Evangelization and Doctrine Are Inseparable

by David G. Bonagura, Jr. | Without question, there are times when it is expedient to emphasize one side of the balance over the other in teaching and preaching: to underscore the divinity of Christ when an age reduces him to a mere moral teacher; to stress the necessity of tradition in understanding Scripture; and to recall the goodness of nature when it is wrongly perceived as antithetical to grace. (Image: Reynaldo Amadeu Dal Lin Junior Juba from Pixabay)

We preach doctrine, and doctrine exists to be preached. If that sounds circular, then we understand correctly that doctrine and evangelization are two sides of the same coin.

Recently announced plans for Pope Francis’s reform of the Roman Curia have produced euphoria among liberals and concern among conservatives that evangelization is being elevated over doctrine by the creation of a new “super-dicastery” for evangelization that will outrank the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of Francis’s closest collaborators working on the Curia reform project, rushed to draw the battle lines: “Pope Francis always underlines that the Church is missionary. For this reason, it’s logical that we put in the first place the dicastery for Evangelization and not the one for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

This falsely perceived dichotomy between evangelization and doctrine, of course, has roots that extend back to the fallout from the Second Vatican Council. Partisans of a mistaken “Spirit of Vatican II” sought to suppress doctrine and Church regulation so they could essentially do as they liked theologically, morally, and liturgically.

Therein lies a particularly important point: after the Council, in the minds of many, “doctrine” was reduced to “rules” that could, or could not, be broken. No one was—or is today—complaining about the content of the Nicene Creed, which is the real core of Catholic doctrine. Instead, there were attempts to make us more like Protestants by altering the Mass and deemphasizing Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist; to make human beings seem like angels by turning sin into psychosis and forgetting confession; and to undermine the Church’s authority to teach morality so that any sexual appetite could be fulfilled as willed.

It is no wonder, then, that conservatives have become so skittish whenever doctrine, which is supposed to be the bedrock foundation of the Catholic faith, is raised in Church circles: it has been under siege by some forces in the Church—with the help of secular, Church-hating allies—for decades. Francis’s ambiguous teachings on marriage and family life over the course of his six-year pontificate have been gasoline for a fire that has long since been burning. Writing with professional restraint, one author said of this latest Curia-inspired dust-up, “The decline in the congregation’s status has accompanied an increasingly lax attitude in Rome towards the gravity of heresy and other forms of deviance from Catholic doctrine, emphasizing unity and ‘accompaniment’ more than doctrinal truth.”

If not for these ecclesial fault lines, this fight over which office should have pride of place—evangelization or doctrine—would be more like arguing over which person of the Trinity is the most important. And the Trinity is the correct analogy here: just as there are three persons inseparably united as the single Godhead, evangelization and doctrine are two manifestations of Christ’s single mission of salvation.

Through his words and deeds, especially his sacrifice on the cross, Christ saved us from our sins and taught us how to live. What he did and what he taught together comprise his doctrine, which he commanded his followers to preach to all nations. The Church, then, has been entrusted with preserving Christ’s doctrine from corruption and distortion precisely so that all people may hear his saving teaching. His doctrine was never intended to be kept in a book away from the world; he gave it to the Church to give to the world.

Properly understanding the teachings of the Church requires keeping two seemingly opposing realities in balance. When we fail to balance properly, problems arise. For example, Christ is fully human and fully divine; most Christological heresies are caused when one of these realities is elevated to the denigration of the other. Likewise, the Catholic view of creation keeps nature balanced with grace and reason balanced with faith. Martin Luther created his own Protestant doctrine when he deemed the former items in each pair intrinsically flawed. He did the same with the law and the gospel, works and faith, tradition and Scripture. By pitting the spiritual items against the natural, Luther impoverished both, since none of these can be properly understood without its parallel.

Without question, there are times when it is expedient to emphasize one side of the balance over the other in teaching and preaching: to underscore the divinity of Christ when an age reduces him to a mere moral teacher; to stress the necessity of tradition in understanding Scripture; and to recall the goodness of nature when it is wrongly perceived as antithetical to grace. So long as the other side remains within our purview, there is no problem with speaking more of one side.

The same goes for evangelization and doctrine: the two work in tandem, as we cannot have one without the other. In certain ages, it may well be helpful to emphasize one or the other: when the Holy Office, the predecessor of today’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was founded, it was at the height of the Protestant revolt when doctrine needed to be protected from distortion. Today, when religious apathy is spreading daily across the West, it makes sense to prioritize preaching the gospel. But in neither instance should the other be minimized: those swept up by Protestant doctrine needed the true faith preached to them in full, and those today who need to hear the word of God need to hear it in its fullness.

Today, with all the problems within the Church, fierce arguing over which should take priority—evangelization or doctrine—is akin to arguing over which saints should be honored in the Titantic’s chapel. There should be no conflict between the two. The fact that there is shows us that the Barque of Peter needs to find balance again while navigating the stormy waters of Modernity.

David G. Bonagura, JrDavid G. Bonagura, Jr. teaches classical languages at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism (Cluny Media).

9 Signs You’re Burning Out in Leadership

by Carey Nieuwhof | Your coping mechanism has gone underground or dark. Whether that’s overeating, overworking, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, you’ve chosen a path of self-medication over self-care. Ironically, my self-medication was actually more work, which just spirals things downward.

Been there?
Seven years ago, I entered into the darkest period of my life.

People had always warned me I would burn out. I thought I could prove them wrong.

And usually I did. I would get tired – out of balance – but when I saw the edge, I could always pull myself back.

Until seven years ago.

I found the edge, and as I was falling, I knew this time I realized I couldn’t pull myself back. 

Although I’m not a person who suffers from depression, I’m sure I would have gone to the doctor and received a diagnosis of clinical depression that summer seven years ago.

It wasn’t your stereotypical depression.

I could get out of bed every day, and I did.

I kept praying and reading my bible.

But my speed decreased to a snail’s pace.

And hope felt like it had died.

My motivation and passion dropped to zero. (Make that zero Kelvin).

I had never been there before. 

I knew many in ministry had gone down this road before me, and what scared me is that some of them never made it back.

For them, ministry was done. And sometimes, tragically, they were done – hope never fully returned and they didn’t ever become the person they were before.

That was the last thing I wanted to happen to me.

Looking back, the diagnosis is still a little elusive and mysterious.

Who really knows what corrodes the soul to the point where it deflates?

But I’d say the most likely candidate for what derailed me is what I’d call emotional burnout. 

In caring for others I had not adequately cared for my heart or soul, or let others who wanted to care for it do so.

I spiralled down for about 3 months before I hit bottom.

Then with the love and assistance of a great wife, board, leadership team, close friends, a counselor, and a very gracious God, I slowly began to recover.

It took, honestly, a few years to really feel full stride again, but I recovered to 80-90% of full strength in the first year. The last 10% took two or three more years.

The good new is, there is life after burnout (my next post will be on ways to recover from burnout).

I’m writing this because burnout seems to be an epidemic in ministry leadership.

In fact, there are more than a few of you who know you are right on the edge of the cliff you could so easily fall of of.

And probably a few of you who are in free fall right now.

Why is that?

More than most environments, ministry combines what you do (your work) with what you believe (your faith) and  your community (your congregation/friends). Without skillful navigation, that can creates a roller coaster of emotions that push leaders toward burnout (I’ve written about the emotional roller coaster of ministry here).

So how do you know if you’re heading for burnout? 

Here are 9 things I personally experienced as I burned out.

I hope they can help you see the edge before you careen past it:

1. Your motivation has faded. The passion that fueled you is gone, and your motivation has either vapourized or become self-centered.

2. Your main emotion is ‘numbness’ – you no longer feel the highs or the lows. This was actually one of the earliest signs for me that the edge was near. I wrote more about emotional numbness here.

3. People drain you. Of course there are draining people on the best of days. But not everybody, every time. Burnout often means few to no people energize you anymore.

4. Little things make you disproportionately angry. When you start losing your cool over small things, it’s a sign something deeper is very wrong.

5. You’re becoming cynical. Many leaders fight this one, but cynicism rarely finds a home in a healthy heart.

6. Your productivity is dropping. You might be working long hours, but you’re producing little of value. Or what used to take you 5 minutes just took you 45. That’s a warning bell.

7.  You’re self-medicating.  Your coping mechanism has gone underground or dark. Whether that’s overeating, overworking, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, you’ve chosen a path of self-medication over self-care. Ironically, my self-medication was actually more work, which just spirals things downward.

