Friday, February 29, 2008

The Presbytery of Detroit's Overture to Suspend Military Aid to Israel

On February 26, Detroit Presbytery approved an overture which asks the Presbyterian Church USA 's General Assembly to ask the United States government to suspend military aid to Israel. I have two guests on this blog today writing about this. Gary Green who serves on the Steering Committee for Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, a branch of the Institute of Religion and Democracy is introducing Dr. Earl Tilford. Hans Cornelder placed Dr. Tilford's essay about the overture on Presbyweb on Thursday. I thought it should have another hearing/reading.

Gary Green: "My friend, Earl Tilford has written a powerful essay entitled "Unjust Condemnation". In his essay, he comments upon and criticizes those mainline Christian leaders who are attempting to delegitimize Israel and support actions which would weaken Israel's ability to defend itself from its primary enemies, the radical Islamist forces that continue to send rockets into Israel where the intended targets are innocent civilians. Here is what he has to say."

Unjust Condemnation

Earl Tilford

"On February 26, the Presbytery of Detroit approved an overture for consideration by the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) calling for temporary suspension of US military aid to Israel based on specious and unfair generalizations. The overture, if accepted when the denomination’s representatives meet in San Jose, California in June, requires church leaders to call on congress, the state department and the administration to suspend military aid to Israel. Additionally, the United Methodist Church (UMC), during its Quadrennial General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas in April, will consider a resolution requiring divestment of denominational investments in Caterpillar Inc. for profiting “from illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land …by supplying the Israeli Defense Forces with heavy equipment.”

Amidst a desert wasteland of oppressive Muslim dictatorships and theocratic Arab oligarchies Israel remains a verdant garden of democratic civility and human rights. Why then do PCUSA and UMC leaders single out Israel for condemnation? How do they conclude that Israel alone deserves condemnation for the continuing violence between the Palestinians, governed by Hamas/Fattah (two terrorist groups) and the region’s only democracy?

The UMC’s General Board on Global Mission Women recently produced a study for the Methodist Church which refers to the 1948 United Nations’ creation of Israel as an “original sin,” and likens the birth of the Jewish state to the Holocaust. This anti-Semitic venom is reminiscent of the pre-Holocaust “replacement theology” that rejected the covenant relationship between God and the Jewish people replacing the Jews with the Christian church. In a further demonstration of anti-Semitism, Canon Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Palestinian Christian group, in his Lenten sermon of 2005 stated, “It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him…The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.” Such rhetorical flourishes smack of deicide, the charge with which, prior to the Holocaust, many Christians smeared Jews as “Christ killers.”

Theological arguments aside, assertions like the one in the Presbytery of Detroit overture accusing Israel of “driving Palestinians from their homes, lands and towns” and “confining them to life in refugee camps” simply are a-historical. First, no sovereign Palestinian state ever existed. Before the British liberated the region in 1917, Palestine was a dominion within the Ottoman Empire peopled by a variety of Arabs as well as Jews. In 1937, the Peel Commission proposal for Palestinian self-determination was rejected by the Arab population. In 1948, after United Nations Resolution 181 called for partitioning Palestine into separate Jewish and Palestinian states, a plan Israel accepted, local Muslim inhabitants joined six Arab armies attempting to annihilate the Jewish state. From 1948 to 1967, Egypt and Jordan governed Gaza and the West Bank respectively. In 1964, Egypt dispatched Yasir Arafat, an Egyptian agent, to Gaza to organize guerrilla attacks against Israel. This marked the beginning of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, from which the current Palestinian Authority derives its linage.

Among the reasons supporting the Presbytery of Detroit’s overture is an accusation that Israel is “destroying their (the Palestinian’s) commerce and economy with blockades and checkpoints.” Israel blockades Gaza because Hamas, a terrorist group determined to annihilate Israel, controls and uses it as a staging base. Furthermore, checkpoints at Gaza and along the anti-infiltration barrier would be unnecessary had Arafat not unleashed the Second Intifada in June 2000 causing the deaths of 1,031 Israelis, including 119 children. Before the onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombers, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel making the Palestinians the most prosperous Arabs in the Middle East, the Gulf States and Saudi sheiks notwithstanding.

Why do these denominations single out Israel for divestment and cessation of military aid? Why do they not demand divestments from companies doing business in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran? Do denominational leaders not know that Egypt, which annually receives as much military aid as Israel, consistently persecutes Christians, especially the Copts who comprise 10-percent of the Egyptian population? As for Syria, the Assad regime currently engages in ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in the oil-rich Hasakeh region of northeast Syria. Where is the Presbyterian outrage over the more than 500,000 Kurds displaced by Arabs in that region or the Methodist calls for divestment from companies doing business with Syria? Although the Iranian mullahs persist in hanging homosexuals and persecuting Arabs, Azeris, Baha’i, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians and Jews while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continuously threatens genocide against Israel, the website of the PCUSA’s radically liberal Witherspoon Society posts warnings of a pending US/Israeli “War on Iran.”

