Jehovah’s Witnesses Remain Banned as Russia Rejects Appeal

And most Russians are okay with it.

The last-ditch efforts by Jehovah’s Witnesses to appeal Russia’s ban against their faith have failed in the country’s Supreme Court.

With all three judges siding on Monday with Russia’s Ministry of Justice, the April 20 ruling to liquidate the Witnesses’ centers and criminalize their worship stands despite desperate pleas from members of the faith and religious freedom advocates.

“The Supreme Court’s decision sadly reflects the government’s continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism,” said Daniel Mark, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which called out Russia’s violations this year. “The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression.”

In Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church remains the dominant religious affiliation, support is high (79%) for the government ban designates Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group, according to a survey conducted by the Levada Center last month.

Almost half of Russians view Witnesses as a “Christian sect,” while small minorities think of it as a Protestant offshoot (5%) or a variant on ordinary Christianity (2%).

Russian Protestants, though also a minority, tend to view Jehovah’s Witnesses as having their own theology and methodology. While Witnesses stand out with their distinct materials and eager proselytism, evangelicals have enjoyed a better reputation with the Russian government in many cases, as CT has previously reported.

Still, all religious groups attempting to share their faith and gain converts must adhere to the new evangelism ban …

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The BGC Gospel Life Podcast (Ep. 22)

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Episode Twenty-Two | Are You Prepared for a Gospel Conversation?

Laurie Nichols, Director of Communications at the Billy Graham Center, shares about a recent gospel conversation and what she learned about the importance of being prepared. Without the armor of God’s word in our hearts and minds, we likely don’t have the full toolkit necessary for when the hard questions arise in a conversation. This week, prepare yourself for evangelism opportunities by immersing yourself in God’s word.

Episode Twenty-One | What Does Research Say about Our Prayers and Our Actions?

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, discusses the correlation between prayer and action. Research has shown that many people pray that they would see others come to faith, but fewer are actually mobilized to put their prayers into action in seeing lives changed for Christ. Will your actions match your prayers? Our prayer is that this week they will.

Episodes 11-20

Episodes 1-10

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Interview: Between Two Cultures: How Latina Christians Approach Leadership

Yvette Santana pilots a new project to coalesce Hispanic women.

With nearly 58 million Hispanics residing stateside and one in every four children born in the United States being Hispanic, the US Census Bureau identifies the Hispanic population as one of the nation's fastest growing groups. Given that 60 percent of Hispanic evangelicals are women, new ministries solely focused on equipping bicultural women are emerging. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) has recently established one such ministry with an intentional focus on creating a safe space for Latina Christian leaders from different generations to gather. This ministry—which represents mothers, mijas (a term of endearment used in the Hispanic community that translates as “my daughters”), hermanas (sisters), tias (aunts), abuelas (grandmothers), and nietas (granddaughters) alike—seeks to empower, equip, and encourage Hispanic female leaders to reach their God-given potential.

Yvette Santana spearheads this new bilingual and bicultural ministry in her role as chief women’s ministry officer for the NHCLC. She also serves as women’s discipleship coordinator for the Church of God, Southwest Region. “The NHCLC’s division for women’s ministry desires to create a community for these fabulous women to connect and share and celebrate our role in the church,” says Santana. “We want to create a network for Latina pastor’s wives and lead female pastors, as they have such a unique role in the kingdom.”

Andrea Ramirez, executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition of the NHCLC, interviewed Santana on her unique work.

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Immigrants Are Reshaping American Missions

Latino congregations are launching their own international partnerships to support ministries and churches in their homelands.

The knocking roused Valentin Salamanca from bed around 4 a.m. He was not sleeping anyway. He feared they would come, and now they had.

Valentin walked a few steps from his bedroom and opened the front door to a man in a black ski mask holding an assault rifle, demanding he come with him. Though the man appeared alone, Valentin could hear other voices in the dark.

The 60-something pastor was overseeing a growing ministry in western El Salvador; he had planted 26 churches with a combined attendance of more than 900 worshipers. The congregation Valentin led personally, a Pentecostal group 130 strong, was finishing a new building and planning another to house a sponsorship program for around 75 local children.

In many ways, he was a victim of his own success, a pastor on the frontlines of a flourishing international partnership between a church of immigrants in the United States and an ambitious mission effort in El Salvador. It had been years in the making.