8. You don’t laugh anymore. Nothing seems fun or funny, and, at its worst, you begin to resent people who enjoy life.

9. Sleep and time off no longer refuel you. Sometimes you’re not burnt out; you’re just tired. A good night’s sleep or a week or two off will help most healthy people bounce back with fresh energy. But you could have a month off when you’re burnt out and not feel any difference. I took three weeks off during my summer of burn out, and I felt worse at the end than when I started. Not being refueled when you take time off is a major warning sign you’re burning out.

Identifying with just a few of these signs might just be a sign that you’re tired.

If you identify with half, you might be close to the edge.

If you identify with most or all, well, you might be in the same place I found myself–burnout.

If you are burnt out, I would encourage you to seek immediate professional help – a medical doctor and a trained Christian counselor.  I would also encourage you to talk to a close circle of friends (again, my next post will be on recovery from burnout).

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from many of you on your stories around burn out?

What did you learn? How can we help each other?

Carey NieuwhofCarey Nieuwhof is a leader with over two decades of leading a local church, being a husband, dad, authoring books, speaking to church leaders around the world, podcasting and more…all the while learning to keep his heart and mind alive and healthy. Plus, every week he talk to world-class leaders who share their secrets through his blogpodcastbooksHigh Impact Leader Course, and speaking. You can also connect with Carey by subscribing to his email list. He has helped tens of thousands of leaders make real personal and ministry progress by sharing proven strategies to help them lead like never before.

What is the Biblical Way to Lead A Child to Christ?

by Got Questions | Whenever our children feel safe and secure in our love, we have the opportunity to relate to them how much greater the love of their heavenly Father is.

There are three basic elements involved in leading a child to a saving relationship with Christ: prayer, example, and age-appropriate instruction. We lead a child to Christ through the diligent application of all three elements from the time before the child is born.

The importance of prayer in the process of evangelizing children cannot be overstated. From the time of conception, parents should be seeking God’s wisdom for themselves and grace for their unborn child. God has promised to give wisdom liberally to all who ask Him (James 1:5), and His wisdom in all aspects of parenting is essential, but nowhere is it more important than in spiritual matters. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is by grace through the gift of faith, so our prayers for our children’s salvation should be centered upon seeking that gift of faith for them. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to draw our children to God from their earliest days and to sustain them through a life of faith and service to God until they are safely secure in heaven for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14). We should pray that God will draw us to Himself and become a reality in our lives so that we can be good role models for our children.

Our example as children of God provides the best visual model of the relationship with Christ we wish our children to have. When our children see us on our knees daily, they perceive that prayer is a regular part of life. When they see us continually in the Scriptures, studying, feeding and meditating on God’s Word, they realize the importance of the Bible without our having to say a word. When they perceive that we not only know God’s Word, but endeavor to live it out in practical ways every day, they come to understand the power of the Word in a life lived in its light. Conversely, if a child sees that mom or dad has a Sunday “persona” which differs drastically from the person they see every day, they will be quick to spot the hypocrisy. Many children have been ‘turned off’ to church and to Christ by two-faced role models. This is not to say that God can’t overrule our faults and failures, but we must be ready to confess them to God, admit our failures to our children, and make every effort to “walk the talk.”

Furthermore, providing age-appropriate instruction in spiritual matters is crucial to leading a child to Christ. There are myriads of children’s books and resources such as children’s Bibles, children’s Bible story books and music for all age levels to read, sing and memorize. Relating every aspect of a child’s life to spiritual truth is also an important part of spiritual training. Every time a child sees a flower or a sunset or a bird, there is ample opportunity for parents to relate the beauty and wonder of God’s creative power (Psalm 19:1-6). Whenever our children feel safe and secure in our love, we have the opportunity to relate to them how much greater the love of their heavenly Father is. When they are hurt by others, we can explain the reality of sin and the only cure for it—the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for us.

Finally, sometimes an inordinate amount of importance is placed on getting a child to “say the prayer” or “walk the aisle” as evidence of his/her decision to trust Christ as Savior. While these moments can be valuable in cementing in a child’s mind when and how he/she came to Christ, salvation is the Spirit’s work in a heart. True salvation results in a life of progressive sanctification and discipleship, and this must be communicated as well.

Recommended Resource: The Faith of a Child: A Guide to Salvation for Your Child by Art Murphy
More insights from your Bible study – Get Started with Logos Bible Software for Free!

Ministry on the River

by Bill Mintz | Tom Rhoades, a river chaplain with the Seamen’s Church Institute, drives a boat in the Baton Rouge Harbor. Rhoades, a former Methodist pastor transitioning to the ELCA roster, ministers to crews who work on vessels on the Lower Mississippi, Intracoastal Canal and Houston Ship Canal.

Much of the nation’s commerce is transported to markets through a fleet of barges and 5,000 towboats and tugboats traversing the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the 3,000-mile Intracoastal Waterway.

Yet the public knows little about the men and women—“brown water mariners”—who spend half their lives on the river, separated from their families during 28-day rotations and relying on their crewmates for companionship and to make it through often dangerous situations.

The river is where Tom Rhoades found his call. One of two paid river chaplains with the New York-based Seamen’s Church Institute, Rhoades lives in Baton Rouge, La., and visits the crews of towing vessels and tugs on the Lower Mississippi, Intracoastal Canal and Houston Ship Channel.

Rhoades, a former Methodist pastor who is transitioning to the ELCA roster, has a background that gives him a strong connection with those to whom he ministers: he spent 10 years on the river, first as a deckhand and then as a cook.

“People who work on the river are invisible to the rest of us,” he said. “It’s a hard life—28 days away from their families. Normal pressures are magnified; heart attacks and suicides are more frequent.”

Rhoades (right) on the MV Mississippi with some of the crew.
Prior to being called as chaplain, he worked as a deckhand
and cook on riverboats, which helps him connect with the
crews he visits.

The work is demanding and dangerous. “If you make a mistake, it can cost someone their life,” he said. “It’s no small thing to go through two pillars of a bridge. When you go through a lock and dam, you have to break the tow apart. It’s called ‘stopping the cut,’ one man with one rope stops nine barges.”

Rhoades has responded to critical incidents onboard towboats. His training includes critical incident stress management, an intervention technique that he put to work when a mariner committed suicide on Easter Sunday and again when a crew was shaken after recovering the body of a sailor who drowned in Mobile Bay after he went overboard from another vessel.

“When a mariner has his worst day, that’s when we want to be there,” Rhoades said.

Chris Christopher, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in New Orleans, is working toward becoming an unpaid associate river chaplain after being recruited by Rhoades. He said Rhoades is “completely at home” when he walks onto a boat.

“That’s priceless when it comes to his approachability,” Christopher said. “Sailors know who belongs on their boat, and that enables him to walk into their lives. They know he knows their life.”

Rhoades’ journey to the river began when he concluded he was burned out after nine years as a senior pastor of a rural Arkansas Methodist church. His wife, Stacey, suggested he would probably be a good cook on one of the towboats they saw navigating the Mississippi.

“In 2011, I was the cook on the MV Cooperative Spirit when a guy with a white hard hat with “Chaplain” on it came on board,” Rhoades said. “I didn’t want him to know my background. He introduced himself and asked me if he could bring communion. That started a life-changing relationship that saved my soul.”

That visitor, Kempton Baldridge, an Episcopal chaplain, began a persistent campaign to draw Rhoades out and employ his gifts.

“In 2014, Kempton called and said a mariner had died and asked me, ‘Could you do a funeral?’ ” Rhoades said. “I talked my way into it, and it was a blessing to me. I knew the industry, knew what [the mariner] did, and I could tell his people.”

Baldridge said, “Because of his background on the river, Tom has the ability to speak into the mariners’ experiences with understanding. I marvel at his vulnerability and availability.”

Rhoades has returned to visit the crew that recovered the man overboard and spent five hours with them. “I don’t hop on and off a boat,” he said. “Relationships f low when I tell them that I’m a mariner and we share our stories. Sometimes I get on a boat and cook for them.”

Baldridge said this is part of Rhoades’ ministry: “The table fellowship has allowed needed conversa tions to take place. There was one tough captain who would never make an appointment to visit a chaplain, but he talked to Tom over a meal. It was an unexpected blessing.”

Rhoades said he was drawn to the Lutheran tradition by the liturgy and the tradition of bi-vocational clergy that enables him to be on the river.

“River mariners can’t get off the boat and go to church,” he said. “We don’t build a house; we take the church to the mariner.”


Bill Mintz, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, has focused much of his service on supporting institutions in the Texas- Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod that will ensure the vitality of the church in the years and decades to come. He was on the founding board of Houston Lutheran Campus Ministry, which called the first ELCA campus pastor at the University of Houston in more than 20 years and also has presence at Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. He also served on the board of Lutherhill Ministries for eight years—a time of expansion of the camp’s core facility in La Grange as well as development of the Zion Retreat Center in Galveston. If you have questions, you can leave a message for Bill Mintz.

