15th Annual Conference of Bulgarian Churches in North America Building Bridges to Church and People in Bulgaria

May 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

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First person to speak in tongues in the Assemblies of God was William Jethro Walthall of the Holiness Baptist Churches of Southwestern Arkansas

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Research

William Jethro WalthallBy Glenn Gohr
A/G Heritage, Fall 1992

Although the modern Pentecostal movement relates its beginnings to Charles Parham, who formulated classical Pentecostal theology at his Bible school in Topeka at the turn of the century, throughout history, from apostolic times to the present, there have been certain religious groups and isolated cases of individuals who have experienced tongues-speaking and spiritual gifts.

William Jethro Walthall, who founded the Holiness Baptist Churches of Southwestern Arkansas, a group which later merged with the Assemblies of God, is an important figure who received his baptism in the Spirit prior to Parham’s launching of Pentecostalism in 1901.

Walthall’s Spirit baptism, which occurred 113 years ago, is one of the earliest documented cases of speaking in tongues in North America. Earlier instances of tongues-speaking have been reported among the Shakers, the Holiness Movement, the “Gift People” or “Gift Adventists” in New England, and others. It is very possible that Walthall is the earliest person to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and who later joined the Assemblies of God.

William Jethro Walthall was born in Nevada County, Arkansas, March 9, 1858, the son of Charles Featherston Walthall and Mary Jemima Meador. His father died in 1863 at Rock Island, Illinois, as a prisoner in the Civil War, and his mother died 2 years later. Orphaned at age 7, he was reared by his widowed grandmother. However he had no Christian upbringing, so it was not until 1877 that he was confronted with the claims of the Gospel. That happened when he attended an old-time Methodist meeting and conviction gripped his heart, resulting in his conversion at age 19. Two years later, on August 3, 1879, he was married to his first wife, Melissa P. “Missy” Beavers, who bore him two children, Millard and Ibber Mae. After Melissa passed away, he married Hattie Vaughn on March 24, 1915.

While a young Christian, Walthall had a yearning for more of the workings of God in his life. He earnestly began to seek for a fullness of power to witness and better serve the Lord. This spiritual hunger led him to carefully study the Book of Acts and other scriptures. There he found recorded an enduement with power of the Holy Ghost which had accompanied the Early Church. He wanted this same experience in his life.

During a season of fervent prayer, he received a mighty infilling of the Spirit on September 3, 1879. Since he had never heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he did not receive his Baptism through any prescribed theory or method.

Until that time all he knew about the Holy Spirit came from the teachings of the Methodists and Baptists. But this was something new. His experience came about in answer to prayer and through his own study of the Word of God. From the outset he understood that his experience corresponded with the records given in the Book of Acts.

In his testimony, Walthall describes his infilling by saying, “I was carried out of myself for the time being.” From the time of his Baptism, he testified that he often felt the strong anointing power of God. At times he would fall under the power of God when the Spirit came upon him. He also spoke in tongues as the Spirit directed.

For two years, during which time the Holy Ghost would often fall on me, I walked with God. Sometimes while in service and sometimes when alone in prayer I would fall prostrate under His mighty power. While under this power my tongue seemed to be tied in the center and loosed at both ends. I knew nothing of the Bible teaching on the Baptism or speaking with tongues, and thought nothing of what had happened in my experience.

Walthall was ordained by the Missionary Baptist Church on May 29, 1887, and served several congregations in Southwest Arkansas. He was active in various associational committees including foreign missions and temperance. In 1891 he was pastor of Piney Grove Church at Boughton, Arkansas, which was a part of the Red River Baptist Association of the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, the annual associational meeting was held that year at Walthall’s church. The next year he was pastoring two churches at Bluff City and Prescott. From 1894-1895 he was pastoring at Stephens. The last Baptist church he pastored was at Buena Vista. Because of the prevalent view of the Holy Spirit held by Baptists, Methodists, and other mainline churches, Walthall had some reservations about his experience, as he shares in his testimony:

The ordinary Methodist and Baptist teaching was all that I knew, and, of course, that served to diminish my experience and to paralyze my faith rather than build me up. In the meantime, I began preaching a work to which I was called when the blessed Spirit filled me. I always felt that there was a lost chord in the Gospel ministry. My own ministry never measured up to my ideal, nor did the teaching of my church (Baptist) measure up to my experience.

