Month: December 2013

Mohler, Hankins talk differences on Calvinism

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Southern Baptists need to “learn the table manners of denominational life” when discussing the controversial issue of Calvinism, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a Nov. 7 on-stage dialogue with Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mohler, president of Southern, and Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., co-chaired a 19-member Calvinism Advisory Committee that issued a unanimous report in May to Executive Committee President Frank Page, who assembled the group, acknowledging tension and disagreement within the Southern Baptist Convention. The report urged Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” on Calvinism while joining arms for the Great Commission.

In recent years, a debate about Calvinism, a term associated with the doctrine of salvation taught by 16th-century theologian John Calvin and the Synod of Dort that later systematized his teachings, has generated controversy within the SBC, with each side of the debate convening conferences, publishing books and issuing theological statements. Mohler holds to Calvinistic soteriology. Hankins was the primary author of “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” issued in 2012 as a retort to Calvinism in SBC ranks.

Mohler invited Hankins to hold the discussion before students and faculty in order to model how Southern Baptists who differ on the often-contentious issue can dialogue with each other while remaining committed to working together. Hankins also preached in Southern Seminary chapel earlier in the day.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, both men affirmed the need for Southern Baptists on both sides of the debate to exercise humility and show grace to those with whom they disagree.

“We have to learn the table manners of denominational life,” Mohler said. “There is a certain etiquette and kindness that is required, just like in the family reunion.”

The Southern Baptist family is made up of both Calvinists and those who are not, Mohler said.

“The decision to be a Southern Baptist is the decision to work with the people” on both sides of the debate, Mohler said. “We should not be surprised by differences of understanding of the issues that are comfortably within the Baptist Faith and Message,” he added, citing the SBC’s confession of faith, most recently revised in 2000.

Hankins said, “There’s been too much ugliness,” noting a friend warned him before issuing the “traditionalist” statement that “Calvinists will maul you. … And he was right.”

“That goes both ways,” Mohler responded, to which Hankins replied, “I absolutely acknowledge that.”

“But enough of that will begin to create the impression that I want to rid the convention of Calvinists,” Hankins noted. “That is absolutely false. I think that would be a terrible thing to do. That was never my intent or [that of] anybody that I have thought this through with.”

Both men agreed that terminology and labels are significant hurdles to better understanding on both sides of the debate.

Hankins flatly rejected the term “Arminian” to describe his theology due to Arminianism’s rejection of eternal security of the believer, among other reasons.

Arminianism is named for late 16th century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, who rejected some tenets of John Calvin’s theology of salvation. His followers, known as the “Remonstrants,” issued their views in 1610, to which followers of Calvin responded in the Synod of Dort in 1619. Both Calvinists and Arminians express their convictions with five points addressing various aspects of salvation.

Hankins also said “non-Calvinist” is not a good term—one he “hates”—while conceding, “We do not have good terms.”

Hankins said he used “traditionalist” to attempt to describe his views in contrast to Calvinism, although he acknowledged the term is offensive to some Calvinists who maintain that Calvinistic soteriology also has a long tradition in the SBC.

“I wasn’t trying to insult anyone. I was just trying to come up with a name. … I hope to figure out some way to talk about what the distinctions are, but I don’t have a good answer to that question,” he said.

Mohler said, “I am troubled at times and challenged perpetually about what language to use,” noting the term “Reformed” carries its own misunderstandings.

Hankins said most Southern Baptists who hold to less than four points of classical Calvinism do not consider themselves Calvinists. Mohler noted, however, that Southern Seminary’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles, only requires adherence to three points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election and perseverance of the saints. The other two points of Calvinism are limited (or particular) atonement and irresistible (or effectual) grace.

“So it is a very interesting thing in that I think most people would look at the Abstract of Principles and say it was Calvinist, and I think that would be right,” Mohler said, adding that “from the very beginning” of the seminary, there were faculty “who were more or less Calvinist on some of these very questions.”

Hankins said a “real problem” is Calvinists who consider his soteriological views to be “deficient.” That attitude “propelled me to say something,” responding to what he considered to be a new “tone” among Calvinists.

Mohler responded, “Well, I do think your soteriology is deficient,” while adding that in truth Hankins would say the same about his soteriology.

He said “theological humility” requires both sides to acknowledge “we’re doing the very best we can” and that both sides are still capable of cooperating in the Great Commission and other ministries, as long as they can both affirm the Baptist Faith and Message.

Mohler and Hankins agreed that the BF&M in its current form is sufficient for both sides of the debate.

“I need to say publicly in this conversation with you —I do not want our Baptist Faith and Message to be any narrower than it is now,” Mohler said. Hankins responded, “I sense zero interest in having the Baptist Faith and Message be this battleground and we’re going to fix it there.”

Mohler asked Hankins to outline areas of Calvinist “misbehavior.”

Hankins said Calvinists should not dismiss those who disagree with them as “stupid.” Some young, aggressive Calvinists make older pastors who reject Calvinism “feel inadequate.”

Hankins noted, “Those who hold to non-Calvinism can do so with a robust seriousness about the sovereignty of God, a robust seriousness [about] the absolute ruination of sin over humankind, and the singularity of the gospel in bringing about salvation and the absolute necessity of the prior working of the Holy Spirit to bring about salvation.”

Another problem are Calvinists who fail to disclose their convictions when under consideration by pulpit committees, Hankins said.

“The lack of understanding is on both ends. Sometimes when the word ‘Calvinist’ is heard by laypeople, that can mean almost anything,” Hankins added. “We’re probably still a distance from dialing in how a prospective pastor and a congregation can have that conversation together without it being, ‘Are you a Calvinist?’… and if you check ‘yes’ they’re going to wad it up and throw it in the trash—which does not need to happen.”

Mohler responded that it’s good that young believers are interested in these issues. “I don’t think you can be too excited about theology or the truths of God’s Word,” he said. “You can just be too excited about your system.”

Mohler added, “If there’s a young, Reformed guy who’s more interested in traveling across the state to argue about John Calvin when he’s not talking to his next-door neighbor about the gospel, then there’s a huge problem.”

