Church must speak louder in abortion debate, panelists say February 18, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The future of the pro-life movement in America rests on Christian pastors and leaders courageously confronting the issue of abortion, a group of pro-lifers agreed in a panel discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Two Southern Baptist leaders joined a pro-life Presbyterian activist and a former United States congressman to discuss the future of the pro-life movement in America. The seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement sponsored the Feb. 5 forum.
The panelists said that while the pro-life movement has momentum -- and in many ways is winning -- more could be done if pastors and leaders boldly confronted the issue of abortion on Sunday mornings.
“I know ministers in my local community who will not preach on the issue because they say, ‘There are people in my congregation that have had abortions and I don’t want to stir up the issue,’” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“We are still suffering in our denomination from a generation and a half of theological malformation in our [Southern Baptist] seminaries -- malformation that has been stopped and reversed, and I praise God for that.”
Adding that he “expects better” from the next generation of leaders, Land said too many Christian leaders see abortion as a political issue instead of what it is -- a moral issue.
“It’s not a political issue,” he said. “It has political consequences. ... [Instead,] it is the most profound moral and spiritual issue of our time.”
Christians must remember that abortion has two victims -- the baby and the mother, Land noted.
“There are millions and millions of women suffering who desperately need to hear a word from their pastor about abortion,” he said.
Joining Land on the panel were R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary; David McIntosh, former U.S. Representative from Indiana’s 2nd District (1994-2000); Terry Schlossberg, executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life; and Russell Moore, head of the Henry Institute and assistant professor of Christian theology at the seminary.
Moore agreed that too many pastors see abortion as strictly a political issue.
Such pastors believe that “you vote for pro-life candidates [and] you do that outside the walls of the church, but you don’t need to talk about it, because it’s not a biblical, theological issue in their minds,” Moore said.
Churches must confront abortion because the source of the problem lies not in politics but in the human heart, the panelists said.
“The culture of death in the human heart is far more dangerous than the culture of the abortion in the abortionist’s place of work,” Mohler said. “The one leads to the other -- from the heart to the abortion clinic [and] not from the abortion clinic to the heart.
“... We must reach the human heart. We must pray for that day when the idea that a woman would kill the baby in her womb would become such a moral horror that it would not be contemplated.”
The first-century Christians were clearly pro-life, Mohler said, pointing to an early church document -- the “Didache” -- that called abortion “murder.” It is believed the document was written around A.D. 100. Land added that the early church stood for the sanctity of life when the surrounding Roman culture often practiced abortion and infanticide.
“Abortion is one of the ‘thou shalt nots’ [and] it’s named by name,” Mohler said.
Many of today’s Christians stand in stark contrast to those early Christians, Mohler said, with some self-professing evangelicals remaining surprisingly silent.
“What we’re finding in the church today is a realignment,” he said. “Abortion is in many ways the critical criterion for this realignment. ... If abortion is not producing the realignment, it is at least revealing the realignment.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is an example that “moral sanity” can be recovered, Mohler said. Referring to pro-choice resolutions on abortion passed by Southern Baptist Convention bodies in the 1970s, Mohler said the convention has “a great deal of ground to regain, but thanks be to God we’ve been given that opportunity.”
Today the SBC is unquestionably pro-life, with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message saying that Christians “should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”
While the Southern Baptist Convention official policy is pro-life, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s policy is pro-choice, Schlossberg said. She heads an organization seeking to guide the denomination back to its historical pro-life roots.
“The Presbyterian church has not always held a position in support of abortion rights,” she said. “In fact, that’s an innovation of modern history. ... We are a clear sign that in the Presbyterian Church the issue isn’t settled. We are a growing organization in a denomination that is losing members at a rate of more than 30,000 every year.”
A shift to pro-life belief is occurring, Schlossberg said, although the Christian church must stand taller in the debate.
“I don’t see adequate response from the church, even in the church’s own self-understanding of its role in this respect,” she said.
Abortion, though, is not the only issue that must be confronted in the church, Mohler said, citing sex as another forefront issue. Sexual freedom is a theme often championed by abortion rights proponents, he pointed out.
“If the issue of abortion were separate from issue of sex, it never would have arrived at the Supreme Court in the first place,” he said.
Presbyterians Pro-Life spends much of its time encouraging the teaching of biblical sexuality, Schlossberg said. PPL “is now as active in the sexuality debate in our denomination as we are in debates over human life,” she said. “Why? Because it’s perfectly clear to us that the connections exist”
The church must teach “God’s intent for sexuality in order for us to get to the issue of abortion,” she added.
McIntosh, who intends to run for Indiana governor in 2004, said youth leaders play a crucial role in the abortion battle.
“You can’t fudge it,” he said. “You can’t hedge it and not give a clear answer. Kids will keep probing with you.”
Former President Bill Clinton has said he developed his pro-choice views in church, Moore noted. To that, McIntosh said, “Be good stewards as youth pastors and maybe the future Bill Clintons will not be led astray.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Momentum is on the side of the pro-life movement in America, but much work needs to be done, a group of pro-lifers agreed during a discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the future of the pro-life movement.
