Month: January 2016

Is It Time to Reconsider Church Super Bowl Fellowships?

I was in fifth grade when I first witnessed a tragic football accident. I remember seeing a boy lying motionless on the 50-yard line, surrounded by the coaches, his parents, and eventually paramedics, who would carry him off on a stretcher. He would live, but for now he was lifeless. The boy had collided with another kid and hadn’t moved since the accident. The event is something that I have never forgotten.

I personally played football until eighth grade but quit in high school because of how much bigger, faster and stronger everyone was than me. I’m competitive like that. At the time I felt rather despondent that I wasn’t going to play again, but looking back I am grateful that I stopped. It seems that modern science has revealed that bumping heads repeatedly with another human being, even if both are wearing helmets, isn’t the best thing for the human brain. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who inspired the movie Concussion, has performed studies that show how such activities affect the brain at the cellular level. He calls the effects Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which is a disease of the brain that causes “major depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts and actions, loss of intelligence, as well as dementia later in life,” (New York Times, “Don’t Let Kids Play Football”) the kind that allegedly led to the recent death of 27-year-old Tyler Sash, who overdosed on painkillers, and 43-year-old Junior Seau, who committed suicide.

I haven’t played contact football since eighth grade, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been involved with it. Until a few years ago I bled Cowboys blue and silver. Win or lose, I loved my Dallas Cowboys … even during the Quincy Carter era. Things are much different today. I haven’t watched an entire NFL game in a while, and the last one I watched was one of the recent Super Bowls, and that was because I attended a church-sponsored Super Bowl fellowship. It was an event I, as a pastor, encouraged our Sunday School classes to host because I thought it was a cultural event that could convince non-church folks that we are normal people who like normal things.

This year, however, our church won’t be encouraging Super Bowl fellowships. We aren’t necessarily discouraging them, but we aren’t endorsing them as a church.

As a Christian, I am growing increasingly uncomfortable in endorsing contact football. Of course I have no problem with football, but I am bothered with the way it is played in the NFL, which encourages a person to use his body like a human torpedo, bent on capsizing another human body into a downed submarine. Our minds and bodies belong to the Lord, and sanctioning the destruction of both in the name of football just seems unsettling.

I read a story the other day about an ex-NFL player named Antwaan Randle El who said he wishes he never played football in the NFL. Randle El had a successful career and was a widely reputable player during his days, yet, “If I could go back,” he says, “I wouldn’t [play].”

Randle El is only 36 years old but says that he has trouble walking up and down stairs. He also says that he has recurring mental lapses. “I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s like, ‘I just told you that.’ I’ll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. I try to chalk it up as I’m busy … but I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids.”

Randle El’s comments cause me to wonder, in our present Super Bowl season, if churches should encourage fellowship around an event that puts young men in such conditions, conditions that can rob a man of his life and threaten to make a widow and orphans of his wife and children.

I am not presently comfortable saying that a Christian cannot or should not watch the NFL, but I do think that the ongoing revelations of ex-NFL players’ deteriorating bodies and brains should cause pastors to stop and ask whether or not they should encourage their people to fellowship around an event that allows for such carnage, and perhaps even encourage Christians to wonder whether or not we should support football as it is currently played in the NFL.

Or maybe I’m just a bitter Dallas Cowboys fan feeling the effects of two depressing decades of football, and all of this is just my way of coping with another failed season.

Disaster Relief efforts continue in 3 states and bear spiritual fruit

GARLAND—When sharing the gospel, SBTC Disaster Relief veteran chaplains Wayne and Ann Barber don’t even pause for breakfast. The Barbers recently ended a weeklong deployment in Rowlett and Garland where they offered spiritual comfort to survivors of the Dec. 26 tornadoes.

One frigid morning the couple found several tornado victims eating breakfast at the Garland hotel where they were also staying. They shared the gospel and saw three people make professions of faith at the hotel.

Opportunities for spiritual contacts come at unexpected moments in disaster relief. In a ravaged Rowlett neighborhood, Wayne Barber recalled meeting two contractors, both Christians, who were meeting with an electrician who was not a believer. Barber explained the gospel to the electrician who accepted Christ as savior. “His friends [the contractors] were thrilled.”

“Our DR recovery teams worked very hard in Garland and Rowlett, but we felt that residents could use some encouragement. Our chaplains went through the neighborhoods knocking on doors, praying with those in need and sharing Jesus with many,” said Gordon Knight, SBTC director of chaplains. Calling DR chaplains, “the hands and feet of the gospel during times of crisis,” Knight also commended the work of chaplains Carol Yarber and Terry Bunch, who deployed to Rowlett the week before the Barbers.

SBTC DR volunteers have had ample opportunities to serve of late.

