SBC Executive Committee to study churches escrowing CP funds

February 22, 2017 | Posted in Southern Baptist Convention | By

Executive Committee chairman Stephen Rummage said the "prominence" of churches' escrowing CP funds justifies a "special look" at the issue. Photo by Morris Abernathy

Executive Committee chairman Stephen Rummage said the “prominence” of churches’ escrowing CP funds justifies a “special look” at the issue. Photo by Morris Abernathy

NASHVILLE (BP) — Amid continuing discussion of churches’ escrowing or withholding Cooperative Program funds, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee launched two efforts to study the issue at its Feb. 20-21 meeting in Nashville.

The EC’s actions related to CP came less than a week after it was reported that Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” See related story. Other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities, according to reports received by the EC.

In light of such reports, the EC’s CP Committee unanimously adopted a motion “that the chairman of the Cooperative Program Committee form a subcommittee … to study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting.”

Adoption of the motion followed extended discussion, in which EC members and other attendees urged the committee to take action.

CP Committee chairman Rolland Slade told Baptist Press the “concern of the committee is anything that’s negatively impacting the Cooperative Program,” Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.

“We need to know about” such challenges, said Slade, pastor of Meridian Southern Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., “and be on top of creating redemptive solutions.”

The ad hoc subcommittee likely will be appointed by Feb. 25, Slade said.

During a Feb. 21 plenary session, EC member Tony Crisp requested that EC officers “monitor the activities of our various Southern Baptist entities since our last convention … in relation to how those activities might adversely affect” CP and “our churches and other stewardship structures of Southern Baptists.” He requested a report to the full EC at its June 12 meeting in Phoenix.

EC chairman Stephen Rummage responded that the request was “certainly within the purview and responsibilities of our officers … so we are glad to comply with that request.”

Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., told BP the two efforts to study CP challenges — by the CP Committee and the EC officers — are “complementary” and will “help inform” one another.

“The issues behind churches escrowing funds have risen to a level of prominence that justifies us taking a special look” at what is occurring, Rummage said.

In other action, the EC recommended a 2017-18 SBC Operating Budget of $7,450,000.

The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the International Mission Board and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board, for a total of 73.20 percent allocated for world missions ministries.

The convention’s six seminaries will receive 22.16 percent. The seminary enrollment formula for funding will yield: Gateway Seminary, 2.11 percent; Midwestern Seminary, 2.93 percent; New Orleans Seminary, 3.72 percent; Southeastern Seminary, 4.03 percent; Southern Seminary, 5.17 percent; Southwestern Seminary, 3.96 percent; and .24 percent to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, a ministry overseen by the seminary presidents. (Cumulative numbers may not match the sum of individual seminary percentages due to rounding.)

The budget proposal designates 1.65 percent to the ERLC.

Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Prestonwood escrows CP funds, cites ERLC actions

Prestonwood Baptist Church

February 17, 2017 | Posted in Southern Baptist Convention | By

Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas

Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas

PLANO, Texas (BP) — A Dallas-area megachurch has decided to escrow Cooperative Program funds temporarily in order to evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention causes.

At issue are what the congregation calls “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement the church released to Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.

Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, will escrow what would amount to $1 million annually, the Message reported Feb. 16.

In a text to Baptist Press, Message Editor Will Hall noted he had queried Prestonwood about its giving to SBC causes after pastor Jack Graham was interviewed in December by The Wall Street Journal. Graham told The Journal the church was “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

At issue, Graham said in the interview, was alleged “disrespectfulness” by ERLC President Russell Moore toward evangelical supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Moore, who publicly opposed Trump during the primary and general election cycles, said in a December blog post he never intended to criticize all evangelicals who supported Trump.

Graham is a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.

Some Southern Baptists also have criticized the ERLC for joining a friend of the court brief last May in support of a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque. The International Mission Board joined the brief as well, and IMB President David Platt apologized Feb. 15 for the divisive nature of the action. See related story.

Graham, a former SBC president, told BP via text message Prestonwood is engaging in “an internal evaluation” of its giving, “and our desire is not to seek publicity so we can make the right decision for our church and Southern Baptists.”

Asked whether Prestonwood also will escrow funds for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — the state convention with which it cooperates — Graham responded, “We’re evaluating everything.”

Graham told the Message he is “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.” He wants Prestonwood to remain “a cooperating partner with the SBC as we have been for many years” but cited “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

SBTC executive director Jim Richards told BP in a statement, “In our fellowship of churches, Prestonwood Baptist Church has been a faithful ministry partner for many years. We love Jack Graham and his people. It is our hope that these concerns can be resolved in a way that strengthens the kingdom work of Southern Baptists and honors the autonomy of the local church. We stand ready to assist as we have opportunity.”

ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

Bart Barber, a Texas pastor who serves on the ERLC’s Leadership Council tweeted following Prestonwood’s announcement, “I love and appreciate” Jack Graham “but am an ardent advocate for #ReligiousLiberty and for” CP. “I’m just heartbroken & conflicted.”

In related news, First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., announced last month it would escrow funds traditionally given through CP over concerns related to ERLC and IMB participation in the New Jersey mosque brief. First Baptist pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November over the brief.

Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director David Hankins and former SBC Executive Committee chairman Bill Harrell both told The Wall Street Journal they know of churches considering a diversion of funds away from the ERLC.

Threats to escrow CP funds have occurred periodically in SBC history. In the mid-1980s, some Southern Baptist conservatives threatened to escrow CP funds if moderates regained control of the convention presidency, BP reported.

Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.

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IMB President David Platt apologizes for ‘divisive’ amicus brief

February 16, 2017 | Posted in IMB, Southern Baptist Convention | By

David Platt, IMB president, speaks with Will Hall, editor of Louisiana's Baptist Message, after giving a report to Baptist editors in Ontario, Calif., Feb. 15.

David Platt, IMB president, speaks with Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, after giving a report to Baptist editors in Ontario, Calif., Feb. 15.

by David Roach

ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) — International Mission Board President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined last May in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.

“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif.

“I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

Platt offered a similar apology to executive directors of Baptist state conventions, who met in the same location.

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Going forward, Platt said, missions is “what I long for the conversation about the IMB to be focused on, for the sake of those who have never heard.”

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

In the future, a new process for filing amicus briefs is needed, Platt said, “that will involve my office and our trustees.” He pledged to discuss such a policy during a Feb. 28-March 1 IMB trustee meeting.

Platt also told editors, “Going back to at least 2010, so far before I stepped into this role, our … legal department has filed various similar briefs related to religious liberty. And since 2010, all of those matters have been handled by our legal department.”

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former IMB trustee chairman, told Baptist Press Platt’s “remarks to state executive directors were very well received.”

Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, “I greatly appreciate the directness and humility that the leader of our flagship missions organization demonstrated in meeting with Baptist state convention executive directors. I saw the same spirit in one-on-one conversations with Dr. Platt.”

Davis added, “I am very comfortable from having spent some time with Dr. Platt that this will not be an issue moving forward and that it certainly will be with some level of involvement by IMB trustees.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Haun’s resignation was reported in several Baptist state papers last month.

Platt told BP in a statement last month, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs.”

With reporting by Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.

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Inauguration day: The Christian response

January 20, 2017 | Posted in Southern Baptist Convention | By

by Steve Gaines

MEMPHIS (BP) — Today Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As you know, Mr. Trump won a highly volatile election last November. Some see him as a candidate of much-needed change, readily resonating with his Reaganish slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Others see Mr. Trump as a less than desirable candidate for the highest office in the land.

What are Southern Baptists to do?

Trump won the election. In doing so, he earned the right to serve for the next four years as President of the United States. Consequently, it is incumbent upon every Bible-believing Christian to pray that the Lord will bless and guide him and his family in the coming days and years.

The Bible is clear that we Christians are to pray for our leaders.

The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (NAU)

Paul also says in Romans 13:1, 7, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God…. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (NAU)

When the Jewish High Priest, Ananias, ordered one of his servants to strike the apostle Paul for what Ananias considered an irreverent statement made by Paul, Paul retaliated by calling Ananias a “whitewashed wall” (i.e. a hypocrite). But when Paul learned that Ananias was the High Priest, he immediately apologized citing Exodus 22:28. The Bible says in Acts 23:5 — And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.'” (NAU)

Likewise, the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:17 — “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (NAU)

If these verses mean anything, they mean that all Christians, including all Southern Baptists, should pray for President Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, and refrain from criticizing and slandering them personally.

Does this mean we cannot disagree with President Trump’s policies or actions? Of course not.

But as followers of Jesus, when we disagree with anyone’s actions and/or words, we must do so without being mean-spirited and without maligning them personally. It is incumbent on all our SBC leaders to set such a standard of maturity for all Southern Baptists with genuine, Spirit-filled behavior.

As of today, Mr. Trump is President Trump. He will serve in the highest office of political authority in our nation. The moment Donald Trump assumed that office, he deserved our sincere prayers and genuine support. We must grant all people, including elected officials, dignity, because: 1. they are created in God’s image, and 2. Jesus died for their sins.

Exactly how should we pray for Donald and Melania Trump?

— Pray that their hearts will be like channels of water in the hands of the Lord and that He will turn them wherever he wishes (cf. Proverbs 21:1).

— Pray that God will instruct them and teach them in the way that they should go and guide them with His eye upon them (cf. Psalm 32:8).

— Pray that they will walk in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and that God will surround them with favor as with a shield (cf. Psalm 5:12).

Ask the Lord to lead you as you sincerely pray for them.

