Ministry News

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Vatican to Priests: Don’t Offend the Homosexuals

Just how far has the gay agenda expanded in the last decade? The Vatican released a pamphlet last week warning Roman Catholic priests not to use any language in their parishes that might be deemed offensive to gays and lesbians. The brochure, created by bishops and given to those priests under them, instructs priests to no longer assume every parishioner is heterosexual and therefore to refrain from using "heterosexist" language: "Remember that homophobic jokes and asides can be cruel and hurtful—a careless word can mean another experience of rejection and pain." Adding insult to injury, priests have also been told to put up posters promoting various "support services" for homosexuals attending church.

"It is things like this that are enfeebling the Church at the moment—the concentration on things that don't matter and missing the things that do," commented Catholic author and activist Lynette Burrows. "What is pitiful as well as demeaning is that the Church is running after homosexual opinion but nothing is going to make homosexuals like the Catholic Church. This is because the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is a disorder and whatever the bishops say will not change that." [dailymail.co.uk, 11/29/08; UPI, 11/29/08] read more

Pledging to God

George M. Docherty, the Washington, D.C., pastor credited with helping to insert the phrase "under God" in the United States' Pledge of Allegiance, died of a heart ailment Thanksgiving day at the age of 97. Originally from Scotland, Docherty served for 26 years as pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, the historic downtown church attended by Abraham Lincoln and many other presidents.

In 1952, Docherty heard his 7-year-old son recite the pledge—which he was unfamiliar with at the time—and decided to preach a sermon urging that the pledge to the flag be amended. "To omit the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life," he said, adding that the Godless pledge was just as applicable to the then-communist Soviet Union. "I could hear little Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity."

His original sermon did little to change things. But on Feb. 7, 1954, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in attendance, Docherty repeated his message—only this time with near-instant results. Congress introduced a bill that same week, and Eisenhower signed the "under God" act four months later.

In his later years, Docherty addressed those who criticized the inclusion of God's name in the pledge as a violation of church-and-state separation. He believed the phrase "under God" was broad enough to include "the great Jewish community and the people of the Muslim faith," yet he pulled no punches when it came to atheists. "An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms," Docherty said in his sermon. "If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life." [washingtonpost.com, 11/30/08; AP, 11/31/08] read more

Is There Value in a Name?

QUOTE: "'Under God' didn't enter the pledge until after World War II, after the oft-called Greatest Generation had proved its values. These men and women who fought overseas and sacrificed on the home front all grew up with a passion for their country but none pledged to God every morning facing the flag when they were school children. It wasn't essential to the formation of their character, evidently. When I read about civic battles today to add the name of God or a Ten Commandments to every public event or venue, I wonder: What is the desired effect to adding—or blocking—this? Do you have to say 'God' everywhere to know God? To develop good values?" —USA Today's "Faith & Reason" blogger Cathy Lynn Grossman [usatoday.com, 12/1/08] read more

Unearthing a Biblical Past

In the last month, archaeologists in the Middle East have unearthed a trio of biblical-times finds that offer important glimpses into both ancient Holy Land culture and the early Christian church.

Earlier this month, an Israeli archaeologist digging amid ruins of an ancient town outside Jerusalem discovered a pottery shard containing the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. Penned almost 3,000 years ago, the five lines of text on the ceramic piece use proto-Canaanite characters, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet. Artifacts found around the shard were carbon-dated to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., which corresponds with the time King David ruled in Jerusalem. Although the writing has not been completely translated, Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University archaeologist in charge of the dig, believes it already indicates that a powerful Israeli kingdom existed at the time of King David.

Last week another Israeli archaeologist digging outside Jerusalem found what he believes are the 2,000-year-old remains of two tombs that once held a wife and daughter-in-law of King Herod—the same Herod that the Gospel of Matthew says conducted a mass slaughter of male infants around the time of Jesus’ birth. Along with the tomb artifacts, additional relics found by Ehud Netzer, who is a Herodian excavation expert from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, seem to further his case for discovering Herod’s tomb last year. “I would eat my hat if it were someone else’s tomb,” Netzer said.

Almost 300 miles down the road in Syria, a Syrian-Polish archaeological team unearthed the remains of an eighth-century church. Although the church is the fourth found in the ancient city of Palmyra, which is almost 150 miles northeast of Damascus, it is the largest such discovery to date. Walid al-Assaad, head of the Palmyra Antiquities and Museums Department, said that besides an amphitheater used for gatherings and services, the church contains at least “two rooms that are believed to have been used for baptisms, religious ceremonies, prayers and other rituals.” [AP, 10/31/08; AP, 11/17/08; Reuters, 11/19/08] read more

Convergence of Truth

QUOTE: “We can’t believe everything ancient writings tell us, but this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.” —Thomas Levy, an archaeologist from the University of California, San Diego, who, along with a team of researchers from Jordan, recently discovered a copper-production center in the Middle Eastern country dating back to the time of King Solomon’s reign (10th century B.C.). Artifacts found at the site of Levy’s digging were previously traced back to the seventh century, making this the oldest discovery so far and solidifying the growing case that the site is actually the legendary King Solomon’s Mines. [AP, 10/28/08] read more

When the Word Marked Time

QUOTE: “I love series preaching. I used to try to preach every verse of a particular book, but I would get worn out. There used to be a time with pastors like W.A. Criswell—when people would preach or join his church, and they’d ask ‘When did you become a member of First Church?’ They’d say, ‘Oh, I became a member when he was preaching Leviticus or Daniel.’ I don’t know if the attention span is the same in the culture now. So if I were to preach through a book like 1 Peter, I’d just take selected themes—four, five or six at the most.” —Ralph Douglas West, founding pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, on one of the major cultural shifts in recent years that has affected preaching [Preaching, 10/08] read more

