Monday, March 31, 2008

The Confession of the Church 6

The Confessing Church of Germany found that to declare the Declaration of Barmen they also had to declare they were indeed the true Church in Germany. Arthur C. Cochrane, in his book The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, in the chapter on the nature of a Confession, emphasizes this with his 6th point.

“6. In and with its Confession of Faith the Church claims to be the one, true Church. Outside this Church, there is no salvation for one who willfully and knowingly separates himself from it. Of course the extra ecclesiam nulla salus does not imply that the one, true Church in which salvation may be found has not existed in other times and places. Nor does it mean that the Church is the indispensable mediatrix of salvation or a ‘redemptive society.’ It means that outside the Church that confesses Jesus Christ there is no revelation, no faith, and no knowledge of salvation. However, where Christ and his salvation are present in the Church’s Confession of him, and where a man has encountered Christ in it and then has deliberately and consciously separated himself from that Church, for that man there is no salvation. For him there remains the threat of damnation.”

Cochrane goes on to state that, “The genuineness of a Confession is reflected in the willingness of its confessors to venture and to stand by this stupendous claim.” Interestingly enough it is his view that, “Throughout the Church Struggle the Confessing Church did not take its stand upon the Reformation Confessions but upon the Barmen Declaration as the only legitimate interpretation of the Reformation symbols. For this reason it claimed to be the true evangelical Church in Germany.”

In several long pages Cochrane gives a history of the struggle for Barmen with the Lutheran Confessionalists, (Not the same as the Confessing Church), lead by Hermann Sasse, Werner Elert, Paul Althaus, and Biship August Marahrens. A part of their argument was that the Synod of Barmen had no authority to declare what was true doctrine and what was heresy.

At the same time the Confessing Church was assailed by the Reich Church Government. Cochrane notes that, “The method was to explain that an emergency situation prevailed in a certain provincial Church which necessitated the intervention of the Reich Bishop. Ministers were dismissed or suspended from their parishes, and many were placed under ‘house arrest.’”

In later moves beyond those taken by the Bishop the church endured, “the alarming growth of paganism in the press, radio, theater, and schools,” and the “secularization of public life.” The state placed “hundreds of pastors in jail or under house arrest.” “Professors were dismissed from their chairs, notably scholars like Otto Schmitz, K.D. Schmidt, Gunther Dehn, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Iwand, Edmund Schlink, and Karl Barth.”

Out of all of this turmoil, which included the Reich Church Government officials setting up committees that continued to advocate false teaching, the Confessing Church was forced to claim the position of True Church. They were also forced to insist that “Church administration is an office of the Church. Therefore it can be called and installed only by the Church. Its office-bearers must be obligated to be obedient to God’s Word in keeping with the Church’s Confession.”

The important point here is that a Confession of the Church can only be made by the True Church which will itself become a dividing point between many. It does not come as a great political maneuver to pull the whole Church together nor is its focus meant to solve simply a social problem but rather it speaks to that problem which is tearing apart the faith and unity of the Church. That will be the subject of the next post.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Sermon of Jeremiah Wright and Some Questions

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile at his blog Pure Church has an extremely interesting posting entitled "Confusing God and Government" . He is linked to another site which features the full sermon of Jeremiah Wright that has been in all of the media. The interesting part of this is Anyabwile's questions about the sermon. He writes, "I'd be interested in your thoughts about the sermon, not just the reactions already circulating around the media, but your technical critiques as a preacher or a consumer of preaching. All are welcome."

One of Anyabwile's questions is "Do the major points/content of the sermon grow out of the text itself? Are the preacher's points the same points made by the text?" The comments on this posting are very interesting and very good. I suspect, I know, that Pastors in the PCUSA will benefit from reading them.

Go to Pure Church and scroll down.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A different kind of Easter

Easter Sunday I found myself putting on jeans and driving to the ER at my favorite hospital (almost all my babies were born there) instead of putting on a spring dress and heading to my favorite Church. Back home the ham and the deviled eggs awaited but Easter Sunday dinner with the usual crowd was not to be I’m sorry to say. I just returned yesterday afternoon after the doctors got a handle on my kidney infection and blogging will be a bit slow for awhile. So since I was unable to paticipate in our Church ritual of saying “He is Risen Indeed” I will say it now, “He is risen indeed!”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phillis Wheatley and the "mercy in the Son of God."

