelong Forestburg resident and a teacher and coach there, admitted being skeptical of the tent revival concept. Once he saw the quality of the music and the first-rate way it was conducted, his barriers went down.

“Within minutes you could feel the Spirit,” Sandusky said. Sandusky, his wife Julie, and his oldest son had all been baptized several years ago but were still seeking what he called a “spiritual home.” He was raised Methodist. When his youngest son, who had never followed in believer’s baptism, said he wanted to do that, the whole family went under again to show their support for the youngest.

“I have never seen kids—my birth kids and the school kids—so excited about a church service. … We had a cross country meet on Wednesday, and the main thing was we all wanted to get back for the revival,” Sandusky said.

There was the teenager who 30 minutes before the service told someone he didn’t even believe in God. He made a profession of faith the same night, heaving in tears on Kimbley’s shoulder.

“That kid had never felt love before,” Kimbley remarked.

Mitchell, the preacher for the revival, told Kimbley before the meeting that he believed a “different voice” would be his role in the services. He described himself as a conversational preacher who doesn’t stand behind a pulpit, and not an evangelist but someone “with an evangelistic heart.”

He knew Bill Kimbley’s heart and his preparation in prayer, but he was surprised by the openness to the gospel exhibited in Forestburg, he said.

In 33 years of ministry, “That was actually my first tent revival. I had preached outside before for a service, but never that before.”

He said he believes God rewarded the church’s spiritual trustworthiness by delivering a harvest of souls.

Of the 48 who were baptized, Kimbley said he only counted eight who are what he calls spiritual orphans—those going back into a home where no other Christians reside. That will be an advantage in the discipleship process, he said. Some of the decisions involved entire families.

Kimbley said, “From now on I won’t be satisfied with business as usual. I can’t.”

The SBC needs Midwestern Seminary to succeed

Jason Allen was elected on Oct. 15 as the fifth president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As an alumnus and former administer of the school I earnestly wish him success that ultimately eluded his predecessors. Those of us who’ve never even been to Kansas City should also wish Dr. Allen every success for the sake of our Great Commission ministry.

Midwestern is a school with a checkered past. It was begun in 1957 as Southern Baptists abandoned comity agreements that had allocated the Midwest for American Baptists to reach. That denomination was not headed in a positive direction so Southern Baptists decided to become a national as well as global denomination. You’ll find a lot of work in the north that began around 1960. Midwestern’s first faculty was made up of professors from other SBC seminaries, including a prof from Southern who had just completed a book for the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board that cast doubt on the truth of Genesis. Since Ralph Elliott was now at Midwestern, the school was immediately in the middle of a denominational controversy that resulted in his dismissal (though only after convention-wide outcry) and the Baptist Faith and Message (1963). Midwestern’s first two presidents built an institution staffed by a puzzling variety of conservatives, neo-orthodox faculty members, a theology prof who believed God was still learning, and at least one lost professor who professed Christ during Midwestern’s third administration. It was one of the three most liberal seminaries in the SBC for 30 years. I read recently a comment from a man who claimed that you could have driven a pickup truck to all six of our seminaries prior to our denominational reformation and not filled it up with liberals. Nonsense. You could have filled it up at Midwestern as late as the early 1990s.

Our Kansas City seminary was the last SBC agency to benefit from the Conservative Resurgence when it elected an inerrantist as president in 1995. The direction of Midwestern changed drastically in the 1990s but the second two administrations had their own controversies. Both of them were truncated by leadership conflicts, leaving behind a conservative student body and staff as well as some morale issues that would negatively impact recruiting and fundraising.

Some of this is painful to recount and I’ve gone into as much detail of those years as I intend. The point is that launching an institution in an area where Southern Baptists are not strong has proved more challenging than we expected. These challenges imply some needed responses from our convention if we are to continue to have an institution in the Midwest.

A basic challenge is Midwestern’s location. The long influence of American Baptists and paucity of strong and well-established Southern Baptist churches resulted in a weak foundation for the school. To this day, some of the churches closest to Midwestern geographically are weak and liberal. There are some fine churches there also, churches that have been shored up since Midwestern turned toward biblical integrity, but there is no comparable situation to that a student might find at Southwestern. There is no Birchman Baptist Church, no Travis Avenue Baptist Church, no Wedgwood, no Southcliff—all Fort Worth churches that were strong and conservative even when I was a student in the late 1970s. The makeup of Midwestern’s original faculty was in some cases a handicap, and so was the resistance of the region. Both factors hindered the building of a conservative and missionary seminary on the Kansas-Missouri border.

The location was difficult for another reason. Maybe call this one “out of sight/out of mind.” It is understandable that Texans would call Southwestern “our seminary.” It makes perfect sense that folks in Louisiana feel a special kinship with New Orleans Seminary. That sense of ownership bears fruit in recruiting and fundraising. Texas and Louisiana both have enough churches and strong churches that make that fruit healthy and plentiful. Consider neighboring states like Arkansas and Oklahoma for Southwestern, and Mississippi and Arkansas for New Orleans Seminary and you have regional support that matters in some pretty substantive ways. As enthusiastic as Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Minnesota might be for Midwestern, their ability to help “their” seminary is not as substantial. Southern Baptists in Louisiana and Texas also have a seminary in Kansas City though most of us don’t know much about it or take it very personally.

