India’s Christians Ask for Prayer as Virus Overwhelms Crematoriums

Severe oxygen shortage one of many challenges as India suffers the world’s worst surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

With life-saving oxygen in short supply, families are left on their own to ferry people sick with COVID-19 from hospital to hospital in search of treatment as India is engulfed in a devastating surge of infections. Too often, their efforts end in mourning.

On social media and in television footage, desperate relatives plead for oxygen outside hospitals or weep in the street for loved ones who died waiting for treatment.

India has been setting global daily records of new coronavirus infections, spurred by an insidious new variant that emerged here.

On Friday, the number of new confirmed cases breached 400,000 for the third time since the devastating surge began last month. The 414,188 new cases pushed India’s official tally to more than 21.4 million, behind only the United States.

The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 new deaths on Friday, bringing the confirmed total over 234,000 (behind only the US and Brazil). Health experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Leaders of Christian churches and ministries in India have been overwhelmed by cases and deaths among their staff and congregants amid the unavailability of treatment. In response, today was jointly declared a day of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

The current crisis is one of the darkest times in the history of the nation, according to Prabhu Singh, principal of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), an evangelical research institution in Bengaluru.

“One of the heartbreaking results of this intense second wave in the country is the tragic loss of senior leaders of Christian ...

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Divided They Stand: Evangelicals Split Up in Politics to Keep Ukraine Conservative

Buffeted by Russia, corruption, and culture war pressures, believers surge in national elections.

Like many in America, evangelicals in Ukraine feel under siege.

It may be why people are starting to elect them—in record numbers.

“Ukraine has become the epicenter of a global spiritual battle,” said Pavel Unguryan, coordinator of Ukraine’s National Prayer Breakfast.

“Today, as never before, our nation needs unity, peace, and the authority of God’s Word.”

Their perceived threats are coming from all directions.

From the east, Russia recently amassed 100,000 soldiers on the border.

From the west, the European Union pushes LGBT ideology.

And from within, corruption is rampant.

On each issue, evangelicals align well with Ukrainian voters.

“The shortage of good leaders is so intense, parties are starting to recruit in the churches,” said Unguryan. “Honest and responsible politicians are easiest to find there.”

Last October, more than 500 evangelicals were elected to all levels of government. One even heads a major city—Rivne, in western Ukraine—as mayor.

With evangelicals comprising only 2 percent of Ukraine’s 40 million people, it is a significant achievement.

Two-thirds (65%) of the population identify as Orthodox Christians (split across three groups), 10 percent as Greek Catholic, and a further 8 percent as “simply a Christian.”

But the piety does not translate to politics. Ukraine ranks 117th out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index—the second-lowest ranking in Europe.

As a result, 78 percent of Ukrainians distrust state officials, and 71 percent distrust politicians, according to a 2020 poll by the Razumkov Center.

But the church is trusted by 63 percent, second only to the army, trusted by ...

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How Much Does Prayer Weigh?

Why scientists struggle to put this spiritual practice under the microscope.

Praying can be easy. A prayer can be a thought, a word, a heavenward plea from someone in need, a few lines said spontaneously or recited from a book, or even just a groan. Understanding what a prayer does after it leaves your lips is a little more difficult. Christian theologians have long debated how prayer works, and what it means to say it “works.” So have scientists.

Psychologist Kevin L. Ladd, a professor at Indiana University South Bend, recently examined some of the extensive recent research on prayer for the John Templeton Foundation. Looking at more than 40 psychological studies finished in the past few years on the impact of prayer on intimate relationships, Ladd found there is some evidence of positive correlations between prayer and improved relationships. “It may,” he writes, “be useful to encourage people to engage some forms of prayer as coping tools.”

But in study after study, Ladd, author of The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach, also found that researches hadn’t thought very carefully about what prayer is. In a sense, they kept pointing their telescopes in the wrong direction.

Ladd spoke to CT about the limits of prayer research.

Why is it hard to study prayer scientifically?

If you’re not familiar with the practice of prayer and why people pray, it’s very easy to look at it as though somebody is making a definitive statement or doing something over which they would claim to have full control. The twist with prayer is that you can be saying things that sound very active and assertive about what you want to happen in the world and also at the same moment you are relinquishing control. You’re saying, “I am surrendering this concern.” ...

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Accelerating the Great Commission: Breakthrough and Innovations

Article 3 in a series of articles based upon the Lausanne North America Listening Call

Question 3: What promising breakthroughs or innovations do you see that can accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission?

We live in an age of constant innovation and breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology.

Just so we are on the same page, let me define innovation and breakthroughs. I’m borrowing from Ted Esler’s innovation definition where he writes, “Innovation is the use of something new to create solutions. It can include invention, the creation of something new, or it can be a mixing of existing things to create something new. It might be technological, but it is not limited to technology. It is about products, services, processes, and ideas. Breakthroughs are related to innovation as they are a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development that helps to improve a situation, provide a solution, or solve a problem.