Thabiti M. Anyabwile in his book, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity writes of Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784). Although a slave from the age of six, she was highly educated and a Reformed Christian. Anyabwile writes that, "Her most famous collection, simply entitled Poems, reflects a rather sophisticated knowledge of Scripture and theology."
I am posting a poem she wrote entitled, "To the University of Cambridge, in England." Wheatley wrote it when she was about thirteen years old. I believe it is a fitting poem for this Holy Week.
Students, to you 'tis giv'n to scan the heights
Above, to traverse the ethereal space,
And mark the systems of revolving worlds.
Still more, ye sons of science ye receive
The blissful news by messengers from heav'n,
How Jesus' blood for your redemption flows.
See him with hands out-stretcht upon the cross;
He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn:
What matchless mercy in the Son of God!
When the whole human race by sin had fall'n,
He deign'd to die that they might rise again,
And share with him in the sublimest skies,
Life without death, and glory without end.
The picture above is the "Frontispiece from Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Dr. Ben Witherington Writes about Deepak Chopra's New Book

Dr Ben Witherington, on his blog, has posted some information about Deepak Chopra's new book The Third Jesus. Witherington explains that its a Buddhist and pantheist view of Jesus. Not all of his comments are about the book but they are extremely helpful for those attempting to speak to a society enmeshed in new age thinking that includes foggy and wild ideas about God. For instance he writes:

"Jesus did not, and does not come to take us to a higher spiritual plane, so that we might better get in touch with the little bit of God that is in us all or our own God-consciousness. Indeed, he seeks to lead us to have a relationship with the God he called Abba who is wholly other, and who urges us to recognize the Creator Creature distinction. We are not God, nor is God inherently in us or a part of our being. The end result of navel gazing is that we may well get more in touch with 'our inner child', but we do not get more in touch with the 'outer' God who created the universe and all that is in it. The former sort of spirituality is a form of narcissism, or at its worse, self- worship. The latter form of spirituality reinforces the Creator/creature distinction and leads to worship of the one true God." More:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Broken People Leading a Broken Conference: The Results

My husband and I enjoy watching the television show “Numb3rs” on Friday nights. It is a detective show but includes among its characters several math professors who help solve problems. Often right in the middle of a scene they stop the action and use all kinds of diagrams to explain how they can obtain information to help solve a crime. Thinking that direction I want to stop the presses and explain at least three concepts before writing about a secular conference entitled “The 9th Annual White Privilege Conference (WPC9).”

(1)Abusive Social Groups: The first has to do with abusive social groups, some religious and some not. Throughout the sixties into the seventies various Christian ministries and even some secular groups participated in what was called “cult ministry” or sometimes for the secular groups “cult watch.” In one very secular anthropology class I took in college we studied “cults,” including, as a prototype, the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Definitions and ministries move on and with some wisdom I think. Secular groups rarely use the term cult and Christian ministries refer to “New Religions” alongside World Religions. However, one Christian sociologist who writes about Christian churches on the fringe, those who manipulate and attempt to control their members, refers to them as “churches that abuse.” On the other hand there are groups which are not religious in the classical sense of that word yet they operate as a tight social group and are also abusive.

(2)Pluralism & Christianity: There is a huge debate going on in both the Church and secular society about pluralism and Christianity. Most people who are non-religious and living in our pluralistic society cannot comprehend why Christians should insist on saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to know God or the Divine.

Seeking to be tolerant in society seems to mean being intolerant of Christianity. Or to put it another way, if one wants to appear tolerant in post-modern Western society it seems important to insist that an exclusive Christianity is intolerant.

(3)Racial Ethnic Relationships: Since the latter half of the civil rights movement, among Christians, other faiths and even secular movements, a split has occurred concerning the way various groups and people look at race relations. The split has even occurred within the African American community.

On the outer fringe of both white and black society are those who insist on separatism, each race looking at the other with disparaging thoughts, words and actions; albeit, African Americans with somewhat more reason and integrity.

Still, the center, those who seek integration, while at the same time respecting the other’s culture, is certainly the biblical viewpoint.

But, as racial and religious ideas move on in this society new words and different definitions of old words are developing. The new terms and definitions enter into our debates and lead to conversations where we are all talking past each other without understanding what the other person is actually saying. Thus even the name “white privilege,” as the conference I am writing about is called, may mean different things to different people.

The 9th Annual White Privilege Conference:
This year’s conference is titled “Critical Liberation Praxis: Creating Transformation for Social Justice.” Although held in Springfield, Massachusetts it is linked to a site at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and is sponsored by the UCCS Matrix Center. Several Church and academic groups are recommending this conference. A promotional piece at the Massachusetts’ Bay District of Unitarian Universalist Churches calls the conference the "White Privilege, White Supremacy and Oppression: Critical Liberation Praxis."

The Conference, about racism, seems truly important. It is a subject we all need more information on and more help dealing with or overcoming. But there are also many problems with both the workshops and some of the groups in this conference.

