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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021  (Read 1040 times)

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Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« on: June 01, 2021, 07:43:19 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/june-web-only/worship-conferences-pandemic-covid-healing-battle.html








After the Pandemic, Are Worship Leaders Gearing Up for Battle or Healing?



At this year’s summer conferences, worship pastors and musicians prepare for a range of emotions as churches sing together again.


This spring and summer mark the return of a staple of worship culture: conferences. These large-scale events offer leaders and musicians training, teaching, new music, and the opportunity to participate in carefully planned and produced worship services led by nationally known figures.

In 2021, more than a year after COVID-19 quieted church services, the messaging for these conferences ranges from therapeutic to defiant.

“As we worship, the prophetic will come forth and marching orders for an arising army will be heard,” proclaims the conference home page for the Unveiled Worship Conference. “Reset. Restore. Reunite.” is the theme of Getty Music’s annual Sing! conference. The theme of this year’s National Worship Leader Conference (organized by Worship Leader magazine) is “rediscovering community.”

Conferences are temporary, but their influence extends across the worship music industry and to local churches themselves. The gatherings feature prominent artists—current lineups include Chris Tomlin, CeCe Winans, Bethel Music, Trip Lee, and Christy Nockels.

This year’s conferences take on particular significance in the wake of 2020. Throughout the pandemic, in-person worship services became politicized, with some vocal leaders advocating for physical gathering regardless of local restrictions and others advocating for caution and strict observance of ordinances and guidelines.

As churches resume prepandemic activities, the posture of our gatherings speaks to our communities. While there is no one correct posture or emotional tone for this moment, the organizers of such worship conferences are challenged to consider worship’s role in recovery. Are leaders shaping worship in a way that allows congregants to address God honestly, whether from a place of fear, celebration, mourning, or hope?

Battle, healing, and reunion
“We know the church needs this right now,” said Chris Clayton, a worship pastor at Gateway Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and one of the leaders for this year’s National Worship Leader Conference, scheduled to be held in Nashville in July. “I think the whole point of this conference is for it to be a place of healing.”

He added, “Everybody’s coming in with different viewpoints and battle wounds and scars.”

Battle metaphors seem to capture what some worshipers are feeling in this season: that the past year has been a constant fight, that the church is emerging and ready to “do battle,” or simply that God is fighting for us. Songs like “Battle Belongs” by Phil Wickham, “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” by UPPERROOM, and Rend Collective’s “Marching On” were all written prepandemic but remain popular. Clayton notes that, at least among leaders and musicians he knows, this theme has been particularly powerful over the past year.


Upper Room ~ Surrounded (Fight My Battles) Lyrics
10 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWmjpF613y4


The Unveiled Worship Conference, which took place in Colorado Springs in May, prominently featured musician and influencer Sean Feucht, who raised his national profile throughout the pandemic through a series of “Let Us Worship” events, sometimes held in open defiance of local public health regulations. Feucht has decried gathering restrictions as censorship, insisting that “freedom to worship God and obey His Word has come under unprecedented attack,” and that “it’s time for the Church to rise up.”

The Unveiled Worship Conference adopted some of Feucht’s rhetoric. The event homepage describes the conference as having been conceptualized as “a life-threatening virus was being blasted throughout the media as ‘unsafe’ for gatherings.” The site promotes the conference as a mobilizing event. “We are prophesying the breath of God from the four winds will breathe life into an army of worshipers in this hour!”

What does it mean when worshipers imagine themselves rushing into battle, limping away from a battle, or watching with confidence as God fights their battles? It certainly conveys a widespread sense of conflict and division, in the church and otherwise.

“There’s been so much saddening division in the last year,” Keith Getty said as he discussed the planning for this year’s Sing! conference. The cowriter of “In Christ Alone,” he is hopeful that the “unifying force” of beloved songs in a corporate setting will help heal some of the rifts that have formed or deepened.

Language of war and battle may lose some of its appeal as congregations gather again and discover that communities need to be cultivated anew and relationships need to be restored. After a year of uncertainty and restriction, many of us find ourselves with heightened sensitivity to perceived warfare. Perhaps we are emerging in a state of spiritual fight or flight. The return to in-person worship will not be a quick fix, but it may help calm our anxieties and diminish our impulse to identify enemies within the church and without.

As local churches reunite and national events convene temporary congregations, the difficult work will be uniting in worship to respond to the Creator rather than mobilize or unify against a common threat, whether that’s perceptions of government overreach or of a deadly virus. We can unify in worship not to distract ourselves from division or paper over our conflicts but to restore and reestablish relationships, then embrace and affirm the diversity of experiences and emotions we bring as we return.

Praise in the shadow of death
“On any given Sunday, there’s someone in the room that’s having the worst time of their life,” said Tom Trenney, a music minister, professor, and instructor at this year’s conference for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, which begins in late June at Montreat in North Carolina. The church, he added, “becomes the place that holds all of that and keeps the hope.”

Trenney was quick to point out that the tension we find ourselves in, between celebration and mourning, is not new. He has found himself drawn to hymns like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” because “these hymns anchor us; they are hymns of joy and sorrow all at once.”

Reflecting on his own experience during the past year, Keith Getty said that he has found encouragement in a new hymn he cowrote and released in 2020, “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.” The lyrics invite the singer or listener to reflect simultaneously on the temporal and eternal.

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death (Songwriters Edition) LIVE – Getty, Boswell, Kauflin, Papa, Merker

4 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvwlwL1FUEg


Getty also said that the hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing” will be featured in this year’s Sing! conference. The hymn’s refrain—“No storm can shake my inmost calm, / While to that rock I’m clinging. / Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, / How can I keep from singing?”—speaks not only to the ability to persist in faith through trials but also to the need and impulse to worship in song in difficult circumstances.

The Rev. Anna Traynham, the liturgist for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference, has planned the worship services around observations of holy days that congregations missed during the pandemic. For All Saints Day, conference participants will be able to present names of individuals lost during the past year.

Traynham and the other conference organizers have intentionally made space for collective grief that couldn’t be shared in community, just as they are making space for celebration.

Large-scale worship conferences inevitably will feel celebratory and energetic, even in the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic. Leaders like Getty, Traynham, and Trenney are not leaning into a one-note approach to worship, even as thousands of people travel to sing together and enjoy community again. Rather, they see this as an opportunity to remind ourselves that worship should always reflect the many facets of the faith journey and experience.

Popular worship songs do not generally avoid the subject of trial or death; several high-performing songs on the CCLI Top 100, such as Phil Wickham’s “Living Hope” and Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” address sin, death, and the vulnerability of humanity. But Getty argues that there is a dangerous lack of depth in much worship music. “The shallowness of what is being sung in churches is tragic,” he said, suggesting also that now is perhaps a time to “reset,” to reevaluate the content of our music.

Without wading into the ongoing debate about perceived shallowness and worship music, I can agree that now may be a good time to look with fresh eyes at our music and habits to see if they can bear the weight of our current circumstances. If they seem inadequate, trite, or hollow, perhaps they have needed to be deepened for a long time.

Recently, I had a conversation with my mom about her church’s return to in-person worship. A worship leader in a variety of official and unofficial capacities for as long as I can remember, she talked about one particular week in May when her church mourned the sudden loss of multiple congregants.

I thought immediately of Tom Trenney’s reminder: “Any given Sunday, there’s somebody in the room that’s having the worst time of their life, that has had the biggest loss of their life, or the biggest challenge with their faith.”

Local churches were making space for pain and joy of their congregations long before 2020. Perhaps one of the greatest services conferences and leaders with national profiles can provide is the modeling of practices and promotion of music that helps the church continue to make space for those in the valley and on the mountain as it learns to sing together again.






Kelsey Kramer McGinnis is a musicologist, educator, and writer. She holds a PhD from the University of Iowa and researches music in Christian communities.





Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


Copyright Disclaimer: All audio and music belongs to the owner/creator. This is a non-profit. Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

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Bladerunner

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2021, 10:03:53 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/june-web-only/worship-conferences-pandemic-covid-healing-battle.html








After the Pandemic, Are Worship Leaders Gearing Up for Battle or Healing?



At this year’s summer conferences, worship pastors and musicians prepare for a range of emotions as churches sing together again.


This spring and summer mark the return of a staple of worship culture: conferences. These large-scale events offer leaders and musicians training, teaching, new music, and the opportunity to participate in carefully planned and produced worship services led by nationally known figures.

In 2021, more than a year after COVID-19 quieted church services, the messaging for these conferences ranges from therapeutic to defiant.

“As we worship, the prophetic will come forth and marching orders for an arising army will be heard,” proclaims the conference home page for the Unveiled Worship Conference. “Reset. Restore. Reunite.” is the theme of Getty Music’s annual Sing! conference. The theme of this year’s National Worship Leader Conference (organized by Worship Leader magazine) is “rediscovering community.”

Conferences are temporary, but their influence extends across the worship music industry and to local churches themselves. The gatherings feature prominent artists—current lineups include Chris Tomlin, CeCe Winans, Bethel Music, Trip Lee, and Christy Nockels.

This year’s conferences take on particular significance in the wake of 2020. Throughout the pandemic, in-person worship services became politicized, with some vocal leaders advocating for physical gathering regardless of local restrictions and others advocating for caution and strict observance of ordinances and guidelines.

As churches resume prepandemic activities, the posture of our gatherings speaks to our communities. While there is no one correct posture or emotional tone for this moment, the organizers of such worship conferences are challenged to consider worship’s role in recovery. Are leaders shaping worship in a way that allows congregants to address God honestly, whether from a place of fear, celebration, mourning, or hope?

Battle, healing, and reunion
“We know the church needs this right now,” said Chris Clayton, a worship pastor at Gateway Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and one of the leaders for this year’s National Worship Leader Conference, scheduled to be held in Nashville in July. “I think the whole point of this conference is for it to be a place of healing.”

He added, “Everybody’s coming in with different viewpoints and battle wounds and scars.”

Battle metaphors seem to capture what some worshipers are feeling in this season: that the past year has been a constant fight, that the church is emerging and ready to “do battle,” or simply that God is fighting for us. Songs like “Battle Belongs” by Phil Wickham, “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” by UPPERROOM, and Rend Collective’s “Marching On” were all written prepandemic but remain popular. Clayton notes that, at least among leaders and musicians he knows, this theme has been particularly powerful over the past year.


Upper Room ~ Surrounded (Fight My Battles) Lyrics
10 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWmjpF613y4


The Unveiled Worship Conference, which took place in Colorado Springs in May, prominently featured musician and influencer Sean Feucht, who raised his national profile throughout the pandemic through a series of “Let Us Worship” events, sometimes held in open defiance of local public health regulations. Feucht has decried gathering restrictions as censorship, insisting that “freedom to worship God and obey His Word has come under unprecedented attack,” and that “it’s time for the Church to rise up.”

The Unveiled Worship Conference adopted some of Feucht’s rhetoric. The event homepage describes the conference as having been conceptualized as “a life-threatening virus was being blasted throughout the media as ‘unsafe’ for gatherings.” The site promotes the conference as a mobilizing event. “We are prophesying the breath of God from the four winds will breathe life into an army of worshipers in this hour!”

What does it mean when worshipers imagine themselves rushing into battle, limping away from a battle, or watching with confidence as God fights their battles? It certainly conveys a widespread sense of conflict and division, in the church and otherwise.