Hankins suggested a “rule” for both sides of the debate: “You only get seven days to talk about [Calvinism] and for another seven days you have to actually share the gospel.” The truth is, he added, all Southern Baptists are failing to share the gospel.

Hankins said his hope for the future of the SBC is based on cooperation to carry out the Great Commission.

“The concept of cooperating together to do the work of missions and evangelism is beautiful and it’s brilliant,” he said, adding that seminarians need to be engaged in the denomination. “This seminary exists because of that cooperative movement.”

Hankins addressed the audience, speaking a word of advice and caution to Calvinists from the perspective of someone whose soteriology differs.

“Before you lay into somebody, sit down. Have a cup of coffee. Listen to somebody and where they’re coming from and how did they get where they are,” Hankins said. “Earn the right to be heard and to engage, and you’ll find that you agree about more things than you think you do. …But you’re recognizing that [the things you disagree about] aren’t going to be reasons not to do the gospel together.”

Mohler said in a “post-Christian culture” all Southern Baptists “need each other because we’re going to be up against unbelievable ethical, moral, leadership, discipleship challenges. … I feel right now we desperately need one another and we need the resources we all bring to this.”

He added, “What we need to think about is what it means to have healthy gospel churches in a hostile culture ready to be faithful to Christ.”

In his chapel sermon, Hankins preached about “A Great Commission Hermeneutic” from Luke 24:44-49, asserting the need for “Christ-centered preaching.”

Audio and video from the discussion with Mohler and Hankins’ sermon are available at sbts.edu/resources.

—Texan reporter Rob Collingsworth contributed additional content to this article.

Stan Coffey, founding SBTC president, dies

AMARILLO—Stan Coffey, longtime Amarillo pastor who served as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s founding president, died Dec. 26 after an extended illness. He was 68.

Coffey served Southern Baptist churches in Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas for 40-plus years. He was pastor of The Church at Quail Creek in Amarillo (formerly San Jacinto Baptist Church) for nearly 35 years, from 1975-79 and from 1984 until his death.

Coffey, who played a significant role in the founding of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, gave considerable support to the fledgling convention as pastor of the large Church at Quail Creek.

After the convention was formed he was tapped as its first president, serving from 1998-2000.

“Prior to the existence of the SBTC, Stan Coffey pastored the largest church in the reformation group pushing for the formation of a new convention,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “Being a man of conviction, Stan was willing to put his reputation on the line for the cause of biblical inerrancy and cooperative work among Baptists. He paid a high price for his efforts with challenges to his health and ministry. Through it all he remained faithful to win people to Jesus.

In comments to the Amarillo Globe-News, Richards said Coffey’s “contributions were immeasurable” to the state convention. “What he did in the early stages of the SBTC will be told for all eternity.” Coffey helped Southern Baptist causes “until his final days,” Richards said.

“Earth’s loss is heaven’s gain,” Richards told the TEXAN. “Pray for the family and church during this time of sorrow.”

Coffey was a recipient of the SBTC’s W.A. Criswell Award for Pastoral Evangelism and the H. Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award for his work during the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence and his key role in the founding of the SBTC.

Coffey also served Southern Baptists in a variety of other positions; he was a trustee of the North American Mission Board, a member of the SBC Executive Committee; and president and vice president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

Known as a passionate evangelist, Coffey’s church was consistently recognized for its high number of baptisms—nearly 10,000 during his 35-year tenure.

Gene Jeter, a deacon and 40-year member of the Church at Quail Creek, told the Globe-News, “What I loved about Stan is that he always preached the gospel of Christ.” Coffey “always gave everyone an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Thousands of people have accepted Jesus Christ through his preaching over the course of his career.”

In recent years, Coffey spoke out as a prominent voice for biblical values. During the recent debates over same-sex marriage, he consistently pointed to Scripture as the definer of marriage. His convictions politically were rooted in his longstanding commitment to biblical inerrancy.

Last summer, Coffey became a public advocate for what he regarded as compassionate immigration reform, including involvement in a coalition of evangelicals who launched an ad campaign urging Republican House members to support immigration reform that included a path to citizenship.

Coffey was the author of several books, including “Building the Greatest Churches Since Pentecost”; “Comfort, Peace and Hope: Help for Hurting Hearts in the Time of Grief” and “The Return,” according to business profile site ZoomInfo cited by the Globe-News.

The Return, Coffey’s last book, focused on biblical prophecy. The funeral home obituary noted that Coffey had conducted conferences on prophecy across the nation, with engagements booked well into 2015.

Coffey’s other pastorates included First Baptist Church in Albuquerque, N.M.; three Texas churches, County Line Baptist in Morton, Hurlwood Baptist in Lubbock; and First Baptist in Josephine; and Trinity Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark.

Raised in Sweetwater, Okla., Coffey was saved at age 6 and took his first pastorate at age 20. He earned degrees from Wayland Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and California Graduate School of Theology.

Coffey is survived by his wife Glenda, a son, Scott Coffey of North Carolina; a daughter, Natalie Coffey Archer of Amarillo; and nine grandchildren.

Former Amarillo Mayor Trent Sisemore who formerly served on staff with Coffey at The Church at Quail Creek, told the Globe-News, “Stan was my pastor, mentor and friend. For 26 years, I had the honor and privilege of serving as his music minister. He was a humble, meek, godly man, but was an eloquent spiritual giant in the pulpit. He was one of the great leaders of the SBC.”

The funeral was Dec. 30 at The Church at Quail Creek. Burial was at Buffalo Cemetery in Erick, Okla.

–30–
—Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article. 

East Texas churches expand Montreal ministry

Bowie County, Texas and Montreal, Canada, have almost nothing in common. Bowie County is a rural area with fewer than 100,000 residents in the entire country and Montreal boasts 3.5 million inhabitants.  Bowie County is in the heart of the Bible Belt and Montreal is considered one of the great lost cities in North America with less than 1 percent of the population calling themselves evangelicals.

While they differ in size and scope, Bowie County and Montreal are connecting through two small churches that feel the call to reach the people of Montreal with the gospel as part of SEND Montreal.