We’ve often noted how innovations in technology and travel have made the world smaller. That progress has been slow to affect the missionary hearts of our southern SBC churches. The need for missions in Des Moines is academic in our minds, hard to personalize. Missionary needs in our own community or another part of our own state are more personal to us, more urgent somehow. Ingrained regionalism determines to a high degree the specific ways we express our obedience to the Great Commission. That instinct is one reason that we need strategic missionary partners at the state and national level. Someone needs to look more deliberately at the whole picture. I’m grateful to hear that our North American Mission Board has recently named Kansas City a “Send” city. Send North America is a focus on the largest population centers in the country in an effort to reach the 83 percent of the U.S. population who live there. More churches and stronger churches in Kansas City will mean evangelistic growth hundreds of miles into an underreached part of our country. Midwestern Seminary is the only SBC institution in that part of the country and it is well-located to be our launching point for reaching the Midwest and plains region of the U.S.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary needs our attention. Some strong churches in Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina need to remember that a far flung missionary outpost on a hill that overlooks the western plains is also “our” seminary. If a great church in Nashville or Houston were to embrace Kansas City as if it was their city, Midwestern would benefit from that attention. Why couldn’t this be? If rich churches in the U.S. can plant churches in other nations, why can’t they learn about and advocate for a city and seminary with less native strength than their own?

Midwestern Seminary needs to succeed. The first four administrations of the school were of mixed results. At this point they have a very small endowment compared to some of their larger and decades-older sister seminaries. They have a smaller endowment and fewer ready prospects for growing it. The area they recruit in is not as rich in Southern Baptists as are the assigned areas of four of their five sisters. Their campus is modest and less appealing in some ways than those of their four larger sisters. President Allen has some challenges that would be daunting to even his most experienced colleague. I believe it would be appropriate for the entire SBC, including all 12 of our SBC agencies, to decide that we want to have a seminary in Kansas City until Jesus comes. What would we have to do to make that more certain? We should do those things, and start in 2013.

I hesitate to get too specific lest my suggestions rather than the need become the focus. Perhaps the seminary funding formula should acknowledge to a greater degree that two of our seminaries simply cannot compete on a level field with those in the regions of our greatest strength. Maybe other protocols between the seminary presidents need to be changed with the intent that Midwestern will succeed. Maybe a strong state convention or two can give Kansas City the kind of attention SBTC is giving to the borderlands region of Texas, and for the same reason. It’s a missionary frontier and a great opportunity in this day. Could larger institutions sacrifice some initiative in favor of their weaker sisters? Maybe one seminary could adopt another and help her do the work cut out for them both. Something in the way Southern Baptists have supported Midwestern over the past 50 years must change if the school is going to continue.

I think I’d be saying these things if I had never lived in Kansas City. Objectively, we need some way to train pastors from the heartland and then send them back to their home region. Kansas, Iowa and Missouri could really use the kind of boost a solid and biblical institution can give to the local work. If Southern Baptists did not have Midwestern we’d have to come up with another way of meeting the needs of people living in some big country far away from our traditional places of strength. Since we do have Midwestern we should fight to keep it.

Midwestern is my alma mater along with Criswell College and Southwestern Seminary. I treasure friends and colleagues from those days and remember fondly the brisk pioneer spirit of Lewis and Clark country. In some ways I think Southern Baptists have dropped Midwestern behind enemy lines, wished them well, sent in occasional supplies, and marveled that the school hasn’t routed the adversary. We should try another way. Yes, I wish President Jason Allen god speed, and I pray that world-changing ministries will be launched from Kansas City, but I also think it’s time for a few hundred churches, a few thousand Baptists, to add good works to our good intentions. President Allen and his institution need more attention—real aid—than we gave his predecessors.

Through 14 years, SBTC core values unchanged

As the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention concludes its 14th year, we celebrate with our 15th annual meeting. Remarkably, we have traveled a great distance since we were in San Antonio in 2000. The convention has grown from a starting point in 1998 of 120 churches to now almost 2,400 congregations. The giving of the churches has increased from $1.3 million our first year to total receipts of over $35 million in 2011. The full story of what God has done in the 14 years cannot be measured in nickels and noses, though.

Our core values have not changed. The very fabric of our being making us who we are as a convention of churches begins to tell the story of God’s incredible favor. If the nickels and noses begin to slide, it does not mean God’s hand is no longer on us as a group of churches. We must stay true to the core values whether we are outwardly prospering or struggling. I have rehearsed the core values on a regular basis, but once again it is essential that we hear our reason for existence.

The SBTC is Biblically Based. We have in our constitution the word “inerrant.” Our Executive Board has defined a high view of Scripture. The terms used in the statement say that we believe all the miracles occurred as they are recorded, that the historical records are true and that the authors of the books are the authors to whom the text ascribes. These elements of a high view of Scripture were used in the 1987 SBC Peace Committee report. Perhaps the most striking element of our first core value is that the SBTC is a confessional fellowship. Churches that affiliate with the SBTC affirm that they are in agreement with and will work within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message statement (2000). Churches are free to adopt their own statements of faith, but when we work together we agree on the basics in the BF&M 2000.