They pointed to polls showing that youth are more pro-life than their parents; to advances in technology that allow a woman to see a movie-like image of her pre-born baby; and to the fact that many pro-choicers are shying away from the term “abortion” altogether.
The seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement sponsored the Feb. 5 event.
“There is a weakening of abortion commitment as a single issue [among pro-choicers]. That comes across survey after survey,” said Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. “Every generation from 1973 to the present has been less committed to abortion as a single issue than the generation that has preceded it.”
Joining Mohler on the panel were Richard Land, executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; David McIntosh, former U.S. representative of Indiana’s 2nd District (1994-2000); Terry Schlossberg, executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life; and Russell D. Moore, head of the Henry Institute and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
Poll numbers showing an ever-decreasing support for legal abortion are “sending a quake of fear into the hearts and a quiver into the spine of the pro-abortion movement in America,” Land said. Most polls, he said, break down as follows: 30 to 40 percent of Americans want to see most abortions banned, while 20 to 25 percent want all abortions legal.
“The battleground is for the people in the middle,” Land said. “... We are slowly but surely winning the struggle for heart and minds in America.”
A report released by the University of California at Berkeley last year found that 44 percent of people ages 15 to 22 support government restrictions on abortion compared to only 27 percent of adults.
“[Young people] understand that they could have been killed if their mother had decided to kill them,” Land said, adding that a “seismic shift” in abortion opinion has occurred in the last 15 years.
Advances in technology have helped the pro-life cause, panelists said, with 4-D ultrasound machines leading the way. Used by many pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in their conversations with women seeking abortions, the 4-D machine allows a pregnant woman to see her pre-born baby up close and in real time. Every tiny detail -- including the sucking of the thumb -- is visible.
“Medical research has not strengthened the pro-abortion cause,” Mohler said. “... Medical research has become a great impetus for the pro-life movement.
“We understand far more of what takes places in the womb than we ever did before.”
Mohler noted, “When you have the pro-abortionists arguing that it is an imposition on a woman to show her what is taking place in her womb, you know that that is an argument in moral retreat.”
The fact that few physicians are willing to perform abortions is another “great moral victory,” the seminary president said.
The panel drew a parallel between the pro-life movement of the 20th and 21st centuries and the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Much like those who fought to abolish slavery, pro-lifers are fighting to change public opinion and public policy one step at a time, panelists said.
“Good men and women struggled against a government policy that was wrong and immoral and [that] treated a certain class of people as less than human,” McIntosh said of the abolitionist movement. “They knew it was wrong and they fought against it.”
Similar to the slavery debate, the abortion battle “won’t be won overnight,” McIntosh said. But he pointed to small victories -- including the current debate over partial-birth abortion -- as positive steps.
“That framed it in the other direction ... [and] gave the pro-life position the moral high ground,” McIntosh said. “In order to be against that, you had to be for clearly killing a fetus that would be viable if left on its own. ... You couldn’t look at the issue or think about the issue and not reach the conclusion that that’s what it was.”
“We have learned as a pro-life movement how to isolate certain issues to help America understand with clarity the reality of abortion. Every incremental step along these lines is to be celebrated,” he said.
The debate must be framed properly because abortion rights proponents are trying to skew the issue, McIntosh said. From a pro-choice perspective, he said, a pro-lifer’s arguments become “a substitute for a question of whether society [will] allow women to be free to pursue careers in the marketplace.”
“When I would take a pro-life position, [advocates of legal abortion] would be listening to that as, ‘Here’s a male who’s successful in his career [and] he doesn’t want me to have an opportunity to have a career in whatever I may choose to do.’
“We have to be careful and not allow the other side to frame it in those terms.”
The pro-life argument must stay on issue and stress the life of the unborn child, Land said.
“When we’re seeking to legislate against killing unborn babies, we’re not trying to impose our morality on pregnant women,” he said. “We’re trying to keep them from imposing their immorality on their unborn babies.”
While pro-lifers express hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will someday overturn Roe v. Wade, Land has hope that the high court will go one step further and simply reverse it. That, he pointed out, is what happened in 1954 when the Supreme Court issued its Brown vs. Board of Education ruling reversing the 1892 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision. In the Brown case, the high court ruled that separate but equal accommodations for minorities were unconstitutional.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the abortion debate will go back to the states. If reversed, abortion will be made illegal nationwide.
“If we get the right justices ... my prayer is that they will reverse Roe, and not [simply] repeal it.”
But pro-lifers must speak the truth in love, panelists said. McIntosh said that love must be expressed toward every individual involved -- including the women who have abortions.
“Pray for our opponents,” he said. “ ... We have to pray for everyone involved.”
Schlossberg, who heads a pro-life organization seeking to change the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said all Christians should be involved.
“Where this issue is concerned, your calling applies to the issue,” she said. “You don’t have to depart from your calling to address this issue.”
America’s spiritual state ‘confused,’ Mohler tells Focus on the Family February 10, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Shortly after President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech Jan. 28, Focus on the Family caught up with R. Albert Mohler Jr. and asked him to address a matter of even greater importance -- the “spiritual state of the union.”