Then in 1895 Walthall came into contact with the Holiness revival. Its emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit impressed him. Its teachings approximated his ideal more nearly than anything else, but he never fully ascribed to the Holiness theology. He could not accept its theory of sanctification; nor could he accept its abridgement of the supernatural. Even so, the Holiness revival opened him up to a larger sphere of ministry, This in turn gave him the encouragement he needed to preach the full gospel message as he understood it from the Scriptures. As he began to preach a full gospel message, the Baptist leaders excluded him from his church and he was ostracized from the Baptist ministry in 1896. He continued preaching on his own.

After my new vision of the Word of truth, and my expulsion from the Baptist fellowship and ministry, I went alone with a new zeal in an independent, plodding ministry, with church and school houses closed against me. I was looked upon with suspicion, as unbalanced but was so animated by the divine presence that it seemed at times as if terrestrial bearing was almost lost. Baptist minister, J. C, Kelly, and other Baptists who became disfellowshipped because of their beliefs in entire sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

He was soon followed by another Baptist minister, J. C. Kelly, and other Baptists who became disfellowshipped because of their beliefs in entire sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

8 Things Christian Believers and Churches Can Do in Light of Recent SCOTUS Ruling on LGBT

August 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, News

1. State Level

2. Personal Level

  • Inform yourself and your family of the clear Biblical principles for love and holiness applicable in this situation
  • Pray daily for the protection of your family and the salvation of many souls
  • Be faithful to your husband/wife and children

3. Corporate Level

  • Hold on to your Christian standards for doing business
  • Support other Christian businesses
  • Forgive and forget, but watch and pray

4. Local Church Level

  • Join in corporate fasting and praying in the Spirit
  • Uphold the Biblical standard of holy living
  • Preach the truth as you have received it
  • Adopt local church resolutions on the sanctity of the family

5. Denominational Level

6. Christian Alliances Level

7. International Organizational Level

8. Get good insurance with adequate coverage and experience in the matter

• A good example from Brotherhood Mutual Ins. 

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What should churches and ministries know about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage

August 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, News

SOURCE: Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. The decision also requires states to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state.

The Case: Obergefell v. Hodges
This case began when a same-sex couple from Cincinnati, Ohio, filed a lawsuit alleging state discrimination against same-sex couples who have been lawfully married in another state. John Arthur was terminally ill and sought to name his partner, James Obergefell, as his surviving spouse, but was unable to do so under Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban. The Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Richard Hodges, was named as the defendant in the case. As the case made its way through the appellate courts, other same-sex couples joined in the complaint. And as the case continued to progress, the question before the courts became whether Ohio’s refusal to recognize marriages legally performed in other states violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

A Landmark Decision
In its decision, the Court began by recognizing the history of the subject of marriage, noting it is one of both “continuity and change.” The Court then applied the following reasoning in making its determination that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex:

1) The fundamental liberties protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extend to certain personal choices, and among those is the right to marry.

2) Because marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the individuals involved, safeguards children and families, and is the “keystone of the Nation’s social order,” marriage is a constitutional right.

3) The right of same-sex couples to marry also is derived from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

4) Because the right to marry is a fundamental right “inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.

The Religious Organization “Carve Out”
The Court then added a “carve out” for “religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines” by stating:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas noted in their dissents that the First Amendment guarantees the right to “exercise” religion. Chief Justice Roberts further noted that “exercise” is a word that the majority omitted from their opinion. So while this provision acknowledges the First Amendment rights of religious organizations to teach principles that are central to their lives and faiths, the dissenting justices expressed concern that it may not be broad enough to encompass the full exercise of those rights.

Chief Justice Roberts also noted that, “Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage.” He then offered the following examples:

1) A religious college that provides married student housing only to opposite-sex couples.

2) A religious adoption agency that declines to place children with same-sex married couples.

3) The tax-exempt status of some religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage.

Chief Justice Roberts went on to state that there is “little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court.” It seems likely that future cases will ultimately determine the full scope and effect of this decision for churches and other religious organizations.

