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Alternative Forms of Church Are Changing Religious Landscape

A growing number of Americans no longer view a local church as their primary religious meeting place. A study by the Barna Group shows that new forms of religious experience and expression—such as house churches, marketplace ministries, and cyber-churches—are becoming the norm for millions of people. The U.S. has more than 300,000 Protestant congregations and some 20,000 Catholic parishes that have been the primary gathering place for Americans for most of the past century, but the new research shows that more than 50 million adults now practice their faith through a variety of divergent faith models. Barna discovered that discontent with congregational churches, changes in lifestyles and a burgeoning desire to get closer to God have caused many people to seek new ways of being in community with God and other God-seeking people. In 2000 most of the nation's organized religious activity took place at or through local churches. Today the action is shifting to newer forms of corporate religious commitment. The Internet serves as the foundation for interactive faith experiences for more than one out of every 10 adults, although most of them use it in tandem with another form of corporate religious experience.

Religion Today/Barna Group
via MissionNet

Relief Efforts in Kashmir Delayed By Heavy Snow

Gospel for Asia's construction of permanent shelters for those affected by the earthquake in Kashmir has been delayed until April due to heavy snowfall. A GFA Compassion Services relief team is planning on constructing 25-30 houses for the families who are in desperate need of shelter. Currently, people are living in temporary shelters provided by the government. GFA has been providing relief services to the Kashmir region since the earthquake hit months ago. A team spent eight days distributing food, medical treatment and blankets to the needy. They also handed out several tracts and New Testaments, all of which were well received. After returning to Jammu, another team traveled to Kashmir with fresh supplies.

Gospel for Asia's state leader and his small team attempted to get permission to construct permanent housing for the homeless victims of that region, but were not granted permission to reenter Kashmir until April due to heavy snowfall. As the winter months approached, those living near the Himalayan Mountains were in danger of freezing to death without proper living conditions. Although the situation appears bleak, many have received food supplies of rice and lentils. Helicopters have brought food into the region through sling operations. Please pray that the people in Pakistan and Kashmir would be warm this winter as they are currently living in makeshift homes. Pray that the GFA team will have access to enter the region to provide relief and show the love of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering so much.

Gospel for Asia via 

Pakistani Militants Call for Elimination Of Christians

Militant Islamists in Pakistan have called for the elimination of Christians and the public hanging of a Christian accused of blasphemy. Some 3,000 Muslims gathered for Friday prayers at the Jamia Mosque in Sangla Hill on December 2, where three weeks earlier three churches, a school, a convent and Christian homes were attacked in Pakistan's worst outbreak of anti-Christian violence since 2002. Islamic leaders using loudspeakers urged Muslims to rise up and eliminate Christians. They also passed a resolution demanding that Yousaf Masih, a Christian accused of desecrating the Koran, be publicly hanged. The speakers also demanded the unconditional release of the 88 Muslims who have been detained by the Pakistani authorities and accused of perpetrating the November 12 attack on Sangla Hill. Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the situation in Pakistan is becoming increasingly tense.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide
via MissionNet

Presidential Prayer Sunday

The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT) has announced Sunday, Feb. 19—the Sunday before President's Day—as Presidential Prayer Sunday. "It's time for churches to enroll and begin planning how they will observe this nationwide event," said John Lind, PPT's president/CEO. "Our nation is in a spiritual battle, and we Christians need to get on our knees before we lose both the battle and our nation. Our enemies want to do more than just legislate us into insignificance. They want to destroy our way of life. The Sunday before President's Day is a perfect time for congregations to focus their prayers on the specific needs of our country and our leaders."

Churches can enroll at www.PresidentialPrayerSunday.org, where they will find various materials to help organize the event. Membership is free and open to anyone who is willing to commit to pray each day.

From a press release

Secularism Tide Turning in Europe

Western Europe has been riding on a wave of secularism, but the tide seems to be turning, says Bishop Wolfgang Huber, leader of the mainline Protestant churches in Germany. The past year has seen a resurgence of interest in religion, fueled by natural catastrophes on the one hand and major church events on the other. The tsunami in Asia, hurricanes in North and Central America, earthquakes in Pakistan and India and the threat of bird flu have aroused new interest in God, said Huber during the general synod in Berlin last fall. Many secular people are asking questions like, "Are such disasters an expression of God's wrath or of His impotence? Are they indications that God does not exist, or do they lead us to the point where we—in all our helplessness—seek a foothold in Him?" New interest in religion was also aroused by the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor, Benedict XVI. The Catholic World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, attracted 1 million participants, and 200,000 people came to the Protestant "Kirchentag" in Hanover.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Archaeological Finds  Stir Scholars' Interest

Headlines announcing recent archaeological discoveries not only reaffirm the historical trustworthiness of the Bible's narratives, they also highlight the important role archaeology plays in Old and New Testament studies, according to Southern Baptist scholars Eric Mitchell and Steven Ortiz. On Nov. 7, the New York Times reported on the uncovered ruins of what might be the earliest Christian church discovered in the Holy Land, where the Israel Antiquities Authority has tentatively rendered the translation of one inscription as reading, "The God-loving Aketous has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ, as a memorial." On Nov. 9, The Jerusalem Post reported that a very small ceramic shard unearthed at the location of the biblical city of Gath contains the earliest known Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, [and] mentions two names that are remarkably similar to the name Goliath." Ortiz does not doubt the authenticity of these recent finds. However, he tempers his excitement with the reminder that, in archaeology, first impressions do not always turn out to be correct after further investigation. The recent archaeological finds (the Pool of Siloam was also recently uncovered), "are only small pieces of evidence," Mitchell said. "But when we start adding up all the small pieces like these that support the Bible's narratives, it becomes more and more difficult to argue against the accuracy of Scripture."