The function of the SBTC is to be Kingdom Focused. Almost 40 percent of all in-state dollars go for missions and evangelism. Another 40 percent plus is invested in church growth and health. The SBTC full-time ministry staff is small in number but focused on serving the churches. The SBTC models for other state conventions how to reduce bureaucracy without losses to quality service. Over 100 different ministries are facilitated through the SBTC. Prophetically at times, the staff seeks to provoke churches to evangelism and church planting in Texas. This is a kingdom focus.

We are Missionally Driven as a convention of churches and as staff leaders. By adopting a unified budget which calls for 55 percent to be sent to the Southern Baptist Convention, SBTC churches make a statement that giving through the Cooperative Program is the way to support Southern Baptist Convention ministries. You give through the Cooperative Program and invest in eternity by sending missionaries, training church leaders and serving churches throughout North America and around the world. Your staff seeks to live Philippians 2:5 by having a servant’s heart toward the churches.

We are facing challenging times. Economic uncertainty looms over us. Cultural morality has fallen to an all-time low. Biblical Christianity is experiencing the beginning of persecution in America. We need each other more now than ever before. Join hands and hearts. We are stronger together. Let’s resolve as the old hymn states, “We’ll work ‘til Jesus comes.” The future is as bright as the promises of God.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you another year at the SBTC. I pray God’s favor on you. Join with me in praying for God’s continued favor on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Immeasurably More

A year ago last September, attendance at Forestburg Baptist Church had dwindled by more than half in a few months, offerings had plummeted and the small church staff had agreed among themselves on a 30 percent pay cut by year’s end. Pastor Bill Kimbley will testify: Humble desperation bears fruit in God’s economy.

Apparently, the Lord was paying mind all along to the church’s ramped-up prayers, its newfound outward focus, and a pastor who fasted by sleeping in a tent for 37 days in the sweltering summer leading up to last month’s tent revival on an empty lot across the street from the church.

The church that runs 70-80 on Sundays baptized 48 people last month during the revival, and the finances surged up in the last part of last year and this year. Forestburg Baptist not only has new life, it has a house full of spiritual newborns to grow.

Kimbley seems genuinely awestruck by God’s work in Forestburg, a town of 300 in Montague County, about 75 miles north of Fort Worth.

The change, Kimbley said, really began as the church looked inward and discovered that they weren’t looking outward to the needs around them. Months of prayer were bearing fruit in the hearts of their people.

A retired Air Force intelligence specialist saved at age 29, Kimbley was ordained by his Baptist church in Germany while on active duty and knew God was calling him and his wife, Kate, to ministry. He earned a master’s degree from Liberty University and planned a move to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

The Kimbleys and their five children came to Forestburg Baptist in 2009. By April 2011, a segment of members unhappy with Kimbley’s leadership left the church. In three months, Sunday attendance fell from 120 to about 50 people. And by last fall, things looked bleak.

Kimbley admitted asking God, “Lord, did we make a mistake in coming here?”

If September 2011 was the depth of the valley, then last October marked the beginning of the climb back. Attendance was noticeably rising—partly the fruit of a new benevolence ministry called Isaiah’s Closet—prayers began being answered, and offerings for October, November, and December set church records, as several members had oil-related royalty checks come in.

“We ended the year $57,000 in the black,” Kimbley marveled. “It was tremendous. It was truly a gift from God.”

Prayer for revival had become a “big deal” in the church. “In fact, they were praying for that before the split occurred,” Kimbley recalled. “I started praying with other pastors, we started cottage prayer meetings. We really realized that God was going to have to move or we were going to go down really hard.”

Kimbley said that amid a church split, one can get bitter or get humble. The church members who stayed chose the latter. And a few of those who left came back. “No hard feelings,” Kimbley said. “We decided we wanted to love everyone and anyone. And we got outwardly focused.”

Leading up to last winter’s Will Graham Red River Celebration in Gainesville, 35 miles north, about 50 people from the church and a few others from Forestburg took personal evangelism training. That crusade, combined with Wednesday night prayer meetings for the unsaved, created a sense of anticipation. Church members got bolder in sharing Jesus and praying for God to move.

And Kimbley did something he’d never done: He preached a revival at another church on the invitation of a friend. In fact, prior to that he’d only attended one revival service—ever. He returned home ready to cast a vision for Forestburg Baptist to host its own revival meeting.

The more he prayed, the more he sensed God wanted a tent revival.

Then came the weird part, he said. He believed God wanted him to spend 30 nights leading up to the revival in a camping tent across the street from the church where the revival tent would stand. “In hindsight, I needed prayer for revival for everything in that tent—me. Nothing like sleeping in a tent for spiritual focus. And I think part of it was that God wanted our church to know the seriousness of what we were asking him to do.”

He strung some extension cords out to his tent for a fan and a light to read by, and he camped out for 30 days, plus seven more during the meeting, which ran Sept. 16-22. He helped most nights at home with the kids before heading across the field to his tent around nightfall.

The revival was originally planned for Sept. 16-19, but it was extended, thanks in part to Southside Baptist Church in Lufkin, who sacrificed their use of the SBTC-owned tent that weekend so the revival could continue. In turn, Forestburg was able to raise enough funds in two hours via Facebook to rent another tent for Southside.