An abusive social group: First, is the intrusion into this conference of people who are involved in Re-evaluation Counseling, sometimes going by the name "United to End Racism," an organization which promotes a kind of counseling that is not validated by psychiatric organizations. At least five workshops are run by those involved in “Re-evaluation Counseling.”(

The founder of Re-evaluation Counseling, Harvey Jackins, was interested in collectivism and saw all societies as oppressive.(2) (See their article on Human Societies.) He was also at one time deeply involved in Scientology (3) before beginning his own counseling organization. (See the article on Distress/Hurts.)

Some of Jackins’ methods and concepts uncannily follow his earlier interests. For instance, members of his organization generally belong to communities which are in some ways controlled by his therapeutic ideas. At the same time mental health organizations are seen as oppressive. And his view of what causes problems in people as well as society has to do with past hurts (“distresses”) and experiences seen as real entities lodged in the brain which need to be “discharged” through one on one counseling. In their documents they write:

"Very early in life the first time, and repeatedly after that, we meet experiences of distress. When we meet one-whether the distress is physical (pain, illness, unconsciousness, anaesthesia, (sic) sedation, acute discomfort, etc.) or whether it is emotional distress (loss, fright, frustration, ridicule, boredom, etc.)-a particular effect takes place.

While hurting, physically or emotionally, our flexible human intelligence stops functioning.

The ability that is the essence of our humanness, our ability to see things as they are exactly and to contrive new exact responses to all new situations, is slowed down or becomes inoperative.

This is a simple, profound and important statement. It is a long-unfaced key to much that has been confusing about a human being's activities. You will find that it sheds light into many dark puzzles about ourselves." (Italics the authors)

The Re-evaluation text goes on to explain that information that comes into the brain at this time clogs up a part of the brain and effects humans in all kinds of ways including their intelligence and the way they treat other people.

Other aspects of this organization are very troubling including allegations of improper sexual relations with young people by the founder, Jackins.

White Privilege, Christianity & Pluralism: Under the new term “white privilege,” several subjects are included. Sexual orientation and Christianity are two of them. That is, considering Christianity the true faith and homosexual acts sinful is thought to be arrogant and therefore a part of white privilege. For instance, in the multitude of workshops are two which cover Christianity. One entitled “The Everyday Impact of Christian Hegemony,” and led by Paul Kival, is described this way:

"This interactive workshop facilitates an examination and discussion of Christian Hegemony, the institutionalized system of Christian dominance in U.S. society which interconnects with sexism, racism, heterosexism, able-bodism, and anti-Arab and anti-Jewish oppression. . . . . The premise of this workshop is that one cannot accurately understand racism, sexism or other systems of oppression without coming to grips with the ways seventeen hundred years of Christian hegemony undergirds, shapes, supports, and obfuscates how power and violence really work in our society."

The other workshop is entitled, “Religious Pluralism and Christian Privilege,” and led by Jamie Washington. It is described this way:

"… Since 9/11/01, the issues of religious diversity and pluralism have been on our screen. However, seldom do we engage issues of religious diversity through the same lens we do other issues. Christian privilege is one of those taboo topics on most campuses. This session will create a space for us to begin to examine the dynamics of spiritual and religious diversity in the context of Christian privilege."

Racism and the Redefinition of Words: Aside from these troubling jabs at Christianity are disturbing political and social ideas. One of the most disturbing is a new use of the term “white supremacy.” Most people think of skinheads or the fringe “Identity” groups or even David Duke and the KKK when someone uses the term white supremacy, but now if you are white and disagree with some of the more radical political and social ideas of these presentations you are ranked with the above named fringe groups.

And in fact, like some other movements in our postmodern society, new word definitions have been totally absorbed into their ideology. For instance at this conference and other such ventures, race is not defined by skin pigment but along political and religious lines. Black is equated with inclusiveness, socialism (good), and community. White is equated with homophobia, exclusivism, capitalism (bad), patriarchy and individualism.

The 9th Annual White Privilege Conference and its workshops are a hodgepodge of well meaning and misguided efforts to produce a model society. The kind of movements, which create such conferences generally end up on the heap of all past movements attempting to create a Utopian society. Hopefully they won’t create disasters before they finish spinning out the details.

In the midst of so much confusion, mis-understanding and even hatefulness the Church can only stand beneath the cross.

1 See
2 See
3 See, and
4 There are many places on the web which focus on the troubling aspects of Re-evaluation Counseling. A helpful one is Re-evaluation Counseling Resources Site.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Life is Like That

Life is like that. Some days you go to Church fall off a bench and break your arm. But you still know that underneath are "the everlasting arms."
"The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deuteronomy 33:27a)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

An Event about Expelled ID Scientists

I don't live in the area but thought others might enjoy. I get an apologetic e-mail newsletter every so often from Biola. This is just a funny and informitive apologetic event at Biola: EXPELLED! The Movie and the Event with Ben Stein.