It is hypocritical of Christians within both denominations to overlook Palestinian oppression of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank while accusing Israel of “apartheid” policies. Nowhere in the world is apartheid practiced more intensely than in the Arab-Muslim world against non-Muslims and non-Arabs. In many parts of the Muslim world slavery and female genital mutilation remain facts of life. Conversely, Israeli Arabs enjoy full religious freedom, representation in the Knesset and equality under the law.

While Islamists in mosques and Islamic schools throughout the Middle East incite hatred and call for Jihad against Jews and Christians alike and Iran’s theocratic regime threatens Israel and the Judeo-Christian West with annihilation, Christians who consistently attack Israel betray what can only be explained as latent anti-Semitism."

Dr. Earl Tilford, Professor of History at Grove City College and elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, served for over thirty years with the Air Force and Army as an intelligence officer and director of research respectively. He earned his PhD in military history at George Washington University.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Tag and a Response Way Beyond the Call of Duty!!

At first I said no--I'm not going to do this; I don't like chain letters which this is. But then my ego kicked in---so! The Rev. David Fischler over at Reformed Pastor tagged me. I am to list six unimportant things and /or quirks about myself. And my ego has kicked in, so, well, I have pictures!!!

1. From the 2nd grade to the 5th I went to country school. Pilot Nob was a one room school house and I was the only one in my grade.

2.When my husband to be, Brad, met me, I was working as a telephone operator and at the time they still used the boards with plug-ins. He was a telegraph operator. We met at Church.

3. I like stout, mainly oatmeal stout or double chocolate.

4. I once played a harem girl in a production of "The Passion Play" when it stopped in Stockton California as it toured the United States. That was when I was in high school.

5. I won the philosophy essay contest at the California State University in Sacramento in my Junior year in 1988. My essay was entitled " Plato's Four Concepts of Soul in the Phaedo.

6. This is a rather long one. One of the best vacations I ever took was when my husband went to England with the Community choir he sang with in Marysville, California. I didn't want to go on a plane with a whole load of choir people who would probably hit the ground running. (Not stop to sleep) Instead ,I took another plane landed at a different airport in a different city and slept before moving on. I met my husband and the choir in Avon where he spent the night and saw a play with me, Ibsen's Peer Gynt. (He slept through most of the play.)

He went to Cambridge with the choir, I went to Oxford (with a fever) but stayed shopping at Blackwell's' bookstore for hours. I also went to the last of Oxford's proms (Musical competitions held every year and everywhere in England, most ending at Royal Albert Hall in London-- for an example see the movie "Brassed Off.") which ended with all kinds of fun things, like the choir members waving little British flags and singing Rule Britannica. I stayed in an inn which reminded me of a nineteenth century play about England. We then met and went to Wales and London together. A great vacation.
7. This is an extra; it is a newspaper account of the death of one of my great grandfathers, Henry Mertin Tilley. He blew himself up using dynamite when blowing up stumps. I had heard about his death all of my childhood, and accidentally found a newspaper account, which I had never seen, on the Internet. The way they wrote such notices in those days was certainly different than how we write today.
I will only tag a few people.
Melissa, my granddaughter at Libellus Stellatus.
Debbie Berkley at Taking The Ring

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Confession of the Church 4

There are often times in history when the Church is hardly visible and in need of renewal. These are times of brokenness when unfamiliar and false teaching breaks apart the unity of the Church. Jesus in his great love for his people lifts to the Father that need for unity in his high priestly prayer given to and for the Church.

“The Glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17: 22-23)

Arthur Cochrane, in his chapter on “The Nature of a Confession,” in The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, is so very clear about his fourth point that I will quote the first whole paragraph. He writes:

“4. A Confession of faith is an act in which the Church is born or reborn. In and with its Confession of Faith, the Church’s outward unity becomes visible. Of course, the Church exists prior to its Confession but in such a way that its unity and faith are scarcely manifest. Hence the Declaration speaks of its common confession and unity being ‘grievously imperiled’ and ‘threatened,’ about its theological basis having been ‘continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles.’ ‘When these principles are held to be valid … the Church ceases to be the Church.’ The Church is ‘devastated’ and its unity ‘broken up.’ Thus with its Confession, the Church emerges where it had been scarcely recognizable.” (Italics the author's)

Cochrane goes on to write how Barmen partially brought unity to the Churches of Germany, but as often happens politics entered in and broke apart the unity that was building with a Confession of faith. The Confessing Churches struggled because of a problem that arose within the Lutheran bodies.