“We have been busy,” SBTC director of disaster relief Scottie Stice affirmed, adding that SBTC DR volunteers had assisted tornado victims in Ovilla, Farmersville, Rowlett and Garland. “In the same time frame, we’ve sent teams to Pine Bluff, Ark., and Eureka, Mo., to help flood victims.”

Whether manning an SBTC laundry unit and washing dozens of loads of clothes in Missouri, doing clean out and recovery in Arkansas, securing tarps to tornado-damaged roofs in Texas or removing downed trees and debris from victims’ yards, DR volunteers have answered the call.

Two mud-out teams are leaving for Missouri next week, Stice said, adding that additional workers are also expected to serve in Rowlett and Garland.

Spiritual Impact in Disaster

From Dec. 26 – Jan. 22, SBTC DR teams in Texas, Missouri and Arkansas have not only served the physical needs of tornado and flood victims, but they have also ministered to the spiritual needs of those who hurt.

121 Gospel Presentations

27 Professions of Faith

254 Spiritual Contacts

200 Bibles and Tracts Distributed

 

2015 SBTC Disaster Relief Report

Texas and U.S. Deployments:

53 Disaster Responses

3,863 Volunteer Days Served (1 volunteer working 1 day equals a volunteer day)                        

45,380 Meals Prepared for Disaster Victims                                                        

636 Homes Cleaned after Floods or Storms

94 Children Served                              

3,559 Showers Provided                                         

686 Loads of Laundry

309 Bibles Distributed                           

405 Tracts Distributed                          

386 Gospel Presentations                  

1,171 Spiritual Contacts                           

86 Professions of Faith                      

 

International Deployment (Nepal):

5 Teams; 30 Volunteers.

596 Homes and Families Assessed

900 People Benefited from Food Distribution

50 Families Bed Frames and Bedding Distribution

500 Blankets Distributed

29 Kitchen and Laundry Sets Distributed

47 Hygiene Kits Distributed

84 Shelters Built

20 Sites Cleared for Shelters

1,322 Pieces of 12-foot Tin Distributed

1,204 People Treated in Health Clinics

3 School Buildings Constructed with Cement Work, Wall and Floor Construction

5 School Buildings Demolished and Sites Cleared

1 Metal School Building Construction

45 Students Received School Supplies

5,327 Spiritual Contacts

1 Temporary Church Built

583 Gospel Presentations

48 Bibles Distributed

3 Church fellowships Started

1 Ordination to the Gospel Ministry

52 Salvations

9 Baptisms

Undercover Planned Parenthood videos creator indicted

HOUSTON—In an ironic legal twist, the undercover investigators seeking to expose Planned Parenthood as profiting from the sale of fetal remains were themselves charged Monday (Jan. 25) with purchasing fetal remains and tampering with a federal document. No charges were filed against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC), the initial target of the investigation.

Following a two-month investigation a Harris County grand jury cleared PPGC of any legal wrongdoing following accusations of selling fetal remains for profit in violation of federal law. Instead, the jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for tampering with a government record. Daleiden, who led the undercover sting of Planned Parenthood offices, was also indicted for “prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs.” Details of the charges against Daleiden and Merritt are still forthcoming from the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

“We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well,” Daleiden said in a statement posted at The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) website. “Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”

CMP spearheaded the three-year undercover operation into allegations that several Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, including PPGC in Houston, sold fetal remains for a profit. Abortion clinics are only allowed to recoup the cost of delivering fetal remains to research facilities. Daleiden and Merritt posed as procurement representatives for a fictitious medical research laboratory in order to gain access to PP abortion clinics in Texas and other states in an attempt to show the organization did more than break even on the transfer of fetal remains.

Abortion rights advocates cheered the turn of events claiming the grand jury vindicated their accusations that The Center for Medical Progress, not Planned Parenthood, was violating the law.

“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” said Eric Ferreo, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA). “As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it’s become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we’re glad they’re being held accountable.”

On Jan. 14, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in federal court charging Daleiden and other pro-life activists with an “elaborate, illegal conspiracy in order to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion.”

The undercover videos produced by CMP released over the course of several months last year revealed, if not illegal activity, a callous attitude toward the abortion process and the aborted remains. Although denying any illegal activity and charging that the videos were “heavily edited,” Cecile Richards, PPFA president, admitted that the videos revealed a callous, seemingly uncaring tone by PP representatives.

During an on-stage interview at the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C., last week, Daleiden denied that the videos were illegal or crossed the line of morality by lying.