So What Does This Mean for Churches?
This ruling does not appear to take away any of the rights that religious organizations currently have under the law. Still, the ruling leaves unanswered questions that may lead to confusion and concern for ministries. Common concerns include whether a pastor must perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, whether a church must make its facilities available for same-sex wedding events, and if a church must provide same-sex spousal benefits to employees.

Communicate Expectations to Limit Lawsuits
All ministries should have biblically based beliefs and policies documented in the bylaws, articles, and other foundational documents of the organization. Stating the ministry’s beliefs, along with applicable reference to scripture in governing documents, can help avoid claims of improper discrimination. Churches and ministries will do well to clearly communicate that the ministry’s positions and policies are based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Statement of belief: Include a statement of the ministry’s spiritual beliefs within the organization’s governing documents or bylaws. This lays the foundation for the ministry to operate in accordance with its stated beliefs.

Consistent response: If the church or ministry treats an individual or a group of people differently than it does another person or group, the odds of the ministry losing a lawsuit increase significantly. For example, if the organization offers its event center for rent to the general public yet declines to allow a same-sex couple to rent the facility, the individual whom the church declined may have a valid claim of discrimination.

Take Steps to Avoid a Lawsuit
To reduce the likelihood of an individual bringing a successful same-sex-related lawsuit against your church or ministry, consider the following steps:

1) Include a spiritual purpose provision in your governing documents/bylaws. Be sure your organizational governing documents clearly state your ministry’s spiritual purpose, your reliance on scripture, and the intent to advance the ministry in accordance with scripture. Where appropriate, quote scripture within the purpose statement.

2) Include a morals clause in your employee handbook. Be sure your employee handbook includes a policy telling your organization’s employees that the church expects them to support its spiritual purpose and behave in accordance with it. Including such a clause in your handbook, when applied consistently, can go a long way toward protecting the church from employment-related lawsuits.

3) Respond with sensitivity. Train your clergy, staff, and volunteers to approach individual needs and requests with empathy. Although you cannot meet every request or demand, the manner in which you convey your response is sometimes as important as what you have decided.

4) Consult with local counsel. When revising organizational documents and ministry policies and procedures, involve a local attorney. A wide variety of federal, state, and local laws apply to employment and facilities use, and consulting with a local attorney can provide guidance on any state-specific and local legal issues that you may encounter. You also should contact your attorney and your insurance agent any time you anticipate a claim against the church.

All ministries, whether supportive of same-sex unions or not, should recognize and understand the potential impact of this ruling. Following the steps listed above can help ministries continue to operate in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs and avoid claims of improper discrimination. Contact a local attorney for assistance with creating policies and procedures and for help in understanding how the law applies to your ministry.

Download a PDF version of this article.

Bulgarian Churches in America: Personal Xlibris

June 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, News

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Excerpt from the chapter “How to Start a Bulgarian Church in America from A-to-Z”

X. Xlibris
Every community leaves a lasting xlibris on its accomplishments, victories and success through a time of celebration. After each major accomplishment, plan deliberately and allow time for celebration. Celebration will renew the motivation of your congregation. Thank God for what He has done, what He is doing and even for the future expectation of what He is about to do. Leave your signature, your identity, and your xlibris where God has placed you to exist. You can even chose a day in which you can celebrate the birth of the new church.

Y. Yielding
As the time of accomplishment and conclusion draws near, prepare yourself for yielding. Yield to God’s leadership for the future, to the needs of the congregation, to new ministers which the congregation has set forth, and to the needs of your family and yourself. This process will provide you with your next step.

Z. Zooming-out
If you have reached the final step in this program you have proven to others and yourself that you are a great leader and church planner. However, if you are a good church planner, you are probably not a good maintainer. It is too hard for an initiator to stop making things happen. It takes a different person to plan, water and grow. This is indeed a Biblical principle and it alludes to the law of the big picture.

If you are not ready to change significantly from planter to a maintainer, you will only hurt what you have planted. Therefore, prepare for change. You will either adapt to being a maintainer or you will have to leave. It is time to zoom-out and see the big picture. When it is the leader’s time to walk away, he/she has to be willing to leave. If this is the case, go back to point A. A new project from God is waiting for you.

2004 Prognoses about Bulgarian Churches in North America 10 Years Later

May 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Books, Featured, News

bulgarian-church

With the present rates and dynamics of immigration, the growth of Bulgarian immigrant communities across North America is inevitable. As it has experiences a great increase in the past fifteen years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Bulgaria immigrant community is has not only first-generation, Bulgarian-born members, but second-generation of Bulgarian Americans born in North America.