As Cochrane points out the various Church bodies were meant to work out their own interpretations of Barmen along the lines of their particular Confessions. This was to be done in their conventions. He writes, “The responsibility for convening the Lutheran convention was left with Bishop Meiser. Unhappily he never called it. Had he done so, it might have prevented, or at least narrowed, the breach that developed between the Confessing Church and the Lutheran confessionalists.”

That breach between the Confessing Churches and the Lutheran Churches was to hamper the Confessing Churches throughout the years of Hitler’s rule. But still the one, holy, apostolic Church did confess in unity including Lutherans such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

One of the important thoughts here is that it is sometimes false teaching, ‘alien principles,’ that weakens unity in the Church. And, it is sometimes the political maneuvering of those in the Church. But generally it is the two forces working together.

But, undoubtedly, the most important point is that the one, holy, apostolic Church still stood, armed with her Confession, although she stood as always in the midst of devastation and suffering.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Confession of the Church 3

Arthur C. Cochrane’s third point, about the nature of a Confession of Faith ,in his book The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, would be nonesense without his first two points. The third point is:

“3. A Confession of Faith is a Confession of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” (Italics author’s) (185)

Cochrane explains in the negative that the Confession “is not the Confession of an individual theologian, of a party within the Church, or even of a particular denomination or group of denominations.” His positive statement on this has to do with what the Confession says. He writes. “It speaks for the whole Church to the whole Church.”

To go further, “The ecumenicity of a Confession is grounded in the fact that it undertakes to confess the One Lord and the one faith attested in Holy Scripture and given to the whole Church.”

He therefore brings back to the discussion the first two points.

“1. “The Barmen Declaration teaches first and foremost that a Confession of Faith is a written document drawn up by the Church which confesses Jesus Christ.” (Italics the author’s) and,
“2. According to Barmen, a Confession of faith confesses Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture.” (Italics the author’s)

The point here is that it is only the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and does so knowing Jesus Christ only from the Old and New Testaments. With that clarified it is possible to understand how and why Cochrane, a Reformed professor and theologian, can write, “… a Confession does not confess the ‘Reformed point of view,’ or Calvinism, Lutheranism, Methodism, or Barthianism. It will not even wish to represent ‘evangelicalism’ or ‘Protestantism,’ for that would be to confess an ecclesiastical tradition rather than Christ.” (186)

While some readers are now, of course thinking of “The Scots Confession,” or more probably “The Westminster Confession of Faith,” it should be noted they do confess above all, Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture. And those two Confessions do confess that point as given to the whole Church. Cochrane will dwell more deeply on this issue in another point using the Lutheran Confession, the Formula of Concord.

But the most important part of this third point, the statement, “The ecumenicity of a Confession is grounded in the fact that it undertakes to confess the One Lord and the one faith attested in Holy Scripture and given to the whole Church,” has a challenging aspect for the troubled mainline Churches of today. That is, that when the Confessing Churches of Germany and the members of the Synod of Barmen offered the Declaration of Barmen to the Church of Germany they offered it as though they were the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As Cochrane writes:

“The Synod of Barmen made this claim [The ecumenicity of a Confession is grounded in the fact that it undertakes to confess the One Lord and the one faith attested in Holy Scripture and given to the whole Church.] when it dared to speak in the name of the German Evangelical Church and not merely in the name of an orthodox party opposing the ‘German Christians’ and when it declared that ‘we are bound together by the Confession of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’ This one Christian Church, Article 3 states, is ‘the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit.’”

And here is the wisdom for today, “A Confession that did not assume the awful daring and risk involved in such a claim would prove only that it was not a genuine Confession.” Those who confess must gather into their statement the whole Church, must speak as though they are speaking for the whole Church. So above all, Jesus Christ as Lord, the confession of Him founded only on the Holy Scripture and the recognition that this is the Confession of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is risky but is the only true Confession of the Church.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Confession of the Church 2

Holy Scripture is vital to the Church’s confession. This is probably the smallest section of Arthur C. Cochrane’s chapter on the nature of a confession in The Church’s Confession Under Hitler. But it is extremely important for both the time of Barmen and today. We have looked in the first post at what or rather who it is that the Church confesses. In the second point how Jesus Christ is known by the Church is explored.

“2. According to Barmen, A Confession of faith confesses Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture.” (Italics the author’s) (184)

This leads once again to a negative section, and Cochrane explains how the Church is not allowed, indeed, cannot know Jesus Christ in any other way than through Holy Scripture. Because of the negative part we are able to understand that there is an absolute picture of Jesus Christ as he is known by the whole Church in all places and times. The negative part followed by the positive is:

“It [the Church] does not confess a mystical Christ who may be apprehended in the general religious consciousness, in world history, or in reason and experience, but the Christ whom the Church hears in the witness of the Old and New Testaments.”