“There’s been so much saddening division in the last year,” Keith Getty said as he discussed the planning for this year’s Sing! conference. The cowriter of “In Christ Alone,” he is hopeful that the “unifying force” of beloved songs in a corporate setting will help heal some of the rifts that have formed or deepened.

Language of war and battle may lose some of its appeal as congregations gather again and discover that communities need to be cultivated anew and relationships need to be restored. After a year of uncertainty and restriction, many of us find ourselves with heightened sensitivity to perceived warfare. Perhaps we are emerging in a state of spiritual fight or flight. The return to in-person worship will not be a quick fix, but it may help calm our anxieties and diminish our impulse to identify enemies within the church and without.

As local churches reunite and national events convene temporary congregations, the difficult work will be uniting in worship to respond to the Creator rather than mobilize or unify against a common threat, whether that’s perceptions of government overreach or of a deadly virus. We can unify in worship not to distract ourselves from division or paper over our conflicts but to restore and reestablish relationships, then embrace and affirm the diversity of experiences and emotions we bring as we return.

Praise in the shadow of death
“On any given Sunday, there’s someone in the room that’s having the worst time of their life,” said Tom Trenney, a music minister, professor, and instructor at this year’s conference for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, which begins in late June at Montreat in North Carolina. The church, he added, “becomes the place that holds all of that and keeps the hope.”

Trenney was quick to point out that the tension we find ourselves in, between celebration and mourning, is not new. He has found himself drawn to hymns like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” because “these hymns anchor us; they are hymns of joy and sorrow all at once.”

Reflecting on his own experience during the past year, Keith Getty said that he has found encouragement in a new hymn he cowrote and released in 2020, “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.” The lyrics invite the singer or listener to reflect simultaneously on the temporal and eternal.

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death (Songwriters Edition) LIVE – Getty, Boswell, Kauflin, Papa, Merker

4 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvwlwL1FUEg


Getty also said that the hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing” will be featured in this year’s Sing! conference. The hymn’s refrain—“No storm can shake my inmost calm, / While to that rock I’m clinging. / Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, / How can I keep from singing?”—speaks not only to the ability to persist in faith through trials but also to the need and impulse to worship in song in difficult circumstances.

The Rev. Anna Traynham, the liturgist for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference, has planned the worship services around observations of holy days that congregations missed during the pandemic. For All Saints Day, conference participants will be able to present names of individuals lost during the past year.

Traynham and the other conference organizers have intentionally made space for collective grief that couldn’t be shared in community, just as they are making space for celebration.

Large-scale worship conferences inevitably will feel celebratory and energetic, even in the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic. Leaders like Getty, Traynham, and Trenney are not leaning into a one-note approach to worship, even as thousands of people travel to sing together and enjoy community again. Rather, they see this as an opportunity to remind ourselves that worship should always reflect the many facets of the faith journey and experience.

Popular worship songs do not generally avoid the subject of trial or death; several high-performing songs on the CCLI Top 100, such as Phil Wickham’s “Living Hope” and Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” address sin, death, and the vulnerability of humanity. But Getty argues that there is a dangerous lack of depth in much worship music. “The shallowness of what is being sung in churches is tragic,” he said, suggesting also that now is perhaps a time to “reset,” to reevaluate the content of our music.

Without wading into the ongoing debate about perceived shallowness and worship music, I can agree that now may be a good time to look with fresh eyes at our music and habits to see if they can bear the weight of our current circumstances. If they seem inadequate, trite, or hollow, perhaps they have needed to be deepened for a long time.

Recently, I had a conversation with my mom about her church’s return to in-person worship. A worship leader in a variety of official and unofficial capacities for as long as I can remember, she talked about one particular week in May when her church mourned the sudden loss of multiple congregants.

I thought immediately of Tom Trenney’s reminder: “Any given Sunday, there’s somebody in the room that’s having the worst time of their life, that has had the biggest loss of their life, or the biggest challenge with their faith.”

Local churches were making space for pain and joy of their congregations long before 2020. Perhaps one of the greatest services conferences and leaders with national profiles can provide is the modeling of practices and promotion of music that helps the church continue to make space for those in the valley and on the mountain as it learns to sing together again.






Kelsey Kramer McGinnis is a musicologist, educator, and writer. She holds a PhD from the University of Iowa and researches music in Christian communities.

in my opinion, many many more churches are falling away than those that are not!

Blade
1 Cor 15:3-4.."For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:"

Acts 17:11.."These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2021, 08:07:21 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2021/may/good-samaritan-and-vaccines.html







The Good Samaritan and Vaccines








Quantifying the most vulnerable among us and choosing to not walk by.


Over the past month, I have been burdened by what I’m hearing coming out of some Evangelical circles regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. While I can understand some reasons for vaccination hesitation, I am disturbed by others—some as extreme as the vaccination being the Mark of the Beast, but also just widespread disinformation posted online by evangelicals. Spreading false information is not just unhelpful, but, as far as I’m concerned, harmful. So, to be clear. I am an advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations. That’s why I’m grateful for voices like Dr. Smith and her article below.

I got into the field of epidemiology because I see it as the science of the Good Samaritan – of quantifying the most vulnerable among us, those on the margins, through population-level data, and choosing not to walk by.

For months now, I’ve been writing about the pandemic from the perspective of an epidemiologist, a pastor’s wife, and a Christian on my social media blog called Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist. “Friendly” because I like to help and talk, maybe too much at times. “Neighbor” because I knew from the beginning that a virus-like COVID-19 would require us to take the notion of ‘love thy neighbor’ seriously. COVID-19’s nasty way of spreading prior to knowing you’re sick and highly contagious nature makes it a key example for an epidemiologist of how an individual’s behaviors impact the population’s health. In other words, we are all connected and depend on one another with this type of virus.

What I have seen over the past year is that dependency becomes marred with messy threads of Christian nationalism cloaked in “faith over fear,” individualistic definitions of freedoms and allegiances, racism, privilege, and power. Although we know who the most vulnerable are to COVID-19, the consequences of what I wrote in the previous sentence have resulted in many simply walking by.

Now, through extraordinary scientific efforts built over decades of work, we finally have life-saving vaccines that enable us to strive for herd immunity and find our way out of this pandemic. Yes, vaccines are about protecting us as individuals. But, more importantly, as Christians, they help protect others. Equivalent to masks, distancing, and other precautions, vaccines are a tangible way to ‘love thy neighbor’ and show solidarity to those around us – especially the vulnerable. That’s the point of herd immunity—of getting to a point with a disease where the masses protect the margins. In our Good Samaritan story, vaccines are another way for us to choose not to walk by. This is where we run into a challenge (or opportunity, depending on your vantage point).

Because of these vaccines, we in the US are starting to feel as if “normalcy” is within reach. That’s not the case everywhere, though. Higher-income countries have gobbled up 80% of the world’s vaccines with only 0.3% going to low-income countries. Global cases are accelerating more than we have seen over the past year. The pandemic is estimated to double the number at risk of starvation and push an additional 42-66 million children into extreme poverty, with the poorest countries impacted the most.

In the United States, food insecurity has doubled from 10% of all US households to 23%, with children being 1.5 times more likely to bear this burden. Why do I bring up stats and numbers? Because they represent the margins. These are the same countries and communities that do not have equitable vaccine access and are being slammed with COVID-19 case rates. And the margins matter to God.

From the beginning, God gave special instructions to His people to not hoard and to leave enough food for sojourners in the land. If you trace that thread through the rest of the story, you’ll hear about the margins again from the prophets in Isaiah’s proclamation that true fasting and obedience is sharing, clothing, providing, not turning away and as Amos’ harkening in the songs of justice rolling down like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream. Then we finally get to Jesus bursting on the scene in his opening sermon: “For the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18).

Let’s trace that same freedom sentiment through the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians, “It is for [that] freedom we have been set free” to do what the entire law can be summed up in – “Love your neighbor as yourself”. And again, to the Corinthian church, “At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.”

Why is this talked about so much in scripture? If the foot of the Cross is equal ground for all, why talk so much about the margins, about wealth, and sharing? Perhaps because God knew we would need to be continually reminded that His economy works differently than ours does. I think He also probably knew we would have a hard time doing that with our proclivity toward individualistic thinking. “Did God really say?...” is a strong pull for all of us and can easily excuse a me-first mentality for individuals and systems.

In God’s global economy, however, there’s no scarcity or myopic mentalities. There’s not only an equal distribution of provisions, but there’s also more than enough because we have a God who can make all things abound at all times, who can do more than we can ever ask or imagine, and who can send fed people home with a multiplied basket of bread and fish. He is a God of just distribution and overabundance-enoughness. That’s the system He designed. But, in a world that fails to live by these ideals, our God has a particular concern for the margins.

This brings me back to vaccines and the Good Samaritan story. I think Jesus knew we would need a story that forces us to see humanity through the lens of the Cross where all are equal – all nations, countries, people. That Cross now commissions us as ambassadors and His workmanship to make that holy work a reality.

That lens helps us see where that equity is lacking (kind of like an epidemiologist) in the here-and-not-yet. Then we have a choice. Do we walk by? Do we understand when we feed the hungry, clothe the needy, take care of the sick, get our vaccines and advocate for just distribution for our global neighbors, we not only participate in God’s economy of abundance— we say a resounding ‘yes and amen’ to the God of multiplied baskets, rivers of justice, and herd immunity.

We do not walk by.

God has always been about the margins. I want to be too.








Emily R. Smith, Ph.D., MSPH is currently an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Baylor University with research areas of epidemiology, global health, global surgery, pediatrics, and health concerns. Dr. Smith has previous professional experience as an Adjunct Professor of Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


Copyright Disclaimer: All audio and music belongs to the owner/creator. This is a non-profit. Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2021, 04:45:03 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/june/pakistan-christians-blasphemy-asia-bibi-shafqat-shaguftah.html







Catholic Couple Acquitted of Blasphemy after 7 Years on Pakistan’s Death Row









Shaguftah Kausar replaced Asia Bibi in her prison cell. Now she and husband Shafqat Emmanuel are finally free.


The Pakistani Christian woman who replaced Asia Bibi in her prison cell on death row, Shaguftah Kausar, has—after a dozen delays since April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic—been acquitted from the death penalty by the Lahore High court.

The mother of four, along with her disabled husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, was arrested for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. Despite both being illiterate, the Catholic couple, surnamed Masih*, were convicted of sending blasphemous texts—in English—to Islamic clerics.

The couple appealed against their death penalty in 2016, but the appeal was continuously delayed—leaving them languishing in jail for years—because blasphemy cases are so controversial and sensitive in Pakistan.

When the then-EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, visited Pakistan to discuss Asia Bibi’s case in December 2017, he told officials that the renewal of the nation’s export privileges to Europe depended on her release.

It was only after Bibi’s acquittal in October 2018 (and final freedom in spring 2019), that her lawyer Saif ul Malook—in the glare of international media attention—said his next case would be that of Shaguftah. This was the first time many people heard of the married couple’s separate cases.

After Figel’s visit, an interfaith advisory council was started to look at the misuse of the blasphemy law—often used to “grab” disputed land or to settle personal grudges, business rivalries, and so on.

In April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a joint motion for a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ trade status granted to Pakistan and seeking more comprehensive approaches to address such abuses of the law. The motion specifically referred to this couple’s case.