Are We Prepared to Tell God’s Story?

by Regis Nicoll | Each year Advent draws the world’s attention afresh to God’s story. It’s a story that Christians should be telling “in season and out of season,” through their words and their lives.

It seems peculiar that the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent centers not on Christ’s first coming, but his second. In all three liturgical years, the gospel passage is taken from the Olivet Discourse—Jesus’s lengthy response to the eschatological curiosities of the disciples. But maybe this is not as peculiar as it seems.

In arresting prose, the synoptic writers report the Creator of all things privileging the disciples with secrets about last things. Interweaving predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem and his future return to earth, Jesus tells them of wars, famines, false Christs, and more. His purpose was not to shock or frighten them, but to prepare them—and not just for the far off events that had provoked their curiosity.

Punctuating his revelations are warnings to be watchful, ready, and engaged in faithful service—imperatives for God’s people in every age. But for the disciples those warnings had immediate relevance which, as many times before, went unheeded.

For, in a matter of hours, Jesus would be prostrate in the garden praying, while his disciples slept; he would be hauled away by an angry mob, while his disciples fled in panic; he would be brought before a kangaroo court to be ridiculed, spat upon, and struck, while one of his closest intimates vehemently and repeatedly denied him; and he would be scourged, marched to Golgotha, and nailed to the cross, while men who had been his constant companions cowered in an upper room, abandoning him to his persecutors.

Incredibly, after three years at the feet of their master, the disciples were no better prepared for the unfolding of prophetic history than they were at the beginning of their tutelage. This should trigger questions in us: Are we prepared? Situated in history between the Incarnation and the Parousia, are we advancing his kingdom as we watch for his return?

More to the point, are we even expecting his return? Given the 2,000 year lapse, have his warnings slipped into the cluttered closets of our memory or, worse, has the delay eroded our confidence in his prophesy or, for that matter, in him?

If those questions cause hesitation, it signals the need to revisit God’s story—the biblical record of divine activity throughout the course of human history. The historical record of what God has done provides a rational basis for confidence in what he has said he will do.

Playing Back God’s Story
Reading the history of Israel is like listening to a CD stuck on “repeat.” Over and over again, widespread apostasy led to divine discipline, provoking national repentance followed by a brief period of revival.

Despite the withering warnings of prophets, the Israelites repeatedly succumbed to pagan influences when they should have been attending to God’s word, they adopted pagan practices when they should have been transforming pagan culture, and they became a stumbling block to their pagan neighbors when they should have been a blessing to them.

To break the cycle, Israel’s leaders continually played back God’s story, reminding the people of God’s benevolence toward the nation: the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and fire, water from the rock, manna from heaven, deliverance from their enemies, and the conquest of the Promised Land, to name just a few.

The leaders also proclaimed prophesies, hundreds of them, among the people. Some were given as warnings about the consequences of disobedience while others were given as assurances of God’s ultimate plan for restoring all things.

Two things are extraordinary about the latter: first, they were made far in advance of the events they described; and, second, many of the fulfillments of prophecy—including dozens concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—were recorded and passed on to people contemporary to those events.

From Public to Personal
God’s story is more than a record of past and future works on behalf of mankind; it includes personal testimonies of his working in the lives of individuals in the present.

Daniel, who prophesied about events in the near and far future, gave witness to God’s faithfulness in the present—answering his prayers and delivering him and his friends from capital punishment. In the Psalms, David repeatedly praises God for guiding, protecting, and strengthening him. Jeremiah’s lamentations over the sins of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem include praises to God for comforting him during imprisonment and rescuing him from his enemies.

Nevertheless, spiritual vacillation produced a generation that was ill-prepared for the coming Messiah. Instead of watching for the Lamb of God who would deliver them from sin, first-century Jews were expecting a conquering King who would deliver them from Gentile subjugation.

A generation later, eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ detailed, in four independent narratives, how he fulfilled the promises in Scripture from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1. And for those who failed to notice, Paul explained how the fulfillments of prophecy occurred among individuals, still living, who could contest any fictions or correct any errors.

Like the Old Testament writers, Paul also shared how God’s story had played out in his own life. In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives witness to Jesus for freeing him from the law of sin and death. He told the Corinthian church how God had encouraged and strengthened him during a time of personal torment. And to the Philippians, Paul testifies to his Source of contentment and efficacy in all things.

The gospel readings for the first Sunday of Advent remind us that God’s story did not end at Golgotha, the death of the apostles, or the completion of Scripture, but continues on the cosmic stage.

They also remind us that Christians are to be an expectant people, living in the sure hope that as God “showed up” once, he will show up again. Until then, he is active in the lives of individuals who are waiting, watching, and working to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Personal Testimony
Most Christians can point to times in their lives when God “showed up”—maybe in an answered prayer, a healing, an encouraging word, or a needed revelation. Throughout my Christian life, I have had a number of such occurrences, of which I’ll share one.

I had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. My timeline, according to the oncologist, was three weeks. But three weeks turned into three months, then three years, and now, ten years after being declared in clinical remission, I remain cancer-free.

Prior to that declaration, however, two questions hung in the air like the scent of decaying flesh: “Why did this happen?” and “How will it turn out?” I had a strong inkling as to the “why” (as I’ll explain in a moment), but the uncertainty of “how” lingered. Then, one night, both questions were answered for me along with a room full of people.

Joanne and I had joined a group of twenty or so intercessors for an evening of prayer. As we got ready to pray, someone suggested, off the cuff, that we read Psalm 118, which in my NIV Bible has the rather inviting heading, “The loving kindness of God.” It was further suggested that each person read a verse, in succession, according to how they were seated. Since our seating was not prearranged, neither was the verse individuals would read.

As it so happened, my turn fell on verse 18: “The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” The words left my lips and, for a moment, failed to register in my brain. When the next person seated failed to continue, I looked around. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the room: mouths were agape, chests were clutched, eyes were tearing, and praises were going up. Then, I, too, was undone.

Earlier in the year, I had confessed to a church class that the greatest obstacle to my spiritual growth was overconfidence in myself. Less than one month later, I was lying in a hospital bed tethered to IVs, listening to an oncologist talk around the hopelessness of my condition, and coming to the realization that this “thorn” was beyond my ability and that of medical science to remove.

The shock of my utter helplessness was met, almost instantly, by a comforting word: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Privately, the message was clear: God was addressing my greatest need—total dependence on him—with his limitless love. Publicly, this message was confirmed to a small gathering of individuals who were watching and waiting for God to “show up.”

Each year Advent draws the world’s attention afresh to God’s story. It’s a story that Christians should be telling “in season and out of season,” through their words and their lives.

Regis NicollRegis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. His new book is titled Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.


Does Hell Play a Role in Evangelization?

by Deacon John Beagan | The crux of our problem, and the reason our Church is in such decline, is we have lost sight of the daily drama for eternal salvation. Without people’s need to be saved, the Church is just another feel-good club competing against all the others (images: William Booth preaching).
Does hell play a role in evangelization? If it does, then when and how? Catholics take many positions on this topic and they all impact the effectiveness of evangelization.

To begin, let me situate this analysis by raising three relevant points. First, discussing hell can be emotional and difficult to face for obvious reasons, such as hell’s forever state. Merely considering its possibility and reality causes anxiety. This affects people’s ability and desire to deal with it.

Second, most people leave the Church because they no longer believe its teaching. Similarly, the level of participation and enthusiasm among those who still consider themselves Catholic is reduced by various doubts and disbeliefs. The Church’s teaching on hell is one of these difficult beliefs because many people can’t reconcile it with a loving God. Thus, if we want to win them back to the Church and help strengthen their faith, we must address this subject, especially given the many references to hell and Satan in Scripture and other parts of the liturgy.

Third, it is extremely challenging to sell the Church to people who don’t need God. In this prosperous and relatively safe country, most people do not need the Lord in this life, except perhaps for an occasional funeral. Moreover, people do not need him to enter the next life either; in every eulogy I hear, the deceased has gone to a “better place.” It seems everyone believes there is a warm bright light at the end of the tunnel regardless of whether or not they ever knew Jesus.

In my lifetime, I have seen many things tried to make people feel good about coming to church, such as placing a resurrected Jesus on the large sanctuary cross, shaking hands at Mass, welcoming people at the church doors, hosting parish socials, appealing to people intellectually, adopting sound business practices, showing folks the beauty of the Church, and on and on. While all this has its place (except for removing the crucified corpus), it won’t work in a widespread sustained way until people begin to feel a need for God. In lieu of a national or global catastrophe, the only option left is to challenge people’s presumption about eternal life.