Pastor Brian Leverett of Malta Baptist Church, DeKalb, began to feel a call to SEND Montreal during an SBTC New Pastors’ Banquet last February.   

Leverett and his wife headed to Montreal and caught a vision of the work of SEND Montreal. “Following the vision trip in May, we shared with Malta Baptist Church what we learned and experienced. Within a couple of months we voted to support Le Contact, a church pastored by Joel St-Cyr.”

Already, Malta is seeing fruit from its partnership with Le Contact Church. Recently, Leverett received an exciting report from Pastor St-Cyr. “Yesterday we had a wonderful morning with 193 people showing up at our two services. After the sermon, nine persons gave their life to Christ and were saved!” said St.-Cyr.

“For the past weeks, we sent invitations to the new comers from the past months to a lunch after church and 40 people showed up, most of them non-Christian. The pastors and I were able to have lunch with them, and I did a presentation of our church and our vision to transform our city for Christ. The atmosphere was indescribable!

“We are starting to see more and more new Christians, not only giving their lives to Christ but already starting to invite their friends to Church. To me, this is just awesome!”

Currently, Malta sends $100 a month to support Le Contact, as well as prayer support, but Leverett hopes to see that involvement expand in the future.  “As of right now, I am working with Jim Turnbo of the Bowie Baptist Association in putting together a vision trip through our association,” said Leverett. “We would also like to take a trip during the summer of 2014. I am hoping to get several members from Malta to go.”

Mark Ritchey, pastor of FBC Maud, is one of those pastors planning to go on the SEND Montreal Vision Trip. He first heard about SEND Montreal at the SEND Conference in August. “We were praying and looking for a mission project,” said Ritchey. “I asked which city is the most unreached and it was Montreal.”

This February, Ritchey is planning to be part of a four-person team visiting Montreal and seeing how his church can be involved. “We are going to widen our vision,” said Ritchey. “I have a sense that we need to be doing something else.”

FBC Maud is a church of about 170 people, but Ritchey says his congregation is becoming enthusiastic about the possibilities of reaching outside their usual area of ministry. “They are excited to go and be a part. God has given us a vision to go plant churches and that’s really going to build long-term. We have to evangelize outside of Bowie County.”

The next nine months will be crucial as FBC Maud, gets involved in SEND Montreal, according to Ritchey. In addition to the vision trip, he is also hoping to send at least one mission team from FBC Maud, to Montreal. “We have caught the vision in evangelism and grabbed a hold of it.”

“As we get more involved with seeing and doing ministry in locations like Montreal, our church will also be gaining experience and wisdom for ministering to our neighborhoods and communities around us at home.”

Both Ritchey and Leverett encourage other churches like theirs to get involved in projects like SEND Montreal. “Don’t have the mindset that this is for someone else,” said Leverett. “Get involved. Pray. Give. Seek God’s will and direction for how you can get personally involved with going on mission trips. We’re a church of less than 100 active members. If God can use us to impact Montreal, he can use you too!”

Texans bring hope through Baptist Global Response

CEBU, Philippines—Super Typhoon Haiyan made its initial landfall Nov. 7 in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, with maximum sustained winds of 235 kilometers per hour. Flash floods, landslides and wind damage were reported in the Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces. Telecommunication and electricity services remain interrupted. Air and seaports are closed. Initial needs assessments have prioritized shelter, food and health concerns.

Texan Mark Moses, a Southern Baptist representative, had returned to Panay Island in September following a year-long stateside assignment, just in time to be available to assess the damage on behalf of Baptist Global Relief in a country he knew well from over 25 years of ministry.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief workers serving on the Rapid Assistance Team were deployed immediately to Cebu, Philippines. Additional volunteers from SBTC churches departed for Roxas City, Philippines, Dec. 6. This ministry team will serve with local churches, Filipino nationals and personnel from Baptist Global Response to assist in rebuilding a local school and aiding families in the communities.

SBTC DR staff will schedule more teams to respond as soon as needs are identified and the logistics coordinated.

In the meantime, although social media and news programs around the world are filled with images of relief teams making their entrances into Filipino communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, hundreds more villages in extremely isolated areas have yet to see any relief vehicles at all. 

These villages are tucked away in northern Cebu’s rolling hills, down winding, bumping roads barely wide enough for vehicles to traverse. They are the kinds of villages sought out by Southern Baptist relief efforts.

Several weeks after the storm, the recovery task in the cities and towns is monumental and millions of dollars in relief aid is flowing into those efforts. Many smaller communities, however, must fend for themselves.

People in out of the way areas often are neglected for one to two weeks in the aftermath of a major disaster, said Larry Shine, a member of the four-man BGR rapid assistance team sent to Cebu Island and recently returned to the U.S. The team’s goal was to go into areas not highlighted in the media and partner with local pastors to bring effective aid to neglected communities.

Shine, pastor of Pine Forest Baptist Church in Onalaska, and Scottie Stice, pastor of Southwest Texas Cowboy Church in Uvalde, traveled Nov. 16 to the ministry area of Filipino pastor Nabanglo Driz.

First visitors
They were the first people to visit three mountain villages after the typhoon. On a rural road, their van passed a sign tacked to a post that read “Help Us.”

The houses in this area are perched on hilltops, meaning they were more exposed to Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocious winds. People in these villages are still living in their collapsed homes. One family with a 1-month-old baby is trying to shelter in a badly damaged hut not even tall enough for someone to kneel in.

To get relief supplies, the villagers must hike out to the main road and hand-carry the goods back down winding, bumpy paths.

In one village the team visited, the five concrete houses of Leonilo Liquigan and his extended family look as if a wrecking ball came through. Liquigan said people in the village came to his home because it was concrete and stronger, but even his concrete home couldn’t withstand the storm.

He said he knew they needed to leave the area, but they had nowhere to go.

Since his village has been without electricity, Liquigan said he’s cooked coconuts and taken the oil and inserted a wick to make candles. Shine held Liquigan’s hand and prayed a blessing over him, asking God to “bring order where there is chaos.”