This apparent “planting” of fake texts or images on the mobile phones of sometimes-illiterate Pakistani Christians has been reported by World Watch Monitor over recent years.

What did the couple allegedly do to deserve the death penalty?

Their accuser, Muhammad Hussein, said he was praying after breaking Ramadan fast on July 18, 2013, in Gojrar’s Talabwali mosque at around 10 p.m. when his cellphone vibrated. He stated that after finishing prayer, he checked his cellphone and found blasphemous text messages insulting both the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an.

Gojra City Police station house officer Muhammad Nisar told World Watch Monitor in 2013 that Hussein’s call data revealed the messages were sent from Shaguftah’s cellphone number.

However, she told the police that the cellphone had been lost for a month, and she did not know who might have sent the alleged messages. Nevertheless, the Gojra City Police detained the couple, along with their four children, and pressured them to name someone who could have sent the messages.

Nisar told World Watch Monitor that a large number of Islamic clerics got angry when they heard of these text messages, and that they remained in the police station until the First Investigative Report (FIR) was lodged.

In what some said was an attempt to show that progress had been made, the police formally arrested the couple on July 20 and sent them to Toba Tek Singh District Jail the next day.

“Shafqat has admitted to the police he sent the blasphemous messages and gave this statement to the judicial magistrate,” Nisar said.

The lawyer for the couple at the time, Riaz Anjum, said the police lodged the case under Section 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which recommend life imprisonment and the death penalty, respectively, for blasphemy.

Anjum said the police had made stronger the case against the couple by recording Shafqat Masih’s judicial confession. “Investigation should have been done by the senior superintendent before lodging the case, but here the police have extracted a confession from Shafqat which is illegal,” he said.

He said the police also charged the couple under 25-D of The Telegraph Act of 1985 which recommends a maximum of three years for intentionally “causing annoyance.”

Islamists staged a sit-in on Mankanwala Crossing in Gojra on July 23, 2013, and demanded death for the couple.

Shafqat Masih’s backbone was fractured in an accident in 2004. Since then, he’d been in a wheelchair due to the paralysis of his lower body. He also has to use a catheter. In prison, he was confined to bed; visitors reported him “covered in bedsores” and thought he would die in prison.

After his accident, Shaguftah Masih was the breadwinner for the family’s four children, Ambrose (then 13), Danish (then 10), Sarah (then 7), and Amir (then 5), until their arrest.

She has found almost eight years in prison extremely hard and has had depression.

Her brother Joseph told World Watch Monitor in 2013 she is the eldest of six siblings.

Other cases had been registered against Christians, before Shafqat’s and Shaguftah’s, based on blasphemous text messages.

Only days before the Emmanuels were arrested in July 2013, a court had sentenced a Christian man, Sajjad Masih*, from their same city, to life imprisonment (25 years in Pakistan) for blasphemy. Masih too was convicted of sending blasphemous text messages in a case first lodged in December 2011, again despite an absence of evidence.

His alleged text messages were sent from a SIM card registered in the name of his ex-fiancée, Roma. Neither the cellphone nor the SIM was recovered from Masih during police investigation. Nor was there any eyewitness or forensic evidence available.

Nevertheless, there were banners in the Gojra streets at the time protesting that “life” was not sufficient for him, and that he should die.

However, the Lahore High Court threw out his case on October 14, 2013, ruling he could not be tried for the same offense twice.

In May 2006, Qamar David was accused of sending blasphemous text messages to various Islamic clerics in the city of Karachi. He was convicted in February 2010 and died in prison on March 15, 2011.

In January 2009, Hector Aleem and Basharat Khokhar were accused of sending text messages that hurt Muslims’ religious sentiment. They were acquitted of the charge on May 31, 2011.

Sixteen-year-old Ryan Stanton was charged with sending blasphemous text messages on October 10, 2012. He fled the country for refugee status in Sri Lanka.

Pastor Zafar Bhatti was accused of the same crime on November 11, 2012.

Several Muslims, such as Abdul Sattar and Irfan Rafique, have also been charged for sending text messages.






*Editor’s note: Masih, which derives from Messiah, is a common name among Christians in Pakistan.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2021, 03:00:24 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/june/hobby-lobby-dirk-obbink-gospel-papyrus-theft-suit-7-million.html






Hobby Lobby Sues Oxford Professor for $7 Million







Ancient papyri with gospel texts were allegedly stolen.


Hobby Lobby would like its money back, and this time it’s not saying please.

The Oklahoma-based craft store company has filed a federal lawsuit demanding the return of more than $7 million from an Oxford University classics professor who oversaw the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian papyri.

Dirk Obbink, an American who was once awarded the MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” for his skill in rescuing and interpreting papyrus fragments, allegedly stole 120 fragments from the Egyptian Exploration Society’s collection of ancient artifacts held at the Sackler Classics Library at Oxford.

Obbink then allegedly sold 32 of the 120 fragments to Hobby Lobby, as the evangelical, family-owned business attempted to build a world-class collection of biblical artifacts and launch Museum of the Bible.

The professor, now 64, was arrested in Oxford in March 2020. The criminal investigation is ongoing.

Hobby Lobby, in the meantime, would like its $7,095,100 returned, along with lawyer fees and “any further and different relief as the Court deems just and proper,” according to the lawsuit filed June 2.

Obbink frequently worked as a private dealer, in addition to his position at Oxford. He authenticated artifacts for private collectors and occasionally acted as go-between for buyers and sellers.

According to the lawsuit, Obbink first sold papyri to Hobby Lobby in February 2010. The company paid the professor $80,000.

Four months later, Hobby Lobby made a second purchase of fragments and other antiquities, paying Obbink $350,000. In November, it made a third purchase for $2.4 million.

Hobby Lobby bought two more lots of antiquities from the Oxford professor in 2011 for a total of $1.8 million. There was a sixth sale the following year that came to about $600,000.

The seventh and final sale was the largest: Obbink offered Hobby Lobby four pieces of papyri from the first century bearing a few verses each from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Two of the fragments contained the words of John the Baptist, including the passage where he condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:7).

Two contained the words of Jesus, including a passage where he answers the question, “Who are you?” with “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).

The craft store company paid $1.8 million for the four fragments and two other items, bringing their total purchases from Obbink to more than $7 million. It wired the money to a bank in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Obbink, as part of the arrangement, hung on to the gospel fragments for further study. Four years later, in December 2017, the professor emailed his contact at Hobby Lobby to say there had been a mistake. The gospel fragments actually weren’t his to sell. They belonged to the collection he was charged with overseeing for Oxford University.

Hobby Lobby demanded a refund, and heard nothing. Six months later, it asked more firmly for the return of $760,000, and Obbink wrote back that he didn’t have the money, according to the lawsuit.

“I will be able to begin payments in the second half of July and anticipate completing these by late August or early September, perhaps sooner,” he wrote. “I hope this is okay, and I remain committed to making full payment ASAP.”

By September 2019, he had only returned $10,000. He wrote Hobby Lobby again.

“I crave your indulgence to exercise some patience,” Obbink said. “I am convinced that this whole issue will be settled latest by November and if complete payment is not made by then, I will accept whatever actions you decide to take against me.”

The issue was not settled by November. The Museum of the Bible contacted the Egyptian Exploration Society, and after comparing notes, the British organization determined that 32 fragments Hobby Lobby purchased from Obbink rightly belonged in the Egyptian collection.

When the Egyptian Exploration Society examined its holdings of more than 500,000 artifacts, it found another 88 fragments were also missing. Someone had also tampered with the catalogue cards and the photographic records of the documents.

Obbink was removed from the library and put on leave. Students were informed by email that someone else would be teaching their classes. The next spring, he was arrested.

The scandal has led to questions about the Oxford professor’s other work. In 2014, Obbink claimed to have discovered two new poems from the Greek poet Sappho. A 2020 article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists casts doubt on the story of the discovery and the provenance of the fragments, raising the possibility that the poems are forgeries.

“Scholars must scrutinize new discoveries carefully before conducting or publishing research, and present their findings transparently,” wrote C. Michael Sampson, classics professor at the University of Manitoba. “Scholars [need to be] wary of the antiquities market because academic appraisals add to objects’ commercial value, which can incentivize looting and the illegal trade in antiquities.”

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the Museum of the Bible, said that when the craft store company started spending millions on biblical artifacts, it placed too much trust in the antiquities market and “unscrupulous dealers.” Hobby Lobby ended up paying for stolen items, forged antiquities, and artifacts looted from the Middle East during war.

The company has returned thousands of objects, paid for extensive investigations, and double-checked the legitimacy of the 60,000 items that remain in its collection. The thorough effort has been praised by top scholars including Christopher Rollston, an expert on the forgery of biblical antiquities, and Lawrence Schiffman, a pioneer in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“The museum deserves to be praised,” Schiffman said. “From the day it opened, the museum told the truth. They have been completely kosher about this.”









Auction house covered up false purchase history for Gilgamesh tablet, US Attorney alleges.
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/june/hobby-lobby-dirk-obbink-gospel-papyrus-theft-suit-7-million.html



Bible Museum Must Send One More Artifact Back to Iraq




Another ancient document is causing controversy for the Museum of the Bible after a federal government prosecutor filed a claim that a six-by-five-inch clay tablet was stolen from Iraq. The US Attorney’s Office of Eastern New York says that Hobby Lobby legally purchased the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet for $1.6 million to loan to the museum, but the papers documenting the artifact’s purchase history were false.

“In this case, a major auction house failed to meet its obligations by minimizing its concerns that the provenance of an important Iraqi artifact was fabricated, and withheld from the buyer information that undermined the provenance’s reliability," said US Attorney Richard Donoghue, who filed a foreiture claim on the Gilgamesh tablet on Monday.

In an official statement to Christianity Today, the Museum of the Bible announced it has cooperated with the investigation and is cooperating with authorities to return the tablet to Iraq. The museum also said Hobby Lobby will sue the British auction house that sold it the tablet. The Museum of the Bible identified the auction house as Christie’s.

The clay tablet is a part of the Gilgamesh epic, which tells the story of a great king who battles with gods and tries to discover the secret to eternal life. It is considered one of the world’s first great works of literature, dating to the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia of more than 4,000 years ago. The epic is also famous for including a flood narrative with similarities to the biblical story of Noah’s flood. This tablet has been dated to around 1600 BC and contains the account of a dream, which is interpreted by the hero’s mother. Department of Homeland Security agents seized it from the Bible museum in September. It is now being held in a US Customs and Border Protection facility in Queens, New York.

The importation of cultural property from war-torn Iraq has been restricted, since nine museums were looted in 1991 during the turmoil of the Gulf War. According to the US Attorney, the cuneiform tablet was brought into the US illegally from London in 2003 by an unnamed antiquities dealer. It was then sold to another dealer in 2007 with false documents saying it was purchased legitimately in a box of bronze artifacts in 1981. In 2014, Hobby Lobby purchased the tablet from an auction house and donated it to the Museum of the Bible.

Museum officials started to investigate the provenance of the tablet in 2017, in what the US Attorney calls “due diligence research.” According to the US Attorney’s office, museum officials took questions about the item to the auction house, but auction house officials repeated the antiquities dealer’s account of where it was purchased, withholding the falsified provenance letter and the dealer’s name. The museum notified the Iraqi embassy that it had the Gilgamesh tablet and committed itself to independently researching the provenance of the item.