Southern Baptists, we must set the example for others by living biblically as citizens of God in a secular world. We must pray for and genuinely respect both the office of the President of the United States, and the man in that office, Donald J. Trump.

Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.

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Reformers’ disagreement on Christmas yields lessons

December 15, 2016 | Posted in Southern Baptist Convention | By

Martin Luther and John Calvinby David Roach

NASHVILLE (BP) — When it came to celebrating Christmas, leaders of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation were divided on whether followers of Jesus should say “bah humbug” or “joy to the world.”

While Martin Luther loved to celebrate Christmas with feasting and special church services, the so-called Reformed wing of the Reformation, led by Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, raised objections to such festivities, arguing believers should worship God only in ways explicitly commanded by Scripture and that a festival in December commemorating Christ’s birth was not commanded.

The Reformed wing’s Puritan heirs in England and New England were adamant in their rejection of Christmas celebrations. English Puritan William Prynne (1600-1669) argued, for example, that “all pious Christians” should “eternally abominate” Christmas festivities, said church historian Michael Haykin. In New England, celebrating Christmas could result in a fine.

Though few modern Christians share such sentiments against Christmas, a North Carolina pastor who holds a Ph.D. in church history told Baptist Press, believers can draw insights from both sides in the debate.

Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., advocates a “mediating position,” in which believers acknowledge the food and fun of Christmas as good gifts from the Lord but also recognize that secular Christmas festivities can stray far afield from celebrating the incarnation.

“Take the Christmas blessings, and look upward to the giver,” Davis said. “The happiness that we feel when we look at the lights and we enjoy the holiday — all of it comes from God. And ultimately God has so much more to give you than just that. He has His own Son, and the center of everything is the giving of Christ.”

Reformers differ

Among the Reformers, differing views of Christmas stemmed largely from differing views of worship, Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP.

Luther held the “normative principle” — the belief Christians may worship God in any way not forbidden by Scripture — while Zwingli and Calvin held the “regulative principle” — the belief Christians may only worship God in ways commanded by Scripture.

Thus, Luther retained the Roman Catholic traditions of Advent and Christmas and may have been among the first people to decorate a Christmas tree with candles, Haykin said. “It was a festival he delighted to celebrate.”

The first seven sermons in “The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther” edited by John Nicholas Lenker are all designated for the Christmas season.

For Zwingli and Calvin, in contrast, “there are questions raised about” Christmas, Haykin said. He noted all Reformers praised God for the incarnation but differed over the appropriateness of an official festival on Dec. 25.

Preaching on Christmas Day 1551, a Tuesday, Calvin noted, “I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon,” according to Calvin’s “Sermons on the Book of Micah” translated by Benjamin Wirt Farley.

Then Calvin warned, “When you elevate one day alone for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just turned it into an idol. True, you insist that you have done so for the honor of God, but it is more for the honor of the devil.”

Still, Calvin’s admonition seemed to be a caution rather than a prohibition of Christmas.

In a 1551 letter quoted by Presbyterian pastor Phil Larson, Calvin said he “pursued the moderate course in keeping Christ’s birthday.” Similarly, in a 1555 letter he noted, “A church is not to be despised or condemned because it observes more festival days than the others.”

Nearly a century later, the Puritans, who drew theological inspiration from Calvin among other sources, took his view a step further, formally outlawing Christmas in England in 1647, Haykin said.

In America, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony permitted nonbelievers among them to celebrate Christmas in the early 1620s, Davis said. But when some nonbelievers were seen playing a game on Christmas Day, the colony’s governor “confiscated their game equipment and said they were free to not work, but they had to stay indoors and would best spend the time by reading the Bible and praying.”

Caution about Christmas in British territories prevailed until the 1800s, Davis said, because of a desire not to return to Roman Catholic practices.

‘Scraps’ from God’s table

The Reformers’ and Puritans’ reticence about Christmas should not be dismissed altogether in the modern world, Davis said, noting the holiday often is celebrated with “fantastic busyness” and “materialism” but “no real, vibrant piety.”

Even when charity and thankfulness are involved in the celebration, Davis said, meaningful references to Christ can be removed, as in Charles Dickens’ famous novella “A Christmas Carol.”

Yet “you can go too far in the opposite direction” by eschewing traditional Christmas celebrations altogether, Davis said.

“The ‘eat, drink and be merry’ thing is like scraps that fall from the table of God. It’s common grace blessings that people enjoy,” he said. “… Why wouldn’t you want something like that?”

It’s understandable that some Christians reject Christmas activities that are merely cultural with no celebration of Christ, Davis said. But the culture “just doesn’t get it” when Christians denounce the holiday altogether.

A more productive message in 21st-century America is, he said, “These blessings are gifts from God. But He has so much more to give you than that. He came into the world to save sinners.”

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program.

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the coming months, Baptist Press will periodically publish stories observing the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, Oct. 31, 1517.

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