"Intelligent Design: What happens when a group of scientists get terminated for thinking it is reasonable to believe in ID? Actor Ben Stein makes a funny and thought-provoking movie about it. Join us for an exclusive backstage film pass and hear from Stein himself as well as a panel of experts."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Because it is My Birthday ...

Up Date: A Wonderful Birthday- I just found out I am going to be a great grandmother. My granddaughter Melissa and her husband Spencer are expecting their first child in November.
----------- picture by Penny Juncker


Because it is my birthday and I have decided to have a bit of fun, I am posting some quotes by Dorothy Sayers from a little booklet I have called Strong Meat. It was written partly as an explanation to some young men who asked about her play, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged."

"There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as 'adult,' 'mature.' 'experienced,' 'venerable'; they know only snarling and sneering epithets, like 'middle-aged,' 'elderly,' 'stuffy,' 'senile' and 'decrepit.' With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were an incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that 'makes mouths at the invisible event,' nor the reasoned courage that forsees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate fury of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.

Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, 'which is in the hands of the young.' With this flattery, they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame--not Sin, which is expitable, but Time which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth--their own or other people's. ... Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age.

'Except,' said Christ, 'ye become as little children'--and the words are sometimes quoted to justify the flight into infantilism. Now, children differ in many ways, but they have one thing in common. ... All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up. 'Except ye become as little children,' except you can wake on your fiftieth [67th] birthday with the same forward-looking excitement and interest in life that you enjoyed when you were five, 'ye cannot see the Kingdom of God.' One must not only die daily, but every day one must be born again."

"Let us, in Heaven's name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slip-shod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious--others will pass into the Kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honour by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

It is the dogma that is the drama--not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death--but the terrifying assertion that the same God Who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realise that here is something that a man might be glad to believe."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Confession of the Church 5b

The Word of God, Law and Gospel, Church and State are three areas that the Declaration of Barmen addresses. During the Nazi era these three issues were the pressing issues that demanded the attention of the Confessing Church in Germany. In the last posting on Confessions of Faith and the Church, “The Confession of the Church 5a” I wrote that I would explain the way Arthur C. Cochrane sees Barmen going farther in its declarations then the Reformation Confessions. These areas of concern are how he sees Barmen following the directions pointed out by the Reformation Confessions but going further.

The Word of God.
Going to the end of Cochrane’s paragraph on the Word of God, he writes of general revelation, stating it “does not yield a saving knowledge of God’s truth and will; it serves to render man without excuse and denounces him as being de facto ignorant of God.” The Synod of Barmen wished, with this Confession, to emphasize the Word of God above general revelation in such a manner that it cut away the German Church’s use of general revelation as proclamation.

Historically this happened because the German Christians rather than seeing general revelation as negative, that is, a judgment upon humanity, used it as a positive endorsement of German culture and history.

Cochrane begins with the “first thesis of the Declaration:

“The first thesis of the Declaration contains four propositions: the Word of God is Jesus Christ; the Word of God is attested in Holy Scripture; the Word of God is one Word; and the Word of God is the only revelation of God, or, rather, the revelation which the Church could acknowledge as a source of its proclamation.”

Next he states how this thesis goes beyond the Confessions of the Reformation. And in doing so he shows how Barmen pulls together the unity of God’s Word. Cochrane points out that no Reformed Confession “teaches that Jesus Christ is God’s Word,” instead it is Jesus Christ and the Scriptures as God’s Word. None of the Reformation Confessions “teach that God’s Word is testified to in Holy Scripture,” rather they “usually … explain that God committed his word to writing. None of the Confessions “asserts that God’s word is one.”

Cochrane’s important point is “The Reformers dealt with the three forms of God’s Word—revealed, written, and preached—but they did not concern themselves with the problem of their unity. Finally, no Reformed Confession teaches that God’s Word is the only revelation and the only source of Church proclamation.”

Only in Jesus Christ is God’s Word truly revealed, truly written, (this includes both Old and New Testaments), and truly preached. In Jesus Christ one finds the unity of the word of God both written and proclaimed. As Cochrane puts it, “Barmen sharpened an insight implicit in the Reformers. For when one considers their over-all doctrine of solus Christus, sola gratia, and sola scriptura, one will not be able to claim that Barmen was unfaithful to their basic intent.

Law and Gospel

Law and Gospel are two terms which figure greatly in both Lutheran and Reformed teaching. Cochrane points out that Barman unintentionally brought the two views closer. But the important point here is that because of the heresies of the German Christians the law needed to be subsumed under Gospel. It could not be a separate thing. For instance a German Christian, Werner Elert wrote:

“What Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament, describes as ‘law’ can in no sense be called a testimony to Christ. The proposition that apart from Christ no truth is to be acknowledged as God’s revelation is a rejection of the divine authority of the divine law beside that of the gospel.”

