45,000 People Baptized at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church

Warren called the moment “historic”, before Alberto Flores became the 45,000th person to be baptised by the church.

CHR Comment: Saddleback Church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has reported the issue of repeated Baptisms in their denomination. In other words, some Baptists who have fallen away from the church get baptized a second or third time when they recommit as Christians. Although Christians in the U. S. should celebrate the many Baptisms at Saddleback Church, we should also view this large number in perspective with popular practice among Baptists.

Source: 45,000 People Baptised At Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church | Christian News on Christian Today

Iraqi Refugees Receive Vision and Baptism

Under the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), thousands of residents from Fallujah, Iraq, have fled to a refugee town called City of Refuge.

CHR Comment: According to Frontiers USA mission, a refugee named Layla received a vision that someone would tell her about Jesus. The conversions are in part a response to those events.

Source: Iraqi refugees convert to Christianity, share Gospel to families and friends | Christian News on Christian Today

Thousands of Muslims in Bangladesh Reportedly Converting to Christianity

Christian persecution in Bangladesh hasn’t waned, but surprisingly, the number of Muslims converting to Christianity in the South Asian country has been increasing over the years.

CHR Comment: The increasing number of Christians occurs in opposition to persecution. The article describes how new Christians meet in house churches that are not marked as churches due to the possibility of persecution. There are also reports out of Europe that Muslim immigrants are seeking Baptism.  Missionaries used to describe the challenge of reaching Muslims with the Gospel. Today it appears that more Muslims are welcoming the Gospel.

Source: Thousands of Muslims in Bangladesh reportedly converting to Christianity | Christian News on Christian Today

Drop-In Sacraments: Desperation or Renewal?

Many parishes of the church now offer drop-in weddings, including a 20-minute service complete with hymns, musicians, and witnesses.

CHR Comment: The Church of Sweden, a historically Lutheran state church, has rapidly lost members and witnessed a drop in church involvement. Pastor Jerker Alsterlund’s solution has been to offer short-order arrangements for marriages and Baptisms, which other churches have adopted. Supporters argue that this is an avenue for renewal in the churches, stripping away the cultural trappings that make arrangements for church services awkward.

Source: In a rush and need a wedding? Try the Church of Sweden. – CSMonitor.com

Russians celebrate Epiphany by Diving into Freezing Waters

Thousands of Russians have taken a dip in the icy waters to celebrate Epiphany, a major holiday in Orthodox Christianity marking the birth and baptism of Jesus.

CHR Comment: Here’s another example of this Eastern Orthodox practice, which was described in an earlier Epiphany post. Somehow I don’t think this will catch on in the West.

Source: Russians celebrate Epiphany by diving into freezing waters – The Washington Post

Epiphany Celebrations around the World

CHR Comment: Christians today celebrate the Epiphany of Jesus Christ, added to the calendar by the Early Church. The name of the feast comes from a Greek word meaning “Make manifest.” The celebration includes different events from Jesus’ life such as the following:

Visitation of the Magi, the first Gentiles to worship the child Jesus. Matthew 2 records their visit, which did not take place on the night Jesus was born but up to two years afterward while Joseph and Mary were living in a house at Bethlehem rather than a stable. Christians in the western tradition often commemorate this event, emphasizing Christ’s mission to save all nations. The Christmas tradition of giving gifts also comes from this biblical event since the Magi brought gifts to Jesus.

Baptism of Jesus. All four Gospels in the New Testament record when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as He stood in the Jordan River, consecrating Baptism as a Christian practice and demonstrating its importance for the Christian life. Christians in the eastern tradition often commemorate Epiphany by emphasizing Baptism.

Miracles, such as turning water into wine. A third Epiphany theme is based on John 2 and other passages where Jesus performs miracles or “signs” as John the evangelist called them. Jesus’ miracles showed that He was more than an ordinary human being. He was God manifested in the flesh, the Messiah and Savior. All three Epiphany themes are wonderfully commemorated in an English hymn by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85), “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” Each stanza ends with, “God in man made manifest.”

Included below are links to news stories that describe different local Epiphany practices. In Bulgaria, Eastern Orthodox Christians dance in an icy river. Italian parents put gifts of candy in the shoes of children. In Poland, Spain, and former Spanish colonies, there are Epiphany parades. Christians generally commemorate the feast with a special service on January 6 or the nearest Sunday. The Epiphany season reaches a high point on Transfiguration Sunday and ends on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast.

Our family plans to watch The Nativity Story tonight, which includes biblical and legendary portrayals of the Magi visiting the Holy Family (New Line, 2006). We will also have special prayers together, rejoicing that God became man for us and for our salvation.

Blessed Epiphany!

Source: Bulgarians Dip Into Icy River to Celebrate Epiphany Day – NBC News

Epiphany in Italy and Elsewhere