“I think that undercover work is fundamentally different from lying because the purpose of undercover work is to serve the truth and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly,” Daleiden said in the interview with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

“Certainly, in normal every life, we don’t always communicate the truth by a simple, one equals one, mathematical way of speaking. We often use poetry and metaphor and even pretext in order to communicate really important truth in a more clear way. Our Lord did that in the Gospels with the parables; it’s often done throughout the Holy Scriptures; and so I see undercover work in that same sort of vein, as a creative way of communicating and speaking that is in service of the truth.”

When asked about his response to critics who cite the videos as being heavily edited, to Daleiden replied that CMP has been “more transparent than any news agency” in showing what goes into the production of video files that wind up as the final cuts seen by the American public.

The videos prompted state and local investigations in Texas and the U.S. Congress and calls for defunding of the largest abortion provider in the nation. Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization, receives almost $500 million in federal funding each year. Pro-life activists have long called for the extrication of tax dollars from the abortion industry.

In a statement released Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state continues its own investigation into the actions of Planned Parenthood as revealed in the videos.

“The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue,” Abbott said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry. The state’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is ongoing.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said what began as an investigation of alleged criminal activity by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast led to a different conclusion.

“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case,” said Anderson in prepared statement.

The charges of tampering with a governmental record is a 2nd degree felony. The attempted purchase of human organs is a Class A misdemeanor.

Churches play key role in applying defense of sanctity of life

WASHINGTON, D.C.—“The sanctity of life suite has a broad array of applications,” reminded Southern Baptists of Texas Convention President Nathan Lino in a Jan. 21 breakout session of the Evangelicals for Life Conference co-sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family. “We should absolutely fight for the unborn and care for women’s pregnancy resource centers as a key part, but there are applications like care for the elderly, the disabled, special needs, racism and other issues—these are all sanctity of life issues.”

Lino, the pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, moderated a panel that showcased examples of pro-life ministries, reminding the audience to seek God’s direction as to what role their churches might play.  

“Each of our churches should listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as to which application of the sanctity of life we should engage in our city, trusting the other churches and other believers are listening as to where they should engage,” Lino said.

“Being a gospel-centered church means you will end up in sanctity of life ministry. The Word of God is central to those who are suffering and struggling. It sets them free.”—Nathan Lino, SBTC President

Amy Ford, founder of the Texas-based Embrace Grace ministry, described an opportunity for churches to offer a 12-week study for girls referred to them by local pregnancy resource centers. “We can hold our signs out in the march and say we’re pro-life and vote pro-life and that’s great, but love is what’s going to change the girl’s heart,” Ford said. “That’s where transformation takes place.”

Without the power of the gospel, many women who come to a pregnancy center will be back within 18 months, facing another crisis, explained Mary Chapman, director of church outreach and engagement for CareNet, a nationwide network of pregnancy centers. “And in 18 years her daughter or son will be in your pregnancy center because they have not had the high view of marriage, family and the gospel integrated into their lives,” she added.

“The Word of God is the only way we can transform lives and truly make a lasting difference,” Chapman insisted, urging churches to partner with local pregnancy resource ministries to help their clients “so they can live in a thriving, healthy environment and learn what abundant life is.”

Joel Dillon, the president of Jill’s House, described the potential for ministry to the 2.6 million families raising children with severe intellectual disabilities.  “This is truly an unreached people group,” he said, describing the vast majority of them as outside the church, experiencing a 60 percent higher level of stress than the general population and an 80 percent higher likelihood of divorce.

The Virginia-based ministry provides overnight respite care to kids and their siblings for a weekend, allowing physical rest for parents. Partnerships extend to several other states, including a facility at Twin Oaks Ranch in the Hill Country of Texas.

“Preach the gospel boldly to these families and love them to Jesus,” Dillon encouraged. “Walk alongside them in their joy and their pain in every way possible.”

Quoting John 10:10, Lino reminded, “‘Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy life, but I have come to give life and give it abundantly.’” He asked Christians to contend not only for spiritual life, but also for physical life in whatever form it takes.

“Being a gospel-centered church means you will end up in sanctity of life ministry,” Lino said. “The Word of God is central to those who are suffering and struggling. It sets them free.”

Empower Conference meals set

Weathersby to speak at CP luncheon

Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, will serve as the keynote speaker for the annual Cooperative Program luncheon Tuesday, March 1, held during the Empower Conference. Tickets for the luncheon are available online and at the event’s ticket booth for $15 each. The luncheon is slated for 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Weathersby, the first African-American to hold an EC vice presidential position, joined the staff in April 2013, where he works to increase ethnic participation and grow relationships with demographic subsets within the SBC such as young ministers and pastors of small churches and mega-churches, along with overseeing the EC’s Global Evangelical Relations ministry. Prior to that, he served in various roles at the North American Mission Board, including presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations, associate vice president for multi-ethnic mobilization, vice president for the church planting group, senior strategist for the evangelization group, and senior director of the church planting group’s equipping team. 