Survivor with a scar
In the village of Kapilya, 5-year-old John Carl Ulila played with a plastic lid, a metal bolt and a rock. He does not have any toys. He is a survivor, but one who will forever bear a scar.

During the typhoon, a flying piece of corrugated tin hit Ulila and cut his nose and cheek—coming dangerously close to his eye. His mother took him to a medical clinic but was referred to a more expensive clinic his family could not afford.

They came home without any medicine.

Stice noticed Ulila’s eye when he arrived at his home. He gave Ulila’s mother antibiotic cream to treat the wound.

Driz identified Kapilya as one of the neediest villages out of the nine he serves. There are 30 families in Kapilya, where a house church meets each week for worship. The gazebo they meet in was destroyed by the storm.

The closest water reservoir to Kapilya is 11 miles away. The village’s water system operates off of a pump and because the electricity is out, the water is too. Right now, Ulila’s mom says they are collecting rainwater to drink. Stice and Shine discussed having a pump station to help bring water closer.

Later that day, Shine, Stice and Driz discussed how to handle aid relief and sharing the gospel with women in the area who aren’t as open. “The best ministry is to come build the house, share with her and tell her why you came and built the house,” Shine told Driz.

Driz believes this distribution project will open doors to the community. Many people close their hearts when they see him approach with a Bible, Driz said. Showing Christ’s love by helping the hurting is a bridge to sharing the gospel.

“With this project, I believe there will be more fruit,” Driz said.

Cowboys and pastors
Over a dinner of rice and vegetables, Shine showed Driz photos of his guns and the deer he has shot in the backyard of his East Texas home. Stice showed pictures of his horses on his West Texas ranch. Driz talked about one of his favorite TV shows—Rambo—and how he enjoys detective movies because of the suspense. The men talked about what fish the U.S. and the Philippines have in common.

For the evening, they were just men —talking about hunting and movies.

Later that evening, Driz, Stice and Shine sat down and continued their discussion about the areas they visited. Shine asked questions to help Driz to think through the rebuilding process and what resources they would need.

He encouraged Driz to use Filipino church members to deliver the relief supplies.

“By using an existing network, it is more effective,” Shine said. “The church is the best network in the world.”

Filipino churches know the people and the culture—and will be there after all the international aid workers and media have left, Shine said.

“What Western churches can do is provide the financial aid resources he [Driz] doesn’t have,” Shine said.

Shine encouraged Driz and his church to train others and then encourage them to pass the knowledge on—an approach to humanitarian aid that facilitates church planting.

The discussion then moved to what to include in relief kits—items every Filipino family must have in their kitchen to survive—and how best to transport the goods. Shine asked Driz to make himself available to minister to the families while others of his team are distributing supplies.

Driz, Stice and Shine formulated a plan for aid relief and packets to be delivered the following week. BGR will purchase supplies for the relief packages with funds donated by supporters in the United States and elsewhere.

“We have full confidence in your ability to do this,” Shine told Driz.

To donate visit sbtexas.com/DR.

Duck! Dynasty

You knew Phil Robertson would get hit by the Piers Morgans (“vile bigot”) and Stephen Colberts (“backwoods Louisiana bird murderer”) of this world, but what about the evangelicals? Do we have Phil’s back, or are we a bit anxious to put space between ourselves and his rustic speech?

We sophisticated conservatives like to think we’re all about truth boldly expressed, but I think we’re developing a strong PR streak that threatens to undermine our prophetic calling. Of course, there’s the “seeker-driven” movement that majors on shiny lures to the exclusion of John the Baptist preachments. But I’m talking about the Reformed set as well.

Back in the ’90s, I attended a gathering of scholars, pastors, and parachurchers determined to lift up the five solas in an increasingly shallow evangelical church. Some pretty snarky things were said about our lesser brethren who’d fallen into mindless repetition of praise song verses, and who’d given their hearts over to slick media. Though I have my sympathies with what was said, I couldn’t help but note that the hymnbooks we were using had an elevenfold amen, and that we could just as well have met in Kokomo, but that “Kokomo Declaration” had less cache than “Cambridge Declaration.” And the stationary was cool, tastefully gray with a Latin phrase on a European-looking shield. In other words, we were pretty keen on PR too, which we could have seen if we’d dismounted our high horses for a moment.

Being cool has been a big concern for evangelicals. We know we’re not that far removed from our pulpwood-truck-driving, coal-mining, revival-planning, aisle-walking forebears who peopled a world of housewives and other teetotalers walking under the serene gaze of Sallman’s “Head of Christ” portrait. So the flight from sweaty, hanky-wielding preachers in black J.C. Penney suits, from “Bible-thumping,” “buttonholing” tithers, has been anxious and headlong.

Some run to the Kurt Cobain look, others to Moby, and still others to Tucker Carlson. (I fear some are spending more time on learning to tie bowties than on soul winning.) And apparently, social drinking has become a new sacrament, a way to symbolize and celebrate release from Pharisaical scruples.

For every pound of liberating conviction, there is at least an ounce of fear that to stick with the old ways will make you leprous in whatever circles you aspire to run, whether among TOMS-wearing greens, Napa Valley epicures, kamikaze ruggers, tenured tweedites, tattooed insouciants, or gritty urban poets. We know full well that if we identify with those who still use, without irony, the words “fornication,” “blasphemy,” or “sodomy,” we’re outcasts and will lose our platform for continuing a charm offensive for Jesus.

We’ve learned that we’d better duck if we speak bluntly of “heresy” and “perversity,” and I’m not just talking about the brickbats hurled by GLAAD. We also have to dodge jabs from those trying to impress the church’s “cultured despisers.” 

Look, I’m glad we have cool dudes who play well in secular society’s sandbox. I just wish they didn’t feel so fearful of Christian brothers who don’t. And I have to wonder what they would say to Amos’s rude talk of the “cows of Bashan” and Paul’s wish that the Judaizers’ circumcision knives might slip. I imagine contemporary bloggers might cluck that such talk was not particularly helpful. And couldn’t Jesus have done better than to urge his followers to shake dust off their feet “as a testimony against” non-receptive homes? “Surely, Lord, that was counterproductive. How in the world are you going to build bridges to these people if you make a spectacle of rebuking them right off the bat?”

