Scripture doesn’t promise wealth or health or even life. What, then, does it promise?
My grandfather was a preacher at Beaverdam, a black Baptist church in Alabama. Periodically, when his ministry would take him from the pulpit, the associate pastor would step in. The joke around my family was that every time the associate preached, he chose the same text: Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1–14). In the passage, the Spirit takes the prophet to a place where the remains of the dead are strewn about. God commands Ezekiel to preach to them, and when he does, the bones are re-enfleshed and resurrected.
According to my mother, the associate pastor preached on this passage for seven consecutive years. Every time he started in on “them bones,” she and I would give each other a knowing smile and chuckle. Looking back on it now, however, his decision to revisit this story over and over doesn’t seem unreflective or humorous. It seems wise. Maybe Ezekiel’s vision is the answer to the most important question we can ask, especially in this present moment. What will God do in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles? What will he do in a world surrounded by death?
By now, the entire globe is convulsing with death, illness, and economic collapse. COVID-19 has taken the lives of too many, and a certain dread lingers as we wait for the virus to make its way to our communities. There’s not much for us to do but take the advice of professionals, pray for and give to those in need, refresh our news and social media feeds, and wait for test results along with our friends, family members, and neighbors.
The somber season of Lent seems perfectly suited to the moment. This is a time of national lament. But as we turn the corner toward Easter, dare we say more? Dare we speak of ...
Because of Christ's darkest week, he can be with us in ours.
For today’s musical pairing, listen to “Agnus Dei,” Samuel Barber’s own choral arrangement of his “Adagio for Strings.” Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’” Matthew 16:21
The chapters of the Gospels describing the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are often called “passion” narratives. Medieval dramatizations are called “passion plays,” and the most famous rendering of those stories in film is called The Passion of the Christ.
As we enter into Passion Week, it’s worth pausing and asking why this is so. Why do we call these gospel accounts the “passion” of Jesus?
Words have histories, and the history of the word passion is long and illuminating. Passio is the Latin version of the Greek word pathos. For Aristotle and his followers, pathos referred to an affliction or disease. It was something endured passively, and morally it was neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. Later, for the Stoics, the passiones were more associated with longing. We are not afflicted with disease but with desire. Whereas the Aristotelian school opposed passio to actio (passivity to action), the Stoics opposed passio to ratio (desire to reason). The intent of the Stoic was not to endure afflictions patiently but to rise above our desires and yearnings into the higher tranquility ...
Teenagers are at home, activities are shut down, and many of those “lasts” are lost.
It’s the final stretch for the 2020 school year, and in a normal year it would be filled with several “lasts” that help bring closure for teenagers as they move from one grade to another and enter their summer break. Of course, this year is far from normal.
Teenagers are at home, activities are shut down, and many of those “lasts” are lost.
Schools and churches are launching digital programming to deliver content to the generation of our country that is the most digitally native among us. Other generations are learning and exploring this great new digital land where our teenagers have already built settlements and cities. In many ways, it’s their land, and we are invading it.
And, it’s about time.
The teenagers in your church and community need you in this moment to embrace the awkwardness of discovering a new land in order to reach them. They probably won’t say that to you, and you probably won’t get a welcome party, but they need you there with them, and they are worth it.
This generation of teenagers is the most connected generation we’ve seen, and yet the most disconnected at the same time. They have thousands of surface level relationships and conversations while few people in their lives truly know them. Anxiety, loneliness, and depression are serious challenges they were already facing before COVID-19 and sheltering in place gained the potential to morph into isolation.
The message of hope found in Jesus is the conversation your teenagers need right now. They need to hear it from you, and they need to be equipped to have that conversation with their friends. In many ways, student ministry has an opportunity in this moment to equip teenagers to talk about their ...
Evangelical leaders explain why heeding public health experts on COVID-19 doesn’t violate their faith but instead demonstrates it.
Brazil’s churches have landed on the front lines of a disagreement between state governors and President Jair Bolsonaro over the states’ quarantine measures designed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which has sickened more than 11,100 Brazilians and killed 486. Bolsonaro is actively undermining the governors and says a broad lockdown will ultimately destroy Brazil’s economy.
In late March, Bolsonaro passed a decree that added religious activities to the list of “essential services,” meaning sanctuaries could remain open even though citizens were asked to stay home. The decree was overruled by a federal court the following day. On the streets the following Sunday, he again defended people getting back to work.