During his tent dwelling, Kimbley prayer-walked through the town in the evenings leading up to the revival, which bore immediate fruit—one young woman was converted during a conversation Kimbley had with her and her boyfriend as he walked and prayed. Another man Kimbley had prayed for at a convenience store during a prayer walk was saved and baptized at the revival.

The church rented bounce houses for the kids and each night they fed the community a meal. People showed up, by Forestburg standards, in droves, including 240 the first night and about 130 each night during the week, including the entire junior high football team and coaches following their Thursday afternoon game.

Over seven days, 48 converts were baptized outside the tent in a trough, and more than that made professions of faith.

“God took complete families who had no connection to a church and God brought the whole family to Christ,” Kimbley said, adding that “kingdom love” was evident as people responded in faith.

But the initial draw was the meals and the bounce houses.  

“What it did was open up the hearts of the people to the gospel,” Kimbley noted, adding that many of them wouldn’t have come into the church building. “You realize how many people feel condemned just walking into a church?”

Kimbley said plans are to eventually expand Isaiah’s Closet to include a medical clinic and other services. Montague County has a high rate of social ills, he said, and many people he encounters simply need to know that someone loves them.

Forestburg’s outward focus goes beyond its own town. Two years straight, the church has raised enough money to send about 10 people to work one week with missionaries in Nicaragua—about $20,000 for last summer’s trip.

“Our mission here is to make Jesus famous,” Kimbley said. “You can only make Jesus famous when you are loving God and loving others as he commanded.”

2012 SBTC meeting: Something for everyone

SAN ANTONIO—From the Bible Conference preaching and breakout sessions to seminary fellowships to the approval of a 2013 convention budget during the annual meeting business session, the 15th meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will have something for nearly everyone.

This year’s Bible Conference and annual meeting will be Nov. 11-13 at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio.

The annual meeting on Monday night and all day Tuesday has the theme “Hearing & Doing,” based on James 1:22: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

The closing sermon on Tuesday night will be from Charles Stanley, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta and internationally known for his “In Touch” television and radio ministry. Stanley served as SBC president from 1984-1986.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards has said that Stanley’s sermon will be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to hear “one of God’s choicest servants.”

Also speaking during the annual meeting will be SBTC President Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, who will bring his message to the convention on Monday night.

David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, will preach the annual Convention Sermon on Tuesday morning, and Richards will bring his executive director’s report on Tuesday afternoon.

BIBLE CONFERENCE
“Forged by Fire” is the theme of the 2012 Bible Conference on Nov. 11-12, preceding the annual meeting.

This year’s Bible Conference president is the host church’s pastor, R. James Shupp. Featured preachers are Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas; Danny Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin; Rudy Gonzales of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary San Antonio campus; Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship, Garland; Tom Pennington, pastor of Countryside Bible Church, Southlake; and Robert Webb, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Kaufman.

The theme is taken from Isaiah 43:2, 1 Peter 1:6, 2 Corinthians 4:7, and Jeremiah 20:9.

In addition to the preaching sessions, the Ministry Café from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Monday will feature three different sessions with Floyd addressing the topic “The Fires of Criticism,” Mike Smith, president of Jacksonville College, addressing “The Fires of Conflict,” and Chris Moody, pastor of First Baptist Church of Beaumont, addressing “The Fires of Change.”

Registration for the Ministry Cafés is available at sbtexas.com/am12 and is $5 per person. Also, a Women’s Luncheon during the Monday Bible Conference will feature Thelma “Mama T” Wells of A Woman of God Ministries in Dallas. Cost for the Women’s Luncheon is $10.

PRESIDENT’S LUNCHEON
Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, will address the President’s Luncheon at the SBTC annual meeting in San Antonio. The luncheon will be from noon-1:15 p.m. on Tuesday of the Nov. 12-13 meeting. Page, who served as Southern Baptist Convention president from 2006-2008 while the pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., came to the Executive Committee in 2010. He served briefly as vice president of evangelization at the North American Mission Board.

In 2009, Page’s church gave 10.8 percent of its receipts through the Cooperative Program for Southern Baptist missions. His church’s high CP giving percentage was considered a key in his election by SBC messengers in 2006.

Other related luncheons and gatherings on Monday include:
—SBTC African American Fellowship Dinner: 4:30-6 p.m. in the Faith Room 203/205.
—Southwestern Seminary Dinner: 4:30-6 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.
—Ezekiel Project Dinner: A free dinner on church revitalization; 4:30-6 p.m. in the Victory Gym.
—Forge Fellowship for Young Pastors: 9-10:30 p.m. (at the conclusion of the evening session) in the Fellowship Hall.

Tuesday events include:
—President’s Luncheon: Noon-1:15 p.m. in the Victory Gym with Frank Page, president, Executive Committee of the SBC.
—Criswell College Dinner and Dialogue: 4:45-6 p.m. in the Victory Gym. Topic: The Sinner’s Prayer and the Public Invitation: An Inquiry by a Calvinist and non-Calvinist. Moderators will be Criswell President Jerry A Johnson and SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards. Participants are Calvinist Tom Nettles of Southern Seminary and non-Calvinist Barry Creamer of Criswell College.