And the German Christians had also stated that, “God’s word speaks to us as law and gospel. . . . The Law . . . encounters us in the total reality of our life . . . and binds us to the natural orders to which we are subject, such as family, folk, and race (i.e., blood relationship).” One can see from this that the Church would end up with two proclamations.

Cochrane explains that in the “second thesis, we have to hear this one Word as a twofold word: first as gospel, and then as law, but both together—as ‘God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins’ and with the same seriousness’ as ‘God’s mighty claim upon our whole life.’ These two—assurance and claim, gospel and law—are one Word because Jesus Christ himself is God’s assurance and claim, and because ‘through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.’ It is not a matter of forgiveness as such, or of demand as such, but of Jesus Christ himself.”

Church and State

In this section, Cochrane points out that Barmen is different then both Reformation Confessions and the Medieval Church. This is in the third and fifth thesis of Barmen. The Confessing Church had need of explaining the differing vocations of the Church and the State. The State “could not fulfill the Church’s vocation, and … the Church does not ‘trust and obey’ the State as an ordinance of God but ‘the power of the word by which God upholds all things.’”

Notice Cochrane, with Barmen relies on the negative, what neither Church nor State is allowed. So once again the Word, the gospel of Christ is here the focus. The political does enter in here. The State is to maintain peace and justice and the Church by obeying the one Word of God, trusting and obeying the word, speaks out of her vocation and obedience.

Friday, March 7, 2008

In Memory of:

An update: Haaretz article giving an eulogy for each teenager.1.

This was sent to me by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I know the Memorial Rally is not in my city but I thought it would be good to place this on my blog in memory of these students.

I had to cut off the bottom details in order to get it to load, but it has the name of the speakers. Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Jack Weiss; Rabbis Marvin Hier, Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Elazar Muskin, Young Israel of Century City.

It also states "Join us as we gather to remember the six teenagers and two adults murdered at their Yeshiva while preparing for the upcoming Purim holiday and to demand that the civilized world finally confront the plague of suicide terror the greatest danger facing us today."

"The Lord appeared to him [Israel] from afar, saying, I have loved you with an everlasting Love ..." (Jeremiah 31:3)


'His face would glow with joy,' say friends of yeshiva attack victim'

" His face would glow with joy" Doron Meherete, 26 Ashdod Friends of Doron Meherete, the oldest of the eight students murdered Thursday at Mercaz Harav yeshiva, say that his face would glow with joy as he studied with them. Meherete, who came from Ethiopia in 1991 in Operation Solomon, studied for nine years at the yeshiva, where he was known for his trenchant mind and kind heart, challenging others intellectually and lending a helping hand whenever needed.

He was also a counselor at an after-school program for immigrant Ethiopian children. Three years ago he joined the army, under a special arrangement for advanced yeshiva students, served nine months in the armored corps, and fought as a reservist in the Second Lebanon War. He was preparing to become a rabbi, and had already taken some of his ordination exams. Hundreds attended his funeral in Ashdod on Friday. Meherete is survived by two parents and six siblings. More

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Books, Black Theology and Revelation

I am in the midst of research and buried in books. I wrote about two African American Churches one in the United Church of Christ and one in the Presbyterian Church USA. That posting was Jesus Christ or Culture but not both! The subject matter is connected to ‘Black Liberation theology’ and ‘Black Power.’ I was and am concerned about the results of a revelation founded in culture rather than Jesus Christ as he is revealed in Holy Scripture.

In an e-mail from Pastor Mark Lomax of the First African Presbyterian, Church in Lithonia Georgia, who I wrote about in that posting, I received several suggestions of books to read on the subject, including African Religions and Philosophy by John S Mbiti and Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans by Gayraud S. Wilmore. I have about ten pages left of Wilmore’s book and I’m halfway through another book which uses a great deal of Mbiti’s book, that is, The Spirituality of African Peoples: the search for a common moral discourse, by Peter J. Paris.

In what I am sure is God’s providence, Hans Cornelder placed an article,
Out of Africa about a book concerned with Christian origins in Africa on Presbyweb. The book is, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity by Thomas C. Oden. Ordering that book turned up several other good books; one I have been reading along side Wilmore’s book. That book is The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity, by Pastor Thabiri M. Anyabwile. The other is On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African-American Christian Experience, by Anthony J. Carter.