In April, the Museum of the Bible announced it would return 11,500 other clay seals and fragments of papyrus to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments because they did not have complete documentation and may have been looted.

A year ago, the museum agreed to return 13 Egyptian papyrus fragments that were stolen from the University of Oxford. And in 2017, the federal government fined Hobby Lobby and ordered it to return thousands of cuneiform tablets and other objects that were illegally taken from war-torn Iraq and brought into the US by a United Arab Emirates-based dealer who falsely labeled the shipments as ceramic tiles.

“I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years,” said Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and founder of the Museum of the Bible, in an official statement in March. “My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world. … If I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items.”








https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/april/dirk-obbink-bible-museum-mark-manuscript-oxford-arrest.html



Stealing Ancient Bible Texts from Oxford
Dirk Obbink accused of selling papyrus fragments to Hobby Lobby and California collector.




An Oxford professor has been arrested on allegations of stealing and selling as many as 120 ancient pieces of papyrus, including a fragment of the Gospel of Mark once believed to be the oldest New Testament text ever discovered.

Dirk Obbink, professor of papyrology and Greek literature at Christ Church Oxford, was arrested on March 2. News of the arrest broke last week in the student newspaper TheOxford Blue. Obbink allegedly took the fragments from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of about 500,000 artifacts discovered in the ancient city of Oxyrynchus. The collection is housed at Oxford’s Sackler Library, and Obbink was one of three scholars charged with overseeing it until he was removed under a cloud of suspicion in 2016.

Obbink has denied the allegations in an official statement and said the evidence against him was “fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career.”

The evidence is convincing, however, to some who’ve worked closely with Obbink.

“It’s difficult seeing this ending well for Dirk,” said Jerry Pattengale, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and one of the founding scholars of the Museum of the Bible. “It’s sad to think that such a gifted mind might have an abbreviated contribution to the field of Greek papyrology.”

Obbink, originally from Nebraska, went to Oxford in the late 1990s and became director of a project to digitize ancient papyri. The Oxyrynchus collection is a massive trove of documents, including many biblical passages, uncovered in the ruins of a Greek city in Egypt in the 1880s. Much like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the fragments have given modern scholars a broad window into the ancient world and affirmed the reliability of biblical manuscripts.

Obbink became one of the trio of editors responsible with publishing the Oxyrynchus Papyri and overseeing the scholars who were given access to the collection. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—known as the “genius grant”—in 2001 for his skill in rescuing and interpreting ancient manuscripts.

Report of major discovery
Obbink attracted the attention of some evangelical scholars in 2011 when he informally shared news about a fragment of Mark’s Gospel found in the collection. Obbink told Pattengale and Scott Carroll, two scholars who were working with the Museum of the Bible at the time, that the fragment dated to the late first century. The manuscript included a bit of the text of Jesus’ baptism, where John the Baptist tells the crowd, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1: 8 )

According to Obbink, the words might have been copied down within 30 years of the date of the original biblical manuscript. There are no known biblical manuscripts from earlier than the second century, so this was a major discovery. (The fragment is now believed to date to the second or third century.)

Carroll passed the news to Daniel Wallace, executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and Wallace mentioned the purported discovery in a public debate with Bart Ehrmann, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in February 2012.

The news created a buzz but wasn’t followed by any additional information. There was no academic paper substantiating the claims. A number of scholars who said they had seen the fragment told other scholars at the time that they were not allowed to talk about it because of non-disclosure agreements. Questions about the Gospel discovery went unanswered.

Alleged antiquities sales
At about the same time, Obbink reportedly took 13 bits of papyrus and sold them to Hobby Lobby. The sale did not include the Mark fragment but did include parts of Genesis, Psalms, and Romans, according to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).

Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, was buying thousands of artifacts for the Museum of the Bible, which he launched in 2017. He ultimately ended up with a collection of about 60,000 objects, including about 17,000 tablets, seals, and fragments that were likely looted from Iraq and Egypt; 16 pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were later discovered to be forgeries; and 13 bits of papyrus that were improperly taken from an Oxford library. (Green has recently apologized, and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, is in the process of returning all the stolen artifacts and developing an exhibit on antiquities forgery.)

Then in 2013, Obbink allegedly sold Hobby Lobby four more fragments from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each from “Egypt Circa 0100 AD,” according to the purchase agreement that appears to be signed by Obbink. The amount paid for the fragments is unknown, though Pattengale called it a “considerable sum.”

The purchase agreement stipulated that the physical documents wouldn’t be transferred to Hobby Lobby for four years but would stay with Obbink for research. During the period, news that the Museum of the Bible owned the exciting new discovery of a possible first-century fragment of the gospel of Mark prompted EES to clarify that the papyrus was not for sale and had never been for sale. Then the Museum of the Bible produced the purchase agreement, and an investigation began.

Internal investigation
EES launched a systematic check of the collection, to see what else might have been stolen. They found that not only were more than 100 fragments missing, someone had removed the catalogue cards and the photograph recording the items location in the collection.

Seven were found in California, in the private collection of Andrew Stimmer, chairman of Hope Partners International, an evangelical ministry serving children in Costa Rica, Kenya, and India. To date, it is not clear how Stimmer got the texts, which included bits of Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and 1 Corinthians. He has agreed to return them to Oxford.

Obbink was not reappointed to his editorial position in 2016. In June 2019, EES blocked Obbink from even accessing the collection, and in October, Obbink was suspended from Oxford. The next month, local police received a report that as many as 120 artifacts were stolen from the Oxyrynchus Collection at the Sackler Library. The police investigation is ongoing.

It is not known how much the stolen antiquities are worth. Carl Graves, director of EES, said he doesn’t think of the objects in those terms.

“They are testament to Egypt’s early Christian heritage and are early evidence of biblical Scripture,” he told the Guardian. “We don’t value them monetarily but they are priceless and irreplaceable.”

Money corrupts
According to Pattengale, however, the money the Green family spent acquiring artifacts for the Museum of the Bible caused a number of people to seem to go crazy. “We were approached by dealers … in the oddest of ways,” he wrote in CT.

“After speaking at Liberty University, I went to shake a fellow’s hand at the end of the greeting line. Instead, he pulled out a paper tube from beneath his trench coat and tried to show me a Megillah (Esther scroll) he wanted to sell. … One fellow kept calling about a buried boxcar of antiquities in Texas, another claiming ownership of something from Jesus’ birth stable, and yet another with plaster casts of the first-century tomb in Jerusalem.”

Obbink may have also been motivated by the possibility of the money. But unlike most people, had access to half a million antiquities.

Christopher Rollston, professor of Semitic languages and literatures at George Washington University, said money has done a lot of damage to the study of biblical antiquities.

“The antiquities market is a blight on the field,” Rollston said. “It is corrosive and destructive, and scholars, museums, and the public must have nothing to do with it. Those who do, do so at their peril, as this tragic story demonstrates in spades.”
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2021, 08:13:02 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2021/june/not-forgotten-place.html









The Not-Forgotten Place












Enhancing how we see rural areas and rural ministry.


In the last month or so, I’ve been wrestling with the power of words as it concerns the conversation about rural ministry and our polarized national geography in general. Since about the middle of the last decade, rural America and rural ministry have garnered a good bit of attention thanks both to political currents as well as increasing levels of engagement from evangelical denominations, institutions, and networks committed to raising the profile of rural and small-place ministry. For many of us, it is a development long-sought and deeply appreciated.

Recently, however, I’ve been wondering whether the way we frame this conversation deserves more careful attention. In many instances, the folks who talk about these places attempt to contextualize them by highlighting things like the commercial amenities rural areas lack (the list is usually headed by favorite fast-food chains and stores) and the sense that, for most of America, small places and the churches that serve them are forgotten. I know how the conversation goes. I’ve talked about amenities and forgottenness too.

These days, I am starting to think differently about the usefulness of both categories. The first focuses on rural shortcomings in terms of our culture’s obsession with orienting our lives around consumerism; the second makes inattention to rural areas, pastors, and churches more palatable. To forget is different than to neglect, dismiss, or disdain. If I forget to pick up milk when my wife asks me on my trip to the store, it feels different than if I know I need to pick up milk at the store and choose not to simply because I decide it isn’t that important.

To claim rural places and rural churches are forgotten gets us off the culpability hook, but it doesn’t do justice to reality.

Rural America isn’t Forgotten
The reality is that rural America and small-town churches aren’t forgotten. They show up everywhere, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novels like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), which was recently picked up by Oprah’s book club, and New York Times bestselling memoirs like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016) and Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland (2018) to pieces in national news outlets and the lyrics of every other country song. Sure, this remembering is sometimes misremembering, as lazy stereotypes take the place of complex realities in the portrayal of rural communities and churches on television or in songs and print. In other cases, the representations of rural life and ministry seem to penetrate to the marrow of life in these communities. They speak to what those of us who know these communities sense at an almost intuitive level. Life is both hard and good in these places, just as it is in most places.

And people know it. That’s one of the reasons why so many people who have left small towns feel torn between a desire to move back and a desire to move on. If it was all bad, or if it was forgotten, we wouldn’t have books like Grace Olmstead’s recent Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind (2021), which amounts to a two-hundred-page exercise in discerning whether to leave Washington D. C. and return to her ancestral home in rural Idaho. She’s not alone. Far from forgotten, rural areas have captured Americans’ attention anew during the COVID-19 pandemic as thousands of folks have left the city, some of them permanently, for more rural areas.

All of this points to the possibility that for most Americans, the word that describes their approach toward rural America is not forgetfulness but a distant, half-knowing fascination with the wide-open spaces and local cultures many either moved away from or only encountered in books and film. They may idealize, stereotype, look down on, or pine for these places, but chances are they haven’t forgotten about them.

Rural Churches and American Evangelicalism
Similarly, chances are that evangelical denominations, educational institutions, and media hubs haven’t forgotten about rural churches either.

This is where the common refrain about forgotten churches and forgotten places proves too ready—and too misleading—a response. Rural churches and the folks who attend them aren’t forgotten. Denominations keep tabs on their giving and their attendance; Christian liberal arts schools are happy to solicit students from them, and many urbanites can easily conjure up an image of a white-steepled church on a small-town Mainstreet or in a cornfield. It’s not a matter of knowing, it’s a matter of attending, of cultivating empathy, and paying attention to these places by inviting rural churches and pastors into the conversation within evangelical denominations, institutions, evangelical publishing, and realms of influence.

To say rural pastors and rural congregations are forgotten is probably less true than to say rural churches and pastors (and really, small churches and their pastors everywhere) are often underrepresented and underutilized in denominational leadership and overlooked by Christian publishers and conference organizers. It’s not a matter of forgetting; it’s a matter of caring more about what we know and what we don’t know about rural ministry. It’s a matter of taking the time to realize that the one-size-fits-all pathway to influence in publishing, conference speaking, and denominational leadership that seems to go through large urban and suburban churches is less an unintentional act of forgetting and more a failure of attention, a failure of imagination.

Valuing the Contributions of Rural Leaders
So where do we go from here? If rural America and small churches aren’t forgotten, how do we move from knowing to attending, from remembering vague stereotypes to remembering well?

For me, the honest answer is, I’m not exactly sure. I have some hunches related to building bridges between urban and rural churches and between diverse communities of Christians that I’ve talked about on this blog before, but these are still a work in progress for me. I think creating room within evangelical publishing and media outlets for small-town pastors to tell their stories along with inviting more small-town pastors into denominational leadership is another way we can better attend to what God is doing in small places and churches.

