Saturday, May 8, 2010
"A local church is a manifestation in time and space of the ultimate, heavenly-eschatological assembly of God’s redeemed humanity. Each local church represents what it means to be God’s people by assembling together in one place for worship, encouragement, and accountability; by being a community shaped by the Scriptures; by observing the symbol-laden acts of baptism and the Lord’s supper; by maintaining its purity through church discipline; and by seeking to make disciples of all nations. All of this is to be done under the leadership of elders, the service of deacons, and the rule of the congregation."- by Grant Gaines.
"The local church is a group of people who are united with Christ through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance of sins and who have been united with one another by Christ’s baptism of them into his body by the Holy Spirit. These individuals have then obeyed Christ in receiving the outward physical sign of the basis for the forgiveness of their sins (the death and resurrection of Jesus) and their baptism by the Spirit, namely water baptism by immersion. A local church is led by pastors, served by deacons, administers the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and is governed congregationally under the headship of Jesus Christ by His Word. Local churches should seek to exposit the Scriptures in preaching, exalt the Savior in worship, equip the saints in discipleship, and evangelize sinners as their mission." - by Steve Weaver.
What would be your definition?
Congress established the very first National Day of Prayer on July 20, 1775. The war with England was in its infancy with the battles of Lexington and Concord barely in the history books. The original proclamation began:
“This Congress, therefore, considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state of these colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the 20th day of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English colonies on this continent, as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplication to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events….”
The next proclamation when President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as a “day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” with people of all faiths being encouraged to pray, “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The United States was locked in an undeclared naval war with France and fear gripped many American hearts as victory was in doubt.
On March 30, 1863, the United States was busy going about the business of tearing itself apart over slavery and states rights. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that stated, “the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins.” The proclamation declared a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer,” hoping that God would restore, “our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
The current incarnation of the National Day of Prayer was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on April 17, 1952. The official proclamation called on the American people to, “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” In 1972, the National Day of Prayer Committee was created which soon gave birth to the National Day of Prayer Task Force. In 1988, a bill was introduced in Congress fixing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May. The bill passed and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on May 5. Upon signing the bill, Reagan said, “On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of His justice and thankful for His blessing.”
The National Day of Prayer has a rich history and heritage. How sad it is in our politically correct age that we are no longer spiritually tolerant. The controversy generated by the Pentagon’s disinviting Franklin Graham and the entire National Day of Prayer Task Force is both un-American and unnecessary. Graham has expressed his opinion on the danger of embracing the teaching of Islam concerning jihad and the death of infidels. Not once has he or anyone on the National Day of Prayer Task Force suggested that Muslims be excluded from First Amendment protections against the prohibiting of the exercise of their religion.
The same First Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits Congress from making any law that establishes a particular religion or prohibits the free exercise thereof also protects Franklin Graham’s right of free speech to express his opinion about Islamic fundamentalism.
But in our politically correct age, the criticism of Christianity is welcomed while the truth claims of Christians are under constant fire. Muslim Clerics and Islamic fundamentalists can rail against Christianity without fear of reprisal. Yet Christians are often singled out as being bigoted, homophobic, hatemongers who are ruining our national hedonistic party.
Last month, a federal judge from Wisconsin struck down the National Day of Prayer, ruling that it violates the constitutional ban on government-backed religion. Judge Barbara B. Crabb called the statue “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” Again, the First Amendment, while forbidding Congress from establishing any one religion forbids Congress from doing what Judge Crabb believes she has the right to do ... prohibit the free expression of religious convictions. Since the National Day of Prayer does not elevate one religion over another it does not violate the First Amendment. Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund said, “The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”
Douglas Laycock, a University of Michigan Law School professor said, “Judges have never been absolutists in these establishment clause cases. If they were they would tell the president to stop issuing Thanksgiving proclamations and tell the Treasury Department to take In God We Trust off of our money.”
America is a country that recognizes the “freedom of” not “freedom from” religion. While we recognize and respect an individuals right to reject belief in God, the vast majority fervently defends the right to publically express belief in God. People can be free from religion if they choose but they cannot demand that those of us who believe should lay aside our beliefs so they can be free from religion.
We are a nation of over 300 million people. Fully ninety-two percent say they believe in God. Another eighty-five percent believe in heaven and eighty-two percent believe in miracles. The religion police will have to lock up over ninety-percent of the country if their crusade against free religious expression is successful.
