ARE DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES FULFILLING GOD’S PURPOSE?

Roger E. Olson is Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas (USA). This is his testimony about a Southern Baptist denomination in the USA.

I recently received the Summer 2021 issue of my current Baptist denomination magazine. This denomination, like many, denies being a denomination and calls itself a fellowship of churches but, sociologically, anyway, it is a denomination. I am still a member of one of its affiliated churches and was a member of another one for many years. I won’t go into the reasons I changed congregations but it had a woman pastor.

The magazine I referred to above (Summer 2021) is about my current Baptist denomination’s impact on the world and contains stories from around the world about its field personnel. (The words missionary and missionaries are notably missing). The magazine contains about ten articles profiling this Baptist denomination’s work in America and many countries. I sat down and read every article, even every word of the magazine. Notably missing, so far as I can tell, is any mention of evangelism, telling people about Jesus and inviting them to accept him as Savior and Lord, or conversion. Everything is about social work, advocacy for the disadvantaged, and offering suffering people hospitality and hope. But nary a word about inviting people to become Christians or even just to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

One article says that the deepest root of our Baptist story is freedom of religion or belief for all. That is an important emphasis of traditional Baptist belief and practice, but is it the deepest root of our Baptist story? I don’t think so. Baptists are Christians (or should be) and the deepest root of our story, together with all true Christians, is Jesus Christ and the gospel. I failed to find the gospel of Jesus Christ explicitly mentioned in this magazine which makes my heart sink. Twenty-two years ago, when I first entered this fellowship, this Baptist denomination, I researched it, met some of its leaders, joined one of its leading congregations, began teaching at a seminary affiliated with it, and knew that it was Jesus-centered and gospel-centered and mission and witness-centered. I am sure they will say they still are all of those things, but this magazine leads me to think otherwise.

Lacking is any conversion story or any story of a partner who leads someone to faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing even remotely approaching that appears in the magazine so far as I can tell.

Put this together with the testimony I heard not long ago at my church and I am convinced, but willing to be unconvinced, that this denomination has lost its way. She is a paid partner of the denomination working with immigrants to the United States. She talked endlessly about transforming initiatives but failed even once to mention witness to Jesus Christ. The transforming initiatives were/are what the magazine calls offering hospitality and hope to people with physical and emotional needs. Not once during her thirty-minute presentation did she say anything about telling people about Jesus.

Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that my denomination is no longer evangelical, even in a broad sense. I am open to correction, but someone from the denomination will have to tell me how and where its partners in America and around the world are actively inviting people to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by faith in him (conversion).

I believe the “end times” church will be like the church described in the Book of Acts and the church in countries where Christians are already under persecution. Check out http://www.HouseChurches.net and http://www.smallgroups.com

GOD USES CATASTROPHES FOR HIS PURPOSES

Just as Covid has caused massive disruption to the world now we have Russia invading Ukraine which has caused an enormous refugee crisis. Just as we see in the Book of Acts, catastrophes are opportunities for the church to innovate and to step in and help.

In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts, the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.

Churches in countries neighboring Ukraine have opened their doors to shelter and aid refugees as the United Nations refugee agency estimated Thursday that 1 million people have fled the Eastern European nation since the beginning of Russia’s invasion last week. 

“In just seven days, 1 million people have fled Ukraine, uprooted by this senseless war,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one.”

Many of the displaced have fled to neighboring countries such as Poland, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary, while many more remain in Ukraine. 

Churches in neighboring countries are among community centers and camps sheltering refugees who’ve fled from the violence, with some seeing hundreds of Ukrainians coming and going in recent days. 

Refugees from Ukraine are pictured after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border in Korczowa on March 02, 2022. – The number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has surged to nearly 875,000, UN figures showed on March 2, as fighting intensified on day seven of Russia’s invasion

As Poland has taken the brunt of the Ukrainian refugees, one church that has served as many as 400 refugees is a Baptist church in Chelm. According to the Baptist Federation of Europe, the church is “filled with life” as it has pushed its pews out of the way to make room for beds. 

“It is not tension that you feel as you enter the building but life, peace, and joy,” a statement from the federation reads. “Children laugh and play while mothers prepare for onward journeys. The church piano plays a variety of tunes, none of the hymns, as the children practice their piano lessons.”

“Pews are in the pulpit and beds fill the sanctuary, the balcony, and every available space,” the statement adds. “Ukrainian and Polish families work side by side, making food, receiving donations, and cleaning the toilets. The laundry vibrates as the three new washing machines continue their endless 24-hour cycle. The supply rooms are full of children excitedly selecting new clothes and discovering new toys that have been donated.”

The church’s kitchen has supplied soup, snacks, and hot meals for the refugees arriving while packing lunches for the refugees that depart. The church receives help from local hotels that provide clean linen for the beds. 

The Polish Baptist Union hopes to house as many as 1,000 refugees. Polish Baptists have established 40 shelter camps. The PBU provides the camps with bedding items, food, and hygiene items, while Send Relief, IMB’s relief arm, provides funds to assist in the relief efforts. 

First Baptist Church of Gdasnk, Poland, will host one of the refugee centers, according to IMB missionary Ken Brownd. “It’s just cool to see Polish Baptists stepping up and taking care of their neighbors. They’ve done that for a long time now, but this is a different level,” Brownd was quoted as saying in an IMB report “Our team is trying to organize the Send Relief help … but really, this is mostly driven by Polish Baptists, so we’re not the main players in this at all. We’re helpers, and so it’s amazing.”

If nothing else Christians all around the world need to be in prayer and look for ways to financially support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and the surrounding nations that are reaching out to help the refugees.