General information and registration links for these events is accessible at sbtexas.com/am12.

View the complete Annual Meeting schedule.

This is the schedule for the Annual Meeting sessions only, you may also view the schedule for the Bible Conference on Sunday and Monday.

 

Becket Fund: Facts on HHS mandate are “exactly the reverse” of what VP claimed

WASHINGTON—Joe Biden’s statement during the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate that no religious institution is required to refer, pay for or provide contraception under the federal Health and Human Services’ contraception/abortion mandate is “woefully inaccurate,” according to a law firm representing dozens of Christian colleges and organizations that say it violates their First Amendment religious freedoms.

The non-profit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University, among others, in lawsuits contesting the HHS mandate, released a statement on Oct. 12 from its executive director, Kristina Arriaga, saying she was “so shocked when [Biden] said this I could barely breathe.”

Responding to debate moderator Martha Raddatz’s question about his Catholic faith and abortion, the vice president stated, “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear: No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

“But the facts are exactly the reverse” of what Biden claimed, wrote Kyle Duncan, a Becket Fund lawyer. ”Under the mandate, nearly every Catholic hospital, charity, university, and diocese in the United States—along with millions of institutions of other faiths—must refer for, must pay for, and must act as a vehicle for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. If they do not, they face millions in fines. That is a fact.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also took issue. “This is not a fact,” the bishops wrote. “The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.”

Arriaga wrote in an email to Becket Fund supporters, “Since last year the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has led the charge against the Administration’s unconstitutional HHS mandate, which forces many religious organizations—many of them Catholic—to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, or pay crippling fines.”

As of Oct. 12, there were 35 separate legal challenges to the mandate representing hospitals, universities, and businesses opposed to it on religious grounds. HBU and ETBU filed their lawsuit on Oct. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.—a Becket Fund client—has pled in their lawsuit that they could face in excess of $17 million in fines for not complying, plus potential civil liability for not providing such coverage. HBU and ETBU claim they stand to face $10 million annually in fines. Another Southern Baptist-related school, Louisiana College, filed suit on Feb. 20 contesting the mandate. It is represented by the Alliance for Defending Freedom.

Wheaton College, an evangelical school near Chicago, and Belmont Abbey, a Catholic school in North Carolina, are among other schools Becket is representing in the suits.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed a friend-of-the-court brief filed Oct. 12 asking a federal appeals court to reverse the dismissal of two lawsuits brought by Wheaton and Belmony Abbey (Related story, page 11).

The HHS mandate became effective in August, with non-profit religious organizations given until August 2013 to comply. The federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama gave the HHS the ability to issue the mandate.

“As I said, we at the Becket Fund are not in the business of endorsing any political candidate. But, we can certainly point out when a government official uses all the strength of his position to state something that is so woefully inaccurate,” Arriaga said.

Abortion rights groups were mostly quiet with regard to Biden’s HHS mandate remarks, instead focusing on the Romney-Ryan ticket’s perceived threats to women’s health care.

Nancy Keegan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said of Ryan’s debate performance, “He refused to say whether American women should be worried about the future of their reproductive freedoms if he and Gov. Romney win the White House. Let me be clear: The Romney-Ryan ticket is extremely dangerous to women’s health and Americans should be very concerned about the future of women’s health and rights if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win on November 6.”

Keegan has praised the HHS mandate, saying in July that opponents of it wish to “deny any essential health-care service, including contraceptive coverage” and are waging attacks on “women’s health.”

Southwestern trustees elect new faculty

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees quickly dispensed with a light agenda and devoted time to prayer for the administration and faculty after a day of committee meetings and a tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible exhibition. Meeting on campus Oct. 17, the board approved Chris Teichler as associate professor of music theory and composition in the school of church music and Mike Wilkinson as assistant professor of Bible at the College at Southwestern.

Teichler previously taught at DePaul University and has experience directing at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and Trinity International University. He received both the doctor of music and master of music degrees in composition from Northwestern University, completing undergraduate work at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music.

Wilkinson previously served at First Baptist Church of Rockwall since 2007. Prior to that time he served at Central Baptist Church of Bryan and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock. He received both the master of divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Seminary and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

David Robinson, professor of voice, was approved to occupy the James C. McKinney Chair of Church Music. Robinson has taught at the seminary since 1985, having previously served churches in Missouri.

Trustees approved annual audits of the seminary, named two new members to the Southwestern Seminary Foundation and selected recipients of the B.H. Carroll and L.R. Scarborough awards to be given next spring.

Board members declined two requests made at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention that were referred to all six SBC seminaries for consideration. A request to reduce from 21.92 percent to 21 percent the current portion of Cooperative Program Allocation Budget given to the six Southern Baptist seminaries was refused in light of having already given up a capital needs budget that had been funded by CP overage. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President reiterated the school’s commitment to the Great Commission in training future missionaries and acceptance of a challenge to pursue an unengaged unreached people group in southern Madagascar.

The board also declined a request to establish a historical research committee to study views of Southern Baptist founders “regarding predestination and election and how they understood those terms.”