“Open the churches, please, we need them,” one woman begged repeatedly in one of the videos Bolsonaro posted to social media. He replied with reassuring words.
Political analysts say Bolsonaro is addressing his electoral base—Brazil’s politically powerful Protestants, who helped bring the far-right president to power in the 2018 election—and letting them know they aren’t forgotten. Brazil is home to the world’s largest number of Catholics—some 123 million, according to the last official census. But Protestants are a growing force. The 2010 census counted 42 million believers, about 20 percent of the total population. A survey released in January by Datafolha concluded that Protestants now comprise 1 in 3 Brazilians.
“No political party in Brazil manages to bring together as many people, in as many places, as many times a week as churches do,” Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in São ...
New appeals for digital offerings in Kenya and Rwanda face pushback from congregants sheltering at home and out of work
Pastor Victor Wafula preached to an empty auditorium as he decried low offerings due to low attendance, as his Nairobi congregants remained in their homes due to fear of the new coronavirus.
“We should be worried as preachers when people don’t come to church due to fear of COVID-19,” he said, pacing around the pulpit at Kibera United Kingdom Church with a microphone at hand. “Today the seats are empty and we will have no offerings and tithes. How are we going to survive?”
Wafula, who hired a few members to videotape his March 22 sermon and later post it on Facebook for the wider congregation to watch from their homes, further encouraged members to give via mobile money transfer or online payment platforms. Many of his congregants live in Kibera, the largest urban slum in all of Africa.
“Let’s honor God with our finances and stay faithful to him,” he said. “Coronavirus should not be the reason for people not to tithe. … If we give out our offering, then truly God can end this virus.”
Wafula’s appeal came two weeks after Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, suspended religious gatherings and worship services across the country indefinitely to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 disease, which has resulted in 6 deaths and more than 150 confirmed cases in the country.
Governments across Africa have likewise suspended church services among other measures to curb the outbreak. Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Gabon have banned flights from affected countries, while Morocco has suspended all international travel. Rwanda and Mali have added quarantines for travelers from affected countries.
Schools run by churches have also been shut down, and pilgrimages for ...
I think we finally are beginning to realize we need God.
As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeps across our country, confining us to another month at home, some have asked me, “Are we on the verge of a spiritual awakening?”
There are some hopeful signs.
In many ways, we now are doing the very things we should have been doing all along: Spending time with our families, sharing meals, talking to our neighbors, helping one another and taking long walks outside (while maintaining social distancing of course).
And there are other hopeful trends. For example, some distilleries are stepping in and producing hand sanitizer instead of booze. It reminds me of the verse that says, “They will beat their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4). But instead it appears we are turning our scotch into sanitizer and our piña coladas into Purell!
I also have heard good news on several fronts: less abortions are being performed, and crime rates in some parts of the country have plummeted since the stay-at-home orders were issued.
These are all good things, but then there is the unthinkable tragedy of people dying every day from COVID-19. It is this very thing, the fear of death, the acknowledgement of the fragility of life, that has been a wake-up call for many.
In some ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to consider the afterlife and their relationship with God by knocking down all our false gods.
For people that worshipped sports, the stadiums are closed and no games are being played.
For others who idolized musicians, the civic centers are closed and the concerts are canceled.
For those that had such fawning admiration for actors, the theaters are shuttered and no new films are coming.
For even others who bowed at the altar of money, the stock market is generally down and ...
It isn’t end-times fascination that explains the enduring bond between evangelicals and Israel.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president baptized in office. Shortly after his inauguration, Edward L. R. Elson of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington baptized the president in a private ceremony.
For several reasons, Elson was an interesting figure during America’s civil-religious awakening of the 1950s. First, he was the president’s pastor. Second, he was a pretty effusive flatterer of leaders in high office. He peppered Secretary of State John Foster Dulles with invitations to attend numerous church events, laying it on thick with encomia like “Let me tell you how superlatively I believe you are handling your high office.” Third, he frequently took the liberty of giving Dulles advice on how to handle affairs of state. And fourth, he was a committed anti-Zionist. Beginning in 1954, Elson was a board member of the American Friends of the Middle East, an anti-Zionist front group sponsored by the CIA. He was determined to get Dulles to assist him in advancing the AFME’s mission.