The Old Testament and its witness to Jesus Christ is as important as the New Testament. Cochrane refers to a statement by Wilhelm Vischer who stated that the Old Testament “tells what Jesus Christ is,” while the New Testament “tells who he is.” Cochrane’s extremely important point is that “A Confession of Faith acknowledges Jesus Christ to be the unity of the Bible.” (Bold mine)

Locating our knowledge of Jesus Christ in the Old and New Testaments means that the Church is not allowed to view Jesus Christ through New Age revelations such as “A Course in Miracles,” or through extra-biblical texts such as Gnostic accounts or other such cultural mythologies.

And while we acknowledge that all Christians may experience the presence of Christ, we are not to use experience as a criterion for who Jesus Christ is. Nor does any cultural account of Jesus Christ outside of the pages of the biblical texts have any validity, including the view that other religions are differing accounts of the Spirit’s way to the Father.

At the same time any Confession which excludes Jesus Christ from the Old Testament promises is unacceptable. Likewise any attempt to erase any part of the New Testament's witness’ to Jesus Christ, such as that work done by the Jesus Seminar, should be scathingly denounced by the Church’s Confession of Faith.

Cochrane goes on to write,”a Confession looks upon itself as subordinate to Scripture, as a fallible, provisional exegesis of Scripture. The question of whether its exegesis is good exegesis must always be asked.”

Cochrane insists that this emphasis on the witness of Scripture is why the members of the Synod of Barmen, who offered the Declaration of Barmen to the Churches of Germany, asked them to test this document against Scripture. The Holy Scriptures, and their witness to Jesus Christ in both Old and New Testament, must be the ultimate foundation for all Confessions of the Church.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Confession of the Church 1

The subject of essentials and confessions continues to surface in other writer's essays, postings comments and editorials. Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick has, according to Rev. James D. Berkley , suggested the PCUSA adopt the The Confession of Belhar, "and urged as 'necessary' the study of the Confession of Accra with Belhar."

In his book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, Arthur C. Cochrane has a chapter entitled “The Nature of a Confession of Faith, Illustrated from the Theology and History of Barmen.”

Using that chapter I am going to lay out his points although not with quite his extensive amount of detail. I intend to quote a great deal with just a small amount of commentary. I will look at each point for each posting.

First Cochrane explains that a confession is not a dead document. He writes that instead, “It acts upon its environment and the environment reacts to it. It affects the lives of all who come in contact with it. The Barmen Declaration is such a document. It invited and secured decisions from the Church and the nation. It evoked love and hate, joy and grief, praise and blame, obedience and disobedience.” (181)

Then Cochrane lists the qualities of the confession as supplied by Barmen. The first point:

“1. The Barmen Declaration teaches first and foremost that a Confession of Faith is a written document drawn up by the Church which confesses Jesus Christ. While the Church confesses certain doctrines and dogmas and supplies answers to specific questions, it does so only in order to bear witness to Christ. It confesses a living Person who is the Lord and thus calls for a personal relationship of trust and obedience to him—not to the Confession as such or to the doctrines contained in it.”

Cochrane shows how, in this Declaration the unity of the Church is founded on the ultimate confession that is made by the Church. He writes, “…in its preamble Barmen declares: ‘We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord.’ Jesus Christ is directly spoken about in the first three articles and indirectly in the other three.”

This one confession of Jesus Christ as Lord produces a negative side of the confession, that is, it allows the Church to understand what a confession is not:

"A Confession is therefore not the publication of the opinions, convictions, ideals, and value judgments of men. It does not set forth a program or system of theology or ethics. It is not a set of principles or constitution for a fraternal order, social service club, or a religious society. It is not a political or ethical, religious platform. It does not bear witness to certain events, powers, figures, and truths in nature and history that may be championed by certain groups in society."

And confessing one Lord Jesus Christ allows for the positive side, that is what a confession is:

“It confesses Jesus Christ as the one Lord, the one justification and sanctification of men, the one revelation, and the one Word of God which we have to hear, trust and obey in life and in death.”

So the Church's unity is bound up with its confession of Jesus Christ. This will gain greater meaning in another point which deals with Holy Scriptures.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Reality of Our Sins, the Absolutes of God and the Blood of Jesus Christ

Where does one even begin; perhaps with tears? How can scripture, theology and ethics become so badly twisted and miss-used by someone who stands so tall in the faith? Am I writing about the letter and overture connected to Mark Achtemeier? No, I have no words for that. But I am addressing Jack Haberer’s essay on the Outlook, Absolutes, standards, and exceptions.

He writes of “Biblical heroes who didn’t follow those absolutes,” and they were blessed by God anyway! Are there no absolutes except the “the existence, personhood, character, and mission of the triune God?” There are biblical absolutes—such as all are sinners—we are saved by grace through faith—the wages of sin is death—they are branches linked to and all wrapped in Jack Haberer’s summation of God’s ontological being which, of course, includes the triune God’s purpose and his goodness.