Patterson said the origins of the denomination are well known, referring to the “two tributaries” of Calvinism and non-Calvinism that “flowed together into one river.” He added, “They have complemented each other, not contradicted one another and we’ve had vigorous debates in the Free Church tradition.”

“We have been unique in that it has not divided us,” Patterson said. “We don’t feel that there’s any virtue to be found in expending further funds for further committees, further studies and further official writing on it.”

Earlier in his report, Patterson directed attention to the current issue of Southwestern News which explores the Anabaptists of the Reformation period in an effort to locate historically those who hold the same beliefs as Baptists today.

In the opening article, Patterson wrote of a Bible-believing people who “rejected the state church, infant baptism, and reformed ecclesiology” while enthroning “the principles of absolute religious liberty as well as moral, ethical, and spiritual responsibility in the midst of a believer’s church witnessed by baptism.”

NINA SHEA: The fatwa against free speech

WASHINGTON (BP) — The cascading crisis involving derogatory depictions of Islam's prophet Muhammad by amateur American filmmakers and French satirists has reinvigorated a 20-year-old demand from the Muslim world for a Western crackdown on free speech.

This demand has been made by Egypt's Salafist Nour party, by Iran's theocrats, by Hezbollah and, not least, by the al-Qaeda-linked groups that on Sept. 11 and the days immediately following attacked and rioted against our embassies and interests in two dozen Muslim countries, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and 51 others and injuring hundreds. It is also being pressed on the diplomatic front by Muslim governments allied to the U.S.

Without doubt, the uproar over the 12-minute video “Innocence of Muslims” is the result of ulterior motives and political manipulations as Islamists jockey for power. Nevertheless, and not for the first time, large populations have been incited to violence by these cynical and opportunistic forces. It is important to respond in a principled and coherent way.

The Islamist demand for a global curb to free speech first burst upon the scene in 1989 when Salman Rushdie was condemned to death by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini (whose fatwa was bolstered with a decidedly worldly bounty, recently increased by $500,000, to $3.3 million). Its most recent diplomatic articulation came on Sept. 20, from Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a Saudi-based group of 56 member states.

Calling for “an international code of conduct for media and social media to disallow the dissemination of incitement material,” Ihsanoglu said the international community should “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”

The United States has never offered a sustained defense of free expression in response to such demands, and has even signaled to the Muslim world that it is willing to restrict speech. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. joined the OIC in a non-binding U.N. resolution calling for a universal ban on the “defamation of religion.”

The Bush administration broke that consensus but made no attempt to lobby against the resolution, which the U.N. continued to adopt annually for a decade. Nor did it try to explain the importance of individual freedoms of speech and religion when they were under assault during worldwide Muslim rioting — in 2005 against Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed and in 2006 against Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech, which included a quote linking Islam to violence.

The Obama administration has at times acclaimed free speech, as President Obama did in his recent address to the U.N. General Assembly, but it has also joined in U.N. calls for religious-hate-speech codes and left the impression that the First Amendment is out of step with international human-rights standards.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama pledged to fight anti-Islamic “stereotyping,” and in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on this promise with her proposal for a series of conferences with the OIC to develop “implementation” measures for this fight.

Last month, the administration (unsuccessfully) asked Google to remove the Muhammad video from YouTube, which Google owns, and dispatched the FBI to investigate whether the video's principal maker could be arrested on a technicality.

It also, and not for the first time, deployed top military brass to personally try to silence micro-church pastor Terry Jones, who had praised the video. On the anniversary of 9/11, four hours before the violence erupted, the U.S. embassy in Cairo posted on its website a statement echoing the OIC and suggesting that by hurting Muslims' “religious feelings” the video was an “abuse [of] the universal right to free speech.”

We need to take stock of what is really being asked of us. It is not a small thing. This is not about offending people. The Saudi ministry of education has no compunction about teaching that Jews are “apes” and Christians are “pigs.” Egypt's law banning “insult to heavenly religions” does not stop Egyptian state media from denigrating Coptic Christians and promoting “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” [a discredited anti-Semitic booklet].

This is not even about offensive speech concerning Muslims. As Mohammed Bouyeri told a Dutch court during his trial for the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh: “The story that I felt insulted as a Moroccan, or because he called me a goat-[expletive], that is all nonsense.

I acted out of faith.” In other words, he acted because he thought Islam was blasphemed when Van Gogh's film criticized the Quran's verses on women. Or, as Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa put it in a Washington Post article about the recent YouTube video: “Insults against the Prophet are taken as more serious than insults against one's own parents and family, indeed than one's own self.”

Whether the putative offense is called religious “defamation,” “insult” or “incitement,” the goal of the OIC and many Muslims is to universalize Muslim blasphemy codes. They will not be placated by hate-speech laws of the kind mandated within the European Union following the Danish cartoon crisis — laws that protect Muslims, but not Islam per se, from insult. Nor would simple bans against Quran-burning of the sort Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., proposed last year settle the matter.

What is being demanded is sweeping censorship, covering all that has been asserted as truth in the Quran, in thousands of other Islamic texts called “hadiths,” and in other Islamic sources over 1,300 years.

Most Muslim countries have such laws, but their application varies over time and from place to place. Traditional punishments for blasphemy include the death penalty, which is still applied by Iran and Pakistan. Frequently, it is dissidents and religious minorities who are targeted for prosecution.