Weathersby has also served as a church planting professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has planted and pastored churches in Alabama, Ohio and Louisiana.

To register for the luncheon, visit sbtexas.com/ec16

 

Southern Gospel groups slated to sing at senior adult luncheon

Three musical groups—Brian Free & Assurance, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and The McKameys—will provide entertainment for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s luncheon honoring senior adults, Wednesday, March 2, during the Empower Conference. The luncheon is set for 11:50 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., and tickets can be purchased for $10 online at sbtexas.com/ec16 or at the event’s ticket booth. 

Brian Free & Assurance consist of Brian Free, tenor; Bill Shivers, lead; and Mike Rogers, baritone. Brian has been involved in Southern Gospel music since 1982. The group won Dove awards for Southern Gospel Performance of the Year in 2006 and 2014.

Mark Trammell has been singing Gospel Music for more than 40 years. In 2002, he formed the Mark Trammell Quartet, which focuses on evangelism through Southern Gospel music and preaching. Today, the quartet consists of Blake Buffin, tenor; Nick Trammell, lead; Mark Trammell, baritone; and Randy Byrd, bass.

What began as a trio of sisters in 1954, the musical group The McKameys have shared God’s love through song for more than 60 years. Today, the group consists of Peg McKamey Bean and her husband, Ruben; their daughter Connie, who is joined by her son, Elijah; and Sheryl Farris, who is also Peg and Ruben’s daughter. With more than 30 albums produced since 1981, the group has had 30 number one songs.

 

2016 Empower Conference Meals

Monday, February 29

Women’s Dinner  • 4:15–6:00 p.m.
Speakers: Jennie Allen, Shari Rigby & Jennifer Rothschild
Ticket: $15

Men’s Dinner • 4:30–5:45 p.m.
Keynote: Michael Catt, “Raising Up Men of Urgency”
Ticket: $15

Asian Dinner • 4:45–6:15 p.m.
Ticket: $15

 

Tuesday, March 1

Cooperative Program Luncheon • 11:15 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Ticket: $15

African American Fellowship Dinner • 4:30–6:00 p.m.
Ticket: $15

 

Wednesday, March 2

Senior Adult Luncheon • 11:50 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Ticket: $10
Tickets can be purchased online at sbtexas.com/ec16 before Feb. 19. All remaining tickets will be sold at the conference ticket booth on a first come first served basis.

Groundbreaking 6-year, free youth curriculum launched by SWBTS

FORT WORTH  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Richard Ross has spent most of his life leading youth to a deeper relationship with Christ, so he didn’t hesitate when he felt God calling him to develop a small group curriculum for teens and young adults.

But even Ross was surprised at the grand vision God had planned.

The result: a six-year curriculum for grades 7-12 written by 60-plus Southwestern Seminary faculty and students that encompasses nine topics and is designed to train disciples for Christ. The so-called “Disciple6” curriculum includes learner and leader guides and takes small groups on a multi-year journey to learn everything from apologetics, to ethics, to evangelism and missions. Best of all: It’s free and available immediately for download at Disciple6.com. 

“Our broken culture, the millions of lost in the U.S, and the unreached people groups globally demand that we develop true disciples,” Ross told the TEXAN. “Yes, we need to offer biblical ministry to every teenager, regardless of spiritual condition or motivation. But every church absolutely must offer a place where those select [Christian] teenagers gather to truly become world-changing disciples. That is what we are missing today, and that is what we must begin to do—or all is lost.”

Students who go through the curriculum even can earn a first-semester scholarship to the College of Southwestern, ranging from a 10 percent discount (for someone who completes one year of the curriculum) to a 100 percent discount (for students who finish all six years).

Additional topics include biblical interpretation, biblical relationships, core doctrines, servant leadership, spiritual disciplines, and worldview. It was a complete volunteer effort; writers were not paid fees. 

One of those writers, Candi Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies, said the curriculum is desperately needed. 

“While many churches are doing a great job of discipleship, the truth is that we are losing the majority of our young people,” Finch told the TEXAN.

Finch quoted research from the Barna Group, which she said found that “one of the most common critiques of the church” by young adults that grew up in church and then left it “is that they felt they could not ask their most pressing questions about life and faith in the church or were simply given shallow answers.”

“This curriculum wrestles with each core doctrine of the faith as well as engaging many pressing ethical questions of our day from a Christian worldview perspective,” Finch added. “I believe many of our teenagers are hungering for the meat of God’s Word, and they will certainly get it through each of these lessons.”