The position of preachers, teachers, and believers regarding the risk of hell varies considerably. For instance, Pew Research noted that 50 percent of college-educated Catholics do not believe hell exists.

Another popular position is that hell exists, but that it’s reasonable to hope that no one is in it. To the average listener in the pews, who is not used to theological musing and nuance, this is tantamount to saying it doesn’t exist.

A similar position refrains from discussing hell except as a topic for advanced Catholics. Within this position are two camps. The first, like the latter, believes very few people are in hell. This would explain, for instance, why sin and judgment are rarely discussed and why Confession is so infrequent. In other words, why arouse negative feelings in people and spend more time in the confessional, if everyone eventually goes to heaven?

What intrigues me most, however, is the second camp. They believe in the risk of hell, but somehow it still takes a back seat in their preaching and is reserved for advanced Catholics. This is a tactical mistake because few in the pews will take the time to consider Jesus and become advanced Catholics. To someone who believes in the existence of hell, all these positions will leave people ignorant of vital spiritual knowledge.

As a Church, we are competing against the world for people’s attention and time. Persevering in prayer cannot compete with the pleasures of the world, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. If all we do are the good and kind things mentioned above, like welcoming people and showing them the beauty of the Church, we will continue to lose Catholics at a rate of 6 or more for every 1 entering.

The crux of our problem, and the reason our Church is in such decline, is we have lost sight of the daily drama for eternal salvation. Without people’s need to be saved, the Church is just another feel-good club competing against all the others.

When I ponder how to guide my three young-adult sons, I choose to follow Jesus’s words and official Church teaching instead of accepting the complacency around me or the wishful imagining of a bishop or theologian, because the downside of ignoring God’s words is too dreadful. Furthermore, as a deacon who must preach and teach, I need to listen to my conscience and address the people as I do my own family.

Speaking the Truth Works
Several years ago, not long after my ordination, I attended my first funeral Mass as a deacon, and it was for my mother. Since much of my extended family probably didn’t attend Mass regularly, I prepared a challenging homily. As I walked down the center aisle to the front of the church, I was surprised to see my boss and Jewish colleague—two people I wasn’t expecting to preach to.

During the sermon, I emphasized the shortness of life using examples from my chaplaincy experience on a hospital cancer floor and how one particular patient was afraid to die. I finished by saying that we are on the conveyor belt of life, and that we won’t need to be scared when we reach the end, if we first get to know Jesus.

The next morning, I went to work and my boss immediately called me into her office. She started to tell me that she was Catholic, and hadn’t been to church much, but now that her children had finished youth sports, she could start going again. Smiling, I told her I hadn’t known she was Catholic until I gave her Communion.

Since then, I have become more direct in expressing concern for people’s salvation. At Baptism, for instance, families and their friends come to church expecting to celebrate the joy of a new baby. Statistically speaking, they probably don’t go to Mass regularly and yet expect to go to heaven. After acknowledging the joyful occasion, I try to pull them into the eternal drama of this Sacrament and explain how the Church anticipates the baby’s entire life by using symbols also used in a funeral Mass. At Baptism, I say, all the angels and saints are sitting on the edge of their seats wondering if the child will grow up to love God and neighbor.

Then I heighten the drama and pose a series of questions: Why did God the Father send his only beloved Son to us knowing full well he would be crucified? What could be so urgent and dire that a parent would do such a thing? From what and whom is Jesus saving us?

I mention how many no longer believe in Satan and hell, and ask: then where does the inspiration for man’s evil ingenuity come from? Can it all be explained by survival of the fittest or psychological problems?

Then I speak frankly about the fact that Catholic families have drifted away from practicing the faith and ask two more questions: If someone lives a life ignoring the crucifixion of Jesus, how is that face-to-face encounter with God his Father going to go? And how can we expect to jump into intimate union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit having never spent time getting to know members of our own parish?

Finally, I counsel them not to follow the crowd. I conclude my remarks by saying these are exciting times, a period when God is raising real Saints, and a time when, as Saint Paul says, “grace abounds all the more.”

Even though I do my best to meet them where they are then ramp up, I can see surprise and seriousness in their faces. But I cannot simply laugh, bless them and send them on their way. If I believe salvation is at stake, which I do, I must find a way to get their attention and alert them. Thus, instead of keeping hell in reserve as a topic for advanced Catholics, I bring it forward. At the climax of my Baptism homily, I lead with the crucifixion followed by speaking of the implicit risk of hell.

We live in a time when people must be convinced about Jesus and his Church. In a previous Crisis article, I discussed the need for a presentation that would promote all God’s words and invisible realities, reconcile them with a loving God, and address people’s doubts, confusion, and moral challenges. If we allow folks to believe unchallenged that the Church can be wrong about one teaching, then we clear a path for more doubts and disbelief regarding other doctrines.

Some time ago, I presented my case at my brother’s parish. It began with film clips from The Passion followed by interview clips with Exorcist director William Friedkin and an old Jesuit priest who had been featured in the docudrama, In the Grip of Evil, which tells the true story that inspired The Exorcist (as a young Jesuit, the priest had assisted at that exorcism). As with the Baptism homily, I led with the crucifixion followed by an implicit risk of hell.

My brother attended both sessions, parts one and two, over two nights. I had to twist his arm, though, because he rarely went to Mass and his children had not received all the sacraments. The following weekend, while on a ski trip with his family, he sent me this text:

So here’s the funny thing. I was thinking about going to Mass the night before but I forgot to set my alarm. I ended up waking up early and checked to see the Mass times and location. I was still laying in bed listening to Spotify off the iPad and what literally comes on is… “Take Me to Church.” I figured that was a pretty good sign to get my butt out of bed. 🙂

Then he sent me pictures of himself in front of the church.

Broaching the Topic of Hell
You might wonder why I “imply” the risk of hell instead of directly threatening people with it (another common tactic). We live in a free world where people will not tolerate being threatened; it will push them away. Moreover, if we were to succeed at terrorizing people, how could they ever freely come to know God as their loving Father, as in the story of the Prodigal Son? That said, on occasion, its shock value might be warranted.

I am under no illusion about being a talented homilist or possessing the secret sauce for evangelization. But I am very clear about two things.

First, if we want to get people’s attention and loosen their soil to be able to receive Christ’s words, we must undermine their presumption of eternal life. That is, we must appeal to self-preservation and their desire to save loved ones, and not to guilt.

Second, we need to address people’s doubts and lack of faith in a systematic way. We cannot let our brothers and sisters live burdened with disbelief without providing help.

If Catholic priests, teachers, and believers in our country rallied around the need to save souls and taught all God’s words, then the Devil would be in for a true fight. Until then, it’s up to the often-isolated faithful to help others believe and appreciate the daily drama for eternal salvation—an extra difficult challenge for those who rarely get this message.

Deacon John Beagan is an information systems developer. He lives in Watertown, MA, with his wife, Marita, a hospital floor nurse, and serves his local parishes of Sacred Heart and Saint Patrick in the Archdiocese of Boston. He can be reached at DeaconJohnBeagan@gmail.com.

The Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God

The theme, or contents, or the purpose of the whole Gospel, is to set forth and make manifest to men the Glory of God (Bible Study Tools)

Two remarks of an expository character will prepare the way for our consideration of this text. The first is that the proper rendering is that which is given in the Revised Version,—” the gospel of the glory,” not the “glorious gospel.” The Apostle is not telling us what kind of thing the Gospel is, but what it is about. He is dealing not with its quality but with its contents. It is a Gospel which reveals, has to do with, is the manifestation of, the glory of God.

Then the other remark is with reference to the meaning of the word “blessed.” There are two Greek words which are both translated “blessed” in the New Testament. One of them, the more common, literally means “well spoken of“, and points to the action of praise or benediction; describes what a man is when men speak well of him, or what God is when men praise and magnify His name. But the other word, which is used here, and is only applied to God once more in Scripture, has no reference to the human attribution of blessing and praise to Him, but describes Him altogether apart from what men say of him but what He is in Himself, the “blessed,” or, as we might almost say, the “happy” God. If the word happy seems too trivial, suggesting ideas of levity, of turbulence, of possible change, then I do not know that we can find any better word than that which is already employed in my text, if only we remember that it means the solemn, calm, restful, perpetual gladness that fills the heart of God.