I have other books on this subject; as I said I am buried in books, and, of course, still reading. But several items jumped out at me as I was reading tonight so I thought I would share them. One of them is the intentional push toward grounding Black theology in Black cultural concerns as shown in Wilmore’s book, Black Religion and Black Radicalism.

The other, a quote which resounds with clear biblical sounds, is from “The Decline of African American Theology” and is totally different. The author is an African Pastor from the Cayman Islands. Anyabwile writes:

“…does Christian theology, black or white, really leave room for an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ attitude toward the doctrine of Christ? Is one left to simply choose or fashion an understanding of Jesus’ life, ministry and being as one chooses? Are there no consequences for what position a person takes? Moreover, can any source for developing a Christology be used as if it is equal with or determinative of the meaning of any other source?

While all people are equal, made in the image of God, and therefore of infinite worth, not all ideas are true or worth believing. And, if, as Jesus teaches, the critical question is ‘Who do you say that I am?’ then the stakes for answering correctly are extremely high. In the High Priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus defines eternal life as knowledge of God the Father and of himself, whom the Father sent (Jn 17:3). Moreover, in his discussion with the Samarian woman at the well, Jesus makes it plain that accuracy in our knowledge of God is one of two determining factors in God-satisfying worship. The Father seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24). All other worship violates the first and second commandments, which prohibit both the carving and mental fabrication of idols to worship.” (168-169)

The quote covers all of the idolatrous theologies being formulated today. And the author doesn't just look at Liberation theology but also at some Pentecostal heresies such as Oneness Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel. There is much more ahead and I will eventually put together a much larger article on this subject.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Faithful Friends and Faithless Tales

Several summers ago my husband and I ate with several renewal leaders while they were in Sacramento at a meeting. We took them to one of our favorite places to eat, the Tower Café, which is by that once famous music store also called Tower and right next to the Tower Theater. The Reverend James (Jim) Berkley was one of our guests.

We had not met Jim, but that evening we were able to enjoy his clarity, Christianity and good humor, and by the way, he use to go to the Tower Theater to watch French movies, something we also have enjoyed doing over the years. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” was a movie he mentioned.

We discovered that Jim was once a Pastor in a small town near us. During that time he send articles to Christianity Today’s, Leadership Journal. The magazine eventually asked him to become their Editor. Jim at some point worked with Presbyterians for Renewal. He now works for Presbyterian Action with the
Institute of Religion and Democracy where you can read his complete bio.

My point in writing this little piece is (1.) that Jim and his wife Debbie are Christian friends and their Christianity reaches into a lot of places in this world. Jim may spend time at important conferences but he also takes time to minister to individuals along the way. Not long ago a young Christian pastor, Brian, told me of how Jim, at a conference, took the time to pray with him. Brian was mourning the death of his baby daughter and he was very touched by Jim's prayer.

But (2) I grieve deeply that Jim and his wife Debbie have had to suffer so much verbal and written persecution because of the work Jim does. And it is all distortions and lies. But I for one am extremely thankful that they are my Christian Brother and Sister in the Lord. I think it is very important, in such times as this, that Christians uphold each other with both words and prayer.

Since someone maliciously decided to post more awful material against Jim and the IRD, I am re-posting an article I wrote several months ago which refutes one of those articles. It of course only covers a small amount of the articles published, but at least with this one can see the faulty thinking and distortions of those who write against the IRD.

Embracing Conspiracy Theories: The John Birch Society & PublicEye’s John Dorhauer

-Dr. John C. Dorhauer, a staff member for the United Church of Christ, has written an article for Public Eye Magazine entitled “Churches Under Seige [sic]: Exposing the Right’s Attacks on Mainline Protestantism.” His target is the Institute of Religion and Democracyand all of the renewal groups in all of the mainline churches.

Dorhauer’s article reminded me of the John Birch Society’s view of the world back in the 1960s and 70s. The only difference, of course, is their political ideologies. It can be shown that Dorhauer and Robert Welsh, founder of the John Birch Society, share some similarities in their theological outlook and more importantly their use of conspiracy theories. (Robert Welsh had an unquestionable “progressive” view of religion.)

More then ten years ago I wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal on “Christian Identity” a group within the Neo-Nazi movement in America. In the article, I used the John Birch Society as an example of an organization that uses conspiracy theories. I showed how their conspiracies fed into the various racist groups although the society, itself, is not racist.

A member of the John Birch Society was bothered by my article and wrote me a long letter explaining how useful conspiracy theories are. In return I wrote a letter back which I later made into an article and placed it on my web site “Naming the Grace.”

But it isn’t just the far right which spins conspiracy theories, the far left is also becoming quite good at the enterprise. Take for instance process theologian, David Ray Griffin, who wrote a book contending that President Bush was behind the 9-11 attacks in New York City. Now John Dorhauer and the PublicEye Magazine are making use of a conspiracy theory to slander other Christians with whom they disagree.