Ross, professor of youth ministry and the co-founder of the True Love Waits movement, said the curriculum grew out of a time when for one year, he asked some of the top youth pastors one question: “What is your plan for discipling your core teenagers for six years, from grades 7-12?” None of them, though, had a comprehensive plan. 

Ross was sitting on the platform at the seminary’s spring convocation in 2015 when he felt God leading him to develop a brand-new curriculum. 

“I left that service with my heart racing, knowing all of us were about to go on a grand adventure,” Ross said. 

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson endorsed the idea.

“Everyone embraced the fact that the curriculum would be offered to every church at no cost,” Ross said. “I remember saying, ‘The two teenagers in a tiny church in the Rio Grande Valley will get the same quality materials as the teenagers at Prestonwood Baptist or FBC Dallas.’”

The lessons are designed so they can be led by adults or youth, Ross added. 

“The goal is teenage disciples who are fully prepared to disciple others—now and for a lifetime,” Ross said. 

The curriculum is not designed for Sunday School, an hour when lost youth may be present, Ross said. 

“This curriculum only can be effective with teenagers who have made a firm decision to be a disciple of Jesus,” he said. 

Finch said she can sum up what she likes about the curriculum in four words: grounded, comprehensive, interactive and free. 

“Each lesson is grounded in the Bible, so students are being equipped in knowing how to correctly handle God’s Word and use it to address the most pressing questions of their day,” Finch said. “The six-year curriculum is comprehensive so that the young man or woman who walks through these lessons during their teen years will have wrestled with the core doctrines of the Christian faith in an engaging way. Each lesson is interactive—teenagers and adults are digging into each week’s focal passage together, discussing hard questions and thinking through practical applications of each lesson. Finally, the entire curriculum is free so that any church or youth group can access it.”  

6 Principles Baptists Can Glean from the Episcopal Church”s Suspension

When news broke a little over a week ago that the Episcopal Church of the United States had been suspended from the Anglican Communion over its official affirmation of same-sex marriage, it signaled a huge step in a debate that has raged for more than a decade. The Anglican Primates (senior bishops of the 38 Anglican provinces) voted to censure the Episcopal Church for three years—denying its ability to represent Anglicans on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, restricting it from participating in Anglican committees and decision-making, and demoting it to “observer” status—with the hope that the Episcopal Church will repent and return to fellowship with the Communion.

While many conservative Anglicans called for broader sanctions or for the Episcopal Church to voluntarily withdraw from the Communion, the decision signifies a deep line in the sand over doctrine, and the Anglican Church should be applauded for reaffirming their commitment to Scripture’s teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman for life.

Certainly, as a Baptist, I disagree with Anglicans on a number of matters related to doctrine and polity. Additionally, I probably would have pushed for stronger discipline and a shorter timeframe than the senior bishops agreed upon. But, there are some principles that can be gleaned from the disciplinary actions of the Primates with respect to the practice of church discipline within a local body of believers.

In recent years, the practice of biblical church discipline has seen somewhat of a renaissance, especially among Baptists. After decades of avoiding the practice, many evangelical churches have seen the need for the grace-based, restoration-focused discipline outlined in Scripture (most specifically found in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13) in order to re-establish regenerate church membership.

The following six principles seen in the Anglican Church’s suspension of the Episcopal Church follow the New Testament guidelines for church discipline:

  1. Standing on doctrinal and moral principles. It would have been easy for the Primates to simply ignore the Episcopal Church’s theological drift “for the sake of unity.” Instead, they recognized the serious departure from Scripture and believed that there are truths worth separating over, no matter how difficult that break-up may be. Paul rebukes the church in 1 Corinthians 5 for tolerating open sin. Unrepentant sin must not be acquiesced to or swept under the rug. If there is serious doctrinal error or moral sin in the church, leaders and members must address the issue head on.
  2. Loving call for repentance. Along with standing for truth, there is a sincere and loving call to repentance. The Anglican bishops are right to call for the Episcopal Church to renounce their position and return to the clear teaching of Scripture in order for fellowship to be restored. Similarly, when sin is exposed in a local church, brothers and sisters in Christ should lovingly call the offender to repent of the sin in order to have fellowship restored. Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 outline multiple levels of confrontation in order to provide multiple opportunities for repentance.
  3. Desire for unity. As Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:3, we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” within the church. The Anglican bishops showed that a “unity at all costs” mindset is untenable. In fact, true unity is only strengthened through their actions. In their statement, they said, “Over the past week the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.” So, too, when autonomous churches carefully walk through the biblical practice of church discipline, they must always keep unity in view. A haphazard, graceless approach to discipline could result in a valid excommunication from fellowship for the unrepentant, but it can also result in fractured unity within the church.
  4. Clear timeframe and consequences. The Anglican Primates were specific in giving a three-year suspension as well as a clear explanation of what would happen if the Episcopal Church did not repent of its error—excommunication. In local churches, a clear timeframe must be given within which an individual or individuals must repent or else they will be removed from membership of the church. In some churches, this “watch care” period can last from 3-6 months up to a year, in which time members are asked to pray for the offender(s) and lovingly encourage them to repent. For example, the case could be presented to the church at a quarterly business meeting and a vote of restoration or excommunication—depending on whether repentance has taken place—occurs at the next quarterly meeting.
  5. Action to suspend leadership. Just as the Episcopal Church has been restricted from representing Anglicans and participating in decision-making while this interim period plays out, so too should a church immediately remove someone from areas of leadership while the discipline process takes place. This protects the church and serves as a visible reminder of the relational distance between the church and the offender.
  6. Goal of restoration. – As receivers of grace, our goal in church discipline should always be grace-fueled restoration. Regardless of how unimaginable it might be for the Episcopal Church to reverse its stand on same-sex marriage, I fully believe that if they repent, the Anglican Communion will graciously welcome them back into fellowship. Likewise, in the local church, discipline should always have forgiveness and restoration as its aim. It’s no surprise that Jesus follows up his instructions on discipline in Matthew 18 with a teaching on the extent of our forgiveness (77 times) and the parable of unforgiving servant. Forgiving and restoring a repentant brother or sister in Christ is a magnificent picture of the gospel.