So much, then, being premised, there are three points that seem to me to come out of this remarkable expression of my text. First, the revelation of God in Christ of which the Gospel is the record, is the glory of God. Second, that revelation is, in a very profound sense, the blessedness of God. And, lastly, that revelation is the good news for men. Let us look at these three points, then, in succession.

I. Take, first, that striking thought that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the glory of God.

The theme, or contents, or the purpose of the whole Gospel, is to set forth and make manifest to men the Glory of God.

Now what do we mean by “the glory“? I think, perhaps, that question may be most simply answered by remembering the definite meaning of the word in the Old Testament. There it designates, usually, that supernatural and lustrous light which dwelt between the cherubim, the symbol of the presence and of the self-manifestation of God. So that we may say, in brief, that the glory of God is the sum-total of the light that streams from His self-revelation, considered as being the object of adoration and praise by a world that gazes upon Him.

And if this be the notion of the glory of God, is it not a startling contrast which is suggested between the apparent contents and the real substance of that Gospel? Suppose a man, for instance, who had no previous knowledge of Christianity, being told that in it he would find the highest revelation of the glory of God. He comes to the Book, and finds that the very heart of it is not about God, but about a man; that this revelation of the glory of God Is the biography of a man; and more than that, that the larger portion of that biography is the story of the humiliations, and the sufferings, and the death of the man. Would it not strike him as a strange paradox that the history of a man’s life was the shining apex of all revelations of the glory of God? And yet so it is, and the Apostle, just because to him the Gospel was the story of the Christ Who lived and died, declares that in this story of a human life, patient, meek, limited, despised, rejected, and at last crucified, lies, brighter than all other flashings of the Divine light, the very heart of the lustre and palpitating center and remarkable source of all the radiance with which God has flooded the world. The history of Jesus Christ is the glory of God. And that involves two or three considerations on which I dwell briefly.

One of them is this: Christ, then, is the self-revelation of God. If, when we deal with the story of His life and death, we are dealing simply with the biography of a man, however pure, lofty, inspired he may be, then I ask what sort of connection there is between that biography which the four Gospels gives us, and what my text says is the substance of the Gospel? What force of logic is there in the Apostle’s words: “God commendeth His love toward us in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” unless there is some altogether different connection between the God Who commends His love and the Christ who dies to commend it, than exists between a mere man and God? Brethren! to deliver my text and a hundred other passages of Scripture from the charge of being extravagant nonsense and clear, illogical non sequiturs, you must believe that in that Man Christ Jesus ” we behold His glory—the glory of the only begotten of the Father“; and that when we look—haply not without some touch of tenderness and awed admiration in our hearts—upon His gentleness we have to say, “the patient God” ; when we look upon His tears we have to say, “the pitying God“; when we look upon His cross we have to say, “the redeeming God“; and gazing upon the Man, see in Him the manifest Divinity. Oh! listen to that voice, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” and bow before the story of the human life as being the revelation of the indwelling God.

And then, still further, my text suggests that this self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the very climax and highest point of all God’s revelations to men. I believe that the loftiest exhibition and conception of the Divine character which is possible to us must be made to us in the form of a man. I believe that the law of humanity, for ever, in Heaven as on earth, is this, that the Son is the Revealer of God ; and that no loftier—yea, at bottom, no other—communication of the Divine nature can be made to man than is made in Jesus Christ.

But be that as it may, let me urge upon you this thought, that in that wondrous story of the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ the very high-water mark of Divine self-communication has been touched and reached. All the energies of the Divine nature are embodied there. The “riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God,” are in the Cross and Passion of our Savior. “To declare at this time his righteousness” Jesus Christ came to die. The Cross is “the power of God unto salvation.” Or, to put it into other words, and avail oneself of an illustration, we know the old story of the queen who, for the love of an unworthy human heart, dissolved pearls in the cup and gave them to him to drink. We may say that God comes to us, and for the love of us, reprobate and unworthy, has melted all the jewels of His nature into that cup of blessing which He demonstrated to us, saying : ” Drink ye all of it.” The whole God-head, so to speak, is smelted down to make that rushing river of molten love which flows from the Cross of Christ into the hearts of men. Here is the highest point of God’s revelation of Himself.

And my text implies, still further, that the true living, flashing center of the glory of God is the love of God. Christendom is more than half heathen yet, and it betrays its heathenism not least in its vulgar conceptions of the Divine nature and its glory. The majestic attributes which separate God from man, and make Him unlike His creatures, are the ones which people too often fancy belong to the glorious side of His character. They draw distinctions between “grace” and “glory,” and think that the latter applies mainly to what I might call the physical and the metaphysical, and less to the moral, attributes of the Divine nature. We adore power, and when it is expanded to infinity we think that it is the glory of God. But my text delivers us from all such misconceptions. If we rightly understand it, then we learn this, that the true heart of the glory is tenderness and love. Of power that weak Man hanging on the cross is a strange embodiment; but if we learn that there is something more godlike in God than power, then we can say, as we look upon Jesus Christ: “Lo ! this is our God. We have waited for Him, and He will save us.” Not in the wisdom that knows no growth, not in the knowledge which has no border-land of ignorance ringing it round about, not in the unwearied might of His arm, not in that awful Presence wheresoever creatures are, not in any or in all of these lies the glory of God, but in His love. These are the fringes of the brightness ; this is the central blaze. The Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God, because it is all summed up in the one word,—” God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”

II. Now, in the next place, the revelation of God in Christ is the blessedness of God.

We are come here into places where we see but very dimly, and it becomes us to speak very cautiously. Only as we are led by the Divine teaching may we affirm at all. But it cannot be unwise to accept in simple literality utterances of Scripture, however they may seem to strike us as strange. And so I would say—the philosopher’s God may be all-sufficient and unemotional, the Bible’s God ” delighteth in mercy,” rejoiceth in His gifts, and is glad when men accept them. It is something, surely, amid all the griefs and sorrows of this sorrow-haunted and devil-hunted world, to rise to this lofty region and to feel that there is a living personal Joy at the heart of the universe. If we went no further, to me there is infinite beauty and mighty consolation and strength in that one thought—the happy God. He is not, as some ways of representing Him figure Him to be, what the older astronomers thought the sun was, a great cold orb, black and frigid at the heart, though the source and centre of light and warmth to the system. But He Himself is Joy, or if we dare not venture on that word, which brings with it earthly associations, and suggests the possibility of alteration—He is the blessed God. And the Psalmist saw deeply into the Divine nature, who, not contented with hymning His praise as the Possessor of the fountain of life, and the Light whereby we see light, exclaimed in an ecstasy of anticipation, “Thou makest us to drink of the rivers of Thy pleasures.

there is a great deal more than that here, if not in the word itself, at least in its connection, which connection seems to suggest that howsoever the Divine nature must be supposed to be blessed in its own absolute and boundless perfectness, an element in the blessedness of God Himself arises from His self-communication through the Gospel to the world. All love delights in imparting. Why should not God’s? On the lower level of human affection we know that it is so, and on the highest level we may with all reverence venture to say, The quality of that mercy …. “is twice blest,” and that Divine love “blesseth Him that gives and them that take.

He created a universe because He delights in His works and in having creatures on whom He can lavish Himself. He “rests in His love, and rejoices over us with singing” when we open our hearts to the reception of His light, and learn to know Him as He has declared Himself in His Christ. The blessed God is blessed because He is God. But He is blessed too because He is the loving and therefore the giving God.

What a rock-firmness such a thought as this gives to the mercy and the love that He pours out upon us! If they were evoked by our worthiness we might well tremble, but when we know, according to the grand words familiar to many of us, that it is His nature and property to be merciful, and that He is far gladder in giving than we can be in receiving, then we may be sure that His mercy endureth for ever, and that it is the very necessity of His being—and He cannot turn His back upon Himself—to love, to pity, to succor, and to bless.

III. And so, lastly, the revelation of God in Christ is good news for us all.

The Gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” How that word “gospel” has got tarnished and enfeebled by constant use and unreflective use, so that it slips glibly off my tongue and falls without producing any effect upon your hearts. It needs to be freshened up by considering what really it means. It means this: here are we like men shut up in a beleaguered city, hopeless, helpless, with no power to break out or to raise the siege; provisions failing, death certain. Some of you older men and women remember how that was the case in that awful siege of Paris, in the Franco-German War, and what expedients were adopted in order to get some communication from without. And here to us, imprisoned, comes, as it did to them, a dispatch borne under a Dove’s wing, and the message is this: God is love; and that you may know that He is, He has sent you His Son Who died on the Cross, the sacrifice for a world’s sin. Believe it and trust it, and all your transgressions will pass away.