The Church has been seen (in general) more as a Luddite than a technophile. However, what we have witnessed over the last several decades is an increasing number of church leaders, churches, non-profit, and Christian organizations leveraging innovation and breakthroughs for greater gospel impact. In our listening call, the leaders provided dozens of innovations and breakthroughs they see that are helping to (or can help) accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

In this post, I want to present the top three.

Social Media

There are variations of social media.

Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Snapchat are one variant of social media. These platforms allow people to network with one another sharing personal updates, thoughts, experiences, photos, and videos. Another variant to social media is bookmarking sites like Pinterest ...

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Proof That Political Privilege Is Harmful for Christianity

Our analysis of 166 nations suggests the biggest threat to Christian vitality is not persecution, affluence, education, or pluralism. It’s state support.

Why is Christianity growing in some countries but declining in others?

For much of the 20th century, social scientists answered this question by appealing to the so-called secularization thesis: the theory that science, technology, and education would result in Christianity’s declining social influence.

More recently, some scholars have suggested the cause is rather the accumulation of wealth. Increasing prosperity, it is believed, frees people from having to look to a higher power to provide for their daily needs. In other words, there is a direct link from affluence to atheism.

In a peer-reviewed study published this month in the journal Sociology of Religion, my coauthor and I challenge the perceived wisdom that education and affluence spell Christianity’s demise.

In our statistical analysis of a global sample of 166 countries from 2010 to 2020, we find that the most important determinant of Christian vitality is the extent to which governments give official support to Christianity through their laws and policies. However, it is not in the way devout believers might expect.

As governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly. This relationship holds even when accounting for other factors that might be driving Christian growth rates, such as overall demographic trends.

We acknowledge that our methodology and datasets cannot account for a factor of great importance to Christians: the movement of the Holy Spirit. However, our numerous statistical tests of the available data reveal that the relationship between state privilege of Christianity and Christian decline is a causal one, as opposed to only correlation.

Our study notes three different paradoxes of the vibrancy ...

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Christians ‘Pray the News’ in a Year of Doomscrolling

Ministries offer tips for how to give heartbreaking headlines over to God.

Over the past year, the news has been enough to drive us to despair. Or prayer. Or both.

As people have been bombarded with headlines about the global pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters, and religious persecution, Google searches for prayer rose to the highest levels on record, and Christian ministries have stepped up to offer resources to help believers pray through the news.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK outlet Premier Christian News had redesigned its website to include prayer prompts at the end of every news story. The site saw more than 175,000 readers click to pray in 2020.

“We wanted to inform Christians about the news going on around the world but also equip them,” said Marcus Jones, Premier’s director of news and digital.

During some grim news cycles—Brexit, terrorist attacks, and then the pandemic—journalists and audiences alike can become desensitized to the headlines. “It is healthy to take a step back and say this is a real-life situation God can intervene in,” said Jones.

The writers at Premier Christian News compose or compile relevant prayers, usually just a few lines long, to run at the end of their articles. A tracker tallies how many readers have clicked the praying hands icon to indicate they are praying.

A majority of Premier readers come from the UK, where a third of people say the pandemic has affected their prayer life, according to a Savanta ComRes survey. They’re just as likely to say it’s made them pray less (15%) as to say it’s made them pray more (16%).

Still, Jones said the team has been impressed with how much engagement they’ve gotten from the feature. The most-prayed-for stories are usually ...

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Remembering Marva Dawn, a Saint of Modern Worship

Her teachings pushed us beyond worship wars and individualism with keen observations, a generous spirit, and an otherworldly devotion to Jesus.

When a mentor saw me struggling with worship in our fledging church plant, he handed me a copy of Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship in this Urgent Time. I wondered what a Lutheran and a lover of historic worship practices would have to say to a congregation whose traditions came more from indie rock shows than any church.

It turns out that the work of Marva Dawn—who died last month at age 72—was life-giving. Like many in my generation, I began ministry with a sense that there was something unsatisfying about the experiences I’d grown up with, and Dawn invited us to reconsider much that had been laid aside in the decades before.

I have no doubt that some of the credit for the renewed interest in hymnody and liturgy of the past two decades is owed to Dawn’s response to the church trends of the 1980s and 1990s, including the praise and worship movement coming out of places like The Vineyard and the “seeker-sensitive” movement led by Willow Creek.

Dawn wrote in Reaching Out that many of the changes the church was adopting—aesthetically, stylistically, and technologically—were being made uncritically. She could see that these shifts in the culture of the church were also shifts in the nature of the church, as congregations turned into “mega-businesses instead of Christian communities.”

