Jesus’ return to heaven was not an awkward stage exit but the climax of our redemption story.
For a long time, I never really understood the Ascension.
To me, the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 seemed eminently reasonable. Why did Jesus have to go? Why not just usher in the fullness of the kingdom then and there, and start wrapping the whole thing up? Wouldn’t it be a great asset to our labors in missions and apologetics to have Jesus still around?
As it stands, the Ascension plays right into the skeptic’s darkest doubts about the gospel narrative. How convenient that the supposedly risen Messiah should vanish without showing himself to anyone other than his friends and family!
The Bible, however, stubbornly refuses to agree with my sensibilities. Far from treating the Ascension as a weird stage exit whose main function is to explain why Jesus isn’t around anymore, Scripture speaks of it as a necessary part of God’s plan. Not only is it necessary, but the disciples even refer to it as a primary proof of Jesus’ messianic identity.
Rather than trying to explain away his absence, they tout it with vigor. The Ascension stands on equal footing with the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the earliest declarations of the gospel (Acts 2:33–36; 3:18–21; 5:30–31).
Even Jesus connects the Ascension with his work of dying and rising again. When Mary Magdalene sees him in the garden after his resurrection, he’s not simply strolling about, enjoying the fact that everything has been accomplished. No, he’s a man on a mission, and there is still another: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn. 20:17).
Yet in my experience within evangelical churches, I have seldom heard the Ascension preached with emphasis ...
Joel Taylor, who directed the popular label since the beginning, has resigned.
Millions of Christians would not be gathering to “Raise a Hallelujah” had it not been for Joel Taylor, the producer and executive who helped to lead Bethel Music from a worship ministry to a major label.
Taylor announced last week that he was resigning “after 13 wonderful and challenging years” as CEO of Bethel Music. During that time, the organization captivated Christian listeners with long, spontaneous worship sets and harnessed its digital brand with high-quality music videos.
“When we founded the label, we knew God was going to use us to build something special,” Taylor wrote on Instagram. “But God’s plan was even bigger than our dreams … and we had big dreams.”
The launch of Bethel Music under Taylor in 2010—when the label was cofounded by worship pastors Brian and Jenn Johnson—coincided with a notable rise in the popularity of worship music for consumption via radio, streaming, and live performance.
“They didn’t play worship on the radio back then, and they told us we wouldn’t ever be on the radio. When we wanted to bring worship to the world on tour, we were told people wouldn’t host us,” Taylor wrote. “We had to listen to God and believe in our hearts the ‘impossible’ could happen.”
Bethel Music began as an extension of the music ministry at the Redding, California, charismatic megachurch. Within the first couple years, the budding label had released worship hits like “Love Came Down” and “One Thing Remains.” From 2014 to today, its singles have consistently landed on the Christian charts, with six songs reaching ...
Biblical Hebrew uses similar names for “vanity” and the slain brother. That’s no accident.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” So says Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, as he begins his reflections. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
For many, these words resound with a skeptical and, some may say, nihilistic tone. But must they? Russell L. Meek, a gifted Old Testament scholar at Moody Theological Seminary, has endeavored to answer this question in his new book, Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning in an Upside-Down World.
Meek seamlessly weaves together scholarly insight, theological profundity, pastoral tact, and moving anecdotes drawn from his own experiences with pain, abuse, sin, and ultimately redemption in Christ. His work is quaint and accessible. I believe it will bless discouraged ministers and laypeople alike, and perhaps would make an excellent guide for a small group study or Sunday School class working through the book of Ecclesiastes.
Well-acquainted with ‘Abel-ness’
Meek begins by observing how Qohelet portrays our upside-down world—one tainted by human sinfulness and still reeling (to borrow from John Milton) from paradise lost. Meek suggests that Qohelet uses the creation narrative of Genesis “to remind us that sin is the ultimate cause for death and injustice in life.”
And yet, as Meek puts it, Qohelet teaches that when we enjoy “fleeting gifts from God,” we “return to the good that once was,” with “God’s gifts represent[ing] a portion of life before sin.” He further notes that, for Qohelet, even in a fallen world, God’s justice may be delayed (Ecc. 8:11), but it is never denied (3:17, 8:12, 12:14).
As for the time between the lost paradise of Eden and the arrival of God’s final ...
More change needed, survivors say, but new lawyers bring signs of hope.
Days after a bombshell investigative report, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee (EC) decided to do what previous leaders refused to for 15 years: release a list of pastors who had been credibly accused of abuse.