In our rush to palliate the sensitive (whose insensitivity to the holiness of Scripture is gargantuan), we throw Phil Robertson under the bus, as we would, I suspect Vance Havner, Mordecai Ham, and Luther, were they to rise from the grave and start preaching. But we may be outsmarting ourselves.

I’ve worked on some websites in New York and sat for hours in the company of computer mavens, whose talk of wire frames and Drupal was mystifying. After one session with young, yarmulke-wearing “geeks” in New York, I found myself on the elevator with them. I praised their savvy, to which they responded, “Thanks, but there’s a lot left to do.” I said, “Well, we’ll just have to get ‘er done.” They exclaimed, “Get ‘er done!” “Yes. You mean you’ve heard of Larry the Cable Guy?” “Heard of him! We went to his concert the other night!”

In a world of spin and enervating euphemisms, I think there’s a hunger for plain speech on the big stuff. In Robertson’s instance, he simply used clinical terms to make his general revelation case and Paul’s inerrant phrasing to bring special revelation to the table.

Some lament the way in which Phil’s demeanor and expression help “marginalize Christians as backwater.” Perhaps, but I’m more concerned about evangelicals who’ve fallen for the alchemy of PR, convinced that if we just behave ourselves, then we can turn the base metal of despised “fundamentalism” into the gold of respectful appearances on NPR.

The Dynasty’s beards remind me of an Alan Bennett routine in the ’60s English show “Beyond the Fringe.” Playing a vapid Anglican vicar, he “preached” on the text, “My brother is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man.” Smooth’s good, but there’s a place for Jeremiah “hairy.”

When I was PR vice president for the SBC Executive Committee back in the early ’90s, the convention excluded churches that affirmed homosexuality. Some well-meaning conservatives called this a “public relations disaster” in that it diverted attention from missions and gave us a negative cast. It occurred to me, then, and now, that for the church, when it is serious about its gospel, scriptural business is inescapably a public relations disaster. And woe to us if we ever hope to shake that legacy.

—Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

SBTC assists churches mobilizing for SEND North America strategy

“Don’t you say, there are still four more months, then comes the harvest? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.”

Jesus’ words in John 4:35 have never been more relevant than they are today. North America is lost and the need is urgent. Seventy-five percent of the population, a staggering 259 million people in the United States and Canada, do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  There is one Southern Baptist Church for every 6,828 people in North America.

Recognizing this need, the North American Mission Board has developed the SEND North America strategy to bring the gospel to North America. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is helping SBC churches in Texas in mobilizing mission efforts with SEND Montreal and SEND Boston.

According to NAMB, Send North America focuses on mobilizing missionaries and churches.

When churches or individuals sign up, they are first assessed to identify the types of partnerships or missionary tracks that best fit them. Then NAMB provides any needed equipping and training—including evangelism and leadership development—before the missionary or church enters the mission field.

Churches that partner with NAMB have a broad range of participation options, including starting a church themselves or with a group of other churches. All are encouraged to send volunteers and other resources to partner with church planters on the field.

Currently fewer than 4 percent of SBC churches are engaged in church planting as a primary sponsor. NAMB’s goal is to see this increase to 10 percent.

SEND North America also focuses on five regions allowing NAMB to be more strategic and responsive to the diverse needs across North America, factoring in demographics, geographical challenges and spiritual realities.

That contextualization continues with coordinated efforts surrounding each region’s largest population centers. A total of 32 cities are in the SEND focus including Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as many others. Currently, SBTC has partnerships with both SEND Boston and SEND Montreal, in addition to the Utah-Idaho State Convention.

While the work won’t be limited to these metropolitan areas, cities are “the mouthpiece of any nation and the place where culture is created,” according to Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president for mobilization and marketing and a former church planter in New York. We expect to see a gospel influence radiate from the cities we reach, thus impacting the rest of the region.

“If the gospel of Jesus is going to spread around the world in the 21st century, the great cities will be its launching pad.”

For more information about SEND North America, its five regions and 32 cities, visit the SEND North American website at namb.net/overview-why-send. For additional information about SBTC Partnerships with SEND Boston and SEND Montreal, visit sbtexas.com/mobilization.

Missionary kids with Texas ties talk about missionary dad, missions support

Answers from Hannah Moses:

My dad, Mark Moses, is a missionary with the International Mission Board. He works in Iloilo City on the island of Panay.

How important is prayer support of folks back home?
Prayer support is incredibly important. I remember back before we had a blog and my mom would send out prayer update emails to our supporters. She had to do it by emailing five people at a time so spam blockers wouldn’t keep block them. Even though it was a painstaking process, we knew it was vital to keep the folks at home updated so they could take our needs to the Lord. I know people might consider it a bit outdated, but the analogy of “holding the ropes” for the missionary is spot-on. There is a spiritual battle being fought daily, not just overseas but here in the America as well. Prayer not only helps fight that battle, but there is a peace that comes from knowing others are interceding on your behalf.

How important is financial support to BGR, LMCO and CP and your dad’s ministry?
One of the great things about the IMB is that missionaries do not have to worry about raising support. I applaud those who do have to raise their own support, and I admire their faith. One benefit of the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is that missionaries can stay on the field and not have to be called away to come to the States and raise support. Without LMCO and CP, missionaries have a more difficult time focusing on ministry because they are distracted by financial concerns.

Also, LMCO is important in supporting missionaries because it ensures that those who will receive aid also have the opportunity to get plugged into churches and support systems. BGR can meet physical needs, but we can’t forget the spiritual needs either. With missionaries on the field, they can work with local churches so that instead of receiving a gift once, they can stay in contact with Christian nationals and find the gift of eternal life. I know that in my dad’s experience, he has found that lasting contacts are better made when you work through church systems so that aid is given and people are connected.