As the community and the churches within it continues to deal with the cultural dilemma, they will discover that that a new generation of immigrants will be eventually assimilated within the American culture. As North American cross-cultural dynamics in the beginning of the 21st century tend to preserve ethnic belongingness rather then assimilate it, they will perhaps present the Bulgarian American churches with an intergenerational opportunity for ministry.

Such change is a historical precedent, which demands preparation from both Bulgarian and American sides. In the past, the children of the immigrants have usually changed the ways their parents lived their lives. However, this dynamics have been reversed to a lifestyle that contains the old immigrant identity. The effect of such metamorphoses is overwhelming, since second generation immigrant must balance between the heritage of their parents and the reality of the new world in which they live.

In a religious context, the new generation is retaining or rather reinventing the old ways of worship inherited from their parents. Thus, while the secular world offers a context for assimilation, the religious community provides an atmosphere for preservation of culture. At the same time, second generation immigrants may switch to a congregation with that promotes a more American style of worship, role of women and social services. Such dynamics provide the context and reasons for church splits.

In their short modern history of the 1990s, the American Bulgarian churches have already experienced a number church splits. Some of the congregations have experienced even more than one split. Such experiences have been painful, but at the same time have brought sense to the reality of church dynamics and have sources of learning for both pastors of congregations. As the Bulgarian American churches grow in number and influence, the second generation immigrants take a more significant role in the church’s life and dynamics. In such context, programs for identity formation and church split prevention must become the focus of the church’s discipleship process.

Annual Conferences of Bulgarian Churches in America

May 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, Media, News

bulgarian-churchIn the summer of 2002 the pastors of the Bulgarian churches in North America came together for their first meeting in Dallas. As a result, an organization called the Alliance of the Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in America was established as a first step toward networking between the churches. The church within the Alliance has over Memorial Day weekend every year since then as follows:

2002 – Dallas
2003 – Chicago
2004 – Minneapolis
2005 – Los Angeles
2006 – Dallas
2007 – Chicago
2008 – Minneapolis
2009 – Los Angeles
2010 – Houston
2011 – Las Vegas
2012 – Chicago
2013 – Dallas
2014 – Minneapolis
2015 – Las Vegas
2016 – Houston
2017 – Chicago

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San Francisco Springs: A Story of Two Churches

May 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

san-franciscoSeveral years ago, while visiting San Francisco on our way to preach at the Bulgarian church in Las Vegas, we were completing our research on Ivan Voronaev’s biography at Berkeley, who studied there after his arrival to the States in the 1912.

While there, we decided to call a high school friend who lives and works in the area. He had moved to the States in 1998 while I was working in D.C. We tried to keep in touch since then, but I had not seen him for years. And with all our travels it had never worked out to cross paths.

So early one morning that same week, we were having coffee at Starbucks near San Rafael. He shared some of his experience as an immigrant, about his family spread thin between here and Bulgaria and about his brother who had just moved for work to Phoenix.

I’ve already written about these events with more detail in “Finding Friends in Phoenix or the Story of an Arizona State Quarter”. In short, this is how the idea for twin Bulgarian churches in San Francisco and Phoenix was born in the spring of 2009.

Today, when this dream of two churches is so close to become a reality, I look at this rather incidental and spontaneous meeting and wonder. If God can bring two old friends to start two new churches, what else does He have stored for us in the future?

WebMinistry 2.0 for Churches: A Step-by-Step Guide

March 20, 2014 by  
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Spiritual Problems and Solutions from the 7 Churches of Revelation

January 10, 2014 by  
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Network of the Seven Churches of Revelation

Although the Book of Revelation has been vastly studied and interpreted throughout church history, usually the focus is on one major issue within the text, namely, the role and future of the church. The main reason for this has been the in-depth prophetic and pastoral messages to the Seven Churches. The value of the messages to the Seven Churches of Revelation is constituted by the fact that they are the last recorded Biblical messages to the Christian Church. For this reason, the letters to the Seven Churches obviously do not contain all of the usual elements used in the New Testament epistolary form.

Read the full text of the presentation (PDF)

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