Baptist Press via
Religion Today Summaries

Terrorists Rebuild Netword After Quake

There have been reports that terrorists are again causing trouble in Pakistan's Kashmir region that was devastated by a massive earthquake on Oct. 8. A partner with Interserve USA who asked to remain anonymous said the quake zone was a well-known recruiting ground for terrorists. "There has been a lot of damage done to the infrastructure for these people," he said. "Whole villages have been swept away where these religious parties held sway. So they are back there now seeking to regroup, retrain people, especially trying to get hold of the orphans so that they can brainwash them."

As for sharing their faith in Christ, the partner said, "Now is the time to show them the Christian way of handling things. Through our practice, through the way we conduct ourselves, through the way we meet with the people, talk to them, listen to their stories, this is a time of gaining a hearing—gaining the right to be heard later on."

Mission Network News

Ireland Unhappy Over Sex Abuse By Catholic Priests

Members of Ireland's Parliament have called for a formal severing of the ties between the government and the Roman Catholic Church after the release of a controversial study on the sexual abuse of children by priests that is considered a "watershed" in the history of such scandals. About 95% of Ireland's elementary schools are financed by the state but are managed by Catholic authorities, the New York Times noted Nov. 13. A three-member panel appointed by the Irish government found that the church covered up sex abuse cases and allowed priests to retain their positions even after numerous complaints as late as 2002. Focusing on one diocese located in Ferns, the panel took three years to develop its case, which has led the country's justice minister to promise new child protection laws and a nationwide audit of how the Catholic Church handles such problems.

Baptist Press

Virginia Parish Leaves ECUSA

A Virginia congregation says it has left the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) — and the pastor of that congregation feared his former bishop may take retaliatory action against the parish. South Riding Church is the first to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after two years of conflict over ECUSA's ordination of an openly-homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. But Pastor Phil Ashey said his problems with the Episcopal Church run much deeper. "Really, the issue of Robinson's consecration and the blessing of same-sex unions is simply the presenting issue of a deep, deep disease in the Episcopal Church and its leadership, which is the abandonment of Holy Scripture as the basis for what we believe," he said. Ashey says his church is now under the canonical authority of the Anglican bishop of Uganda, Benezeri Kisembo. But Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia does not recognize South Riding's withdrawal from ECUSA because, in his opinion, Bishop Kisembo has no authority in the Diocese of Virginia.

AgapePress via
 Religion Today Summaries

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Bible Leaguers Plant 1,065 New Romanian Churches

Workers trained by the Bible League in Romania have established 1,065 new evangelical churches since 1993, when the ministry first began working with national Christians in that country. This year alone, national partners in Romania report 81 new churches established and more than 18,200 new church members. "God is using us to serve His church here in Romania," said Timothy Mitrofan, the Bible League's national director in Romania. However, more than 9,500 towns and villages in Romania are still without an evangelical presence. The country's dire economic situation is forcing many people to leave in order to find work. As a result, the number of church workers is dwindling.

Bible League via MissionNet

Medical Team to Vaccinate Orphans

Hopegivers International is sponsoring a special medical team to travel to India to vaccinate orphans against the deadly virus Hepatitis A. Led by retired registered nurse Bobbye Golden, five volunteers were to leave for India in January. "In everything we do, we want to reflect the love of Christ," said Hopegivers President Samuel Thomas. "I'm thankful for people like Bobbye Golden who make it their business to reflect Christ through helping others." The India Vaccination Campaign first began when Golden went to India in 1997 with Hopegivers to provide typhoid vaccine for hundreds of orphans at the Raipura Orphanage in Kota, Rajasthan. Along with her team of volunteers, Golden has been back to India every year since then to provide life saving shots for abandoned and orphaned children. Along with the vaccines, the children are taught proper hygiene techniques and are given toothbrushes, vitamins and antibiotics.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

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Iran Now Threat To TV Ministry

Iran's hard-line government could pose a threat to SAT-7, a Christian Arabic satellite television ministry, said spokesman Terry Ascott. In November, under the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian government fired 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats. They also dismissed those who promoted ties to Europe. In their place, the government has been putting Islamic fundamentalists at key posts, including security agencies. As these governmental changes continue there's a question as to what could happen to Christians. "As things become more difficult, it's more embarrassing, if you like, for church leaders to be involved with the satellite television system," Ascott said. "So yes, it is potentially much more difficult for us in the days ahead to produce indigenous materials within the country."

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