The interview with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president appeared online on Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink website.
Mohler said the spiritual state of the union is “mixed,” burdened by confusion over authentic Christianity.
“I really think it is a mixed picture, because America continues to demonstrate very high levels of religious participation -- and even claims of religious belief -- that are clearly distinct from the secularism of Western Europe,” he said.
“But at the same time, Americans are obviously having a very difficult time applying the beliefs they claim to hold to the issues of everyday life. And postmodern America is such a confusion of spiritualities that authentic Christianity unfortunately appears to be just one option among the others. It gives a whole new meaning to being ‘salt and light’ in the midst of this culture.”
Mohler described the church as “having a hard time understanding how to bear witness in this society and how to think in a way that is distinctively and consistently Christian.”
He gave high marks to Bush’s presidential address -- particularly his confrontation of a handful of social issues.
“I thought the president’s State of the Union speech was an absolutely remarkable and historic presidential address,” Mohler said. “The president put himself on the line, for instance, for a total ban on human cloning and for an end to partial-birth abortion, and a very bold initiative on AIDS and ... the mentoring of children of prisoners, etc.
“The president was trying to build a moral consensus on those issues of grave moral concern. The reason why that is remarkable is that America no longer has a moral consensus on those issues, and that to me is the chief symptom of what I think is our spiritual state.”
The simple fact that Bush had to address issues of life “demonstrates that the spiritual state of the union is not good, and it should not leave Christians satisfied,” Mohler added.
Part of the problem with the spiritual state, Mohler said, lies at the feet of professing Christians who simply blend in with the culture.
“If you simply look at patterns in the culture, from entertainment to moral issues ... there clearly is a great deal of compromise and accommodation in the church,” Mohler said. “[T]here are liberal denominations out there that advocate that accommodation is basically the only way to fit into this society -- or as they might put it, ‘to minister to it.’
“But we have to bear the scandal of the gospel as authentic Christians and say to the world there is a higher wisdom than the world’s wisdom. There is a word we have to speak to this culture, and that is a word that is rooted in the objective truth of God’s revelation and [that] tells Americans, frankly, what we often do not want to hear.”
The gospel message must be distinct, Mohler asserted.
“We do not present the gospel as one saving message among others,” he said. “We do not even present the gospel as a better way to heaven than any other way. We must proclaim the gospel the way Jesus defined it, and the Apostles preached it. This is the Lord who said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to Father but by Me.’ And when the Apostles, even upon threat of their lives, explained the gospel, they said, ‘There is no other name given under heaven and earth whereby men must be saved.’
“That is very difficult to get across to modern America. It sounds horribly intolerant, politically incorrect and exclusivistic. But it’s the gospel -- the only gospel that saves.”
A return to “biblical Christianity” is the only way the church will get out of its current confusion, Mohler said.
“We have to be, as the church, the community of Christ’s people under the authority of the Word,” he said. “That must affect not only the way we think, but also the way we live. And in so doing, we are going to stand out from this culture in a very distinctive way. Now, there are those who warn us that standing out in such a way will limit our opportunities for witness. That may be true, honestly speaking. That contrast between the church and the world may make some people love the world all the more, because they love its pleasures and they love its promises. But on the other hand, it is the only way the church can be the church and -- I would argue -- it’s the only way we can have a truly Christian witness.
“Because, after all, if we are saying to the world, ‘Just come join us, and we’ll add a little something to your life,’ there’s no gospel there. But what we’re saying is: ‘Come and be transformed by the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
“That’s a radical message. And what we need are Christians ready to live out a radical Christianity.”
Mohler: Humble messengers needed for a bold message February 5, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The world needs more Christians who will humbly stand up for biblical truth and courageously confront the issues of the day, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Jan. 28.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, speaking at spring convocation, said Christians should follow the apostle Paul’s example as found in Acts 20:18-31. It is there that Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that he did not hold back in declaring “the whole purpose of God.”
“This requires courage,” Mohler said. “It requires time. It requires wisdom.”
Mohler said that year by year an increasing number of basic Christian beliefs are mocked. It is difficult to explain to someone the plan of salvation, he noted, if they refuse to believe in sin.
“The task of Christian truth-telling in this age leads to social awkwardness,” he said. “... It leads to intellectual scorn.
“[Some people] look at you as if to say, ‘You’ll grow out of this one day. We all did. Civilization has. You’re just a little late.’”
Some pastors, he said, are preaching a “half gospel” to congregations starving for truth.
“You can’t tell the whole truth in every sermon,” Mohler said. “You can’t do it all in one day. It’s over the course of a ministry. ... The temptation for most of us is to try to get people to where they will not be offended when we get to [a particular text].”
Speaking truth in today’s world will lead to criticism, Mohler said, pointing to recent examples in which the Southern Baptist Convention has been the source of controversy.