Preaching the Big Picture

QUOTE: “The last few decades have been a period of wanton experimentation in many pulpits. One of the most troubling developments is the decline and eclipse of expository preaching. Numerous influential voices within evangelicalism are suggesting that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations—messages that avoid preaching a biblical text and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth. … In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment, and thus are left with the modest hope of including a brief message of encouragement or exhortation at the conclusion of the service. … When we preach, we must remember that what we proclaim is not just a little story, and not just a series of little stories. It is the big picture. We are accountable to the big story of God’s work as it is narrated in Scripture. …Our people can have a deep repository of biblical facts and stories, and yet know nothing about how any of it fits together.” — Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler [He Is Not Silent, 10/08] read more

A Fight to Help the Homeless

Despite a sagging economy that’s (literally) leaving more people out in the cold, New York City officials have ordered at least 22 churches to stop providing shelter for homeless people. As temperatures drop below freezing, more churches will be prone to open their doors for those on the streets, yet officials reminded these and other churches that they must be provide beds at least five days a week to be considered an official faith-based shelter. “We really don’t want people sleeping on the streets, on grates, on church steps. We want people sleeping in beds,’ said the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, who added that the city has 8,000 beds waiting for bodies.

A church in Pittsburgh, however, recently had to fight against county officials for its right to care for the homeless. This summer, a zoning officer for Brookville Borough in Jefferson County cited pastor Jack L. Wisor of First Apostles Doctrine Church for a code violation of “group housing” by allowing three homeless men to live in his church’s parsonage. The pastor was fined $500 in August, while the church was instructed to not house any more homeless individuals. As a reply, Wisor recruited—of all things—the American Liberties Civil Union to help him file a federal lawsuit and argue that sheltering those living on the street is fundamental to the church’s Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach ministry. The result? A day before the case’s hearing, the Brookville Borough council gave the church permission to house up to eight homeless individuals (along with two staff members). Currently the church and borough are meeting to discuss future plans with the homeless ministry. [wcbstv.com, 11/22/08; post-gazette.com, 11/24/08] read more

Downsizing in the Aftermath of Scandal

The property of an Atlanta megachurch founded decades ago by Earl Paulk is on sale for $24.5 million.

Listed this month, the campus of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, well known for its neo-Gothic, 6,000-seat sanctuary, is one of the largest religious facilities currently available in the United States, said Matt Messier, a Florida broker and principal of CNL Real Estate Services of Orlando, Fla., according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In recent years, membership at the Cathedral at Chapel Hill has declined from 10,000 regular attendees to roughly 1,000 after a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Paulk, 81. Current pastor D.E. Paulk, who grew up believing Earl Paulk was his uncle but recently learned he was his biological father, said the sale was triggered in part by the church’s evolving mission to be inclusive of people of diverse religions and sexual orientations.

“As we have become a ‘radically inclusive’ church our need for space has lessened considerably. ... If we were to preach an exclusive message we would need more space,” D.E. Paulk said. “The mission of the Cathedral has not changed, only expanded to include all of God's creation—Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, gay, straight, etc.”

D.E. Paulk, who also leads a group called the Pro-Love Organization, has advocated for gay rights in recent years and is an associate of the controversial preacher Carlton Pearson, who teaches that all people, not just Christians, are saved. In an interview with Charisma magazine, D.E. Paulk also alluded to universalism, saying the Cathedral does not seek to convert but to “convince everyone of Christ’s love.”

“We believe that Christ was successful, not a failure,” D.E. Paulk said. “Christ came to ‘reconcile the world to God,’ and we confess that Christ succeeded and ‘finished’ this work. If Christ was successful then the world was converted at Calvary. Salvation, then, becomes an awakening to God's free gift—not a conversion.”

Brandi Paulk, wife of D.E. Paulk and a pastor at the Cathedral, said the church property was valued at $31 million two years ago, but the price was lowered because of the economic downturn. She told the Journal-Constitution that the facilities were not being sold to pay legal expenses related to civil actions involving Earl Paulk, who has been hounded by claims of sexual misconduct since he was accused of committing adultery in 1960.

In February, a judge dismissed the most recent action against Earl Paulk. The lawsuit filed by Mona Brewer and her husband, Bobby, alleged that Paulk coerced the woman into a 14-year affair. The couple and their attorney were ordered to pay more than $1 million in legal fees. They are appealing the decision.

Although Earl Paulk remains archbishop of the church, he is not active in its daily operations. [charismamag.com, 11/13/08] read more

Downsizing in the Aftermath of Scandal, Part II

Atlanta’s Cathedral at Chapel Hill may be downsizing for the sake of being “radically inclusive,” but about 25 miles up the road, another high-profile church is downsizing for another reason: eviction. After failing to pay rent since July and owing more than $400,000 to its landlord, Global Destiny International Ministries, lead by Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, was officially barred from its former meeting place this week. On Sunday, after almost 250 members of the congregation met in a hotel, Weeks claimed his church was “re-sizing … to fit economic times. We are committed to being an absolutely debt-free ministry.” At one point Global Destiny had 3,400 members, but last year lost a reported 1,600 members in the wake of Weeks’ assault of ex-wife Juanita Bynum in an Atlanta hotel parking lot. “People do not understand the cost of running a worldwide ministry,” said Weeks, who has been dogged by numerous financial problems in recent years. “When something like this happens, it’s really an exodus into a new prophecy.” [ajc.com, 11/16/08] read more

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