The Holy God of Scripture, and of our reality, demands holiness of us and has bought it for us with a bloody price on a cross. Only the righteousness of Jesus Christ counts for anything. But it was a costly gift, given to a people who are in need of forgiveness. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it is not cheap grace, but costly grace. It is a grace that covers sins named in the Bible such as greed, adultery and homosexuality.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:14-19)

No! It isn’t about standards but about God’s word, his absolutes, and the reality of our Lord who demands that we allow his Lordship in our lives. Acknowledging our own sinful failings simply implies that we keep coming to Jesus Christ, repenting of our sins and refreshing ourselves in the knowledge that he has already forgiven us. He doesn't bless us despite our sin but because of Jesus Christ and his gift. So our blessings are no excuse for denying the absolutes of God. But if we take Him and who he is as an absolute we must take his words also.

“If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Beauty of Spring, the Beauty of His Kingdom

"For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has arrived for pruning the vines, and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land." (The Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

This is a sign, for me, that spring is arriving in Sacramento. Some of my camellias bloom in the late fall, but when this one starts blooming I know that spring is very near. It has been blooming at the very end of winter for me for over twenty-one years. It was established before we moved here so I do not know its name. But as you can see it is very beautiful. As the days grow longer and, yes, the rains continue, the flowers will start turning brown with some kind of rot.
But, although I sometimes, in the midst of its loss of beauty, think of cutting it down, I remember that once again in the very early beginning of spring it will bloom and bring joy to everyone who sees it. I think the Church is often like that. In some places weak and broken. In some places full of rot, as we all often are, but God continues to prune and care and we, the Church, all wait for spring.
Which reminds me of C.S. Lewis' description of the golden kingdom of Jesus Christ. At the end of That Hideous Strength he gathers, in his writing, all the metaphorical pictures of different culture's ideals of a golden age to express the secret work of God's redemptive action. First Lewis writes of Arthur and the kingdom of Logres, in contrast to Britain, the worldly Britain. The plot of the story is that Britain has almost overcome Logres. He writes of those who have stood in that battle:
"'You have done what was required of you,' said the Director. [whose name is Ransom] 'You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don't jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost a battle, but she will rise again."
But, after warning that the battle is not over, he goes on to write of that final time of spring when no longer will the worldliness of cultures undo the beauty of Jesus' Kingdom.
"When Lorges really dominates Britian, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is followed in China--why, then it will be spring."
"For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, [Jesus], and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say whether things on earth or things in heaven." (Col. 1:19-20)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Jesus Christ or Culture but not both!

In the early eighties Aaron Smith , the drummer, sat in my Apologetic’s office chatting. He was relating how other band members such as Jim Abegg from Warehouse Ministries, where my office was, were moving to Nashville Tennessee. He wasn’t sure he wanted to move there. Aaron is an African American and was concerned at the time with the problem of racism in the South. He moved beyond that concern and went to Nashville later becoming a part of the Ragamuffin Band.

Now, Aaron, as an African American and a Christian, may have another problem, another form of racism which might eventually bring concern. I was led slowly to the issues by several articles and areas of research I have been involved in over the last several years. But I will get right to the point and then work backwards.

I recently ordered from Amazon, a recommended book from the on line bookstore at Trinity United Church of Christ, Jeremiah Wright's Africentric church. African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Culture Wars, written by Asa G. Hilliard III, is a small book mostly concerned with the kind of socialization and education he believes African Americans need. But the over all theme is extremely troubling.

I have pointed out in articles I have written on both Nazis and the newer forms of Marxism that culture when viewed as an over-arching framework for all political, social and religious activity and relationships can hold great danger for the individual and certainly for biblical Christianity. Hilliards book is an example of my concerns.

The author, referring to the need for unity among those who belong to a worldwide African culture writes:

"There is no need to struggle to change the minds of those who make a personal choice to function as an individual and not as a member of an ethnic family; with the obligations that family membership entails. But we do need to be clear about who chooses to be in the family and who prefers to be an individual or just 'happens to be black.' Understanding this distinction will clarify the kinds of expectations or challenges which might be posed by certain people. It will help us to know who will be an advocate for African liberation versus who will be an opportunistic individual.
... While we, as Africans, may have individual distinctions connected to religion, class, nationality, etc., we must be careful not to allow these distinctions to divide us in the name of service to oppressors." (4)

In other words, agree with Hilliard's views on culture and identity or consider yourself connected to oppressors. Worse still, and rather Nazi like, put your ethnicity above your religion. And this is directed at fellow African Americans.

One of Hilliard's religious and educational ideas is to look to "ancient independent systems of indigenous African socialization." He points out that:

"An example of a traditional African view of the world is the idea that we live in a cosmos that is alive. It is created by the Divine. Human beings are a part of the Divine cosmos, and we are aspects of the Divine; the hidden creator. We are not alien to any part of the world. The core belief in Kemetic socialization is that the Divine is manifest as MAAT, (a Kemetic or 'Egyptian" term for ideas that have widespread presence in common world-views and value-views), meaning that the cosmos has order, balance, harmony, and reciprocity."