The article Dorhauer has written is filled with historical mistakes, strange theological statements and conspiracy theories. For instance Dorhauer suggests that it was President George W.H. Bush who attempted to have Justice Robert Bork nominated to the Supreme Court when it was President Ronald Reagan who nominated Bork.

Dorhauer mentions Bork because Bork’s wife, Mary Ellen Bork, is on the Board of Directors of IRD. Indeed, the Board is made up of such respected individuals as Dr. Thomas C. Oden, Professor of Theology and Ethics (emeritus), Drew University, Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, The Institute on Religion and Public Life and Dr. Robert George, Professor, Princeton University.

After looking at one interesting, but strange, theological statement by Dorhauer, I will take two thoughts from my article on conspiracy theories and use it to analyze Dorhauer’s article.

The rather weird statement is this: “They [renewal groups] emphasize a person's direct relationship with Jesus in the fashion of evangelicals, and so oppose the dominant Protestant church tradition of freedom of the pulpit and the freedom to express one's own theology without the constriction of a mandate from above.” Although I do not totally understand all that Dorhauer means by his statement, I will, at least, try to address it.

First of all, as noted above, Dorhauer is coming from a United Church of Christ background and aiming mainly at those renewal groups in that denomination. They are congregational in government so it is understandable that they do not expect anyone above the congregation telling their Pastor what to preach.

Nonetheless, it is not true that congregationalism is the dominant characteristic of Protestant denominations. Furthermore, the congregation or the governing body within each local church in a congregational type of church has the right to ask that their Pastor preach biblical truth.

Dorhauer seems to be making three theological points about the United Church of Christ. One, the United Church of Christ does not emphasize a person’s direct relationship with Jesus and two the only evangelicals in that denomination are all in renewal groups.

The third point he seems to be making I consider of utmost importance. Since Dorhauer thinks those in renewal groups have a different theology than other members in the UCC, that is, they believe in a direct relationship with Jesus, it would seem he is saying the usual connection between UCC members and Jesus Christ is by some other mediator. Or maybe they have no relationship with Jesus? Hmm – I wonder if that is true. What a great mission field for orthodox and evangelical Christians.

Going beyond even the polity part of Dorhauer’s statement it seems nonsensical to suggest that having a personal relationship with Christ and seeing that as one of the important tenets of Christianity somehow affects the freedom of the pulpit. Unless he means that preachers should have the freedom to preach that a personal relationship with Jesus is unimportant!

Going even deeper than theology about our relationship to Christ, the question should be asked: is Dorhauer suggesting that it is more important to have the “freedom to express one’s own theology” than it is to preach biblical truth?

But as to conspiracy theories: Dorhauer purports to have found the smoking gun, the document that tells all. The Institute for Religion and Democracy is supposedly conspiring to use renewal groups to undermine all of the mainline denominations.

Dorhauer writes, “The IRD's training sessions are by invitation-only and its allies within churches meet in secret. At best, we are able to present strong circumstantial evidence that what is happening in our local churches and to our denominational leaders is the direct byproduct of the covert tactics of the IRD and their trained insurgents.”

Dorhauer continues, “We have few smoking gun moments: moments where the fomenters of dissent acknowledge their cooperation with or even awareness of the IRD. (In many ways, the IRD's ability to effect cooperation even from those who don't know they exist shows the success of its initiative.)”

And writing of the smoking gun, the IRD’s four year plan, Dorhauer states: “But one smoking gun moment came recently when the executive summary of the IRD's four-year plan leaked out of its secretive networks into the hands of its enemies.” (Bold letters mine.)

Just to make sure his readers understand that this is truly a conspiracy Dorhauer writes, “And it [the planning document] confirms what pastors across Protestant denominations have long felt, that our denominations are being attacked in a coordinated fashion - that we are not just falling into conspiratorial thinking. There is a conspiracy.”

Turning to my article, “Conspiracy and the Christian,” the John Birch Society member asked this question, “Why not view world events from a conspiratorial view?” As an aside, Dorhauer may not understand that he is suggesting a conspiracy taken to the level of world events. But, he is, because those in the renewal groups, including the IRD, are connected to a two-thousand year history of the Church with its biblical views and traditions. They are also committed to world missions as well as helping the poor and the prisoner. (Dorhauer scathingly points out that the leader of IRD is Jim Tonkowich, former head of Charles Colson’s Prison Ministry.)

Using two of my answers in my article, I will show how they fit with Dorhauer’s theories. First, “the advocates of conspiracy theories often understand goodness and evil within the framework of the theory.” Dorhauer, using his idea of conspiracy, effectively covers over the real questions of good and evil.

