Sunday, March 17, 2013

The 3 - March 17, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" includes a major conference held in Atlanta bringing over 2 thousand pastors and church leaders together to be encouraged and equipped.   Also, a different sort of conference convened later in the week, bringing together political conservatives, with a significant number, I would imagine, being Christian evangelicals.   And, the big news from the world of religion, the selection of a new Pope - I'll include some insight on why this election can be important to all Christian believers.

3 - "Drive" conference motivates and challenges pastors and church leaders

When you have over 2400 pastors and ministry leaders representing some 700 organizations from 25 countries, you know you have a potentially transformative event.   Those were the numbers from the largest-ever "Drive" conference, held this week at North Point Community Church outside Atlanta, where Senior Pastor Andy Stanley welcomed attendees in the opening session, saying, according to The Christian Post that, "We're a big church but there's a lot of stuff we're still figuring out and we're constantly learning from each other...We've discovered that size isn't the important issue, but rather a sense of creativity and shared ideas."

This is the seventh Drive Conference and the largest number of attendees ever.  The theme this year was, "Go Further Faster."  It sold out weeks ago, and there were hundreds of people who registered to watch online.  Clay Scroggins, lead pastor at Browns Bridge Community Church in Cumming, GA, one of the North Point churches, who was one of this year's emcees, was quoted by the Post as saying, "We all want to grow and see God do more, and our prayer is that this conference will leave you inspired, motivated, challenged, and equipped to go further faster in your ministry."

In the opening message, titled "Breaking the Ice," Gavin Adams, lead pastor of Watermarke Church in Canton, GA, another church affiliated with North Point Ministries, challenged pastors and ministry leaders to personally engage with unchurched people and focus on conversations rather than confrontation and condemnation.

Highlighting the apostle Paul's exhortation in Colossians 4:3-6, Adams spoke of what it means to "be wise in the way you act toward outsiders" and emphasized the need for followers of Christ to listen intently, seek to understand, and build relationships rather than simply pushing an agenda or lecturing others about their behavior.

There is a yearning for pastoral leaders to be equipped and to fellowship with like-minded leaders, and this conference has a potential to help those leaders to strategize and to positively impact their congregations.

2 - Religious freedom theme present during CPAC 

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, attracts conservatives from all across America to hear from a variety of high-profile speakers, including potential Presidential candidates, such as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and others who spoke this year.  Paul edged out Rubio in the 2016 straw poll, by the way.  Traditional conservative thought leaders such as Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann were part of the speaker lineup, which also featured 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

There were a number of pro-life panels at the conference, including one hosted by Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink, which featured David Altrogge, who wrote and directed a film called, “3801 Lancaster, " which follows the unfolding story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, an abortionist facing eight murder charges.  Altrogge said during the panel that, “The trial is going to begin Monday and we plan on continuing to follow the story and the case as it begins to unfold...We have also begun to hear about clinics much like Gosnell’s operating in other states. In fact, we were just on the ground in another state beginning to work on a documentary about a clinic that’s operating and the parallels are quite terrifying.”

Also, religious freedom was a topic that was addressed by two speakers, both featured at past National Prayer Breakfast events - this year's Breakfast speaker Dr. Ben Carson and last year's speaker, Eric Metaxas.  According to The Christian Post, Metaxas, whose most recent book is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said that he found himself thinking more about religious freedom in America as he put together the book about the German theologian.   Metaxas believes there are some "disturbing parallels" between what was taking place in Germany in the 1930s and the United States today on the issue of religious freedom.

"When a government bullies a minority, instead of protecting a minority," Metaxas said, "that is the beginning of the end of America."   He extrapolated the situation in pre-World War II Germany to the current situation involving government telling religious organizations that they must violate their conscience in order to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. 

Dr. Carson, who is a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, told the CPAC crowd, We have to resist this war on God...People don't want to talk about God and don't you ever dare mention Jesus Christ. And this is supposed to be a country where we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech? It is absolutely absurd."