This is more than enjoying such cultural traditions as dress, songs or food, it is instead importing another religion into Christianity. The concept that a supposed ancient African religious world view should be integrated with one's own religion finds its home in more than one denomination. It also exists in a few Presbyterian churches.

An example is Reverend Dr. Mark A. Lomax and his church, First African Presbyterian, in Lithonia Georgia. Several years ago, I discovered their web site while doing research for a review I was writing for VOW on the Presbyterian women's magazine Horizons. Lomax had written an article on reparations and had given a rather strange twist to a biblical story. The church has since changed their web site and no longer feature the same materials.1 But this is what I found: they offered training for church officers called “Transformative Leadership Education. As I wrote in the review:

"Under a listing of “Protocols and & Guidelines” and the title, “A Kabbalistic interpretation of worship procession according to the tree of life,” is the rationale for the church procession. The author writes: 'A better understanding of how worship is enhanced through conscious awareness of the kabbalistic principles and practices that under gird the opening ritual of the service will provide the leadership with a greater appreciation of its role in invoking the ashe of god and our ancestors.' Under function, the author writes, 'The function of this module is to focus on the energy that the leadership embodies and the self-conscious attention take [sic] should be given to channeling and distributing this consecrated power throughout the sanctuary.'

Additionally, the documents inform the leaders that if the recessional is 're-instituted' at the end of the service, 'the security team should join the Pastor and/or minister of the day and remain with that person until they have returned to normal consciousness (30-45 minutes).” Seemingly this pastor has, or at least did, replace the gospel with some mixture of ancient African religion and kabbalistic occultism."

The new web site is not so radical. In their "Credo," giving a rather strained version of the Trinity they write:

"We believe in the One God and Creator of the Universe. We believe that God is One and as such indivisible. We believe that the Oneness of God has been and is revealed in the doctrine of the Trinity---that there are three apsects (sic) of the One God -- Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that the One God was incarnate,en-fleshed, in human form through Jesus of Nazareth and that as the embodiment of God, he delivers all who believe in God through him from bondage to sin."

But they go on to write:

"We beleive (sic) that human cultures are the containers of Divine Self -Revelation and that as such,the culture of every human being is to be respected. We believe that the culture of Afrikan peoples are to be as highly regarded as the cultures of people who no longer identify as Afrikan. We believe that Afrikan names for God are as significant as English and German names for God. We therefore reserve the right and are determined to use the names of God that are derived from our native tongues."

There is no question that everyone's culture should be respected but once again there is that troubling idea that cultures are the "containers of Divine Self-Revelation. Now add to this the connections this church among others make with radical violent organizations and the scenario is frightening to say the least.

On the church's web site is a community announcement of the 17th Malcolm X Banquet put together by the Malcom X Grassroots Movement. Not only does this organization seek liberated land in the south they are willing to use any means to attain it. The main speaker for this event is Mawuli Mel Davis whose Biography states that "He is a lifetime member, former Atlanta Co-Chair, and currently serves as an at-large-member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America ("N'COBRA")." This organization is affiliated with the National Black United Front.

The National Black United Front is a Socialist/Marxist organization connected to All Africans Peoples Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) with an outline for armed revolution that should trouble anyone who reads it. Surprisingly, but maybe not; they attempt to intigrate religion into their revolution; they write:

" RELIGION AND REVOLUTION - both of which properly uphold the interest of humanity,the nation and the laboring masses. Truly religious tenets uphold the principles of equality, humanism, egalitarianism, and all of the connotations of socialist political and economic justice. A truly religious person therefore must be a truly socialist person in practice, since God is always for justice and actively fighting against injustice."

Is it possible that brothers and sisters in Christ, who are African American, because of "culture" are being put in a position of having to set an alien religion, and all that entails, along side of their singular faith in Jesus Christ? The apostle John in his second epistle wrote "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."(9)

Since it is God who defines justice and God who in Jesus Christ fulfilled all justice by his death on the cross may the church come with humility to a place of surrender where everything including culture is laid at his feet.

Pastor Ken Jones of Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton California in an interview with Michael Horton carefully explains the oppression that African Americans have endured but goes on to say, "I think there is a sense among many African Americans that if we open the door to include others, then we lose what is uniquely black, which is disheartening to me because the one place where I think our culture should certainly die away continuously is within the church, just as we die daily in Christ. The church is not the place to preserve any cultural or ethnic tradition, no matter what we think"2.

May it be true for all of us.