At the height of the worship wars, churches were battling out the transition from choirs, organs, and hymnals to praise bands and overhead projectors. Advocates of contemporary worship beat the drum of evangelistic opportunity, while traditionalists fought for the church’s connection to church history and the riches of the hymnal.

But Dawn sought ...

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Racial Reconciliation Efforts in the Works Part 5: Ministry Initiatives

A compilation of racial reconciliation resources and efforts as the United States continues to grapple with racial injustice and tension.

A number of ministry initiatives were either birthed or accelerated during this season. The following gives a sampling of some of the many responses we received.

Eric Torrence (@EricTorrence83) and Jon (@JonWarren_TX) commended U nity Table, noting that it is a collaboration of churches in north Dallas.

Started by One Community Church in Plano, Dr. Conway Edwards believes "proximity leads to empathy." On the site you can see a conversation between Bryan Loritts (@bcloritts) and Matt Chandler (@MattChandler74). Unity Table offers a training guide and resources through Right Now media. One such resource is the free document produced by One Community Church called "The Unity Table—Setting the Table: A Practical Guide to Conversations That Lead to Reconciliation,” also available on the site.

Tim Simmons (@TimSimmonsMusic) told us: "the lead pastor at Life Fellowship, a suburb of Memphis, launched an outstanding project called The Listening Project, a digital listening room to hear and respond real stories that challenge your own racial ideologies." The site says it offers "a 4-step journey designed to foster much-needed conversation and intentional listening about matters of race."

A number of people chimed in on the UNDIVIDED movement. Erin Caproni (@erin_cinci) told us how Crossroads Church and the UNDIVIDED movement have been very active in this space for several years. It offers a six-session curriculum.

Judith Roberts (@jrobertslatech) also mentioned this Undivided emphasis: She encouraged us to see "The Springs on Instagram and Facebook. We hosted an #undivided study this fall and our church mission is to be multi-cultural, ethnic, and generational."

Mike Sharrow (@mikesharrow) ...

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Christian and Missionary Alliance Considers Calling Women ‘Pastors’

Denomination survey finds 61 percent want to change titles, allow for ordination.

Jennifer Ashby preaches and teaches regularly at Neighborhood Church in Rockville, Maryland. She baptizes people, disciples them, marries them, buries them, and counsels them in times of crisis.

But one thing she won’t do, as executive director of ministries at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) congregation, is call herself “pastor.”

The CMA consecrates and licenses women for ministry but does not permit them to use the title “pastor.” The term is restricted to men who can be elders, even though not all pastors are elders in CMA churches and not all elders are ordained pastors.

The title is just a title, admits Ashby, who is also one of three women on the CMA board of directors, but not having a title can complicate pastoral ministry.

“Because certain words are off-limits, you end up doing verbal gymnastics,” she said. “Without the commonly understood language around what I do, people don’t understand how I can help them. That’s one of the big functional implications of this policy. People come to the church and say ‘I would like to speak to a pastor,’ and it’s not clear to them that an executive director of ministries can help them.”

The CMA is considering changing the title restrictions at the denomination’s annual General Council meeting, scheduled for both Nashville and online at the end of May. Though no decision will be made this year, the Alliance will talk about allowing women to be called pastors in the future.

“It’s become clear to me that some of our policies unnecessarily restrict otherwise called and qualified ministers,” CMA president John Stumbo said in an official announcement. “This grieves ...

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20 Truths: No Longer Strangers

20 Truths from Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page's latest release, ‘No Longer Strangers.’

1. "The editors of this volume and the contributors believe wholeheartedly that evangelism is a necessary and beautiful part of our discipleship. However, while the book affirms the important commitment of evangelism, we highlight the dangers when North American Christians, in particular, underestimate how their education, race, language mastery, and other factors impact their ability to love and express the gospel (in word and deed) to refugees and immigrants coming from backgrounds that include trauma, oppression, colonialism, persecution, etc." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page (1)

2. "This book, . . . will guide churches, individuals, and Christian leaders in the ways of healthy discipleship and instruct them in how to avoid evangelism that causes harm to immigrants through abuses of power dynamics and intercultural blind spots." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (2)

3. "[The church] at times feels like it's lost its footing in the chaos and craziness of our polarized, political world where it seems as if more and more Christians are in a space where their politics inform their theology rather than our biblically rooted theology informing our politics." Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (5)

4. "What we are seeing now is a new work of the Spirit. While the pattern of migration and refugee resettlement can be explained factually using social and political sciences, the Christian must look above and beyond and seek the purposes of God amidst these facts. In light of the sovereignty of God, why are refugees and immigrants brought to our doorstops?" Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi (6)

5. "We are in the midst of the largest mass migration in human history. . . there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced ...

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