This was my 13th consecutive year to attend the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting. SBC President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church near Atlanta, Ga., eliminated both night sessions. He also urged people to forgo coat and tie for more casual clothing due to the desert heat.
His decision not to have night sessions was offered to give messengers more time for fellowship. Fellowship is an important aspect for many (including me), but nothing is more important than completing the business of the Convention. The preaching and singing was great, but our primary purpose for meeting was to conduct business. It will be interesting to see if the elimination of the night sessions continue.
Wright’s call for attendees to wear more casual clothing seems to be following a growing trend in Southern Baptist life where people wear anything to church. I do not mean to make an issue of it because some people cannot afford nice clothes. But Mom and Dad taught me that God deserves our very best and that includes our appearance when we go worship Him. If a suit is your best, you wear it. If jeans are your best, you wear them. For me, that meant suit. That ought to give you a clue as to what I wore in Phoenix. After all, people would not recognize me without a bow tie!
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On one of our free evenings, some friends and I attended the Major League Baseball game between the world champion San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game reminded me that it was a Major League Baseball player – of all people – who recently dealt the embryonic stem cell (cloning) movement a severe blow. New York Yankee pitcher Bartolo Colon’s career appeared finished after a spectacular beginning. In 2005 Colon won the American League Cy Young Award as the league‘s top pitcher, but a series of elbow and shoulder injuries sidelined him for much of the next four seasons. His condition deteriorated and he did not play in 2010.
In March 2010, an adult stem cell specialist flew to Colon’s hometown in the Dominican Republic to see if adult stem cells (which is not cloning) could be used to heal his injuries. The 45-minute procedure involved extracting fat and bone marrow stem cells from Colon and injecting them back into his elbow and shoulder to help repair ligament damage and a torn rotator cuff. Within a month Colon was working out and in January he signed a $900,000 contract with the Yankees. He is now throwing a baseball 95 mph and has a solid 5-3 record.
“It is a miracle, no?” said one of the assisting physicians.
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As I recall, it did not generate much discussion when it was reported in January, but Christianity Today published an article indicating that faith-based universities with historically strong denominational ties – including the Southern Baptist Convention schools – are enrolling fewer students from within their own denominations. Even strong, conservative Southern Baptist universities like Union in Jackson, Tenn., now have as many as one-third of its enrollment comprised of students who do not come from Southern Baptist backgrounds. We do not know the percentage of non-Southern Baptist students at SBC seminaries.
Universities and seminaries, many already under financial stress, need students in order to generate revenue, but the trend makes me wonder what it means for the future of Southern Baptist pulpits. It also makes me wonder what it could spell for the future of the Cooperative Program.
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Baptisms, church membership and worship attendance all declined slightly in 2010 throughout the SBC, according to the Annual Church Profile compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources. SBC churches reported 332,321 baptisms in 2010, down from 349,737 in 2009. Membership in 2010 totaled 16.1 million, down 0.15 percent. Worship attendance declined 0.19 percent to 6.2 million in 2010.
BY DON HINKLE / editor