1. Copies of this material are on file.

2. "Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church: an interview with Pastor Ken Jones, Modern Reformation Jan/Feb 2008 Vol 17 # 1

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Jim Berkley on Words by the Stated Clerk and the Up-coming General Assembly

Presbyweb and Bayou Christian have both linked to Jim Berkley at IRD and I will too: Commentary: Cliff’s Notes on the Coming General Assembly. Given what I have been writing about, Marxism, Culture, Christianity and the Confessions I think this is an important read for all Presbyterians. Thanks Jim.

I am going to put an addition to this post; Michael Kruse of Kruse Kronicle has written quite a lot of material that disputes much of the supposedly factual information in the Confession of Accra that Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick is promoting. Some of Kruse's excellent posts are listed under Economic Fallacies Christians Believe and Economic Justice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

God's Sovereignty, the Christian's Security and the Evolving face of Marxism

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand." (John 10:27-28)
Picture by Christopher Juncker

During a graduate class at California State University, Sacramento, in the early nineties, I remember some interesting discussions by a professor and several students, all atheists and marxists; they were attempting to explain how it was that the USSR had collapsed. Any spiritual reasons never came into the discussions it was all economics.

When the “iron curtain” metaphorically, and in Berlin quite literally fell, some groups and nations were left alone with an ideology that seemingly had failed.

In the intervening years of that downfall, discussions continued, in particular, among those whose ideologies were Socialist and Marxist. One of the new terms added to that ideology is “cosmovision.”
Christianity-- Cosmovision & Marxism: The beginning of an exploration is the title of a series that I started several months ago. In that posting I looked at the meaning of cosmovision, Marxism, how those two terms linked together and how they were a problem for evangelical faith.

This article is a continuing look at an evolving Marxism and biblical Christianity and in particular how they stand in contradiction to each other.

Besides evangelical, I stated that I would also look at an evolving Marxism alongside two other terms I identify with, that is reformed and orthodox Christianity. Reformation Christianity is a very important part of my Christian faith. There are many aspects of the Reformed faith but there are two I want to use in contrast to Marxism and its evolving worldview.

God’s sovereignty is one aspect; the perseverance of the saints is the other. The first, God’s sovereignty, refers to God’s rule, his trustworthy control over all that is. The perseverance of the saints refers to the Christian’s secure place in the hand of God. They are saved for eternity, called to union with Jesus Christ forever. No one is able to remove the Christian from their secure position within the fold of Jesus Christ.

In South America, where Marxist ideology took the form of liberation theology, where Marxism was itself shaped by liberation theology, there has been a deliberate move away from materialistic Marxism. At first at least part of the biblical text guided the South American movement, however post modern thought on the one hand and what I will call cultural revelation is now guiding the various movements.

New definitions have evolved. For instance, the idea of class which was so important to classical Marxism is now redefined by different socialist and Marxist movements. In the other posting on Marxism and Cosmovision, I have noted above, I point out that for many theorists indigenous peoples take the place of class. In fact, the usual classification of workers as the emerging and important class is joined by other groups including women, ethnic groups and those in the gay community.

Besides the above redefining of the term class there is a new view of the determinist aspect of Marxism. Karl Marx thought it was inevitable that societies would move from capitalism to Marxism; this was a materialistic play on Hegel’s evolving spirit which would eventually and consciously absolutize itself in history through the state and art.

In the United States as Professor Dwight Hopkins explains in an interview with,
The Other Journal .Com, “Black theology” started without Marxism but evolved by using Marxist ideology. Hopkins states,

“Black theology started outside the academy…it started in the churches…it started within a context of movements of people struggling for human rights and justice. Second, black theology of liberation started differently from Latin American liberation theology, because it started out of the churches in the black community. Only then did it move towards Marxism in its search for tools of analysis to make sense its struggle.”

It should be added to this that black liberation theologians refer to African Americans not in particular as Americans but as indigenous peoples in Diaspora. Therefore what counts for them as important in their theology is once again something like cosmovision. It is their whole culture which is seen as both revelation and sacred. But it is important to add Marxism to this mix.

In some sense the determinism is still there. But, for these Socialists and Marxists, its outcome will include such groups as women, indigenous people groups, the gay community and workers. Therefore various results are involved in what is perceived as an end to oppression. For instance, looking from a socialist’s or Marxist’s point of view the worker would be freed from a capitalist society and so prosper.

The homosexual would be able to live in a completely inclusive society including an inclusive church. Indigenousness people’s cultures would be respected, as they should be, but from an ideological basis that would make them closed communities. Because, notice, class or group implies a collective, individual freedom is fundamentally left out of this mix. These are communities and collectives of people not individuals.

Each group is motivated by a sense of oppression and is moving toward what they consider freedom. Of course the end result at times appears hazy because the various visions of utopia are at odds with each other’s goal.

For instance,
Andrea Smith of Solidarity states,”In FORA such as the U.S. or World Social Forums, gender and sexuality are often reduced to discussions on the status of women or LGBT communities. What we pay less attention to is how the logic of heteropatriarchy fundamentally structures colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism.” She then goes on to attempt to show how her own Marxist movement is failing to fulfill women’s vision of the future.