After their respective speeches, Carson and Metaxas appeared on stage together.  Metaxas said to Carson regarding his Prayer Breakfast speech, "I thought you spoke with grace and civility...I was dismayed that the punditocracy, most of the folks in the conservative world, were kinda spiking the ball and doing the end zone dance at what you said, which colored those remarks in a way that, I thought, was not appropriate."

"I just want to say to my fellow conservatives," Metaxas continued. "We need to express the truth in civility and love, otherwise, it's magically not the truth anymore."

In an era where conservative values in many instances line up with Biblical truth, there is common ground on which Christians can be influential.  It is important that Christians are seen not as purely political in our ambition, but as people who are devoted to living out God's truth in love, people who hold to strong convictions without compromise, but who express our conviction in winning, rather than repelling, ways.

1 - Pope Francis I elected by cardinals

This past week, on the fifth ballot, the 115 Roman Catholic Cardinals meeting at the Sistene Chapel in the Vatican in Rome decided to name the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio, as the new Pope.   It takes two-thirds of those voting in order to elect the Pope.  Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis I, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.    Bergoglio had placed second in the last Papal election, when Benedict XVI was selected.

The election of the Pope is of utmost concern to Christians who are non-Catholic, including evangelicals.  The Pope, as evidenced during Benedict's term, can be a clear voice in this world for teaching that is consistent with the Bible.  Catholic believers have been quite outspoken on the abortion issue and other matters pertaining to life.  And, the Pope can present strong moral clarity for a host of other issues, as well as an awareness of God and His relevance in our world today.

So, it is not surprising that evangelical leaders speak out about the selection of a new Pope.  Well-known evangelist  Luis Palau, a fellow Argentine, shared with Christianity Today what he thought that evangelicals can expect from Pope Francis:
He's a man of strong convictions. He isn't swayed by the powers that be of any kind, even political. He's very strong on moral issues. I think we'll see a papacy that will make relations easier and lessen tensions. It doesn't mean [evangelicals and Catholics] will agree on every angle; that should be said. He is the Roman Catholic pope, and there are issues that need to be talked about, prayed about, looked at the Bible about. … Those differences in doctrine are there, but when there's a proper attitude toward one another and to the word of God, and you take it seriously, light comes from the Lord.
 Conservative, evangelical leader Gary Bauer wrote in USA Today regarding Catholics and evangelicals:
We both champion the idea -- the truth -- that there are reliable standards of right and wrong to which all institutions, including government, must adhere. We stand together in proclaiming that all human life has equal dignity and worth. And we stand together in defending the traditional and time-honored conception of marriage as a union of one man and one woman...

Beyond politics, the West is suffering from what can be called a crisis of brokenness -- broken institutions, broken families and broken souls. In a society in which there seem to be fewer citizens who understand where our liberty comes from (God), strong churches -- evangelical and Catholic -- are essential.

As an evangelical, I was delighted that the last two popes were moral and theological giants. Together, John Paul II and Benedict XVI gained many evangelical admirers by preaching against the "culture of death" and the "dictatorship of relativism" and for a "culture of life."
Baptist Press featured a summary of the background of Pope Francis I, as well as the papacy itself.    Quoting the Westminster Dictionary of Church History, the piece points out that today, Catholic doctrine holds that the pope is "the representative (vicar or vicegerent) of Christ on earth, and that his solemn official pronouncements on matters of faith and morals are infallible, safeguarded from error by God."

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote after Pope John Paul II's death in 2005 that evangelicals "simply cannot accept the legitimacy of the papacy and must resist and reject claims of papal authority.  To do otherwise would be to compromise biblical truth and reverse the Reformation."  

So, while there will be differences in doctrine and the viewpoint on on papal authority, we also recognize that Catholics and evangelicals can be powerful allies in building a culture of grace and stifling the increasing secularization of our society.

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