Thinking about this kind of diversity will mean that we have to look beyond the marketplace metrics of church size and pastoral platform. It might also mean that the wider church will get some fresh ideas and more on-the-ground perspectives.

God Remembers
No matter how we talk about so-called forgotten places, everyone, everywhere, in communities and churches large and small, can take heart that they are truly remembered, seen, and known by God. It is in Jesus that we find the capacity for a larger imagination and appreciation for the small, seemingly insignificant people, churches, and places we are tempted to neglect or say we’ve forgotten about.

Jesus attended to rural Galilee, just as he paid attention to a group of men with little in the way of status and platform. We know the story. Jesus remembered the small places and people then just as He does now. The fact that one of the very titles he was known by—Jesus of Nazareth—includes for all time the name of a seemingly insignificant small, Galilean town drives the point home.

It’s self-evident rural is not forgotten. However, we can do better to enhance how we see and value the rural church and the leaders who serve them.







Charlie Cotherman is the founding pastor of Oil City Vineyard Church, in Oil City, PA, and the Program Director of the Project on Rural Ministry at Grove City College. He is also the author of To Think Christianly: A History of L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement and a contributing editor of Sent to Flourish: A Guide to Planting and Multiplying Churches. You can find him on Twitter @CECotherman.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2021, 01:23:48 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/june-web-only/boring-bible-tedious-scripture-revelation-inerrancy.html







Why I Stopped Calling Parts of the Bible ‘Boring’





Scripture is a door and a feast if you ask the right questions.


When I started leading a Bible study at my church, I had the daunting task of choosing the first book for us to study. I don’t remember exactly why I chose Jeremiah, but I vividly remember the face a fellow seminary student made when I told her. “You’re going to have to warn them,” she said, “that it’s such a difficult book.”

So when I announced that we were spending the next six months in Jeremiah (because that is how long it takes to study 52 dense chapters), I said something I’d heard many Bible teachers say before me: “I know this book is boring. But we’re going to learn something.” I think I was trying to lower the stakes for them—or maybe for me. I was setting the bar low so that if Jeremiah held their interest even a little, that was a success.

But looking back, I regret saying it. It’s not true. Jeremiah isn’t boring. The Bible isn’t boring. Even the parts that people always say are boring are weird, gripping, and awe-inspiring. If we let them, they will absolutely command our attention.

There are books of the Bible that get a bad reputation for being tedious. We know we’re supposed to think that Leviticus is important or that the prophets are still applicable today, but we also know that everyone will nod in agreement if we admit we think they’re “a bit hard to get through.”

After years of Sunday school and youth group, the parts of Scripture I let get labeled “boring” took up a surprising amount of the whole. There’s Numbers, which starts out with a census; and Chronicles, which seems to just repeat Kings; down to Revelation, which everyone “knows” is just bizarre. In my church, everyone agreed the whole Bible was inspired by God, but no one would fault you for sticking with the Gospels, Psalms, and Epistles.

When I read the whole Bible cover to cover for the first time in high school, I was mildly scandalized. Why had no one told me that there was such great intrigue, drama, beauty, and goodness in these supposedly “boring” books?

At the beginning of his famous 1917 lecture, “The Strange New World within the Bible,” theologian Karl Barth asks, “What is there within the Bible? What sort of house is it to which the Bible is the door? What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?”

These are questions foreign to the youth groups I grew up in. We asked questions such as “What does the Bible mean for my life?” or “Which of these rules do I have to follow?” And those questions are the kinds that large swaths of “boring” Scripture do not make much attempt to answer. Their truth and beauty are not always easily translated into propositional statements, and the way they affect the faithful reader cannot always be articulated as an “application.”

Many of us evangelicals are pragmatic to a fault, proudly wearing our “high view of Scripture” like a badge. But we deny that reality in our handling of the weird, difficult, or boring passages. When everything must boil down to an applicable moral principle, relate in a straightforward way to substitutionary atonement, or outline the way to “get to heaven,” it makes sense that large portions of Scripture would seem ultimately unnecessary.

Barth goes on in his lecture to describe the reader of Scripture as a traveler entering a new world: living with Abraham in Haran and hearing the call to a new land, wandering with Moses in the wilderness, listening with Elijah for the still small voice, following Jesus who spoke with “compelling power,” and watching the “echo” of his life in his bumbling band of followers. But you cannot enter this new world unless you’re expecting to find it. If you look for boring, irrelevant stories, you’ll find them. If you look for the strange new world of God, you’ll find that instead. As Barth writes, “the hungry are satisfied by it, and to the satisfied it is surfeiting before they have opened it.”

When I started seminary, I was often warned that I needed to make sure my faith did not become “dry and academic.” Strangely enough, what actually happened was a deepening love for the supposedly “dry and academic” parts of Scripture. I was given countless resources to ask probing questions and assignments that allowed me to dive into the details of the strangest stories.

I thought Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to say to my middle-class suburban church; instead it called us to remember that our communities are judged by how they treat foreigners. I was troubled by the strange images in Revelation; instead I found a vibrant picture of the kingdom of God confronting the empires of the world. I thought Jeremiah would bore my Bible study to death; instead we found ourselves identifying with Jeremiah’s heartache over the sins of his people. In seminary I learned that every single time I dove deeply into a passage of Scripture, I found something more beautiful and captivating than I had dared to expect.

But you don’t even need a full theological library to find excitement in the “boring” stories. The detailed descriptions of the tabernacle are enthralling for an artist, the family dramas in Genesis are just as tangled as a soapy TV show, and the Old Testament’s laws and festival specifications are as comprehensive as a fantasy novel laying out the customs of a foreign world.

Scripture is history, drama, and art. And more importantly, it is the surprisingly simple story of God redeeming his creation. But if in our simplifying or systematizing we end up relegating entire portions of Scripture to boring irrelevancy, we have lost the plot of a God who chose to reveal himself to us in the form of a breathtaking story.

Perhaps our greatest Bible study tool is a rightly cultivated expectation, born of faith and sustained by practice, that even in the “boring” parts, there will be beauty and truth and goodness, because that is who God is.

Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2021, 02:44:12 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2021/june/courts-vigorously-defend-religious-school-exemptions.html








Biden DOJ to Vigorously Defend Religious School Exemptions






The Biden administration support of religious schools is an important step, but the Equality Act is still a major concern.


In a court filing Tuesday, June 8th, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it intends to “vigorously” defend the religious exemption for religious schools allowing them to practice according to their belief. This was a surprise to many, but an encouraging one.

The court filing came as a response to religious schools and organizations feeling that their “interests will not be adequately protected” by the present administration. The DOJ hopes to assuage some of those concerns by affirming that their “ultimate objective is to defend the statutory exemption and its current application.”

I want to commend the current administration for making this important nod in the direction of religious liberty. At a time in our society where many demean political compromise as betrayal and heresy, the commitment to listen to one another and find common ground is our only pathway out from our culture war nightmare.

As such, I’ve reached out and shared my thanks to the White House and hope others will as well. This is a step in the right direction. I sincerely hope that this is an indication that President Joe Biden will stand with religious institutions, particularly schools.

Yet, there is more to the story to be considered.

The Backstory

As I always do, I try to support good things from whatever administration is serving. Yet, we also need to realize this is a complex situation with many nuances. This has been a trending topic on Twitter, with many strong opinions noted, particularly during Pride Month. (The Biden administration has been strongly criticized by LGBTQ+ advocates.)

Yet, some (such as Slate Magazine) report that this is not what it seems at first glance. Slate reports that the DOJ is "also trying to prevent a Christian organization from taking over the defense and mounting extreme arguments that could lead to a devastating subversion of civil rights law.” If it is true that the DOJ is taking the case to then weaken the religious liberty position, this would be a deeply unjust circumvention of our judicial system and similar to the very loophole partisanship Democrats railed against for the past four years. But assuming this defense was offered in good faith, this article will address the concerns many Christians and other people of faith see in the current form of and rhetoric around the Equality Act.

So, regardless of whether this is a sign of things to come or a strategic move of another sort, we should remember that “The Equality Act” is still coming. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system, and jury duty.

The Equality Act will eventually pass in some form, and the DOJ could just as easily say (when it does) that they will defend the Equality Act—vigorously. However, we can support this news, and press toward a full resolution that recognizes the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ+ persons and protects the religious liberty rights of schools—but also all people with sincerely held religious beliefs that conflict with what is now the overwhelming view of Americans.

The Implications of the Equality Act

Two things matter here.

First, many Christians affirm the biblical teaching that marriage is designed and created for one man and one woman, and any sexual activity outside of that covenant marriage is wrong. Second, we should also believe that members of the LGBTQ+ community are people made in the image of God, deserving dignity and respect that the church has historically failed to protect. Their civil rights should be a matter of importance for Christians.

Despite prevailing cultural narratives, these two truths can coexist.

The latest attempt to paint these truths as irreconcilable has been pushed forward through The Equality Act, new legislation that, contrary to its name, does not promote equality. It will create new discrimination toward those of religious conviction that goes against the current cultural stream. It targets anyone who believes that human sexuality is guided and shaped by the teaching of our faith. But it not only targets historic Christianity but also other religious institutions that hold to a traditional view of human sexuality.

A statement from the ACLU said this on the issue:

"The Equality Act… clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used in civil rights contexts, prohibiting religious liberty… from being used as a license to discriminate."

What is particularly dangerous about rhetoric that taints religious liberty as a “license to discriminate” is its complete dismissal of historic Christian doctrine on sexuality, gender, and marriage to merely a matter of cultural prejudice. The Equality Act would, in essence, say that our beliefs are unacceptable in society, they must change, and we will face consequences for our unwillingness to do so.

In contrast, historic Christian teaching on marriage offers a robust vision of sexuality and gender rooted in human flourishing and kingdom mission. Far from motivated by discrimination, Christian communities, such as where I serve at Wheaton College, institute covenants that address sexuality precisely because we believe it has direct relevance to our spiritual life.

What we are seeing is rather than engage Christian teaching regarding sexuality, it is far easier to diminish individuals as bigoted.

The Equality Act Fails to Understand Lived Faith

This strikes at the heart of what the Equality Act fails to grasp about religious belief: it is a lived reality.

Several advocates for The Equality Act claim that the proposal allows both sexual freedom and religious freedom to coexist. People who make these arguments have a shallow understanding of faith. Under this law, religious faith is limited to a narrow, personal, and privatized understanding of faith. This kind of faith is not lived, this kind of faith is only felt. This is antithetical to most faiths, actually, but especially Christians who are called to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the “Christian organization” mentioned in the Slate artice explains some of the problems with the Equality Act:

"The Equality Act fails to provide essential religious liberty protections that would allow a diverse group of social service and civic institutions to continue to thrive. In particular, as it relates to the sector of faith-based higher education that has religious convictions around marriage, human sexuality and gender, including CCCU institutions, these laws would conflict in ways that would put at risk their ability to hire and operate in accordance with their religious missions and would restrict student choice in an unprecedented way by preventing middle and low income students from being able to take their federal student aid to these institutions. Faith-based higher education has always been an essential element of the diversity of the higher education system in the United States—many of the first colleges and universities in the United States were religious—and it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all."

What Needs to Happen?