Sitting on either side of interim EC president Willie McLaurin during a meeting over Zoom on Tuesday, a new pair of lawyers discussed the EC’s initial response. They proposed immediately issuing a statement repudiating the dismissive stance EC leaders had taken toward victims in the past and making public a list of 700 alleged abusers that former leaders kept in secret.
The quick moves contrast with the historic approach captured in the investigative report and in last year’s meetings, where ascending liability was a common talking point and lawyers defaulted to closed-door session to advise the trustees.
“We have become too familiar with using techniques to slow processes down,” said SBC president Ed Litton. “We need to be very mindful that the world is watching, and they don’t need to see business as usual… we have to do this right.”
The two lawyers from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP—Gene Besen and Scarlett Singleton Nokes—began as outside legal counsel at the start of the year. They spoke openly in the meeting, with Nokes reflecting on her faith and the need for the fruit of “gentleness” to drive the EC’s work on this issue going forward.
On Twitter, survivor Jennifer Lyell called them “the most positive consequential thing to happen in the @sbcexeccomm in the past 20 years.”
It’s the first time in a generation the EC has been represented by attorneys other than Jim Guenther and Jaime Jordan. ...
In England, some rally to restore aging and emptying Anglican sites, while diverse congregations look beyond traditional sanctuaries.
A survey released by evangelical organizations in the United Kingdom last month found that, while around half of the country’s population identify as Christian, only 6 percent are “practicing” and active enough in their faith to attend church at least once a month.
The attendance decline is one reason over 2,000 churches have closed during the last decade. Communities are grappling with whether or how to save the historic buildings as new expressions emerge through church planting.
“If you were running a commercial organization, and you had a branch on every single High Street in the country but dwindling numbers of people visiting them, you would go bust if you didn’t close some branches,” said Theos senior fellow Nick Spencer. “That is the reality facing the church.”
The number of churches in the UK fell from 42,000 to 39,800 in a ten-year span, according to a 2021 report from the Brierley Research Consultancy.
“If you have churches in rural areas, and there are fewer people going into them, and indeed fewer people living in rural areas, and you don’t have the money to keep churches going, then they’re likely to close,” Spencer said.
64 scholars sign document they hope will ground more Christians in holiness doctrines.
Sixty-four scholars and theologians have signed on to a “Wesleyan witness,” a six-part, 62-page document they hope will shape the future of Methodism, define orthodox Wesleyanism, and ground more Christians in the story of sanctification and restoration through grace.
“This is classic, orthodox Wesleyan theology,” said Asbury University New Testament professor Suzanne Nicholson, who is one of the authors. “The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the power of sin. It doesn’t matter your class, your race, your gender, God is at work among the faithful, and that leads us to a full-orbed devotion to who God is.”
“The Faith Once Delivered” was first drafted in January at a summit for “The Next Methodism.” Scholars allied with the evangelical wing of the United Methodist Church, as well as holiness and Pentecostal denominations, came together, formed five working groups, and co-wrote statements on five theological topics: the nature of God, Creation, revelation, salvation, and the church. A sixth section on eschatology or “the fullness of time” was added later.
Three editors—Wesleyan scholars Ryan Danker, Jonathan Powers, and Kevin Watson—revised the final document. It was published online by the John Wesley Institute on Monday.
Danker, who is director of the institute, told CT the document is not intended to be polemical, or even really original. The hope is to offer “a constructive voice” that clearly articulates the Wesleyan understanding of Christian orthodoxy.
“These are faithful Wesleyan scholars who are committed to the faith once delivered, to Nicene Christianity,” he said. “Methodism is entering a period ...
While a win for religious liberty, the Ramirez ruling will take a traumatic toll on an already burdened profession.
On April 21, 2022, the state of Texas executed 78-year-old Carl Buntion, who shot and killed police officer James Irby in 1990.
But Buntion wasn’t alone when he died. Beyond the usual prison staff, his spiritual adviser Barbara Laubenthal was also in attendance at his execution. She had come to know “Carl” as the man he became after serving three decades behind bars.
Later, Laubenthal admits she felt deeply affected by her experience. In a statement on Twitter, the political activist said: “After witnessing tonight how a human being was killed in front of our eyes, we are convinced more than ever that the death penalty is inhumane and has no place in a democracy in the 21st century.”
Her shock is not unique—even among those who support the death penalty. And with a recent Supreme Court decision, this traumatic experience will soon be shared by many other faith leaders across the nation.
Thanks to the March 24, 2022, ruling in Ramirez v. Collier, death row inmates will now have more access to a spiritual adviser of their choosing in their final moments.