Elson could be startlingly forward with the secretary of state. In 1955, Elson wrote to Dulles, asking how the AFME might be “of increased usefulness at this trying time of American relations in this area.” In 1957, he invited Dulles to a dinner with Cornelius Engert, one of the AFME’s founders, to discuss Middle East strategy. (Dulles’s staff, noting that the AFME was “a partisan Arab group,” declined the invitation on his behalf.) And in 1958, Elson had the audacity to insist that Dulles make a special stop in Egypt on the way to a Baghdad Pact meeting in Ankara because “some of our real and trusted friends would be greatly encouraged by your personal appearance ...
Socially distant festivities include grab bags, virtual hunts, and coronavirus outreach.
Just as churches have gotten the hang of digital worship and socially distant ministry, they must pivot to another challenge: Easter.
Over weeks of planning, leaders have grappled with how to mark the church’s most theologically significant celebration, Christ’s victory over death, when members cannot gather and the sting of death hovers so near.
Should they re-tool the traditional egg hunts and activities that accompanied the celebration and provided a bridge to the community? Should they instead channel Easter celebrations toward the neighbors and community members who could use a boost right now? Or do they settle for an online Easter that might not feel as jubilant and victorious as a typical Easter morning?
From take-home projects to virtual egg hunts to service opportunities, churches are finding creative ways to pierce the darkness of the pandemic and mark Resurrection Sunday.
According to a new survey from LifeWay Research, half of churches have known for weeks that they will not be together in person for Easter. A small number (3%) say they will have an in-person gathering no matter what, but the vast majority of US Christians will be proclaiming “He is risen!” and “Alleluia!” from the confines of their own homes.
Egg hunts to-go
Rachel Thompson was disappointed when she realized that Bethel Grove Bible Church in Ithaca, New York, could not host its annual Easter egg hunt. The event had attracted 800 attendees last year, and they’d hoped to draw in even more.
She and her husband, Jeff, got approval from the church’s mission committee to host an Easter egg hunt to-go. On Saturday, hundreds of participants drove up to the church parking lot to pick up bags with pre-filled eggs, ...
Coronavirus interrupts excavation projects across Israel.
The nation’s leading evangelical archaeology program is closing, partly in response to COVID-19. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) will shut down its archaeology program in May, terminating five professors and discontinuing its degree program, which currently has more than 25 graduate students.
The decision came as “part of campus-wide budgetary reductions necessitated by the financial challenges associated with COVID-19,” according to a statement SWBTS sent to Christianity Today.
The change is also part of an “institutional reset,” according to the statement. The former president of SWBTS, Paige Patterson, was forced out in 2018 after the board of trustees determined he had mishandled two cases of seminary students reporting they had been raped. The following year, the new president, Adam W. Greenway, said the seminary needed to “recalibrate” and return to its core commitments.
The archaeology program was not part of that vision. “We will no longer offer degrees in archaeology,” the SWBTS statement said, “because they are incongruent with our mission to maximize resources in the training of pastors and other ministers of the gospel for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The Fort Worth, Texas, school is the third-largest Protestant seminary in the United States, measured by full-time enrollment. The Tandy Institute for Archaeolgy was started in 1983 with a $100,000 donation and a vision for training committed Christians who believed in the historical claims of the Bible to lead the field of biblical archaeology. The school launched a graduate program in 2007 and is currently the only evangelical institution offering a doctoral degree ...
What difference does it make that Jesus died upon the cross? That he rose again? You may be quick to answer—for we know these answers well and they are dear to us. Jesus paid the price for our sin. He dealt a victory blow to death. He made the way for eternal life. But what difference does the Cross make in our actual daily lives—in our relationships or our work or our inner thoughts?
The Cross changed everything on a cosmic scale, and it is also continually changing everything for each of us on a personal scale. The Cross shapes us, inviting and enabling us to become more like Christ. Below are the articles featured in “The Cross,” CT’s special issue for Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter season. In these articles, we explore not only what the Cross and the Resurrection have to say theologically but also how they transform our here-and-now reality.
The mission of our church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and environmental needs of all people by spreading the good news of Christ's redeeming gospel through the preached word and outreach ministries and activities. Christ has called us to seek and to save all those who will believe and call on the name of Jesus and accept Him as Savior and Lord!