Valentin had met Jesus after he came to America in 1988 and eventually opened a church in downtown Los Angeles. He worked in construction until an injury took him out of commission. When he returned with his wife to El Salvador in 1995, their son, Mario, took over the Los Angeles church.

In El Salvador, Valentin planted a new church near the city of Santa Ana, setting his sights on the crowds of youth who were being drawn into the violent gangs overtaking his country. Mario and his US congregation began investing heavily in Valentin’s church, pioneers in what missiologists call “transnational ministry.”

By 2010, the father and son had a thriving if humble partnership. “We’re a single body,” Valentin said. The church in Los Angeles, a blue-collar …

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One-on-One with Keith Getty about Being Awarded by the British Empire, Modern Hymns, and His New Book

Hymn writer is the first Christian musician to be awarded an OBE.

My friend Keith Getty was recently honored as an "Officer of the Order of the British Empire" by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. I was able to talk with him about the award, his contribution to modern hymn writing, and his new book.

Ed: Give us some background on the award you just received.

Keith: It's called the OBE and it’s an Order of the British Empire. It happens each year on New Year’s Day and on the Queen's birthday, during which they honor people who have enriched the culture of the British Empire. This is the first time it has happened for a Christian musician, so it’s exciting.

The civil servants send these very polite letters as a nomination which almost make you think you're in some kind of period drama. Then it has to go through the political channels. So after the nominations, then we just wait for a few weeks. But of course we had to stay silent about the whole thing.

Ed: You're an Evangelical Christian, which is no longer mainstream. How did they end up awarding you?

Keith: In British culture, I think there is still a respect for what they call the “classical hymn.” Our hymns toe this unusual line between being considered classical and traditional, and yet also contemporary. It’s probably the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of our music. It's never been wholly contemporary, and it's never been wholly classical. The music lives in both worlds.

In British culture, hymns are part of the tradition of the empire. Hymn singing is still more popular in Britain than going to churches. This is different than in America, where people go to church but you can't get them to sing hymns.

The hymns very much speak out of my education as a Northern …

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Seven Myths Perpetuated by Missions People

Like being one degree off course, the negative outcomes increase in severity.

Over the past thirty years I have noticed that many of us have a tendency to inadvertently promote half-truths that we think advance the cause of world missions. By half-truths, I mean concepts that are partially true or seem true on the surface, but in fact are myths.

At times, I have inadvertently perpetuated these false beliefs myself, for which I wholeheartedly repent. I offer this short article as part of my restitution. I believe that when we participate in spreading these myths, we unintentionally hinder the spread of God’s kingdom. While the myths may seem miniscule and inconsequential, over time, like being one degree off course at the start of a long journey, the negative outcomes increase in severity. Here are seven common myths perpetuated by missions people.

Frontlines

We frequently talk about the frontlines of spiritual warfare as if they are geographically defined (i.e., the mission field). As followers of Jesus, we are called to simultaneously participate in both the seen and unseen world. We are always on a potential frontline. When people use the word “frontline,” they imply there is a safer place, a place less dangerous.

Sure, some places can be darker, more evil, and more dangerous than other places, but let’s not falsely assume that the mission field is a frontline while your home church neighborhood is not. Let’s be prudent; spiritual frontlines cannot be defined geographically or by outward appearance. Scripture seems to imply that everywhere is a potential frontline (see 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Calling

What do we mean by calling? Many missions people think it means having a strong conviction or foreknowledge in regard to a specific place, people, path, or purpose God has for us. Our …

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In ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ Greatness Starts with Becoming a Servant

Peter Parker has finally entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but he can’t join the Avengers until he practices the heroic discipline of humility.

The latest superhero movie can sometimes feel like the last one, with over-quippy dialogue and shallow themes—especially if it’s one of a few recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Not so, however, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This film marks a happy return for Marvel’s popular yet humble hero, and to Spider-Man’s classic themes of power and responsibility.

Newer Marvel stories occupy amazing fantasy settings (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) or offer up wish-fulfillment glamour (Iron Man). Homecoming, however, returns to basics by counterintuitively skipping Peter Parker’s spider-bite origin and sharing a new perspective on his familiar challenges: Now that Peter can join the broader Avengers universe, he must learn how to become great like the A-list superheroes—by first learning to serve his own people.