As a pastor of 17 years, I have witnessed death firsthand in hospitals and homes. The ministerial calling often requires going into uncomfortable or difficult situations that I will never forget. The moment I read about the religious liberty victory of the Ramirez ruling I was conflicted. What if I was asked to be there?
In 2004, Texas inmate John Henry Ramirez robbed and then stabbed convenience store cashier Pablo Castro 29 times. Texas law has fluctuated regarding access to chaplains, but the Ramirez case was unique in that he requested his pastor maintain physical contact with him as he passed. He won.
(UPDATED) Traditionalist minority worry disagreement on the issue will make it harder to work together on mission.
Update (May 23): Church of Scotland ministers are now permitted to perform same-sex marriages if they choose.
The church’s General Assembly approved an overture that allows parish ministers and deacons to apply for authorization to marry same-sex couples. It passed on Monday by a 274-136 vote.
The Presbyterian denomination is preparing new suggested liturgy to bless same-sex marriages as well as guidance for the change in church law.
Those in favor of same-sex marriage have celebrated the move as welcoming, but others in the church fear that even though they would not be forced to participate, the move puts pastors who oppose same-sex marriage in a more difficult position.
“When asked, ‘Can you marry us?’, the answer will have to be, ‘No, because I choose not to,’ rather than, ‘No, that’s something that I cannot do,’” Ben Thorpe, a minister at Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church in Glasgow told The Independent, “and that creates pastoral difficulties as well for everyone on both sides of the debate.”
The moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, Iain Greenshields, acknowledged the diversity of beliefs on the issue among the church, which has debated the move for years, as well as the pastoral implications.
He advised that “all celebrants would be expected to take account of the peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part while considering to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony."
Original post (April 29): The Church of Scotland—the largest Protestant church in the country—is another step closer to allowing its ministers to officiate same-sex weddings. ...
A new biography captures the misunderstood faith of Huldrych Zwingli.
Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) has not usually fared well at the hands of historians. Whether cast as Martin Luther’s antagonist or as John Calvin’s (largely forgotten) understudy, the Zurich reformer has been widely misunderstood, oftentimes vilified, and frequently ignored. Even in death, Zwingli proved to be controversial: Though a fierce opponent of the Swiss mercenary system, he perished in battle, sword in hand, seeking to extend Reformed Christianity to neighboring Catholic territories.
In his insightful new biography, Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet, historian Bruce Gordon offers a compelling interpretation of this 16th-century preacher, theologian, political strategist, and self-styled prophet, demonstrating that Zwingli’s creative vision of church, sacrament, and sacred community forged a new form of Christianity that came to be known as the Reformed faith. For Gordon, Zwingli’s creative but combative leadership in Zurich proved to be “remarkably generative, fecund, and destructive.”
The embattled reformer
Born in the high Alpine village of Wildhaus on January 1, 1484, the boy Huldrych Zwingli grew up in a world of subsistence farming, Catholic piety, and stunning natural beauty. From an early age, he developed a deep attachment to the Swiss Confederation, its land and people.
Zwingli’s formal schooling took him to Basel, Bern, Vienna, and then back to Basel (where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1504 and a master’s in 1506). This academic journey instilled in him a permanent love for humanistic learning, including the study of classical Greek and Roman literature, the mastery of the biblical languages, and the application of Scripture for the renewal of ...
Even if the pills and procedures seem similar to elective abortion, doctors know the difference between treatment when a pregnancy ends and treatment to end a pregnancy.
Roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and one in 50 pregnancies will be diagnosed as ectopic pregnancies, a potentially fatal condition in which an embryo develops outside the mother’s uterus.
Both miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy can be physically and emotionally painful. For Christians who believe human life begins at conception, losing a baby even early in pregnancy is a singular kind of grief. There are ministries for families suffering miscarriages, and many churches hold funerals or memorial services for babies who have died before they were born.
But pregnancy losses aren’t merely a spiritual matter. They also have a clinical term: abortion. Miscarriages are described in medical language as “spontaneous abortions.”
That can lead to confusion as Americans debate abortion policy after a leaked draft opinion from the US Supreme Court signaled the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Outside of a medical context, “abortion” is used colloquially to describe “elective abortion,” or the intentional killing of a healthy and growing preborn child.
In the aftermath of the leaked opinion, some abortion advocates have suggested that new abortion restrictions enacted could endanger health care for pregnant women. They worry that pregnancies that end through miscarriages or as a result of ectopic pregnancies will be wrapped into the new state laws.
But many Christian ob-gyns, including those at major antiabortion institutions, such as the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) say restrictions on elective abortions have nothing to do with miscarriage care.
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