First, we should without any ambiguity or hesitancy affirm that all people made in the image of God––including those in the LBGTQ+ community––should be treated with respect and dignity. This is not a political or optical maneuver. That is part of living out the Christian faith. Without affirming their sin, we must affirm their worth as image-bearers.

Second, as an advocate for religious liberty, I think that this sentiment from the current administration ought to be affirmed. Yet, now we need to encourage the administration (and many others in the Democratic Party) to turn this concern for religious liberties into genuine action.

We can be concerned about civil rights and about religious liberty, and this DOJ decision could be a postive step, but we will need more information (and subsequent) action to be sure.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2021, 05:10:02 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/june/southern-baptist-convention-sbc-meeting-divide-abuse-ec.html








Southern Baptists Take Sides Ahead of Nashville Meeting






A recent call to investigate the Executive Committee over abuse responses the latest issue up for debate. Opposing factions in the SBC both say its future is at stake.


In the two years since Southern Baptists gathered as a convention, tensions around racial and political issues escalated. But just a couple weeks before their upcoming annual meeting in Nashville, another topic has taken center stage, as new documentation alleges high-ranking leaders in the denomination resisted its efforts to address abuse.

Some Southern Baptists are calling for an investigation of the Executive Committee (EC) after a series of leaked material has suggested that its leaders—one of whom is the conservative pick in the current race for SBC president—worked to hamper efforts to hear from victims in their own terms and to investigate churches with credible claims of cover-up.

“What those docs did kind of reoriented and shifted what the conversations and priorities were going to be going into the convention this year,” said Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines. Gaines, along with North Carolina pastor Ronnie Parrott, announced plans to make a motion at the June 15–16 meeting calling for a third-party investigation into the EC.

Over 16,000 Southern Baptists have registered to go to Nashville, double the attendance at the 2019 conference and the largest crowd at an annual meeting in a quarter-century. And outsiders are paying attention to what happens inside the country’s largest Protestant denomination, because many of the issues reflect broader divisions in the church and the US at large.

The recent revelations shared online could cause some Southern Baptists to scrutinize the place of prominent figures in SBC leadership and demand greater accountability for the body tasked with handling denominational business outside the convention. Or, as the newly formed Conservative Baptist Network brings ideological divides within the denomination to the forefront, the revelations could lead members to become further entrenched in their existing alliances.

Two letters written by Russell Moore and recordings provided by his former colleague Phillip Bethancourt were recently posted online and describe Moore’s clashes with members of the Executive Committee—namely Mike Stone and Ronnie Floyd. Stone, a Georgia pastor and founding member of the Conservative Baptist Network, was chairman of the EC at the time, while Floyd remains its president.





According to the materials, Moore and his colleagues faced pushback and veiled threats, including an investigation led by Stone, for their approach to the abuse issue, such as the decision to allow advocates such as Rachael Denhollander to criticize the SBC response at events held by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). (The ERLC had led the SBC effort to train churches in “Caring Well” for victims, and Bethancourt—who left the agency last year to pastor an SBC church in Texas—was part of the denomination’s advisory group on sexual abuse. Moore left the ERLC at the end of May and will begin at CT in July.)

The reports of stonewalling abuse victims and downplaying the authority of the credentials committee (the group tasked with recommending if a church should be disfellowshipped over abuse) weren’t unheard of. A group of outspoken victims and advocates have been pleading for reform in the SBC since the #MeToo movement and the Houston Chronicle investigation that uncovered hundreds of cases of criminal abuse among SBC leaders in 2018.

“But because it was from Russell Moore, a departing entity head, it carried more weight. … People took notice. Now you see prominent Southern Baptists calling for an investigation of the EC. They don’t have the option of ignoring this,” said Adam Blosser, a pastor in Virginia. After years of raising concerns about EC business alongside fellow bloggers at the site SBC Voices, Blosser said the recent revelations prompted him to act to bring change to the EC; he’s running for EC recording secretary, a position that has been held by John Yeats for 24 years straight.

For some pastors, Moore’s letters confirmed what they’d worried was taking place in closed-door meetings of SBC leaders. For others, it was a wakeup call that they should have been listening to the victims’ stories all along. “We were shocked,” said Gaines. “We shouldn’t have been. These survivors, their stories are out there.”

But for those who have been critical of Moore, who described being attacked and decried as a “liberal” while at the ERLC, the timing of the release is more reason for suspicion.

Stone is running for president of the SBC with the backing of the Conservative Baptist Network. In a video, he denied the implications of the leaked letters as “inaccurate” and “slanderous.”

He said the materials represent an “attack” by Moore and insisted the members of the EC who were being scrutinized had done “the very best thing … that we could do with the limited resources that were available to us at that time and that still are very limited tools available to ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

While Stone has spoken out as a survivor of child sex abuse and considers himself committed to the issue, he and others in the Conservative Baptist Network have challenged what they see as unbiblical theology in the efforts to address abuse.

They’re concerned that such campaigns presume guilt on the part of the accused and misrepresent a denomination where the vast majority of leaders are not predators. The network is also linked to Paige Patterson, one of the most influential figures in recent Southern Baptist history, who was fired over mishandling reports of rape. (Patterson himself was the subject of another recent bombshell, a report from his former seminary saying he had taken property and donor lists after his termination.)

In his response, Floyd originally said he didn’t have “the same recollection” of his conversations with Moore and Bethancourt, then after the audio was released, shared additional context and apologized “for any offense” caused by his remarks. Moore has not spoken out about the leaked documents.

Floyd said in a statement Thursday that the EC staff is also now looking into a hiring an independent firm to investigate, then on Friday announced that they had hired Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent review. (Guidepost is also currently working with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.)

The motion Gaines and Parrott plan to make in Nashville is backed by big names in the SBC such as pastor James Merritt and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin. It would make the incoming president of the SBC the one to appoint the task force to commission this investigation, rather than allowing the EC to set the terms of its own review.

“The most important thing that’s going to be decided is the presidential election,” said Blosser. “I don’t think that’s normally the case, but this time, more than choosing a candidate, they’re choosing a vision for the future.”

This is the first SBC presidential election since the formation of the Conservative Baptist Network. The three most prominent leaders in the presidential race—Stone, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, and Alabama pastor Ed Litton—offer different approaches to the issues plaguing the convention today, and no one has emerged as a front-runner.

Southern Baptists say it’ll depend on the makeup of the outsized crowd in Nashville. The Conservative Baptist Network has been lobbying its supporters to turn out for months, while a recent uptick in registration may have come from attendees who want to be there because of the abuse issue making headlines again.

During a two-year term, there’s only so much influence an SBC president can have over the convention, whose 47,000 churches are autonomous. He’s largely a figurehead speaking and casting vision—and appointing members to the committees that keep denominational business going. To make a real shift in the SBC, experts say, it takes back-to-back presidents with shared priorities.

Outgoing president J. D. Greear appointed the most diverse slate of committee members in SBC history and made strides in sexual abuse initiatives and racial justice efforts. Litton’s supporters see him building on Greear’s legacy, while Stone would represent a reversal.

Mohler, who originally was going to run in 2020 and stayed in the race for 2021, is the best-known name of the three and has some appeal to “both sides,” having both criticized the existence of the Conservative Baptist Network in the past and rallied fellow seminary presidents to sign a statement condemning critical race theory (CRT) as incompatible with Southern Baptist beliefs.

The slate of resolutions for this year’s annual meeting won’t be released until Tuesday, but many Southern Baptist leaders expect there to be at least one resolution and possibly also a motion from the floor to clarify the denomination’s position on CRT. A 2019 resolution on the issue has been condemned by conservative critics as an endorsement.

The divides on many of these topics—abuse, CRT, EC leadership, Paige Patterson, Russell Moore—map atop each other. Though the recent leaks shifted the conversation ahead of the meeting, many of the supporters and critics find themselves in the same corners.

“For those at the extremes, the recent flurry has no impact. However, those who were not paying attention (I believe) are beginning to do so,’” said pastor and former missionary Jeremy Parks, who wrote about Patterson’s influence on the upcoming presidential election. “They will probably show up and simply say, ‘No, let’s go in a different direction.’”

Leaders in the conservative subgroup, which numbers at least 6,000 members, have also spoken about the importance of the convention’s direction. They allege that the SBC is drifting and blame leaders like president Greear, who leads The Summit Church in North Carolina; Dhati Lewis, who heads up the SBC’s church-planting Send Network; and Akin at Southeastern. Each were referenced in a video clip the Conservative Baptist Network posted Wednesday.

“Some of the leaders in our Southern Baptist family have become enamored with cultural ideologies and cultural tends that are unbiblical, and they’re wreaking havoc,” said Brad Jurkovich, a Louisiana pastor and spokesman for the network. “We are indeed dividing and drifting.”

Meanwhile, Greear told the Baptist Press on Friday, “If we don’t say we’re a Great Commission Gospel people, we’re not only going to lose our [pastors of color], but the next generation of Southern Baptists.” He says this year’s annual meeting will be a defining moment determining whether the gospel determines its mission or if it will instead be a geographical, cultural, and political voting bloc.

Akin, who has attended every annual meeting but one over the past 40 years, said the division within the denomination doesn’t compare to the level of animosity during the Conservative Resurgence in the ’80s, when 30,000 to 40,000 Southern Baptists attended its annual meetings. But it’s still a mess, he said.

“One of the reasons we are a mess right now is that unfortunately social media has provided an outlet for people to misrepresent—maybe misunderstand but misrepresent—one another. And as a result of that, there’s a lot of suspicion and a lot of questioning that really shouldn’t be taking place,” said Akin.

He pointed out that the high-profile departures of Russell Moore and Beth Moore, along with the recent revelations around Paige Patterson and the Executive Committee, have impacted Southern Baptists going into the convention.

“I believe it would be very helpful to clear the air, get the truth out, and have a third-party investigation of the Executive Committee,” he said. “Whoever’s told the truth should be affirmed in their truth telling, and whoever does not tell the truth ought to be exposed.”

The 86-member Executive Committee is the denomination’s primary body in charge of business outside the meetings and had initially formed a “work group” to consider the reports of abuse coverup with the SBC. As Russell Moore’s letter points out, the group quickly exonerated 7 of 10 churches listed by Greear in the wake of the Houston Chronicle investigation in 2018.

The credentials committee, formed the following year, had become the designated place to report congregations for wrongdoing that would disqualify them from being “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC, which is a voluntary affiliation and not a hierarchical body. In the past two years, just three churches—all of whom knowingly employed pastors convicted of serious sex crimes and offenses—were disfellowshipped over abuse.

Several more victims, including Jules Woodson, say they have had their reports of abuse passed over by the committee without clear explanations for the review process. The committee has declined to share the names of churches submitted or total number of reports it receives.

Advocates and victims have long challenged the idea that the SBC, the country’s biggest denomination, with billions in revenue, did not have the means or authority to do what they were pleading for: to penalize abuse and cover-up and to help survivors.

Victims have criticized the scope of the credentials committee, which defines its work as reviewing and not investigating claims. They say it has not done enough to look into credible reports of abuse and has not provided clear guidelines around its process.

“There was absolute refusal by Ronnie [Floyd], most EC members and the credentialing committee, to address the issue of abuse, or even discuss best standards. No one wanted these men to emerge as strong leaders more than the survivors who desperately needed their leadership,” Rachael Denhollander tweeted this week in a string of messages backing Moore’s letters and criticizing the approach she saw from the EC. Denhollander is not Southern Baptist but has participated in SBC advisory groups and advised SBC victims.