As can be seen in the actions of the Anglican Primates and the clear teaching of Scripture, discipline is sometimes necessary, but the process should not be entered into lightly. Maintaining our unity in Christ, we must lovingly call for repentance and graciously restore those who repent. At the same time, we must lovingly discipline the unrepentant and break fellowship for their sake and the sake of the gospel.  

Hispanic leader: In voting, immigration reform must not trump life

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Samuel Rodriguez, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference warned attendees of the Evangelicals for Life conference, Thursday (Jan. 21) in Washington D.C., against separating their responsibly to God and nation by voting one way and preaching another, saying that consistency is crucial to steering the cultural landscape in America toward a greater respect for life.

“We must rise up!” Rodriguez said, adding that he will not approach the voting both based on the color of his skin. “I am not first and foremost black, white, yellow, brown, Hispanic, charismatic or automatic. I am a Christian. I am a Christian above everything else, and when I approach that voting booth, I must approach that voting booth understanding that my vote has consequences, and I can’t differentiate or distinguish. I cannot create a schism between what I vote and what I preach and what I believe. There must be continuity, and that’s what we call integrity.”

“I am committed not only to seeing the emergence of the staunchest pro-life demographic in America, but I am likewise committed to building a compassionate, Christ-centered, Bible-based pro-life firewall.”—Samuel Rodriguez, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

In speaking directly to his Latino brothers and sisters, Rodriguez said voting for someone with an appealing position on immigration reform must not trump voting for someone who will commit to protect life.

“Indeed, immigration has a legitimate space to occupy as it pertains to the conversations, as long as it’s not amnesty or illegal immigration—we need to stop that,” Rodriguez said. “But whatever we’re advocating for, it shouldn’t trump life. We must begin with life!”

Silence is not an option, Rodriguez said.

“Now let me explain what that means, and this may be politically incorrect. I am committed not only to seeing the emergence of the staunchest pro-life demographic in America, but I am likewise committed to building a compassionate, Christ-centered, Bible-based pro-life firewall, understanding the following: That today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. That we are what we tolerate. That there is no such thing as comfortably Christianity. And that truth and love and life must never be sacrificed on the altar of political, cultural or sexual expedience. 

“There has to be continuity and consistency,” Rodriguez said. “If we preach pro-life on Sunday, we cannot support a candidate that advocates abortion on Tuesday.”

Rodriguez, who made a specific note that he spoke only for himself and not on behalf of conference organizers, received enthusiastic applause and affirmation from the crowd throughout his time on stage.

Evangelicals for Life calls for pro-life advocacy at every level

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The first Evangelicals for Life Conference co-sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family on Jan. 21-22 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill bolstered increased participation by evangelicals at the annual March for Life Rally today on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Our burden was to see the reborn stand up for the unborn and for all of those who were created in the image of God,” stated ERLC President Russell Moore in opening remarks at the conference. The predominantly young audience arrived days ahead of the march to hear from nearly 40 evangelical pro-life leaders who taught how to extend their influence with a broader, more diverse base of support.

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly praised the creative ways younger evangelicals are illuminating “the difference in light and darkness.”

After years of playing defense, “constantly trying to keep them from scoring another touchdown,” the former football player appealed for an offensive strategy that recognizes “we have the best news in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Our burden was to see the reborn stand up for the unborn and for all of those who were created in the image of God.”—Russell Moore, ERLC President

Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest described the success of “an under-the-radar offense that has been very aggressive.”