This is no future at all and any promise stands at the door of hell.

And this is where I will interject the Reformed positions of Christianity. If one is a Christian—standing on a biblical foundation eliminates standing on any other. All are oppressed by others but all are equally oppressed by their own sin. Only the promise of new life in Christ Jesus counters a dark society.

Security for the individual Christian rests in Jesus Christ, therefore security for the collective will finally—in the end—be only in Jesus Christ. It is never biblical to insist on Christ and culture, anymore than it is biblical to insist on Christ and capitalism or Christ and Marxism.

In Jesus Christ we feed the poor, seek to eliminate human slavery, fight domestic abuse, and care for the immigrant. But the Church is not called to share its faith in Christ with any or every other ideology and will lose its way anytime it does.

There is everlasting security in Jesus Christ. God rules the nations and brings about the final vision which rests only on the true foundation, Jesus Christ.

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands…These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9,14b)

1By “cultural revelation” I mean the idea that each culture embodies all the necessary norms, laws and even the sacred, These are unique to each culture so what may be unholy or unrighteous in one culture may be acceptable in another. And that there is a difference among cultural norms is seen as acceptable and truthful for each culture.
2See, John W. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers: From Plato to the Present, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2006) 106-119; and, Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval & Modern, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1983) Chapter 15, “Historians as Interpreters of Progress and Nation--1”
3 See “Voices of Liberation and Struggle: A Conversation with Dwight Hopkins,” an interview with Dwight Hopkins by Jon Stanley at The Other Journal.Com.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Comments About Some Comments for the Sake of Jesus Christ

Have you ever wanted to take somebody by their shoulders, stop them in their tracks and somehow truly, convincingly help them understand the good news of Jesus Christ? That happened to me in November. Way back then I placed a comment on Pastor Bob's blog, Pastor Bob's Musings. He had written about FREEDOM. I wrote:

"Pastor Bob, Something I wanted to add. Not only does Jesus free us from sin to serve him but the Holy Spirit unites us to the risen Lord and when God the Father looks on us he does not see either our sin or our righteousness, but only the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That frees us to serve God without fear or condemnation. "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1)." And the end of that chapter in Romans lets us know that no power in heaven or earth can separate us from Jesus Christ. Therefore not only do we show the righteousness of Christ, no power on earth, no demon from hell can trouble us."

Someone responded to me who undoubtedly does not know Jesus Christ as their Lord. This is what they wrote:

"... that last sentence is wrong in a very big way:

'Therefore not only do we show the righteousness of Christ, no power on earth, no demon from hell can trouble us.'

We most certainly do NOT show the righteousness of Christ, and powers on earth are troubling us all the time. The very existence of the New Wineskins is predicated on being troubled.

So if the "therefore" is true, then the first part (the scriptural reference) is not, and if the 'therefore' is not true then her >understanding< of the Scripture is wrong.

For me it's the understanding of Paul's words that is completely off. It's what M. Scott Peck was all about in his book 'People of the Lie'."

This statement, by the second person, which I have placed in red, is off either because the writer totally does not understand what it means to be a Christian or because they do understand and they are attempting to destroy the meaning the gospel brings to our humanity.

Here is how the person so misunderstands my words and also misunderstands the gift that God gives in his Son in so many ways.

First, we are all sinners. So if we do not show the righteousness of Christ to the Father we are not Christians. We do not belong to Jesus Christ:

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Gal. 2:20)

"But what ever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death: in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:7-11)

Christ not only justifies us by his death on the cross he gives us his life, his righteousness. We are called to live out a holy life because of this but if this person is not united with Jesus Christ and sharing his righteousness he is not an adopted child of the Father. None of us are without the righteousness of Christ.

Secondly, the person writing a response to me writes like a machine not understanding that one can suffer in a physical or even a emotional way but not be spiritually troubled because God has intervened. The point here is the person who wrote, "powers on earth are troubling us all the time," undoubtedly does not understand what it means "to be cast down but not destroyed." It is like the difference between joy and happiness in a Christian's life. A Christian is not promised happiness, but is promised joy even in tribulation. That joy is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

"...what we have seen and heard [the Word of Life] we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." (1 John1:3-4)

Also Paul gives a good account of what it means to never be separated from the love of Christ and yet be suffering in everyway. He writes:

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves; we are afflicted in everyway, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." (2 Cor 4:7-10)

There are only two things that can be said of a person whose response both fails to lift up the saving work of Jesus Christ and attempts at the same time to tear it down. Either they need Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or they are like Elymas the magician in the 13th chapter of Acts who opposed Paul and tried to turn the proconsul, Paul was preaching to, away from the faith. But, in God's sovereignty Elymas's impossed blindness, because of his treachery, helped to bring Sergius Paulus to the faith.