In 1998, the SBC added an article on the family to its statement of belief, the Baptist Faith and Message. Convention supporters said it reflected a biblical model of marriage, but critics said it reeked of sexism. Mohler said his wife, Mary, a member of the committee that drafted the family amendment, received many media calls -- including one all the way from Australia. Mohler said the interviewer viewed the statement as bizarre and primitive.
Similar criticism followed when the convention adopted the 2000 BF&M as well as when it passed a resolution supporting Jewish evangelism, Mohler said.
He told how he was recently confronted with a simple question during a television debate. The question: What if you’re wrong?
“If we are wrong, then we are so wrong that the damage is incalculable,” Mohler said. “If we are wrong, then we are so wrong that we are promising heaven to people on false promises.
“... If it’s based upon a false promise, then we’re fools. If we’re wrong, then we’re so wrong that we repress people. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong about God having given us a law, and we’re wrong about what we understand to be sin.”
But if evangelicals are right, Mohler said, then they “have no real options” other than to stand up for truth.
“If we have a sure and certain foundation for what we believe and what we teach, then the only question is whether we’ll be faithful or unfaithful in the teaching,” he said. “The only question is whether we’ll be bold or hesitant in the telling.”
The controversies, Mohler said, boil down to one central issue -- the doctrine of revelation.
“It all really comes down to whether God has spoken,” he said. “Because if God has spoken and we know that he has spoken, and he has spoken to us in this Word ... then we are obligated for the teaching and telling of it.”
A model for bold “truth-telling,” Mohler said, is the apostle Paul, who never shied away from tackling a controversial subject.
“The pastor’s, preacher’s, teacher’s first responsibility is to feed the flock of God,” he said. “We have to decide whether we’re going to feed the flock the whole meal or whether we’re going to try to be a theological dietician.
“It is not loving to withhold truth for fear of truth that hurts or truth that may even offend.”
But the minister must also proclaim the truth to the world.
“The apostle Paul did not direct his ministry only to the church of God,” Mohler said. “[He also proclaimed it] in the public square, as he was habitually in his missionary travels in the marketplace [and] as he was contending for Christianity as a public truth.
“We want the world to hear us speak of the gospel, and we must go out into the world and tell the gospel.”
That gospel message must be proclaimed with humility, Mohler said, citing Acts 20:19 where Paul says he serves the Lord “with all humility.”
“It is to be the humility of the person, not the humility of the message,” Mohler said. “Unfortunately, in the Christian ministry, somehow in our own sinfulness we are prone to be humble about the message and rather un-humble about the person.”
Like the apostle Paul, ministers must preach the gospel even when no one is listening, Mohler said.
“When we face the Judge as pastors, as teachers, as evangelists, as missionaries, the question for us is not going to be, ‘Did they receive it?’ The question for us is going to be, ‘Did we tell?’” he said.
Mohler read Acts 20:26, where Paul says that because of his faithful proclamation he is “innocent of the blood of all men.”
“The judgment of the non-responsiveness to the gospel ... is either going to be justly laid at the responsibility of the preacher, the teacher, the teller or upon the hearer,” Mohler said.
“At the end of the day, will we be innocent of the blood of all men?”
What about ‘the man on the island’? January 31, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--If a man is stranded alone on an island from infancy until death and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, where will he spend eternity?
Do the trees and rocks provide the man with enough evidence to point him savingly to Christ’s atoning death? Or will he be viewed as innocent because he was ignorant of the only way to salvation?
The answer to the question of the “man on the island” separates the pure biblical gospel from non-biblical expressions of it, argues Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Russell Moore.
And it will be one of the tough questions answered at Southern Seminary’s annual “Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference” to be held Feb. 21-22 at the school. The conference will address the various aspects of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, seeking to answer the question “Why one way?”
Among the topics addressed will be the necessity of the doctrine of hell, the truth claims of non-Christian religions, the confusion over the “all will be saved” passages of Scripture and the conundrum of “the man on the island.”
Moore will address the question of the man on the island. The question is vital to establishing a biblical view of sin, salvation and evangelism, Moore said, for evangelicals must assert that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone.
“The discussion exposes all kinds of hidden assumptions that we have,” Moore said. “What we think about ‘the man on the island’ tells us what we really believe about how sinful we are. It tells us what we really believe about the necessity of the Great Commission.
“I think this question is the most important question facing the 21st century church. If those who never hear the gospel are saved apart from the preaching of the gospel, then there is no reason to give one dime to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Unless we come face to face with the lostness of the ‘man on the island,’ we are going to lose the biblical passion for those who have never heard.”
Moore said that it is especially important for college students to know what they believe.
“The next generation is in grave danger of losing this central truth of the gospel -- that salvation comes only through explicit faith in Jesus,” he said. “All that the church needs to do to raise a generation apathetic to missions and evangelism is simply to say nothing. The culture will take care of the rest.”
In addition to Moore, featured speakers will include seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., Thomas Schreiner, Ronald Nash, Daniel Akin, Thom Rainer, Thomas Nettles and other members of Southern Seminary’s faculty.
For more information on the Collegiate Conference, call 800-626-5525 (ext. 4617).
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Heather King thought God had called her to overcome her “fear factor” long before the concept of reality television was ever conceived.