“More abortion restrictions across the country have been enacted since the 2010 election than in the entire previous decade,” Yoest celebrated. “We’ve had a tidal wave of pro-life laws sweep across the country,” she said, advocating a stealth agenda that has chipped away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Yoest referenced feminists who believe legal abortion is essential to women’s equality and their equal dignity lest they fail to achieve personal successes.

“Engage the culture where they are rather than where we want them to be.” she said.

With an opportunity to advocate for both the mother and the child, Yoest said, “The church is the vehicle for creating and defending the dignity that feminists are looking for. Hold up that alternate vision of being that woman of power as we are created in God’s image in a complementary way with our male colleagues in Christ.”

Focus on the Family’s vice president for community outreach turned to 1 Corinthians 13 to remind pro-life advocates to temper their message with love.

“A lot of time people who are in advocacy will talk about civility, kindness and even love, and it is done as a tactic,” Kelly Rosati said. “Nothing could be worse for us if we decided to embrace love as a tactic instead of having it come deep from our hearts.”

International Mission Board President David Platt turned to Matthew 13 to relate Jesus’ compassion toward children to his Great Commission that is recorded nine chapters later.

“Jesus has given his followers a clear commission that has everything to do with the sanctity of human life,” Platt told the evening audience. “Christ compels, calls and commands us to go into the culture around us,” commissioned to “run toward need, not away from it” and “to engage culture, not to ignore it.”

“In a culture that devalues life and denigrates children, we don’t stay silent,” Platt said. “We stand up and go wherever we live to women who are struggling to see how life even goes on if they have this baby. We go to men who are encouraging their wives or pregnant girlfriends to have abortions.”

As new believers publicly declare their faith through baptism, Platt said, “They proclaim the greatest news in all the world.” Ultimately, new communities are formed that embody Christ’s words as disciplemaking leads men and women to treasure the sanctity of life.

“Every child is precious. Every child is cherished by Christ,” Platt reminded. “Let’s show his love and spend our lives in obedience to his commission until his kingdom comes. On that day the murder of little children will be no more.”

“The church is the vehicle for creating and defending the dignity that feminists are looking for. Hold up that alternate vision of being that woman of power as we are created in God’s image in a complementary way with our male colleagues in Christ.”—Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life

Ministry in an abortion culture must keep the cross of Jesus at the forefront, Moore said, basing his message on Hebrews 2.

“What we have to offer the world is not our voting block, our cultural influence or our philosophical argument. What we have to offer to the world is the gospel of freedom from condemnation, and if we lose sight of that we have nothing else to offer.”

He told ministry leaders to identify with the crucified Christ as they stand up for the unborn, the aged, the disabled, the persecuted, the immigrant, the orphan, the widowed, the addicted, those in prison and the poor.

“The image of God is more significant and more important than anyone’s definition of usefulness,” Moore said.

While supporting efforts to reduce abortion through legislation and assisting unwed pregnant mothers with supportive programs, Mennonite ethics professor Ron Sider said he was “disturbed by what seemed like fundamental inconsistency by some parts of the pro-life movement” that fail to protect and defend human life at every stage of development.

He encouraged extending the discussion to address the impact on life and death from poverty, environmental degradation, smoking, racism and capital punishment. “The evangelical pro-life movement is rightly and deeply committed to ending abortion,” Sider affirmed, calling for “a completely pro-life movement that would profoundly reshape American society” by broadening the scope.

Samuel Rodriguez, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, warned attendees against separating their responsibly to God and nation by voting one way and preaching another, saying that consistency is crucial to steering the cultural landscape in America toward a greater respect for life.

“We must rise up,” Rodriguez said, adding that he will not approach the voting both based on the color of his skin. “I am not first and foremost black, white, yellow, brown, Hispanic, charismatic or automatic. I am a Christian. I am a Christian above everything else.”

When approaching the voting booth, Rodriguez reminded that votes have consequences. “I cannot create a schism between what I vote and what I preach and what I believe. There must be continuity, and that’s what we call integrity.”

He added, “I am committed not only to seeing the emergence of the staunchest pro-life demographic in America, but I am likewise committed to building a compassionate, Christ-centered, Bible-based pro-life firewall.”

Moore and Daly welcomed the Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden whose undercover videos released last summer outed Planned Parenthood’s sale of aborted baby parts. Introduced by Moore as the man “pierced the conscience of the nation,” the audience rose to offer a standing ovation.

Moore asked Daleiden if he was making morality relative by using lying and deception while undercover, a question the 27-year-old considered valid.