My brother, is not that good news? Is it not the good news that you need—the news of a Father, of pardon, of hope, of love, of strength, of purity, of Heaven? Does it not meet our fears, our forebodings, oar wants at every point? It comes to you. What do you do with it? Do you welcome it eagerly, do you clutch it to your hearts, do you say,” This is my Gospel“? Oh ! let me beseech you, welcome the message ; do not turn away from the Word from Heaven, which will bring life and blessedness to all your hearts 1 Some of you have turned away long enough, some of you, perhaps, are fighting with the temptation to do so again even now. Let me press that ancient Gospel upon your acceptance, that Christ the Son of God has died for you, and lives to bless and help you. Take it and live! So shall you find that “as cold water to a thirsty soul, so is this best of all news from the far country.”

Praising God for His goodness!

by Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko | “Praise him—he is your God, and you have seen with your own eyes the great and astounding things that he has done for you.” Deuteronomy 10:21

We praise God for being so good to us. He has shown us His great mercy and answered our prayers. In our last prayer letters we asked you to pray for our children. They are both doing amazingly well and we praise God for answering prayers.

Jochebed is doing well and shining the light of Christ as she works hard to handle the pressures around her. Praise God with us that Joel’s scholarship has been restored. This was a major point of prayer and the Lord has honored our prayers. Thank you for praying with us. Also, he has been given an accommodation in his studies to enable him to work at a healthy and suitable pace. He has a better outlook on the future now. We spent Sunday afternoon with him and were touched by his bright spirit and growing maturity.

Thank you also for praying for our trips to Kenya and the Philippines which went well. We were truly blessed to be able to spend time with SIM workers in medical ministries and our team in the Philippines. We are encouraged by their dedication and commitment to making Christ known in communities where He is least known even when it is not convenient or totally “safe”.

Thank you and God bless you!

We proclaim how great you are and tell of the wonderful things you have done.” Psalm 75:1.

Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko

Joshua & Joanna Bogunjoko

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko has been the SIM’s International Director since June 1, 2013. Joshua and his wife, Joanna, began their mission careers as members of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), the mission arm of the ECWA church, which today sends more than 2400 Nigerians cross-culturally. They were commissioned by the national ECWA church in 1993 and their home church in Lagos in 1995, where they were sent out as seconded associates of SIM. They have served at three mission hospitals in West Africa and became full members of SIM in 2001. Joshua served on the SIM International Leadership Team since 2006, dealing with global issues related to mission.

Sharing the Gospel with Family During Christmas

by Tim Brister | If you haven’t already done so, “come out of the closet” as a Christian to your family.

I’ve been browsing through Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Your Family Members, Your Close Friends, and Others You Know Well. This is an incredibly important topic as I have come to find it harder to share the gospel with family members as it is with an unknown person in my community. I imagine this is true for most if not all Christians.

In the conclusion of his introductory chapter, Newman provides four steps for sharing the gospel with your family. I thought they were very thoughtful and practical. Check them out.

1.  If you don’t already have one, develop a system for prayer for your family. Perhaps you can set aside a section in a prayer journal.

2.  Begin your prayers for your family with thanksgiving. This may be more difficult for some people than others. Regardless of your family’s well-being, thank God for the family you have and all the accompanying benefits you can identify.

3.  You may need to include prayers of confession as well–confession of your lack of love for your family, your idolatry of control in trying to change them, your reliance on your ability to convict them of their sin instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to do that, your coldheartedness, haughtiness, and self-righteousness, etc. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine his light of truth on your darkness of sin.

4.  If you haven’t already done so, “come out of the closet” as a Christian to your family. Pray for gentle words and a gracious demeanor mixed with bold confidence. . . . Aim for your announcement to be informational rather than evangelistic. You can trust God to open evangelistic doors later.

#3 nailed me.

One thing I might add, especially if you have a large family: look for opportunities in the course of the day when it is not so hectic where you might be able to enjoy a sustained conversation with a family member who is not a Christian. In a large group setting, conversations tend to stay on a superficial level, but if you can get alone with one or two family members for 10-15 minutes or longer, you will have a greater opportunity of magnetizing the conversation to the gospel and how Jesus has changed, and is changing your life.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers

by Dave Doran | The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others.

One of the great blessings of my current ministry is that I get to teach seminarians each week and preach in the chapel regularly. I often try to preach from texts of Scripture that I think will help shape the ministry mindset of future pastors and missionaries. Yesterday, I chose to preach from Matthew 7:1-5 and urge the men to guard themselves against the hypocritical mindset which the Lord confronts there.

The first part of verse 1 is perhaps one of the most often quoted and misused texts of Scripture. “Do not judge” is an oft-abused trump card in debates. It seems clear that Jesus is not against judgment, but against a certain kind of judgment. The context makes that clear–just a few verses later He tells them to watch out for false prophets and that they can know them by their fruits, something which obviously requires the exercise of judgment. John 7:24 is helpful in differentiating the two kinds of judgment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Jesus is confronting a wrong kind of judging in Matthew 7:1-5, not all judgment.

Specifically, the reason that our Lord points out the hypocrisy of the judges in Matthew 7 is because they are not genuinely concerned about sin or about helping other people. If they were concerned about sin, they would deal with their own first. The fact that the person ignores the beam in his own eye while worrying about the speck in his brother’s eye shows that. If he really cared about sin, he wouldn’t ignore his own. If he really was concerned about the other person, he would take care of his own sin so that he could see clearly to help him. By ignoring his vision-impairing beam, he makes it clear that he really isn’t trying to help the speck-afflicted brother, but thinks himself better than him.

The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others. Phony, hypocritical concern about sin doesn’t deal with our own first, it focuses on the sins of others. My charge to the future pastors and missionaries was simply to not allow that phony spirit to invade their lives or ministries. If we, as leaders, are going to be genuinely serious about sin, then that starts by looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word.

It is much easier to point out where others are falling short than to admit and address our own errors. As leaders, though, refusing to acknowledge and act to correct our failures not only reveals a flaw in our character, it undermines the credibility of our claims to be concerned about wrong. How can anybody take the claim that we want to do what is right (by dealing with other people’s problems) when it is obvious that we don’t (by not dealing with our own)?

Few things, from my vantage point, undermine the leadership of parents, pastors, or ministries more than this kind of hypocrisy. The parent who quickly and strongly rebukes a child for wrong, while ignoring his or her own failures as a parent eventually loses the trust of the child. A pastor who confronts sin in the lives of church members, but fails to confront it in himself undermines his own spiritual leadership. A ministry or organization, for example, that exists chiefly to point out the disobedience of other people and ministries, but refuses to correct its own failures as aggressively loses its credibility by demonstrating that obedience isn’t really the controlling principle which governs it.

Jesus answer for judgmentalism is not to reject proper judgment, but to exercise it first with regard to ourselves. If we really care about sin, we’ll deal with the beams before we talk about specks. We’ll start in the mirror, not in somebody else’s eye.

David M. Doran, Senior PastorPastor David M. Doran has been the senior pastor at Inter-City Baptist Church since 1989. He leads through sound biblical preaching and teaching both in the church and at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Claudia, have four sons: David (wife, Abi), Daniel (wife, Melissa), Dillon (wife, Emily), and Derek (wife, Jen). Connect via E-mail Pastor Doran


Understanding 1st Corinthians

by Tommy Zimmer | Today, we recall Paul's letters when we're in trouble—when we're in need of reminders of how God sets us free.

1st Corinthians represents Paul's first epistle to Corinth, a city 180 nautical miles from Ephesus, Turkey, where he was spending his time. Spending three years there, he put together the church in Corinth. He wrote the letter to address his church there about challenges to Christianity and his defense. He wanted to make sure the Corinthians were aware that he was indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ. This, in turn, reinforced the legitimacy of the Christianity he preached to his congregation. However, there was much more to Paul's letter underneath the surface.

Paul wanted to give thanks to the Lord for the many gifts he has given. He was happy about the good health they all had and his own safe travels. Paul wanted his community to share in this goodness: how they had been protected from danger and had good luck with the accomplishments of the church. Paul wanted him and his community to share in all of this together.

 There was also a great division within the community of Corinth that needed to be addressed.

 Paul proposed a solution for the division. For a Corinthian who did wrong, there would be disciple, but a resolution of personal disputes as well. Throughout the last sections, he spoke about how important worship and marriage are. These two sacraments can help to prevent future misdeeds. Paul closed the letter by talking about the Christian resurrection doctrine and his wish that all the Corinthians feel freedom. Paul said he hoped everything that would be done with charity and each of them would be loved and worshiped.