BGR is an excellent way to get resources to those who need it. We have seen BGR funds at work with Typhoon Haiyan. People who have lost everything can be provided for through the BGR ministry. It is great because without them, missionaries cannot always meet the physical needs of those they are ministering to. However, I would point out that BGR and LMCO need to work together. Without missionaries on the field, it is difficult to get aid to people quickly. When Typhoon Haiyan hit, my dad was out the next day gathering relief items and taking them to those who were suffering. Sometimes it takes awhile for major relief operations to get underway. When people have nothing, the timing is crucial. Having missionaries already on the field positions them for greater ministry. When the need is greatest, in the direct aftermath of a disaster, there is already someone on site who knows the language and culture of the people.

LMCO and BGR are most effective when they work together.

What are the spiritual hardships for someone in your situation?
As an adult MK, I suppose the greatest hardship is missing my family. My dad is overseas and I wish I was there. I value his guidance and though Skype helps a lot, it can never substitute from being with family. It is also hard when there are events happening in my home country and I can’t be there to help. During Typhoon Haiayn, my fellow adult MKs kept posting articles and pictures and stories from friends. We prayed for each others’ parents and kept each other updated with what little news we got. I wish I were there now and could help.

I suppose a more generic issue with adult MKs is the experience of being a Third Culture Kid. Even though I have lived in the States for the past five years, there are still cultural references and expressions that I do not know. No matter how much I learn about American culture, there will always be parts I do not know. For example, when my college put on a 1980s themed talent show, I didn’t bother going because I knew that was a decade I know nothing about! My parents went overseas during the 80s, so we never heard much about it from them either. My little sister went to the talent show, and when she came back I asked her how it went. “Well,” she replied, “It was colorful. I really didn’t know anything about what was going on. Everyone else was laughing, so I had a good time. I think I recognized one song!”

What are the blessings?
The biggest blessing is a bigger view of the world. Instead of just focusing on where I live and what affects my life, MKs are focused on the world. I may have never lived in a country that is in the news, but chances are I have met someone who has. I have a greater appreciation for the United States’ role in world affairs. I care about what the president is doing on an international scale because I know friends will be affected by it. Current issues, like immigration, affect me personally because so many of my friends have had to fight that bureaucratic nightmare.

Another blessing is a bigger view of God. Christianity is not an American or Western phenomena. We don’t need big churches, choir robes, sound systems, baptismal fonts, or programs. Those are nice to have, but it is a privilege to see the gospel in other cultural contexts. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is also the same whether in an American mega-church or a dirt-floor hut in a sweltering tropical climate. Whether everyone sings in tune or church members make up songs on the spot, the Gospel changes lives. Sometimes I feel like we get caught up in the trappings of Christianity. We feel like we need certain things in order for ministry or church to be successful. I am so thankful that I grew up in a land where sometimes all that a church had was people. Nothing fancy, no programs, just people. That’s what the church is — people. We shouldn’t forget that. People who realize they are sinners and who accept God’s grace. People who strive to live for Christ and love others as he loved them. No matter their color, language, culture, class, gender, the Church is made up of people.

Whereabouts, and what are you studying?
What about you siblings—where are they studying, etc.

I got a B.A. in History from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a fantastic school with a solid Christian base. I am so thankful for my experience serving on student leadership there. I also went on my first mission trip through LU! Growing up overseas, the mission field was home, it was normal. I had never experienced a short-term trip before. So I appreciated that experience!

I am currently getting my master’s degree from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Being an MK is impacting my choice of history, too. As I grew up in a former American colony, most of my research has been on US-Philippine relations, particularly on the education system that the American government set up in the Philippines in the early 20th century.

My siblings are all stateside now. My older brother, David, is a computer programmer at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, TX. My older sister, Sara, is a graphic designer for Neiman Marcus in Los Colinas, TX. My little sister, Martha, is a nursing major at Liberty University. She hopes to take her nursing skills with her overseas to whatever mission field God calls her to. Jonathan, my little brother, just began community college in Fort Worth, TX. I think he is getting a degree in computer networking or some other technical field that I do not understand!

Though I am stateside for the time being, I have a yearning to live overseas. As of yet God has not called me to full time mission work and I know the United States needs missionaries too. Yet whatever I end up doing, the Philippines and the world is always going to be part of me. I constantly want to just hop on a plane and go live somewhere else and explore a new culture. When I consider living the rest of my life in the States, I feel discontent. However, I know God will give me grace wherever he wants me to be.

Answers from Martha Moses:

Greetings! My name is Martha Moses. I am a junior right now at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Describe the value to your dad’s ministry.
Dad works in the Philippines to plant churches and disciple others to grow in the Lord. While there are many people where we live who have access to the gospel, there is a great need for discipleship and personal growth.

How important is prayer support of folks back home?
Prayer support from people in the U.S. is so important to ministry. God delights to work in the prayers of His saints. There are many spiritual strongholds in the lives of people in the Philippines that pose as a hindrance to accepting the gospel and living for Christ. Dad also needs wisdom with where to go, to whom he should, and what he needs to say. Truly, we all need prayer. Recently, with typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines, Dad has needed much prayer for how best to distribute the relief goods and God’s leading in the situation.

How important is financial support to BGR, LMCO, and CP and your dad’s ministry?
I grew up as a missionary kid keenly aware of how the financial support from people in the U.S. helped us in the Philippines. I remember when I was little, our family going to churches and talking about the Lottie Moon Christmas offering and how it supported missionaries around the globe. Now, I get to sit on the other side, in the pews of the churches and am even more humbled to see people giving so generously.

It has been incredible to see people come together with the Baptist Global Response for relief efforts after typoon Haiyan. I was talking to Dad on Skype a few days ago and we discussed how they are distributing the food and roofing supplies to Filipinos hurt by the storm. I am so thankful. Some of these people are friends we know quite well.

What are the spiritual hardships for someone in your situation?
There are not any extreme spiritual hardships that I can think of for someone in my situation. I am currently in my third year of college and many of the adjustments I am making are the same adjustments as anyone my age as they live away from family and learn to make decisions with greater independence. With time differences and Internet connection problems it can be hard not being able to contact my dad easily when something comes up. But in times like that, it often comes down to learning to rely on the Lord and grow in my relationship with God. I miss my dad very much and I value the time I am able to spend with him when I do.