Some Southern Baptists see church autonomy and efforts to provide accountability and oversight as being at odds.

“However, what we also know is that too often churches have covered it up. Churches have not been transparent, and therefore, a minister who commits sexual abuse in one location has had access to move to another,” said Akin. “[The SBC] has a responsibility to police itself to the degree that it can. … I think we just started. There’s even more we probably can do to ensure, to the best of our ability, that sexual predators are not given ready access to continue their sexual predation.”

Parrott, one of the pastors planning to move to investigate the EC, says resisting sexual abuse reform in the denomination is serious. “The public witness of the SBC matters for our cooperative mission together. We need the truth to prevail so that we can move together, unified around the gospel and the Great Commission.”

“Gospel Above All” was the rallying cry for Greear’s presidency, meant to unify the 14-million-member body around their shared priorities. But it didn’t work. “Southern Baptists in large part are ready to walk into the future. But we are spending a lot of time tolerating those who would rip us apart,” he said earlier this year, complaining that intra-SBC attacks and CRT claims have distracted from his work and their mission.

Critics of the Conservative Baptist Network, those who don’t believe their claims of doctrinal drift, worry that a Stone presidency would lead some pastors to leave the SBC and possibly to an eventual split in the denomination. Some African American pastors such as Dwight McKissic say they are on their way out if the SBC doesn’t course-correct on its stance on racial justice and CRT.

While the average member of a Southern Baptist church may not be familiar with the Conservative Baptist Network by name, and may not follow denominational happenings enough to track who’s leading the Executive Committee or running for SBC president, the stances that these leaders promote reach broad swaths of evangelicals.

Jacki King, part of the steering committee for the SBC Women’s Leadership Network and the wife of an SBC pastor in Arkansas, described how a member of her church came to her worried that Southern Baptists were no longer recognizing distinctions over gender. The member had come across such claims from outlets such as the Capstone Report and The Todd Starnes Show, which amplify concerns raised by the Conservative Baptist Network.

King had to explain that what the member read wasn’t an accurate characterization of the ERLC’s position, which still affirms male and female distinctions as created by God. “If they’re only hearing what’s coming up from certain Twitter accounts, they could think the SBC is going liberal,” said King.

At their first gatherings after COVID-19 shutdowns, King says the women she knew were eager to “process everything that’s happened online,” particularly Beth Moore’s decision to leave the denomination.

Greear has been leading weekly prayer for the past three weeks as the denomination prepares for its own, large-scale efforts to come together and process.

“We are gathering together. In fact it’s been two years since we could do this, and we’d probably be naïve if we didn’t realize that that absence of being together has contributed in a large way to a lot of that discord people are feeling with one another,” Greear prayed on Wednesday. “We want to pray that God would put in us that supernatural love, that sense of fellowship and unity in the body of Christ.”
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2021, 12:39:14 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2021/june/southern-baptists-are-at-fork-in-road.html







Southern Baptists are at a Fork in the Road









The SBC will be making choices about how we respond to abuse, race, and more at this watershed convention.


I could have titled this piece, “Southern Baptists are at a Crossroads.” Southern Baptists have faced many crossroads in their history. Where things sit for Southern Baptists in June 2021 isn’t a crossroads moment, but a fork-in-the-road moment.

The choices facing Southern Baptists in the year of our Lord 2021, remind me of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

In that poem Frost talks about how two roads diverged in the woods leaving him with a choice of which road he was going to take. Southern Baptists in a few days will be facing votes on a series of issues, including a president, that have the weight to set the trajectory of the denomination either positively or negatively for years to come.

The Issues


First, there needs to be an independent investigation regarding recent accusations of mishandling of abuse claims. We need to ask hard questions about what was handled well, what went wrong, and more. Truth be told, survivors and our Baptist family deserve better than leaked letters with accusations followed by counter accusations. Given the severity of the issue at hand, we need clarity on these accusations that only an independent third-party investigation can give.

If we are people of truth, we need to seek the truth.

Second, we must continue to deal with the issue of race and listen to our African American brothers and sisters more and the voices claiming CRT has infiltrated the SBC less. Also, race will likely be a key factor in both the resolutions report and the presidential election.

The issue is not (usually) blatantly racist comments; it is the inability to recognize—and consequently address—issues of systemic racism that remain. It's failing to listen to African American pastors when they share their experiences, or when they say white Southern Baptist leaders continue to send the wrong signals on these matters—especially in doubting their theological orthodoxy when their political calculus or manner of cultural engagement differs from most white evangelicals.

If you don’t think this happens, you can watch this week’s Conservative Baptist Network video. Each person accused of “liberal drift” was either black or their counsel was in reference to the way we engage in issues related to racial injustice.

Yet, as my friend (and colleague at Wheaton) Esau McCaulley recently tweeted:

The idea that black Christians needed Karl Marx to teach them about *systems of oppression* in a country that had *legalized slavery* and *Jim Crow* might be the wildest take to gain footing in a long time.

Wither Diversity?

As such, the bigger challenge the SBC faces with regards to race is whether we will continue to grow in diversity as a denomination.

Right now, the majority of SBC church plants are minority ethnic congregations. Current SBC president J.D. Greear’s appointments to leadership on various committees are diverse and worth celebrating. Substantial progress has been and is being made, but this progress is now threatened.

To put things in perspective of how diverse a denomination the SBC is, the largest Lutheran body in America, the ELCA, consists of about 9000 churches. There are more minority ethnic Southern Baptist churches than the entire number of ELCA churches. Simply put, there are over 10,000 non-Anglo SBC congregations—and they are watching how Southern Baptists address race and ethnicity this week.

Our growth in this area is threatened right now by a false charge that the Convention has gone liberal because many in leadership are rightly learning to listen better to African-American brothers and sisters. In response, discussions on race have unfortunately been weaponized and Critical Race Theory has become the nuclear warhead buzzword as a catch-all topic that could quickly shut down all efforts in making progress on race.

CRT actually is a major issue in our culture. I am not unaware of the concerns—I am engaged with them, publishing a ten-part series from multiple authors.

Yes, CRT has real problems, but it’s not a problem in the SBC because Southern Baptist leaders understand the dangers and do not subscribe to it as a worldview, but instead stand firmly on the sufficiency of Scripture—regardless of what some SBC presidential candidates may erroneously claim. It’s just not the SBC’s biggest problem—actually, it’s not in the top five.

Most pastors and leaders I know have listened carefully to their African American sisters and brothers. They have sought—not by using CRT, but by looking carefully at our society, in light of the gospel and the scriptures—to find a way to account for the reality of structural racism while simultaneously distancing themselves from ideas of CRT that are, well, counter to biblical truth.

Just Focus on Evangelism?
I know that many will say “let’s just focus on evangelism.”

Let me be clear. I love evangelism and I seek to personally engage in it. The institutions where I lead focus on evangelism. But we cannot just focus on evangelism while sweeping sins of omission or commission under the proverbial rug.

Just like the Apostle Paul urged the Corinthians, we must deal with the evil in our midst.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Actually, we can focus on evangelism and at the same time deal with predators preying on the sheep. In Acts 20 when Paul addressed the Ephesian elders he not only affirmed with clarity the importance of proclaiming the gospel (20:20-24), he also warned vociferously against allowing wolves to harm the sheep (29-30). If we continue to mishandle predators it won’t matter how much we focus on evangelism—for we will have harmed our witness.

That’s why we (an evangelism center) hosted a summit a couple years back, where women and men courageously told their stories of abuse and called the church to do better.

You can’t “just focus on evangelism” when there are predators in your midst.

In addition, we can focus on evangelism and at the same time deal with racism. Racism is also connected to missions and thus our witness in the world.

Adam Greenway recently tweeted,

The time has come to finish the shift from the Confederate culture of our origins to a global vision of mission/ministry embracing all peoples without distinction. We are with Christ after the lost—not the “lost cause.”
His tweet reminded me of a chapter I wrote for the book, The Enduring Lost Cause: Afterlives of a Redeemer Nation. My chapter was, “The Lost Cause of the Confederacy and the Ongoing Cause of Southern Cultural Superiority and Its Impact on SBC Home Missions in the Mid-1900s.” In that chapter I noted how a failure to understand and embrace racial reconciliation back then hurt missions, just like today it hurts evangelism and church planting.

In the 1960s, too many Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of the fire hoses in Birmingham. In 2021, I choose to listen to my African American Southern Baptist friends and stand with them over the false smears that somehow they are liberal when they affirm our doctrinal statement and yet are targeted simply because they issue specific challenges on matters of race. We can’t confuse being challenged on race with “drifting toward liberalism.”

Those two things are not the same, no matter what boat you’re in.

A New Exodus?

If things go poorly this week, we will likely see a mass exodus of black pastors (and many others who stand with them) from the SBC. And for what it’s worth, that’s not just a concern if the CBN gains control or resolutions go badly.

An exodus could also happen if Al Mohler is elected SBC president. Mohler’s insistence on the CRT seminary presidents’ statement—where six white men who are good and godly men were trying to be faithful, but made a mistake of not listening to and recognizing the signal they were sending to African American leaders—has hurt race relations in our convention. As has Mohler’s flip flopping on President Trump.

Mohler is already president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Theological Society––that’s enough presidencies to keep one man quite busy.

With my vote, I’m choosing a pastor with a proven track record of committing to the hard work of racial reconciliation—I encourage you to do the same.

Given the issues and challenges facing the denomination, we need someone who will lead biblically, wisely, sensitively, and courageously. We need someone who laments over the brokenness not only in the world but within our denomination. We need a uniter and a bridge-builder. This requires one who has a track record of listening not dismissing. We need someone who has suffered and been broken but emerged better and more sanctified.

The president Southern Baptists need at this fork in the road is Ed Litton.

Do the Next Right Thing

Now, the reality is, Southern Baptists are perpetually at war with themselves with every year bringing yet another controversy. The only way to end these controversies to do the right thing. And the right thing is to vote on resolutions that support the sufficiency of Scripture and acknowledge that there are places where racism from the past still systemically intrudes in the present. And no, this does not make me a Critical Race Theorist, no matter how many times people on Twitter lie about that.

If we fail to do so, we will spark an exodus of black, young, and other leaders who care deeply about these issues.

Friends, if you think that Danny Akin is liberal, that black pastors have secretly infiltrated us with Marxism, and that abuse survivors are the enemy, then you’ve been fooled. Instead, I hope you will be discerning as you make wise choices on resolutions, motions, and elections of officers.

We can choose the right path.

We can do the right thing this time.

What Now?

Southern Baptists, we are not at a crossroads with many different options, we are at a fork in the road. We can choose to go down the path of continued in-fighting, name calling, Twitter spats, and division, or we can choose to go down the path of love, honor, and unity. We can choose to go down the path of status quo managing the decline of Southern Baptists, or we can choose the path of mobilizing Southern Baptists for greater mission impact.

As I close, Robert Frost ends his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” with this famous line:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Southern Baptists, there have been moments in our history where we have chosen the road less traveled—moments like the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence. We pushed against the tide. But there have been moments—too many to name—where we have chosen the road most traveled.

Let’s not choose the wrong path.

In the year of our Lord 2021, let’s choose the right thing, let’s choose the right path.