 Often when Paul wrote these letters, it was to address the needs of the community and highlight the problems going on. He hoped to bring resolution to many of the troubles going on and to remind them all they are disciples of Jesus Christ. One major societal problem we face today is addiction, on a national and global scale. Christian drug and alcohol treatment centers use the teachings of Paul in resolving personal disputes: in recognizing one's weaknesses, making amends for past wrongdoing, and looking toward the future for guidance from God.

Today, we recall Paul's letters when we're in trouble—when we're in need of reminders of how God sets us free. When Paul was not in the community, people such as the Corinthians would go against God's wishes and forget what Paul had taught them. Paul reminds them of all of these messages within his letters and keeps them focused on staying on God's path. Throughout these letters, Paul is able to maintain a relationship with the communities in which he works, back in the days of Corinth, and today.

About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery and the entertainment industry.

Rev. Dr. Panya Dabo Baba: A Man Apart

by Dr. Musa A. B. Gaiya | Panya personally founded the Nigeria Evangelical Mission Association (NEMA) that brought together all evangelical mission bodies (image courtesy of SIM/ECWA)

Rev. Dr. Panya Dabo Baba, a resident of the Overseas Ministry Study Center from 1996 to 1997, has been described as the greatest missiologist of the ECWA (formerly Evangelical Church of West Africa founded by the Sudan Interior Mission but now Evangelical Church Winning All). His tenure as director of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS) was outstanding and he raised the mission to an international level. The growth of the ECWA in Nigeria and abroad was mostly due to his ingenious mission strategy.

Panya was born in Karu on January 20, 1932 to Baba and Gnubwanyi, both of them Gbayi of Nasarawa State on Nigeria. Panya's parents were Christians, so he grew up in a Christian family. Baba was the chief of the Karu or the Estu Karu. At his birth Panya was named Panyadabo, which means "remember God the owner"–advice to Panya to remember God who made him. Panya did. When Panya sustained an injury that broke his skull as a toddler, his parents thought he would never survive. He survived but still carries a visible scar–a recovery which Panya considers miraculous. Later in his life, God also healed him of a very serious stomach ailment that almost killed him when he was working as a missionary.

Past and Current Involvement in Church Ministry

He began his early education by enrolling in the Karu SIM Primary School where he studied from 1942 to 1945. Panya heard the gospel from SIM missionary Mrs. H. W. Caster but did not understand it initially. In 1945, though, Panya clearly heard the gospel and received Christ as his personal Savior through Malam Sabuda, a student at the Karu Bible School who hailed from Kaltungo, in northeastern Nigeria. As Panya testified, "Kneeling to God in my small room, I told Him I was sorry for my sins and asked for His forgiveness. I told God I wanted to be one of His children. The moment I finished that prayer, I felt different…that was the day and time Jesus came into my life." Panya was baptized in 1946.

Having heard the call of God to go into full time Christian service, Panya studied at the Karu Vernacular Bible Training School from 1946 to 1947. In 1949 he accepted the challenge to become a missionary among his people, the Gbagyi, in Sarkin Pawa (Niger Province) in northern Nigeria to teach them the Bible. His desire to do mission work continued to grow. He returned to Karu in 1951 and was admitted to Karu Bible Training School for additional training in 1952. In 1954 he was called by the ECWA church in Karu to be a pastor starting in 1957 and was licensed and ordained in 1960. In 1961 Panya went to Kagoro Bible College where he earned a certificate in Bible. He returned to Karu in 1963 to continue as pastor of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) church there. But Panya's heart was more in missions. While Panya was pastoring this church he was appointed director of the Evangelical Missionary Society, where he made his most significant contribution to the course of evangelization of Africa.

Panya married Tayado Dokwadayi in February of 1951. Tayado means "Never depart"–perhaps a prayer that she not die. They had six children–three girls and three boys. They adopted an orphan boy named Ishaya at the age of six. Tayado died in childbirth on April 23, 1963.

Afterwards Panya married Ruth Lami Ataku on February 22, 1964. She gave birth to seven children, two of whom died. All together Panya had fourteen children including one adopted son. One of his sons, Luka, is now (2006) the Estu Karu or paramount chief of Karu.

Panya's growing interest in missions led him to apply to All Nations Christian College in England where he was accepted and studied from 1969 to 1970. When he returned to Nigeria he was the best person to take charge of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS)–at that time the only indigenous mission organization in Nigeria. His training at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, U.S.A. further enriched his understanding of missions and evangelism. He brought his knowledge, experience, leadership abilities, and zeal to EMS. He encouraged young graduates from Bible colleges and seminaries to join the mission, and as a result the number of missionaries increased from 194 in 1970 when he took over to 750 in 1988 when he left office as director.

He also believed in sending missionaries abroad as he felt Nigeria had come to that stage. As a result, EMS missionaries were sent out from two West African countries to five other countries including the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Panya believed in the interdependence between the developed world and the underdeveloped world in mission. He believed the developed West had a lot to give Africa in terms of finances, specialized personnel, and technical assistance, and Africa had a lot to give the West in terms of evangelism and mission. That is why when he stepped down as ECWA president in 1994 and he started the Foreign Mission of EMS.

Panya personally founded the Nigeria Evangelical Mission Association (NEMA) that brought together all evangelical mission bodies. Out of NEMA the Nigeria Evangelical Missionary Institute was created to train young men and women for cross-cultural mission work and the NEMA Searchlight Project designed to research unreached peoples groups. Through the Searchlight Project Panya discovered a number of ethnic groups in Nigeria that had not heard the gospel. These were the Koma, the Boko, the Dakawa, the Kambari, the Undir, the Dirim, and the Bolewa.

Panya was not only a missionary administrator and a strategist; he was also a missionary advocate. Everywhere he went he spoke on missions. At all the international conferences he attended any papers he gave were on the topic of mission. Panya was a member of several international missionary organizations and associations. Ruth Cox, his secretary while he was director of EMS, said of him, "He is always looking for ways to spread the gospel, looking for areas where it has not been preached. He doesn't know the difference between work and pleasure…to him they are the same. He has put missions and the gospel first…this is his life."

When Panya was elected president of the ECWA in 1988 it meant he would have to leave EMS, the place he loved so much. He served as president of ECWA for six years but although he did his work well he did not love it as much as being a missions' administrator. Also, it was very difficult to find someone to fill the vacuum created after Panya left EMS.

As a result of Panya's immense service in the ECWA, especially as EMS director, the governing council and faculty of the ECWA Seminary, Igbaja, awarded him a doctorate of divinity honoraris causa on May 18, 1991. In addition, the West African Theological Seminary gave Panya the Akanu Ibiam Award "for excellence in cross-cultural mission".

Panya Baba retired from active service in the ECWA in 1998. He returned home to Karu and has been preoccupied with writing his thoughts about mission, giving lectures at mission conferences, preaching, offering counseling and helping in any way he can in the local ECWA church in Karu.


Angola: The largest Portuguese-speaking country in Africa

by SIM visit them at sim.org | Since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002, the challenge for SIM, in partnership with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Angola (UIEA), is to help meet the need for discipleship and leadership training as well as relief from suffering (image: Richard Franco)
Welcome to Angola, the largest Portuguese-speaking country in Africa. It is located on the southwest coast of Africa. Opportunities for the gospel are wide open as areas that were once inaccessible become reachable—and are asking for help! SIM works in evangelism of unreached peoples, discipleship, medical care, theological education, and church planting.

Team Vision

By faith, we see:
  • a unified body of Christ in a peaceful nation able to give every man, woman, and child the opportunity to hear, understand, and accept the Gospel of Jesus and to become intimately involved with a vibrant church in order to reach others with the same message.
  • a network of holistic ministries stretching across the country, so that an integrated model of Christianity is visible throughout the land.
  • a team of missionaries who joyfully and effectively partner with the church as they “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

Country & Ministry Profile

Since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002, the challenge for SIM, in partnership with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Angola (UIEA), is to help meet the need for discipleship and leadership training as well as relief from suffering. It is important to build oneness among churches that used to be on opposite sides of the conflict.
The church has a three-fold priority for the next few years: urban church planting/discipleship, medical work, and education. SIM seeks to partner with the UIEA in these ministries.
Church leaders are being trained at the Menongue Bible Institute (practical ministry training) and the Lubango Theological Seminary (college-level education). Graduates of these two schools serve churches throughout the nation. Meeting human need takes three primary forms: medical care, agricultural development, and education. Missionaries who offer assistance in those areas gain a ready hearing for their message of God’s love. The mission and the church are working together, in Christ’s name, to bring stability and faith to Angolans who suffered so much during the long civil war.
Angola is part of the Region of Southern Africa (ROSA) Administration

SIM's Partner Church

The denomination called the UIEA (União de Igrejas Evangelicas de Angola), started in 1914, was formally established in 1977 with its headquarters in Lubango. SIM personnel are considered part of the Missionary Department of UIEA and work in partnership with the church. As of January 2005, there have been 201 organized churches in the former Free Zone. The number of churches in the former rebel-held area is still undetermined.