As a high schooler in Dallas, the now-32-year-old King knew she was called by God to minister for his Kingdom. Her assumption, however, was that God would require her to relocate to a land far away from civilization.
“I thought God was going to send me to a foreign country as a nurse where I would be required to utilize nursing skills on myself because I would be forced to eat goat eyeballs or some odd concoction I previously would have considered incredible,” she said.
That day may come, but King’s ministry currently is at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as the new director of women’s programs. King began the job on Nov. 1 after replacing former director Sharon Beougher.
She came to Southern Seminary after serving as WMU/women’s ministry director for the State Baptist Convention of Indiana for the past six years.
As the seminary’s women’s director, she plans to create two programs to equip women to minister to other women in the local church. She plans to begin a degree program as well as a certificate program.
The degree program will be a master of arts or master of divinity in Christian education with a 15-credit-hour focus in women’s ministry. The second program will be a women’s certificate program and will consist of eight non-accredited courses geared toward staff and lay women within the local church.
Above all, King hopes to provide encouragement for female students.
“By virtue of this position going fulltime, it communicates to students that the administration and faculty want to encourage and affirm female students in their studies and ministries,” King said. “I, too, desire to be an encouragement to students.”
King earned her bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Criswell College in Dallas. She then earned a master’s degree in counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. She has applied for the doctoral program at Southern Seminary and plans to begin working toward a doctor of education in leadership degree (Ed.D.) upon acceptance.
She became a Christian while in the third grade after becoming cognizant of her need for salvation while reading and memorizing Scripture verses in Vacation Bible School.
“I can vividly remember several elderly women teaching my Sunday School class,” she said. “They taught stories about who Jesus was and what he did for me. I understood my need for salvation due to the memorization of the famous VBS verse John 3:16. And most importantly, I remember seeing my father make his profession of faith public.”
After sensing the call to ministry while in high school, King decided she would attend seminary someday, still uncertain of the specific area of ministry to which she was called. Since then, God’s guidance has continued to unfold.
“In the area of women’s work,” King said, “the opportunities are almost limitless. Work within the local church provides [numerous] opportunities. There are many more opportunities [for women] in the area of state work, denominational work and mission fields, along with writing and speaking ministries and para-church organizations.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--For decades Moscow was the capital of communism, the heart of atheism.
Public worship was prohibited. The proclamation of the gospel was forbidden. Christians surely gathered -- but only in private.
The fall of the Soviet Union now has made communist Moscow a relic of the past. However, from an evangelical standpoint, it’s hard to tell. Of the city’s 12 million citizens, roughly 10,000 are Christian.
Southern Baptist missionary Troy Bush believes Muscovites are open to the gospel, and he senses a responsibility to spread Christ’s message.
“Moscow is so large and so diverse,” Bush said recently in a telephone interview with Southern Seminary magazine, a publication of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “We as Southern Baptists are still in the early stages of our implementation of ministry and church planting in this area.”
When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, Christians had high hopes; the fall of communism had resulted in an openness to the gospel previously unseen.
But for various reasons, it was slow to take hold in the Russian capital. Some Christian organizations set up shop in Moscow but did the brunt of their work in the countryside. They assumed that Muscovites wouldn’t be open.
Others looked at past Christian gatherings -- such as the 1992 Billy Graham crusade -- and decided that other Russian areas needed more attention.
The result was a Moscow on the back burner of many Christian organizations’ plans.
“Hence, what you had was a situation where Moscow was largely forgotten in terms of focused missions,” said Bush, who has been in the country since December 1999. “Not until about the last two years have any major evangelical missions organizations clearly defined church planting and evangelistic ministries in the city.”
Bush, a 1999 Ph.D. graduate of Southern Seminary, works with members of his missions team to design strategies that will be implemented to reach the city’s ethnic Russians. Part of his job involves equipping and mobilizing church-planting teams. Another part involves serving as a facilitator between Christians in Moscow and those around the world.
Bush’s team has a goal of seeing 140 Baptist churches in Moscow within five years -- a number that would equal about one church for each city district. Currently, there are 23 churches. The team also has a website -- reachmoscow.org.
To reach Muscovites with the gospel, Bush said, “we do have to define what that means.” He noted that Russians as a whole tend to be very philosophical. Because they enjoy philosophical discussions, they are quite open to discussing religious issues. “The idea that most Muscovites were once atheists I don’t think ever was true,” Bush said. “I think the academia and the intelligentsia largely were atheists, but most Muscovites are religious and have some type of religious practices. The majority of the people today would still say they are [Russian] Orthodox, but the majority of them have no active participation in the Orthodox Church.”
A city once void of public worship now finds itself at the heart of pluralism. Three million citizens are Muslim. The city has 16 registered Buddhist groups and five Jewish synagogues.
One study, Bush said, found more than 5,000 religious groups within the city.