[by Dr. Tony Beam, Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.]
Marking the National Day of Prayer, evangelist Franklin Graham led in prayer Thursday morning at the Pentagon. Not inside the Pentagon, mind you, but outside, where he led a handful of other Christians in silent prayer.
The recent controversy about Franklin Graham is a sign of things to come. The prominent evangelist, son of Billy Graham, is known for his plain-spoken Christian testimony. He is also an internationally known figure as founder and head of Samaritan’s Purse, a highly respected Christian relief agency. He had been scheduled to speak at the Pentagon Thursday for an official National Day of Prayer event. But, just two weeks ago, he was disinvited by Pentagon officials after complaints were made about his statements concerning Islam.
In the words of the official Pentagon spokesperson, Franklin Graham’s statements about Islam were “not appropriate.” Oddly enough, most in the media seem to have forgotten that the Pentagon faced a similar controversy over Franklin Graham and the very same comments in 2003, when he was invited to speak at an official Pentagon Good Friday service. At that time, the Pentagon stalwartly refused to disinvite Graham. Indeed, the official Pentagon spokesperson said at that time: “While I, personally, would not agree with some of Rev. Graham’s comments and observations, I would defend his right to have his religious views as part of the freedom we have as Americans.”
Someone’s mind clearly changed between 2003 and 2010 - and that someone wasn’t Franklin Graham. News reports about the disinvitation this year indicate that the Army acted after criticism came from activist Mikey Weinstein, who opposes virtually all Christian influence in the armed forces.
Graham, who also serves as this year’s honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, complained that his disinvitation represents intolerance toward biblical Christianity and a violation of his religious liberty.
What did Franklin Graham say that caused such a controversy? In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Graham said that Islam is “wicked, violent and not of the same God.” In his book, The Name, Graham said that Christianity and Islam are locked in “a classic struggle that will end with the second coming of Christ.”
In interview after interview, Franklin Graham has repeated his message that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone, that the gospel of Christ is the only message that offers salvation, and that any belief system that leads persons away from that gospel is false and empty. He has also pressed his case when asked about Islam, arguing that Islam is prone to violence and mistreats women - arguments he says are validated by his experience with relief efforts led by Samaritan’s Purse.
In a recent conversation with Jon Meacham and Lisa Miller of Newsweek, Franklin Graham made these points clearly. In the most important statement of that interview, Graham said this: “I am who I am. I don’t believe that you can get to heaven through being a Buddhist or Hindu. I think Muhammad only leads to the grave. Now, that’s what I believe, and I don’t apologize for my faith. And if it’s divisive, I’m sorry.”
Clearly, for Christians the most important issue here is the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faced with mounting criticism from secularist and Islamic organizations, the Department of the Army and the Pentagon faced a hard public test - and they failed that test miserably. They caved into activist pressure and withdrew the invitation.
Even on its face, this was not a smart move. An estimated 80 percent of those enlisted in the U.S. armed forces identify as Christians. Put bluntly, citizens with conservative Christian commitments are far more likely to support and enlist in the armed forces than liberal secularists - and recruiters know that fact very well.
Where would you rather serve as an Army recruiter - Cambridge, Massachusetts or College Station, Texas? The Army sent a clear message by disinviting Franklin Graham, and that message will be both heard and remembered.
Adding insult to injury, the spokesman for the Pentagon made a direct reference to Franklin Graham’s statements about Islam, calling them “not appropriate.” What is clearly “not appropriate” is for a Pentagon spokesperson to render a theological judgment about the statements of Franklin Graham.
Evangelical Christians in the United States had better see a big challenge staring us in the face. Franklin Graham was disinvited by the Pentagon for making statements that are required by faithfulness to the gospel of Christ. As reports make clear, it is not just his statements about Islam being prone to violence that cause offense, it is his statements that Islam is wicked because it does not lead to salvation in Christ that cause the greatest offense.
The Pentagon failed its test, but many more tests will follow. Faithful witness to Christ requires an honest statement about what any false system of belief represents - a form of idolatry and false teaching that leads to eternal damnation. There may be more and less offensive ways of saying that, but there is no way to remove the basic offense to the current cultural mind.
In reality, every evangelical preacher and every individual Christian will face this question - and probably sooner rather than later.
Franklin Graham will not be the last to be tested. Who will be tested next?
[Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s weblog at www.albertmohler.com.]