A quick recap: To date, this is the third cinematic version of Spider-Man. Sony Pictures licensed the Marvel hero for the first 2002–2007 Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. Then, Sony rebooted the series in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, which starred the earnest Andrew Garfield. But the rebooted series didn’t work well, partly because Sony engineers wanted both a cool, merchandisable story-world and a humble Spider-Man at once, and partly because Iron Man (2008) had kicked off the idea of a shared hero universe, motivating fans to expect a broader story palette. Meanwhile, growing special-effects resources helped push superhero films out of the standard “secret identity” plotlines, which had helped balance epic fantasy battles with the more budget-conscious civilian lives of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.

Sony executives thus chose to reboot Spider-Man …

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Wait Upon the Drop

Why churches are turning to club music to elevate praise.

The house lights are dark as bright beams of electric blue scan the crowd. White strobes pulsate to the uhn tiss uhn tiss beat. A pre-chorus of snare-drum 16th notes gradually builds into a turbo-spooled climax of drum machine rapid fire.

Everything is wound in anticipation. The bass drops.

People in the crowd dance, clap, and sing. Others stand statuesque, as if wondering what’s happening.

The Crossing, a non-denominational church in Tampa with a weekly attendance of roughly 3,500 people, is one of many congregations now incorporating electronic dance music (EDM) into its regular worship repertoire. It’s not a full-on rave, and you’ll see more “traditional” instruments like drums, electric guitars, and keyboards. But infused with more familiar modern worship stylings are characteristics of the EDM aesthetic: layers of computer-programmed electronic backing tracks, quarter-note bass thumps, and cycles of musical “builds” and “drops,” much of it set to a tempo around 130 beats per minute.

EDM, once the underpinning of the all-night rave scene, has now become one of the most popular mainstream musical styles, and it is influencing both studio-recorded Christian worship music and live congregational performances.

The Energy Builds

Russ Jones, pastor of worship arts at The Crossing, said EDM has brought a youthful edge to its services and is helping the church reach a younger generation. In an era when secular EDM mega-artists like David Guetta, Diplo, Skrillex, and Calvin Harris are topping a $7 billion music industry and drawing hundreds of thousands of fans to a single festival, the church has taken notice. But it’s the effect the music has on congregants, not its marketplace …

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Remember the Other Carey: Unsung Hero of the Modern Missions Movement

Lott Carey was born a slave, purchased his freedom, and carried the gospel to Africa.

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an essay tracing the history of the modern missions movement based on an assigned text. I worked through prominent figures in the modern missions movement and traced its development in India, on the African continent, and throughout the South Pacific. As I worked through the text, I found one thing conspicuously missing—the contributions of African-Americans to the modern missions movement.

While I have come to appreciate the work of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, and others, there are other unsung heroes neglected in many historical accounts of the modern missions movement. One such hero is Lott Carey—often known in missions circles as “the other Carey.”

The Conversation

Lott Carey was born a slave around 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia. His father was a devout, pious Baptist—as was his grandmother. Carey’s nuclear family was anomalously intact in an era where slaveholders regularly ripped slaves’ families apart, selling and trading children with other plantation owners. Carey’s grandmother was the typical matriarchal figure in his life. She took care of Carey, who was an only child, on the Virginia plantation while his parents labored away throughout the day.

His grandmother’s presence proved valuable in shaping Carey’s future. As a child, she told the young Carey about Africa and how the people there did not know God. This piqued Carey’s interest and led him to ask, “And do all of them think that the great God lives far away from them and does not love them?” His grandmother told him she desired to go back and tell them, but her age would prevent her from doing so. She then told him …

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Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage

In retraction, popular author affirms ‘a biblical view of everything’—including marriage.

A day after a Religion News Service interview portrayed retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson as shifting to endorse same-sex marriage, the evangelical leader retracted his comment and upheld the traditional Christian stance instead.

“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Peterson, best known for creating The Message Bible, also regrets the “confusion and bombast” in the fallout of his remarks, which were widely shared and commented on online yesterday.

Peterson stated:

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt had asked Peterson, “If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?” Peterson had responded with one word: yes.

The interview was published Wednesday under this headline: Best-selling author Eugene Peterson changes his mind on gay marriage.

In his retraction, the 84-year-old stated that in nearly three decades as a pastor and in the years since, “I’ve …

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