“You have tremendous plurality in the city that is equal to most any major urban center in the world,” he said. “At the same time, because of all the changes Russians have been through, you find that most Muscovites have very syncretistic worldviews. It’s not uncommon to find someone who would be Orthodox and acknowledging that there is one supreme God and at the same time they may hold very, very strong elements of naturalism and rationalism. They also believe in reincarnation and see no contradiction at all.”
The city’s diversity, as well as its size, has been quite eye-opening for Bush.
“The complexity of Moscow and the size of Moscow has been a very humbling experience. We realize that we can’t mobilize [solely] as Southern Baptists to come here and work,” he said. “We’ll never be able to bring enough missionaries to do everything that the Lord desires to be done.”
Bush has discovered both barriers and bridges to the gospel. One barrier, he said, stems from many Muscovites’ belief that God is impersonal and distant.
“For many of them, they would view him as so distant and so impersonal that a personal relationship with him is not something that’s really achievable,” Bush said. “It’s not even something that many of them pursue. Generally, they feel that their life is controlled by fate, an impersonal force.”
But there are bridges to the gospel.
“Russian Orthodoxy has retained some key elements of the gospel, and those are elements on which we can build,” Bush said. “Muscovites today would say that the moral state of Moscow has declined dramatically. What that does is that it creates a stark background on which to proclaim the light and the truth of the gospel. I think that is a real bridge.”
Russian law forbids Bush -- or any foreigner -- from starting or pastoring a church. Consequently, Bush works closely with the Russian Baptist Union, discipling and teaching its members.
“None of our missionaries are going out and starting Southern Baptist churches,” he said. “We are leading folks to Christ and discipling them and discipling existing believers so that they can do the church planting themselves.”
So far, the Russian Baptist churches are small.
“Pray for the pastors and the leaders in the Russian Baptist churches here in the city of Moscow,” Bush said when asked how Christians could pray for his work. “Just 10 years ago there was only one registered Baptist church in the entire city of Moscow. Today there are 23 in the Moscow Baptist Association. Most of these churches are small, most of them are struggling.”
Of course, Christians also can pray for Bush and his family. He and his wife, Tina, have three children: JD, 10; Caleb, 9; and Sarah, 7.
“Pray that the Lord would lay upon peoples’ hearts a burden for the city of the Moscow,” Bush said. “[Pray] that the Lord would send workers for the harvest. We need workers.”
Abortion’s effects on women kindles seminarian’s compassion January 22, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Tammy Tillman’s desire to see women counseled through the gospel of Christ dates back to her teenage years.
She was a rising high school junior in Tallahassee, Fla., where she had lived all her life. Thanks to her father’s job promotion, Tillman’s family abruptly moved to Lake City, about an hour east of Tallahassee. Though the miles from her hometown were few, to the 16-year-old Tillman it felt at first as if her family were moving to Mars.
Though blindsided by the move, God opened Tillman’s eyes to both her spiritual darkness and the need for Christian counseling.
Although she had grown up in a warm Christian home, Tillman was not converted to Christ until her senior year while in Lake City. God also began another good work in her through a set of circumstances that bordered on tragic.
“One of my close friends tried to commit suicide,” she said. “That had a huge impact on me, and while I was in college God began to use that to open my eyes to the need for Christian counseling. God used me to help her through it.”
The Tillman family spent only a year in Lake City before returning to Tallahassee, but it was a year that transformed Tillman’s life. Today she is earning a master of divinity degree in pastoral counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Tillman’s passion is to offer biblical counsel to other women, which she hopes to do fulltime upon graduation from Southern Seminary.
Last summer she gained profound insight into counseling by working as a post-abortion counselor at A Woman’s Choice Resource Center, a ministry of Southeast Christian Church in downtown Louisville. Southern Seminary professor William Cutrer also ministers at the center.
The desecration left in the wake of abortion was part of the insight Tillman gained.
“There are so many issues and so many problems that arise in the woman’s life following abortion,” she said. “Abortion affects them in mental, physical, emotional and spiritual ways. Some women are made sterile by this because it is a medical procedure.
“There are a lot of things that women don’t know until they [have been] through the abortion because they aren’t told these things.
“Some women suffer from a ‘sleeper’ effect in that they have dreams about killing babies and can’t get it out of their mind, [sometimes for] 25 or 30 years after the abortion. This could be triggered by a sound or a smell that reminds them of it. A lot of women go into promiscuity. Sometimes there is a lot of anger and guilt. There are just dozens of problems caused by abortion.”
Tillman said the greatest delight she and other counselors at the center find is offering the only counsel which will truly heal their souls -- telling them about a better way, of life in Christ.
The gospel provides a healing balm for women who see God as ready to punish their transgressions but not ready to extend forgiveness.
“So many of the women would ask us, ‘How could God forgive me after I have killed my own child?’” Tillman said. “Many of them see God only as one who punishes and not as one who is also full of grace and truth. It is hard for them to accept the fact that there is forgiveness for sinners through the cross.”
Prior to beginning at the counseling center, Tillman said she was concerned that women who were hurting after having fallen into the trap of abortion might be reticent to discuss it with one who has never been through such an experience.