What are the blessings?
One of the unexpected blessings of living in the U.S. with Dad on the mission field is that we have the opportunity to make family anywhere we go. So many people have been generous to open their homes to us that we are able to learn from and enjoy the fellowship of many different people and church families. When I do get the chance to reconnect with my family, it makes the time all the more precious.

Is there anything you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?
Learning to live on your own and away from your parents is a common experience. It does mean that when breaks come around I don’t get to go home, but it does mean that I get to learn reliance on the Lord and others in the family of God. I miss being connected with all my family, but I know this is where the Lord has each of us, and I am grateful for what he has given.

Answers from David Moses:

Describe the value to your dad’s ministry
Dad’s job description is “church planter,” but in practice he has more of a support role among existing churches within the local association. The area of the Philippines where Dad ministers has a relatively large number of evangelical churches, but many of them are small and under constant threat of closing due to lack of members and growth. Dad travels to the various churches to encourage them, support their ministries, and counsel their leadership. He recently completed a project that involved translating discipleship materials into the native dialect so that lay ministers and church members could mentor new attendees. The churches where Dad ministers desperately need encouragement, leadership, and growth.

How important is prayer support of folks back home?
While technology has certainly closed the communications gap, the mission field can still be a lonely place, especially now that Dad is now ministering by himself, without a family. Knowing that prayer warriors back home are covering him in prayer and lending their support is incredibly comforting.

How important is financial support to BGR, LMCO and CP and your dad’s ministry?
While the Cooperative Program helps fund regular missionary activity and is incredibly beneficial in supplying a steady and predictable foundation for ministry, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is essential for funding larger initiatives. Large disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines call for an equally large response in giving, and BGR teams can provide services that go beyond what regular missionaries offer.

What are the spiritual hardships for someone in your situation?
Dad is the spiritual leader of our family, and under his leadership we have all been challenged, guided, and encouraged in our spiritual growth. His absence is deeply felt, and our prayer is that God will continue to draw us toward him and deepen our faith, while protecting our father from harm and discouragement overseas.

What are the blessings?
Having our father ministering overseas makes us, his children, more sensitive to the needs outside of the US and more appreciative of what we do have here in the States. Knowing that dad, an introvert who prefers conventional food and dislikes travel, is willing to follow God’s call to be a missionary overseas challenges me to confront my comfort zones and take on tasks that I would normally avoid.

Is there anything you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?
Please pray that Dad will find strong Christian men to lead and disciple, so that they may in turn lead and encourage our fledgling churches in the region.

An audience of one?

“I only play to an audience of one.” I recently read this Christian version of “I don’t listen to my critics” in an interview with a pretty flamboyant celebrity. And the intent behind the statement is fine as far as it goes. Yes, we should not make the approval of men the most important thing and yes, God is the one with whom we now and later have to do. But the people who say this are not usually living the life of Paul or being asked to compromise the gospel.

Most often it’s someone who actually does conform but not to his father’s view of normalcy. Maybe it’s tattoos or piercings or hipster clothes or some other trend that our “nonconformist” adopts but he is almost always conforming to some tribe. His rejection of the approval of man is not so much an affirmation of the gospel as it is a dig at those who “don’t get it.”

I understand. As a young man I did everything I could to make sure people around me knew that I wasn’t going to be told how to dress or wear my hair (hair was a big deal in the 1970s) or what music I would listen to—at least I wasn’t going to let my parents’ generation do that. It’s not like I was shaving my head or listening to Klezmer music. I was wearing bell-bottom jeans, shoulder-length hair and listening to rock. I was choosing my tribe and I was excluding in all apparent ways those I counted as outsiders. A friend, older and squarer than I, talked me through that and helped me understand that I was in essence telling God where and who I would serve, and more loudly who I wouldn’t serve. Paul’s message in I Corinthians 9 was convicting.

I think there is also merit in hearing, discerningly, the voices of the status quo. “Normal” is normal for a reason most often. Community standards have some value, as does the counsel of more mature people. If someone tells me I’m behaving outlandishly I should consider the source but also consider my motives and the effects of my behavior on those about whom I am called to care.

I guess the counsel of those I respect more now than I did at 20 has led me to a point of using the “me and God against the world” card infrequently. It is part of the Christian life that we don’t get to choose our brothers and sisters. In a sense we don’t get to choose those to whom we will minister, although some seem to be committed to doing just that thing. The whole “servant to all” thing gets lost in that shuffle I think. When I’m being self-indulgent I’m pretty soon out of the mainstream of orthodox Christianity, and of orthodox Christians. The fact that I can find people to praise me for it does not change the likelihood that I’m walking on the shoulder of the straight path that leads to life.

There will be times in all our lives when we have to obey God and disregard the opinions of men. Usually when that happens, the choice will not bring wealth or acclaim to your doorstep. And it likely will not be a choice we need to throw in the face of our biblically Christian brothers every week, or even every year.

NAMB seeks Texas churches to reach most unreached people group on continent

For many Texans, the church-on-every-corner sort of town is more than a stereotype—it’s a commonplace reality. The thought of a town where one church exists for every 105,000 people could seem far fetched.

Yet that is the reality about 2,000 miles north in Montreal, Canada. Only 0.7 percent of those living in Montreal are considered evangelical. In the province of Quebec, that percent drops even lower to 0.5 percent.

Chad Vandiver, coordinator for SEND Montreal, has been working in Quebec for the past eight months to help organize church planting and mission work among the indigenous Quebecois people and the ethnic people who have moved there from all over the world. He says the people are not so much hardened to the gospel as they are ignorant of Christ and his salvation.

“As I walked the streets in Montreal, I realized that they didn’t know who the savior was. It was not that they were anti-Christian, they just didn’t know about the savior.”

—Chad Vandiver, coordinator for SEND Montreal

“As I walked the streets in Montreal, I realized that they didn’t know who the savior was,” Vandiver said. “It was not that they were anti-Christian, they just didn’t know about the savior.”