Where control is loose, the accused, even if acquitted, are also vulnerable to attacks by vigilantes who often operate with impunity. For example, no one has been arrested for the March 2011 murder of Pakistani cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who had criticized Islamic blasphemy laws.

The Internet and social media have the potential to give these codes unlimited reach: Muslim reformers cannot escape being attacked even in exile. In 2006, a group called Al-Munasirun li Rasul al Allah — previously unknown, and now thought to be based in Egypt — used e-mail to threaten more than 30 prominent Muslim reformers in the West.

Among the targets were renowned Egyptian human rights advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Sheikh Subhy Mansour, an imam who was imprisoned and had to flee Egypt after opposing the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy.

They were pronounced “guilty of apostasy, unbelief, and denial of the Islamic established facts” and given three days to “announce their repentance” or be killed. The e-mail included their addresses and the names of their spouses and children.

The new media also provide new outlets for people to commit blasphemy, including people who live in the Muslim world. The first blogger convicted for blasphemy was Egyptian Kareem Amer, a Muslim who was sentenced in February 2007 to three years of imprisonment for insulting Islam. His offense was to criticize the treatment of Copts.

With the Arab Spring, blasphemy on social media has proliferated. Even as rioters raged outside our embassy in Egypt, an Egyptian court was handing down a three-year prison sentence to Coptic Christian Bishoy Kamel, a teacher from the city of Sohag, for posting cartoons deemed insulting toward Muhammad on his Facebook page (he was given an additional three years for insulting Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and an Egyptian prosecutor).

At the same time, Albert Saber, a 25-year-old Egyptian Coptic activist, was arrested and reportedly tortured for insulting religion after allegedly posting on his Facebook page the anti-Muhammad YouTube trailer.

And Gamal Abdou Massoud, a 17-year-old Copt from the city of Asyut, is serving a three-year sentence imposed last May for insulting Islam when he posted cartoons lampooning Muhammad on Facebook. In response, outraged local Muslims had rioted with impunity in Asyut, burning homes and injuring several Christians.

In 2011, Naguib Sawiris, the Coptic founder of a liberal party and one of Egypt's richest men, was accused by Islamist lawyers of offending Islam; charges were eventually dismissed on procedural grounds. He had tweeted a cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed in conservative Islamic garb.

Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi columnist whose tweets of an imaginary conversation expressing religious doubt to Islam's prophet prompted an Internet petition calling for his death, was arrested last February in Malaysia. He was extradited to Saudi Arabia and placed in solitary confinement in a Riyadh prison, and his fate is unknown.

In June, a Turkish court charged Fazil Say, a composer and concert pianist, for a single tweet poking fun at a literal conception of paradise.

Pakistan, with its strict blasphemy laws, has struggled to censor its tech-savvy population. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases, as well as the accompanying rioting, the government has turned to temporary blanket bans on the offending media.

Last May, Pakistan blocked Twitter for a day, accusing it of promoting a “blasphemous” cartoon contest on Facebook. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority reportedly then engaged in talks with Twitter to remove all “objectionable” content. Pakistan banned Facebook for two weeks in 2010 for a similar cartoon contest; at the same time it banned YouTube and hundreds of other websites and services.

Last month, Pakistan succeeded in having Google block access within its borders to Innocence of Muslims. Nevertheless, riots led by Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami and al-Qaeda-linked groups against American interests escalated, prompting the U.S. to run TV ads on seven channels with President Obama, Secretary Clinton and ordinary Americans denouncing the video. The riots also prompted Islamabad to jam cell phone service in 15 major cities, affecting millions.

There can be little doubt: To comply with Muslim blasphemy laws would be to undermine our democracy, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas and our way of life. The West once privileged Christianity in this way and the ensuing religious wars and political oppression led America's founders to enact the First Amendment.

A serious and respectful American policy response to the Muslim demand for Western blasphemy bans is long overdue. President Obama's U.N. speech was only that: a single speech. It was unsupported by his specific foreign policies.

His adminstration has failed to lead a diplomatic effort among our Western allies to rally support for the rights of the individual to freedom of speech and religion, and has neglected to stand up for such freedoms in its overall foreign policy.

We should lead a sustained conversation articulating the importance of individual freedoms of speech and religion to democracy and to economic advancement, personal as well as societal.

We should firmly assert that we do not — and will not — regulate speech on behalf of any religion or body of ideas.

We should appeal for the freedom of specific blasphemy prisoners abroad and expose the injustices and due process lapses surrounding their cases.

We should defend the religious minorities that are oppressed in — and in danger of being driven from — Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mali and parts of Nigeria.

We should tell our allies among the OIC member states to end the stoking of outrage over blasphemy, including by the imams they appoint, register and fund.

And we should cite the words of courageous Muslim reformers themselves.

One is the late Naser Abu-Zayd, who was driven out of his native Egypt for expressing such thoughts as this: “Charges of apostasy and blasphemy are key weapons in the fundamentalists' arsenal, strategically employed to prevent reform of Muslim societies and instead confine the world's Muslim population to a bleak, colorless prison of sociocultural and political conformity.”