“I would tell them, ‘Maybe I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I have been in your shoes because I am a sinner,’” she said. “But God has had mercy upon me. It was an incredible opportunity to shine light in darkness and expose some of the false beliefs these women had, false beliefs about God, sin and grace.
“I am humbled that God would choose me to work with these precious women, who so need the healing that only the gospel can bring. Watching God work in the lives of these women was an incredible experience.”
The center is located across the street from an abortion clinic. Often women who intended to seek an abortion would stop in at the center thinking it was the clinic, Tillman said. Many times this would be frustrating because the woman would leave and go across the street, she said.
Tillman remembers one 18-year-old girl who was pregnant and came to the center, thinking she was entering the abortion clinic. The girl came with her mother in tow. Both mother and daughter were determined to have the teen’s pregnancy aborted.
“We talked to them about the different stages and all that a woman goes through even after an abortion,” Tillman said. “But the girl didn’t care and her mother felt having an abortion was a good choice. It is not at all rare for mothers to bring their daughters in for an abortion because they think it is the best way.
“We had another girl who said she [wished she] had had somebody like us to counsel with her beforehand because she wouldn’t have gone through with it. When we would hear that, it would make us that much more determined to minister to the needs of these women. A lot of them come back and trust Christ and then live lives that are obviously transformed. God is doing a great work at the women’s center.”
Tillman, who received a bachelor’s degree in human science from Florida State University in 1998, hopes to continue ministering to women after seminary. She is attending Southern Seminary with the goal of becoming a staff counselor for women within a local church.
She sees this as a glaring need within evangelical churches and hopes to see the seed God planted in her as a result of that tenuous high school year grow into a ministry that helps heal hurting women.
“We have a lot of women who are hurting in our churches,” she said. “We have to meet their needs and above all bring those to Christ who do not know him. We have a lot of felt needs, but that is their deepest need.
“Then they will realize that God fixes people who are wounded and hurting. There are women who have had abortions who are within our churches but are ashamed for anybody to know. There are a lot of needs, and my passion is to minister to them.”
Professor doubles as life-saver in crisis pregnancy center January 16, 2003
LOUSVILLE, Ky. (BP)--For more than 20 years seminary professor William Cutrer has taught about abortion, written about it as an author and counseled women against it as a medical doctor.
Still, one thing mystifies him -- why so many local churches seem reluctant to address the issue.
Cutrer is associate professor of Christian ministry and director of the Gheens Center for Christian Family Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Cutrer is also the co-author of “False Positive,” a novel focusing on the sanctity of human life theme set in a crisis pregnancy center, “Deadly Cure,” “Lethal Harvest” and “When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden.”
“The annual Roe vs. Wade observances do bring attention to the horror of abortion,” he said. “Sadly, many churches don’t discuss the issue at all, or simply pass the week by and become calloused to the real genuine human tragedy. The loss of precious life is enormous and the impact on the lives of the women that have had abortions is incredible.
“The church should step forward and speak up on behalf of the babies. (They should) make an impact for the babies and for the generation of women who suffer, often silently, because no one told them the truth before they made their decisions. Grace abounds toward them. May we faithfully get the message out.”
Cutrer is neither a passive observer nor a detached commentator.
He serves as the medical director for “A Woman’s Choice,” a pro-life crisis pregnancy center in downtown Louisville. The center, located across the street from an abortion clinic, is sponsored by Southeast Christian Church -- Louisville’s largest evangelical church -- and supported by other concerned churches in our area.
The clinic offers counseling and medical services for pregnant women. Above all, the clinic seeks to educate women on the truth of pregnancy and abortion.
“Many of our clients come in to our clinic by mistake,” Cutrer said. “They have their appointments for abortion but God’s Spirit directs them to us. We give them the best of care without deception. We tell them we don’t do abortions and we don’t refer for abortions.
“But what we do is offer them the love of God in Christ, free counseling and support, and a free ultrasound if they would like.”
To the contrary, abortion clinics charge at least $200 for a sonogram, Cutrer said, on top of a fee for the procedure that ends the life of the fetus. The further along a woman is in her pregnancy, the higher the fees, he said.
“Women who have been there (the abortion clinic) and come to see us have commented on how clean and friendly our clinic is,” Cutrer said. “They feel safe.”
Last year alone, the clinic was instrumental in turning 350 women away from abortion, convincing them to carry their pregnancies to term. Some put the children up for adoption, while others raised them with assistance from family, friends and even the clinic itself, he said.
One recent technological development has greatly increased the effectiveness of the clinic’s task, giving it a formidable weapon against those that view the fetus as a mere ‘blob of tissue’ -- the 4-D ultrasound.
The new ultrasound allows expectant mothers to see a three-dimensional view of their baby as it moves within the womb.
“The client will see lips, ears, the baby’s mouth opening and closing, fingers and toes,” he said. “It is very dramatic. No one leaves the clinic believing the baby is a ‘blob of tissue’ or a ‘cluster of cells.’
“These terms like ‘products of gestation’ depersonalize the baby, making abortion look like the solution to a problem (and) not the destruction of human life. So, we at the clinic call ‘em like we see ‘em -- these are babies. And it becomes very evident when the client watches the large TV screen that shows the very images I‘m watching on the machine.”