And we will be able to say with Frost, “that has made all the difference.”
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2021, 07:57:30 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/may-june/woodstock-generation-sixties-counterculture-hippie-commune.html








The Woodstock Generation Swallowed Me Up and Spit Me Out







One summer in a hippie commune soured me on the ’60s counterculture. God met me in my disillusionment.


The year 1968 was a momentous one for me. All around the country, revolution was in the air. I was a freshman architectural student in Boston, with nothing to prevent me from being radicalized.

I grew up in a liberal Congregational church, which my sister and I attended with my mother. During my junior year of high school, my mother—at the behest of my uncle, a Gideons member—came to genuine faith at a Baptist church where the gospel was preached. (My father, a lapsed Catholic, and grandmother would eventually meet Jesus there as well.)

As for me, I remained uninterested in Christianity. And by the time I went off to architectural school, I was falling in with the ’60s counterculture. Educated by my liberal church and public school to believe I could be a good person without embracing the supernatural claims of the Bible, I soon affirmed the moral and spiritual relativism that reflected the counterculture’s blend of Eastern religiosity and American optimism. I believed all religions were heading for the same glorious summit.

I joined the Boston Resistance, a student group promoting nonviolent opposition to the draft and the Vietnam War. I was present during a massive antiwar rally at the Boston Public Garden, where the counterculture icon Abbie Hoffman referred to the John Hancock building as a “hypodermic needle in the sky.” We felt certain our movement was every bit as important as the American Revolution. We were a vanguard poised to change the course of Western civilization.

Shattered illusions

In 1970, I left school to join a commune in Oregon. Nearly every hippie dreamed of taking a pilgrimage to the West Coast. Plus, the mountains of the Pacific Northwest appealed to my outdoorsman side. During my summer there, we hiked, camped, and climbed among the Three Sisters Wilderness of the Cascade Range. We also enjoyed many deep discussions about Eastern religion and the meaning of life.

Ultimately, however, life in the commune was deeply demoralizing. If nothing else, it washed away my naïve confidence in the inherent goodness of humanity. Despite my supposed rejection of mainstream morality, certain residual attitudes about sexual ethics and personal responsibility simply refused to die. One of my fellow hippies even labeled me a “Puritan,” which wasn’t a compliment.

I still believed, for instance, that sex was meant for marriage—or at least for serious relationships. But that norm was flouted everywhere I looked. I believed, too, in an ethic of working hard and paying my own way. But many members of the commune were essentially mooching off their parents, a lifestyle that showed up in their chronic neglect of chores like washing dishes or cleaning the toilet. Even though I smoked pot and indulged in an occasional psychedelic trip, my behavior was fairly tame by commune standards.

The breaking point, for me, came during a weeklong music festival known as Vortex I. Funded jointly by the Portland counterculture and the Oregon government, it was meant to divert attention from an appearance by President Nixon and put a peaceful face on the antiwar movement. But the depths of depravity I witnessed there convinced me I had to get away.

I returned to the Boston area in the fall of 1970 literally singing the blues. I had gone to Oregon in search of peace and love, but now I felt the weight of my ideals collapsing. This was a dark time for many committed counterculture enthusiasts. Janis Joplin, who belted out the blues like no other, and Jimi Hendrix, who mesmerized us with phenomenal guitar work, had both recently died from drug overdoses.

Disillusioned with life in the counterculture, I sank into a period of cynicism. A sense of mankind’s hopelessness closed in like a thick fog. A few forays into Eastern mysticism left me with a yawning emptiness of soul. Only the I Ching (or Yi Jing), an ancient Chinese divination manual, offered any ray of hope. (A friend had warned me that its powers lay beyond the ordinary influence of religious literature.)

The I Ching consists of various “changes,” or oracles, which promise individual guidance based on the supposed order of the cosmos (the Tao). But instead of following along in sequential order, like a Christian reading a daily devotional, I Ching users toss six yarrow sticks (stalks of medicinal herb), with the resulting pattern determining which text they read.

One day I tossed my pennies—the American substitute for yarrow sticks—and an unlikely combination lay before me. Each penny turned up heads—all six of them. Within the I Ching framework, this equated to six horizontal lines on top of each other, a pattern symbolizing the meeting of heaven and earth. The corresponding oracle predicted an encounter with one who would guide me into the future, claiming, “The movement of heaven is full of power.”

A motto in my high school yearbook had promised, “He is the architect of his own future.” I was discovering, however, the far greater power of heaven’s own movements. God was using false religion to draw me toward the truth.

The liberating truth
Several days later, I sat despairingly in my room, realizing my own desperate condition: I was the problem—not the “establishment,” not my hedonistic friends in Oregon. My heart was dark with selfishness. I knew I was living for my own pleasure and satisfaction. I looked at a picture of Jesus I’d received from a friend in the commune. In his mind, Jesus was the quintessential guru.

The picture showed Jesus smiling benignly. But his bleeding heart reminded me of the Crucifixion. Then the realization stole over me: Jesus had died for sinners just like me.

Almost immediately, I grabbed my Bible and turned serendipitously to the book of Jonah, where I read:

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (1:3–4)

This was me: fleeing from a God who graciously let the Woodstock generation swallow me up and spit me back out, all so he could get my attention.

From there, I read the Bible voraciously, quickly latching onto John 8:31–32: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” I wanted to tell everyone the liberating good news of Jesus Christ. So I sought out fellowship with other Christians, including some Harvard students in my Cambridge co-op. And I drove to New Hampshire most Sundays to worship at my mother’s church.

My spiritual and intellectual hunger led me to study with Francis Schaeffer at his L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Here I discovered the rich heritage of Reformed theology, which launched me toward Westminster Theological Seminary and 40 years of ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Sixties revolutionary fervor did nothing but plunge me into despair. Now, thanks to Christ, my hope is built on solid rock, not sinking sand.







Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, New Hampshire. He is the author of The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age and the editor of Ordained Servant: A Journal for Church Officers.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2021, 01:37:30 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/june-web-only/church-decline-attendance-still-hopeful.html








The American Church Is a Mess. But I’m Still Hopeful.





Attrition rates and leadership failures are only one part of the story.





A recently leaked letter from Russell Moore describes profound institutional rot, overt racism, and the toleration of sexual abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). (His claims were later substantiated in leaked recordings.) The public square has been consumed with discussing this controversy, especially as the SBC annual meeting is underway.

But the problems Moore describes are not limited to one denomination. Many so-called “moderate” evangelical leaders—those who hold to historic orthodoxy and traditional sexual ethics but speak out on behalf of women and racial minorities—have similar stories to tell. It feels increasingly hard to find institutions in America that aren’t knee-jerk conservative or progressive.

Beyond that, Christian institutions—whatever their doctrine or ideology—often hold in common a thirst for power, an unrepentant self-defensiveness, and a lack of courage that altogether belie the gospel. Many of them don’t seem to function all that differently than institutions outside the church.

In the midst of this upheaval, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances leave the church, others who are in the process of “deconstructing,” and still others (including orthodox church leaders) who are deeply disheartened, even depressed, about the state of the church in the West.

We have reason to be discouraged. The statistics are dismal. In a recent survey from Lifeway, two-thirds of young adults reported that they stopped attending church, citing religious or political disagreements with the church or hypocrisy among members. Two recent interviews in CT paint equally dark pictures.

What is happening to the institutional church in the United States? It’s easy for me to buy decline narratives—believing things will only get worse. And of course they could. There are examples in church history of Christian populations in certain countries dwindling and nearly disappearing.

But increasingly, my hope for the church is found in words that I recite each Sunday in the Nicene Creed: We believe in the Holy Spirit.

When we watch for the Spirit’s presence, we naturally notice those places in our lives where we see fruitfulness and abundance. But ground zero for the Spirit’s work is often in the very places where our resources fall short, where problems seem intractable and unsolvable.

As a writer and a priest, I often find myself speaking at gatherings with titles like “The Future of Evangelicalism.” My fellow church-leader friends and I are regularly asked how to fix the problems in the American church, and we regularly get together and talk about how we don’t know. That doesn’t mean we don’t try. We do. We have events, initiatives, and prayer meetings. We read and write books on engaging culture and building institutions. And yet, we are dismayed.

It’s easy to double down on strategy. We need better programs, better discipleship, and better training of pastors. We need more money to plant churches and start healthier institutions. We need more Christian magazines, Christian schools, and ministries to the poor and marginalized. We need better essays, columns, and books. We need better leaders, better catechesis, and better political theology. All of this is true. But, in the end, I am not confident that we can drum up a solution. Each year, the problems seem more complex and the darkness within our institutions seems more distressing.

But I believe in the Holy Spirit. Because of this, I believe that God is far more invested in purifying and strengthening his church than I am. I therefore live in the full knowledge that I cannot predict the future—I can’t even take a guess. Decline narratives be damned.

We must have a holy skepticism toward any strategy or prediction about the future of the church.

Lesslie Newbigin famously said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s continuing work, we cannot be pessimistic or optimistic about the church in America. Who knows what God will do? Who knows how we’ll be surprised? Our call is simply to be faithful in the small sphere we are in, in the ways we can, in the midst of uncertainty.

On his blog, Alan Jacobs expands on Newbigin’s idea. “Is Christianity declining where you are?” he writes. “Is it, rather, growing in power and influence? Is persecution coming for you? Or is cultural success around the corner? None of it matters. Our calling is precisely the same, in what we call times of ease and what we call times of struggle.”

Whatever the future of the American church holds, we must simply continue to seek the way of Jesus. Amid broken institutions, we attempt to become truth tellers and work for reform in the imperfect and incomplete ways we can. Though this work is often slow and sometimes quiet, it isn’t merely quietism. We participate in the Spirit’s work. But we believe that the whole will be greater than the sum of our efforts or ability. We believe this because the Holy Spirit is redeeming the church in ways we deeply need and cannot yet imagine.

The kids would call this a “Jesus juke”—a somewhat pejorative name for throwing Jesus into a conversation as a Mr. Fix It. It’s a way to invoke God to stop conversation or human effort—an inane social commentary that simply says, “Well, Jesus loves us all,” and presumes there’s therefore nothing more to say. And I admit that a few years ago, I would have thought of this essay as a cop-out.

Yet, if it’s a Jesus juke to admit aloud that our institutions—and our very lives—are beyond our own repair and our only hope is the work of God, then the gospel itself can be dismissed merely as a Jesus juke.

The fact is, things are bad in the American church. I’m not optimistic they will get better. But I’m not pessimistic either. Jesus is risen from the dead.

We need to truly understand and mourn the broken state of the American church. I’ll keep having conversations with friends and fellow church leaders, keep weeping over the state of the church, keep working and seeking repentance and renewal. And I have great reason for hope. It’s not a strategy, a new book, a new political candidate, or a new initiative. The Holy Spirit is at work. That is enough for me for today.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Chaplain Mark Schmidt

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - June 2021
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2021, 03:45:27 pm »
I have been pushing an open and civil debate over the mess American Christianity and its churches have become.  I have pushed that there is room for everyone if everyone is willing to be open and accepting as christ was.  Heck if we are even half that open we would be an amazingly strong religious force for good and for God and Christ.  Just my humble opinion though.   Good article, lots of food for thought no matter where you stand on this subject.
Say each prayer as if it is your very last conversation with God and live each day as your last day to glorify God by your actions and words.”

My rule of spiritual life.  6/22/2021

 

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