It is within this environment that Vandiver and his fellow workers set out to plant 50 churches in a five-year period, which, he said, they are set to accomplish by the end of this year. The work is far from finished, though, and really only beginning in the effort to reach the 3.5 million people living in the Montreal area. And that, Vandiver says, is where he seeks the help of Texans and Texas churches.

“We ask churches to dream with us,” Vandiver said. “We need all sorts of ideas. It’s a blank slate. There’re so many opportunities to minister there. Our response to a church is, ‘Yes.’”

Vandiver said there are four levels of partnership for churches to consider when looking for ways to join the evangelism effort in Montreal: supporting church, sending church, multiplying church and lead-partner church.

A supporting church is considered a basic level of engagement, meaning that the church commits to pray, participate and help provide for various needs.

A sending church is responsible for a new church plant until the plant is self-sustaining. At this level, a church will work alongside NAMB to send a planting pastor, send funds and possibly even send a core group. One innovative piece of this level is the opportunity for lay people to sign up to become a core member. A core member, while not being called to full-time ministry, can become an integral part of the evangelistic effort by moving to Montreal to continue in his own vocation and be a part of the new church plant. Vandiver says relationships have even been made in some instances where business owners from various industries have told him that if a person comes as a core member, he may be able to arrange a job for them beforehand.

A multiplying church, Vandiver said, is a church committed to having an intentional process for discovering, developing and deploying missionaries from within their church. NAMB offers a church training event for churches that desire to become multiplying churches and offers more information on the process at namb.net/SendNetwork.

A lead-partner church, he said, helps lead the SEND Montreal mission strategy in five ways.

1) They commit to partner with a church plant for a minimum of five years.
2) They commit to give a minimum of $30,000 each year for five years to a SEND Montreal church plant.
3) They commit to mobilize five other Southern Baptist churches to give $5,000 a year for five years.
4) They work with Vandiver to host at least one Catch the Vision tour each year.
5) They commit to become a multiplying church that intentionally raises up missionaries to serve in North America and throughout the world.
Vandiver invites Southern Baptists to join them on one of the five upcoming vision tours in 2014 that will introduce them to Montreal and allow them to see the opportunities available to serve and support the ministry God has begun there.

Five vision tours are set for 2014:

  • March 10-12
  • April 14-16
  • May 12-14
  • Sept. 8-10
  • Oct. 27-29

Ten variously sized Southern Baptist churches from Texas currently partner with SEND Montreal, Vandiver said, explaining that there is a need and a way for even small churches to become involved. He said one of the partnering churches gives $100 a month—an amount that might not seem large but that makes an incredible impact in Montreal.

“Even $100 a month is a huge, huge support for us,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver said he simply asks that churches pray for those serving in Montreal, pray for the hearts of the people in Montreal and pray about whether God might have for their church or for them personally to get further involved in reaching Montreal.

“God is starting to open the eyes of Southern Baptists to Quebec,” Vandiver said. “It’s cool to be a part of that, because for 20-25 years, pastors in the area have prayed that that would happen.”

To find out more about how to support SEND Montreal, visit sbtexas.com/mobilization.

Churches fail to thrive through obvious errors

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS—There are many reasons churches and pastors think they fail to thrive, but revitalization expert Johnny Hunt keyed in on the causes that become more obvious after looking at research from LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board.

Speaking to the Church Growth and Revitalization Conference last month at North Richland Hills Baptist Church, one of several stops on the NAMB-orchestrated tour, Hunt elaborated on 10 causes of decline as he challenged pastors and churches to accept reality.

They refuse to look like their community.

Hunt challenged pastors to get to know the area immediately surrounding their churches even if the congregation is drawn from a much larger region. That requires involving members in every level of outreach, utilizing those who are equipped to share their faith as well as some who will at least distribute door hangers. “Reach the people in your community where you live,” Hunt emphasized. 

The church had no community-focused ministries.

Citing an initiative he used as pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock called Love Loud, Hunt said the concept involves “touching the community by showing people God’s up to something.” He spoke of a home for single mothers that emerged as a result of discovering local needs. NAMB has since embraced the concept and utilizes LoveLoud in key cities to advance church planting efforts.

Members became more focused on memorials.

While appreciative of the desire to honor past contributions of church members, Hunt acknowledged that dying churches often place more emphasis on memorials to the past than ministry for the future. “I pastored a church that spent more money on Memorial Day flowers than the youth budget,” he noted.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing.

Hunt challenged churches to keep the focus outward instead of on “what we want here.”

There was no evangelistic emphasis.

“Nobody was ever talking about reaching the lost or asking you to pray for the person he was sharing the gospel with,” Hunt said in describing a dying church. “I need to be sharing the gospel and doing ministry outreach.”

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted instead of what outside people needed.

Hunt encouraged pastors to analyze whether ministry and missions are prioritized in their budgets while leading their churches effectively to accomplish those values.

With few exceptions pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter.

“There’s no such thing as building a great work without longevity,” Hunt said, reminding pastors of the need to stay put where God called them. “You’ve gotta dig your heals in and stay. [First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Pastor Emeritus] Homer Lindsay Jr. used to tell me it takes five years to become the pastor. If you don’t agree with that take it up with him.”

The church rarely prayed together.

Hunt reminded pastors that prayer must be the first priority in revitalizing a church if the practical steps are to succeed.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed.

For that matter, Hunt said, a dying church fails to ask whether it would even matter if it were not there.
The members idolized another era.

“There’s always the good old days,” Hunt said, adding, “I wonder if sometimes it’s not a bad memory.” He observed that facilities continue to deteriorate while churches and pastors do little more than think about revitalization.  Referring to Haggai 1:4, Hunt concluded, “You live in nice houses, but the house of God lies in waste.”

For more information on NAMB’s approach to church revitalizations and other resources available to pastors, contact Michael Lewis, executive director for pastor relations at 770-410-6000. Lewis blogs at Pastor4pastors.blogspot.com and tweets @pastor4pastors.

Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for SBTC, is available to any church in Texas seeking solutions to church decline and growth barriers. Through webinars, conferences and personalized training, SBTC will assist churches in any circumstance desiring help. Contact him at kpriest@sbtexas.com or call 1-877-953-SBTC.