While “A Woman’s Choice” employs this new machine so clients may see their child in flesh tone color, abortion clinics do not allow expectant mothers to see such detail, Cutrer said.
“The abortion clinic doesn’t permit the clients to see what they are seeing,” he said. “It would hurt their business. So the new machine is making an impact. I think most clinics can do a very fine job with the 2-D machine but it would be nice for them to have a center to refer clients to that uses the 4-D.”
Cutrer is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist and has been involved with women’s health care since the late 1970s. Prior to coming to Southern Seminary in 1999, Cutrer spent 15 years in a private medical practice during which time he attended Dallas Theological Seminary. He also served as senior pastor at Wildwood Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, from 1994-97.
He volunteered at crisis pregnancy centers in the 1980s and served as the medical director of a pregnancy resource center in Dallas, where he supervised the medical portion of the ministry.
Cutrer wants local churches to be aware of and support similar pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
“If more of the churches knew of the availability of counseling, support, even legal assistance with adoption, benevolence aid and the medical capabilities, it would help them minister to women,” he said. “I’d like to invite believers to pray for us and the ministry at the clinic.”
Open theism ‘damaging’ to faith, prof says in radio interview January 13, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Those who say God’s knowledge of the future is limited are proposing a dangerous view that counters 2,000 years of Christian belief, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware said recently on a Boston radio program.
Ware appeared on the Chuck Morse Radio Show on WROL-AM Dec. 18 to discuss open theism -- the belief that God does not and cannot know the future free choices people will make. Open theists propose that God, in seeking free responses from people, neither determines nor “foreknows” what they will do.
A vocal critic of open theism, Ware has written a book titled, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism.”
Open theism was the subject of much debate at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in November when members voted to challenge the membership of open theists Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. The vote at the Toronto meeting was 171-131 against Pinnock, 166-143 against Sanders. An ETS committee will review the motion and present its report at next year’s meeting -- possibly recommending their expulsion.
The Evangelical Theological Society is composed of theologians who affirm biblical inerrancy, and Ware is a member.
“They [open theists] are very aware of the criticisms that people like me have raised, but they don’t accept them,” Ware told Morse. “... I view the implications of the open view to be very damaging to the faith of Christian believers -- to be told that the God in whom they trust can make mistakes, and [that he] looks back on his own actions and says, ‘I’m not sure I would have done that if I knew then what I know now.’ It’s a very man-like God to me.”
Christians throughout the centuries have embraced the view that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, Ware asserted.
“This is the classical tradition of the church, and of course this predates all the way back to the early church theologians,” he said. “... The view has been that, yes, God created people with freedom and, yes, God knows every detail of what the future holds before he creates the world. So there’s no surprise to God in terms of how it all comes out in the end.”
Ware said the Bible is full of passages attesting to God’s complete omniscience (or, his knowledge of all things). Ware read Isaiah 46:10, in which God says he declares “the end from the beginning.”
“When God tells us that he wins, that good wins over evil and his Kingdom will triumph, that’s not guesswork, that’s not probability, that’s not hopefulness -- that is God’s knowledge of what will be,” Ware said. “Scripture is filled with examples of and direct teachings about God’s knowledge of and direction of all of history.”
In explaining the balance between God’s direction of human history and human freedom, Ware discussed the Genesis story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.
“No one would question the fact that they chose to sell their brother in Egypt,” he said. “And they did so in a jealous manner and they were held morally accountable for that. But then we find ... Joseph [saying], ‘It was not you who sent them here, but God sent me.’
“The language is not, ‘God made good out of what evil you did,’ [it is instead,] ‘It was God who sent me here.’”
Ware said open theism is a belief system that evangelicals of all stripes reject.
“It’s not like the Arminian view or the Calvinist view or other views that have been held within evangelicalism,” he said. “This is one that most would say is not acceptable.”
Ware discussed several passages open theists often quote. One involves the story of Jonah, another the story of Hezekiah.
In the first example, Jonah tells the people of Nineveh their city will be destroyed in 40 days. But they repent, and Jonah 3:10 says that “God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.” In the second example, found in Isaiah 38, God tells Hezekiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” Hezekiah prays to God, and the Lord adds 15 years to his life.
“The whole point is to elicit a response,” Ware said of the two passages. “Isn’t God telling them what he does for the purpose of the response so that then he can do what he intended all along to do, and that is, in the case of Nineveh, bring forgiveness to them, and in the case of Hezekiah, extend his life?”
Even Jonah himself believed that God would have mercy on Nineveh, Ware said.
“The whole point of the story was Jonah’s reluctance to go there in the first place [and that is] exactly what he said at the end of the book,” Ware said. “Jonah said, ‘I knew that you were a gracious God, compassionate, slow to anger....’ Jonah knew that from the very beginning. That’s why he didn’t want to go. Are we to think that God didn’t know what Jonah knew?
“I think it’s just a superficial reading of those repentance passages to think that God learned something new and changed his mind because of it.”