History of Christianity

The first Catholic mission to the Congo kingdom arrived in 1491 and centered on northern Angola's São Salvador. The initial group consisted of Franciscans, Dominicans, Canons of St. John the Evangelist, and secular priests. A widespread church was formed during the next century under the remarkable Christian King, Afonso I. Afonso's son, Henrique, became the first black African bishop in Catholic history. After a promising beginning, the ravages of the slave trade caused the disintegration of both kingdom and church. Since 1940, Catholicism has grown in Angola, and Vatican II has made the Catholics less hostile toward Protestants.
The first Protestant mission to arrive was the British Baptists who opened a mission at São Salvador among the Bakongo of northern Angola in 1878. Two smaller groups, founded by independent missionaries, have also worked among the Bakongo—the Angola Evangelical Mission which arrived in Cabinda and the coastal area south of the Congo estuary in 1897, and the North Angola Mission which entered Uige (Carmona) in 1925.
Several missions have been active among the Ovimbundu. The Evangelical Church of Central Angola unites the work originally begun by the American Board in 1880 and the United Church of Canada in 1886.
The region west of the plateau and extending south to Sá da Bandeira (now Lubango) was occupied by the Phil-Africaine Mission, which began in 1897 and since 1908 has been supported by the Swiss Reformed Churches. Adventists, who first appeared in 1922, are also found among the Ovimbundu although they have extensive work in the Moxico and Lunda of eastern Angola as well. Brethren missionaries have worked among the Chokwe and Lunda of the northeast since 1884. Southern Angola under comity was assigned to the Africa Evangelical Fellowship. Originally called the South Africa General Mission, the AEF is a faith mission, which entered Angola in 1914. The Alliance of Evangelicals was founded in 1974 and is now composed of ten denominations.
The Bakongo have become the most Christianized people in Angola (in 1960, 55.8% Catholic and 42.7% Protestant) with only 1.5% remaining traditionalist. There are hardly any Protestants in southwestern Angola, and Protestant activity was actually prohibited in the Kwanyama area along the southern border from 1914 to 1960.

Unreached People

The largely unreached tribes in Angola include the Mumuila, Mbwela (Nganguela), Mungambwe, Kwangali, Himba and Nyaneka.
If you would like to be a part of what God is doing in Angola, please contact your nearest SIM office.

Early Warning Signs of Heading towards a Terrible Decision

by Becky Dvorak | James 1:5 – "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and without criticism, and it will be given to him."  (image: .lukeshavak.com)

Need to make a difficult decision? Do you feel as if you are backed into a corner and you just don't know what you should do? We've all been in this place one time or another, and although it's not pleasant, there is an answer.

James 1:5 encourages us with these words, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and without criticism, and it will be given to him." This word "wisdom", sophía, G4678 in Strong's Concordance, means either worldly or spiritual wisdom and skill in the management of affairs.

This is a bit of good news for those who are in a tough spot or feel as though they are pressed between a rock and a hard place. God desires to lead us in our decision-making process. We just need to remember to take the time to ask Him to show us the way. And He also gives to us His Holy Spirit as our guide. "But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own authority. But he will speak whatever He hears, and He will tell you things that are to come" (John 16:13). 

This Scripture clearly states the Holy Spirit will guide you. It doesn't say the Holy Spirit will push or force you into a decision but that He will show you the way. He does not use fear tactics but leads you into all truth, not just a bit of the truth concerning a matter but all truth pertaining to the situation. But the main point is that He does not push. He leads you, guides you, woos you and shepherds you into all truth.

For example, your doctor tells you if you do not take a certain medicine you won't get well, but the warning label on the medicine bottle clearly states this medicine will make you sick. Or worse yet, your doctor tells you the medicine or treatment you are taking is not working, but if you stop taking it, you will die. This is a difficult situation to find yourself in, and it demands that you make a quality decision, and fast.

Your doctor is giving it to you straight as he or she sees it. And in the natural realm, the diagnosis could be correct, but does it include the ultimate option of faith? Elohim, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are omniscient, all-knowing. They understand the problem, and they know how to heal it. God is also omnipotent, all-powerful and has the ability to make you whole again. Trust and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth concerning healing. Remember, God isn't moved by time but by faith. And He only needs one moment to reveal all the truth you need to heal.

Then there are other types of decisions that are not urgent, such as making a large purchase in which you need to borrow more money than you should or would like. What do you do? An old pastor of mine once told the congregation concerning these types of decisions, "If it can't wait two weeks, it probably is not of God." This is so true.

I remember when my husband and I were newly married and had a salesman come to our home trying to sell us cemetery plots. We politely listened to his sales pitch and told him that even though there was wisdom in what he shared, we couldn't make an immediate decision but needed time to think. The man was so upset he began shouting at us, thinking his nasty tone and meanness would insure him a quick sale. It did not. We activated the godly golden nugget of the two-week waiting period for matters like this, given to us by our pastor by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Hasty decisions are usually ones you will regret, and they can cause serious family, relationship, financial and even health problems. While I was growing up, my grandma had a plaque hanging on her kitchen wall that said, "The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get." I often remind myself with those old words of wisdom.  I also take to heart what Moses says to the people in Numbers 9:8, "Stand still, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you." In other words, "Stop, drop to your knees, pray and find out what God has to say about the matter before calling out your decision."

If you feel any confusion in your heart concerning the matter, don't ignore it. This is probably a signal from God that something is not right. Take the time needed to pray through to His peace, because God is not the author of confusion. (See 1 Cor. 14:33.)

And again I reiterate: the Holy Spirit leads us. He does not force us into a decision as our enemy, Satan does. You will save yourself from a lot of heartache and negative consequences if you will learn to follow God's leading and not respond hastily to the enemy pushing you into a bad decision.

Becky Dvorak is a prophetic healing evangelist and the author of DARE to Believe, Greater Than Magic and The Healing Creed. Visit her at authorbeckydvorak.com.

ECWA FOUNDERS’ WEEK 2017: Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, 2016

by Sunday Bwanhot, ECWA Chicago, Connect via bwanhots@gmail.com | Every year ECWA and SIM set aside a week to celebrate Founders’ Week.

What is Founders’ Week?

In 1893 the three young men Walter Gowans, Thomas Kent and Rowland Bingham (pictured above) answered the call of God as missionaries and set sail from America to Europe and from there to Lagos, Nigeria, arriving on Dec. 3 1893 with the sole goal of taking the Gospel to the Soudan (the name given to the whole area bordering Northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Northern Cameroun, Sudan etc.). This was a great sacrifice and we cannot thank God enough for calling these young men, nor can we thank them enough for answering God’s call because of their love for lost people they have never seen.

Both Walter Gowans and Thomas Kent died within the first year of their ministry in Nigeria without seeing one soul come to the Lord. The Lord kept Rowland Bingham alive who returned to the US and mobilized other missionaries to go back to Africa with him. The result was the planting of an SIM church which was indigenized in 1956 and renamed ECWA. ECWA today has more than 7, 000 churches in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Niger Republic, Togo, USA, Cameroun, Benin, Malawi, Mali, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Burundi, UK, Israel and a Prayer Cell in the Philippians. The goal remains to take the Gospel to all parts of the world.


  • Thank God for all those that God used in the past to proclaim the gospel through SIM/ECWA.
  • Thank God for all those that God is using today to continue in the proclamation of the Gospel through SIM / ECWA.
  • Pray that we will all imbibe the sacrifice of the pioneer missionaries and have love and passion for those still living in darkness and step out to do our part no matter the cost.

Pray that our generation will not be at ease but will step out irrespective of our denomination, race, social and economic status to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ alone.

 Rev. Sunday Bwanhot is a minister at ECWA Chicago and their ministry can be summarized as follows:
1. Sunday minister to Churches by training and equipping them and providing resources so that they can effectively minister to the immigrant people around them. We also bring pastors from different backgrounds and churches to fellowship together and learn from each other.

2. Direct Ministry: Sunday minister to immigrants directly through a wide range of activities: Befriend and help them settle in America; provide spiritual guidance, enfold them into existing churches or get them to start a Bible study group, counseling, visitation, hospitality etc. We planted a Church in Chicago and also lead the International Couples Fellowship – a ministry that ministers to immigrant couples as well as single young adults.