“I think that undercover work is fundamentally different from lying because the purpose of undercover work is to serve the truth and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly,” Daleiden said.

“Certainly, in normal every life, we don’t always communicate the truth by a simple, one equals one, mathematical way of speaking. We often use poetry and metaphor and even pretext in order to communicate really important truth in a more clear way. Our Lord did that in the Gospels with the parables; it’s often done throughout the Holy Scriptures; and so I see undercover work in that same sort of vein, as a creative way of communicating and speaking that is in service of the truth.”

“At the heart of the whole baby parts issue there is this really cool paradox that I can never get over, and it’s part of what drove me to do a really specific study on it for two and a half years, and it’s the fact that unborn children—the human fetus—their humanity is not considered to be equal enough to our own in order to be completely protected by law and order, to be completely protected from being killed by abortion, but at the same time it’s precisely that equal humanity that is identical to our own that makes them so valuable for scientific experimentation and makes Planned Parenthood and researchers and their allies hunt after their body parts like buried treasure,” Daleiden said.

“I think that contradiction throws the whole world of legalized abortion in America into a really stark light, and it highlights that contrast between some of our deepest values about human dignity and human equality as people and as Americans,” he stated.

In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, breakout sessions at the Evangelicals for Life Conference addressed adoption and foster care, disabilities and special needs, pregnancy resource centers, legislative issues, millennials and sanctity of life, church-based pro-life ministries, international threats to human dignity, and bio-ethical concerns.

Other sponsors of the conference included Care Net, The Gospel Coalition, 40 Days for Life, Alliance Defending Freedom, Embrace Grace, Christianity Today, The Heritage Foundation, the National Religious Broadcasters and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

—with additional reporting by Sharayah Colter contributed to this report.

Unnatural but Intentional

Thank you for electing me to serve as president this year. I am sincerely honored that our LORD and you have selected me for this role. The man who holds this position holds a sacred trust, and I am committed to representing Christ and our churches well. To that end, please pray for me, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel … that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Christ allowed me the privilege of pastoring a small rural church in Normangee while I was a student at Texas A&M. You know the church well—we had a white building with a cemetery and sat right on a county road. For the past 13 years, I’ve had the assignment of pastoring a church on a major parkway in the suburbs of a megacity. The two churches I’ve led have radically different contexts. Hanging out with a deacon in Normangee meant rotating a calf inside its mother so it could birth safely. Hanging out with a deacon in Houston means sitting in NRG Stadium watching a Texans game. 

Different, but the same. In both places, my personal life and the two congregations themselves have a lot in common. For example, neither personal evangelism nor prayer come naturally in either setting. They are not my default setting nor that of either congregation. Have you ever noticed that the two hardest patterns to develop in someone’s life are personal evangelism and prayer? As unnatural as it might be to develop a pattern of sacrificial kingdom giving or Bible study, personal evangelism and prayer are even more so. Both require constant intentionality. Both patterns disappear quickly through loss of intentionality. When it comes to personal evangelism and prayer, intentionality is key. 

“As unnatural as it might be to develop a pattern of sacrificial kingdom giving or Bible study, personal evangelism and prayer are even more so. Both require constant intentionality.”

One of my 2016 personal goals is greater intentionality in personal evangelism. I came up with a measurable because vision without measurables is meaningless. I am praying for at least 52 personal evangelism encounters in 2016, and I have a log so I can be accountable to the goal. In my plan, any gospel sharing related to being a pastor doesn’t count; I am looking for 52 personal evangelism encounters I’d have even if I were not a pastor. Surely, living in our nation’s fourth-largest city, I can share the gospel with one person per week , on average, apart from my pastoral ministry. 

To encourage my intentionality about personal evangelism, I’m purposefully going to the SBTC Empower Conference at the end of this month. This conference is designed for exhortation and equipping in evangelism. The exhortation will come through vision casting and the preaching of God’s Word. The SBTC has cast a great vision in the form of “One In A Million,” to reach a million homes in Texas with the gospel, and is equipping churches through training dates across the state. At the Empower Conference, we will also hear preaching from some preachers especially anointed and appointed for this day in our nation. The equipping will be hands-on, interactive and meaty, adding immediate value to our lives and ministries. 

All evangelical believers are welcome at this conference. (In fact, unbelievers are welcome too). To be sure, this conference is directed and funded by the SBTC and publicity is focused on our convention of 2,500 local churches, but this is not a “SBTC only” event. We want as many witnesses of Jesus Christ in Texas as possible to be reinvigorated in personal evangelism. So, get your Presbyterian pastor friend or your Methodist layperson friend and “come on.” You can find out more about the conference at sbtexas.com/evangelism/ec16 and more about One in a Million at sbtexas.com/oneinamillion

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