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Reprinted by permission from National Review, online at www.nationalreview.com. Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Shea and Paul Marshall are the authors of “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedoms Worldwide” (Oxford University Press, 2011). 

Jason Allen elected as Midwestern’s president

KANSAS CITY, MO. (BP) — In a 29-2 vote, Jason K. Allen has been elected by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees as the school's fifth president. The vote took place Monday (Oct. 15) during the trustees' bi-annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo.

Allen, 35, comes to Midwestern from Louisville, Ky., where he served as vice president for institutional advancement at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as executive director of the Southern Seminary Foundation. He had concurrently served as senior pastor of Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville.

Midwestern's new president, who assumed the seminary's helm effective immediately, noted his thoughts upon being elected.

“I think the key word that defines my state of heart is first that I'm honored,” Allen said. “I'm honored by the trust this board has overwhelmingly placed in me.”

Allen said he and his wife Karen “both have sensed unmistakably the Lord's leadership these past several months that has come to fruition and completion in many ways today. I intend to lead in building a seminary that serves all Southern Baptists, that is committed to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and by God's grace, will find a seminary that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are both proud of and pleased with.”

Allen added that throughout the process God has placed a great love in his and his wife's heart for everything about Midwestern. “Over the last several months, the Lord has given us a love for people we are yet to know and a seminary we are yet to reside at,” he said. “We are zealous to get there and invest our lives to the Midwestern Seminary community and to see God do a great work within that community.”

Trustee chairman Kevin Shrum voiced excitement and confidence in the trustee vote to bring Allen on as Midwestern's leader.

“We couldn't be more pleased to announce the election of Jason Allen as the fifth president of Midwestern Seminary,” Shrum said. “In addition to a tremendous student body, a fine faculty and a great staff, we now have a new president that will help us embark on a new phase in the history of Midwestern. So, we are very excited about moving forward, about the future, and about what God is going to continue to do at Midwestern.” Shrum is pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.

Allen, as a member of Southern Seminary's executive cabinet since January 2006, has been vice president of institutional advancement since 2009 and was executive assistant to the president from 2006-09. He also has taught courses in personal spiritual disciplines, pastoral ministry and preaching at Southern since 2007.

Emphasizing that during his administration Midwestern will be “absolutely committed to the Great Commission,” Allen outlined his approach to leading the seminary into the future.

“We are a denomination of the Great Commission,” Allen said. “This will be a seminary of the Great Commission, and I will be a leader that leads the seminary to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Allen added that he foresees two specific ways of achieving this climate.

“We want to build a robust campus community culture,” Allen said. “It will be marked by godliness, fellowship, a place that every square inch of the campus is family friendly and a place where there is a sense of Great Commission commonality and a sense of being here to train to learn to serve the local church.”

Secondly, Allen said he intends for Midwestern to be known as “the school that is steadfastly committed to serving the local church.”

“I want every faculty member, every aspect of the curriculum and everything we do to have a laser-like focus on serving the churches, and specifically the churches within the Southern Baptist Convention,” Allen said.

Allen, in other ministerial roles, has been senior pastor of Muldraugh Baptist Church in Muldraugh, Ky., and has worked in varying positions at churches in Alabama and Kentucky since 1998.

He holds Ph.D. and master of divinity degrees from Southern and an undergraduate degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Allen and his wife have five children, Anne-Marie, 9; Caroline, 8; William, 7; Alden, 5; and Elizabeth, 4.

Allen was officially announced as a nominee on Sept. 5 by Midwestern’s presidential search team. That team was led by Bill Bowyer, who spoke of the confidence the team had in nominating Allen.

“Dr. Allen has broad and insightful experience into the inner-workings of a seminary,” Bowyer said. “That, coupled with his gracious manner, his loving heart and his pastoral spirit — he’s going to make a perfect match for Midwestern and we’re anticipating wonderful days ahead.”

Bowyer, who pastors Crossroads Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., added that things setting Allen apart from the other candidates included his previous seminary experience and answers during hours of discussion about numerous matters pertaining to the seminary, but ultimately it was the leading of the Holy Spirit.

“Prayer, fasting and following the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit led us to him to the point that seven of us unanimously agreed that ‘This is the man God set aside for us at Midwestern Seminary,’” Bowyer said.

Shrum concurred and added that the entire selection process hinged on the team’s willingness to listen to a number of seminary constituencies to learn what was desired in the next leader. From there, the search team formulated a presidential profile.

“We weren’t operating in a vacuum because we had been listening to what students, faculty and personnel were saying,” Shrum said. “Those inputs helped guide us in the search, and we felt like Dr. Allen addressed a lot of those issues.”

Midwestern Seminary has been in search of a successor to R. Philip Roberts since his resignation in February. Robin D. Hadaway, the Seminary’s professor of missions, had served as interim president since Feb. 10.

Trustee leaders spoke high praise for what Hadaway accomplished in the interim.

“Dr. Hadaway combined the right skills at the right time for this transitional period,” Shrum said.

Bowyer added that Hadaway “has done a masterful job at the seminary. He will be very helpful in making it a very smooth transition to hand the presidential baton to Jason Allen. So, we’re deeply indebted to you, Dr. Hadaway.”
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T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian Koonce, staff writer of The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), contributed to this article.