The renewal groups, including IRD, are concerned about such social issues as abortion and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. They are also committed to upholding the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the face of a growing pluralism within the mainline denominations. Those issues are not addressed in the article; rather the IRD and other renewal groups are tarred and feathered with the crime of being secret agents of chaos.

In fact, Dorhauer takes his conspiracy theory and shapes an abominable lie. He writes:

"The IRD exists for one reason only. It is not to steal churches out of our denomination, nor to defrock ministers, not to establish certain religious, theological, or biblical principles. The IRD only exists to tie up churches and judicatories in dissent. That is it. So, its staff really doesn't care if the resolutions they are teaching their activists to present pass or not. They don't care if the church supports gay marriage or not. They don't care if the Bible is interpreted literally or not. They only care that activists keep pushing buttons, fomenting dissent, and tying up congregational, judicatory, and denominational leaders in one argument, one battle, one fierce debate after another as a way to weaken churches interested in social justice."

Dorhauer has posted not one shred of evidence to back his statement. And he obviously hasn’t read anything that writers such as Jim Berkley or Alan Wisdom have written. Conspiracy theories lead to making the person you disagree with the “outsider.” Rather than defending your own position on issues, you defame and slander those who should be your friend in Christ. Dorhauer sees the “other” as someone who has “enemies.” This must mean he also has named himself their enemy.

Another problem with conspiracy theories is that “the theory often serves as truth rather than documented evidence.” And this is also true in Dorhauer’s case. He began with his theory, not with any documentation, so anything he finds is interpreted from his conspiracy formula.

Dorhauer is unable to comprehend the viewpoints of many people in the mainline denominations who are concerned about the numerous theological and social issues slipping into the Church via a broken humanity. He is unable to grasp the idea that many, many committed Christians have formed renewal groups and made commitments to work for renewal with the understanding that such work is faithful work for Jesus Christ.

Dorhauer takes his theory so seriously that any negative evidence to the contrary gets absorbed into his theory. That is why he makes the ridiculous statement, “In many ways, the IRD's ability to effect cooperation even from those who don't know they exist shows the success of its initiative.” So, most of us have been manipulated and we didn’t even know it? Dorhauer's conspiracy theory has become his truth.

Dorhauer undoubtedly believes he is doing good work by exposing the “conspirators,” but what he is actually doing is slanderous work such as was used against the Jews in pre-war Germany. If Dorhauer believes ordaining practicing homosexuals is right, if he thinks that abortion is honorable, if he feels that pluralism is more acceptable for Christians than upholding Jesus Christ as the only Lord, then let him argue his positions in an honest way, without resorting to slanderous accusations.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Confession of the Church 5a

In Christian vocabulary the Church has several descriptions of itself such as the Church militant, that is, the visible Church on earth, and the Church triumphant, the saints in heaven. These two descriptions are connected because in Christ the whole Church, in heaven and on earth has unity. In the same way contemporary Confessions of the Church have important connections with past Confessions.

Arthur C. Cochrane in the chapter on the nature of a Confession in his book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, has as his 5th point the connections contemporary Confessions make with the Church’s past Confessions. He writes:

“5. A Confession of Faith, as the voice of the one, holy, catholic Church, reflects its unity and continuity with the Church of the fathers. Consequently the Declaration [of Barmen] states: ‘Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent.’”

In other words in order to remain faithful to past Confessions of Faith a new Confession was needed. The Confessing Churches of Germany had no intention of ignoring or doing away with their various Confessions. Rather, according to Cochrane, they were using the past Confessions as pointers toward a new Confession in order that once again the Church might confess. He offers two important points about past Confessions. First they are “… a mighty signpost directing us to Jesus Christ in Scripture.” And second they are “an invitation and challenge to confess Christ in our day.”

Cochrane looks at a Confession as an explanation of past Confessions. Using the “Formula of Concord,” a Reformation Confession of the Lutheran Church, he clarifies his meaning. Cochrane writes “For instance, the Formula of Concord explains that ‘because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i.e., brief, succinct confessions, were composed against them in the Early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them.’”

Looking at Reformed Confessions of Faith one sees the same links, shown by Cochrane, connecting the Reformation’s creeds to the more ancient creeds. For instance “The Second Helvetic Confession,” states, “And, to say many things in few words, with a sincere heart we believe, and free confess with open mouth, whatever things are defined from the Holy Scriptures concerning the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are summed up in the Creeds and decrees of the first four most excellent synods convened at Nicaca, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon—together with the Creed of blessed Athanasius, and all similar symbols; and we condemn everything contrary to these.” (The Book of Confessions PCUSA 5.078)

Cochrane writes of how Barmen also fit into this process of affirming but also enlarging on past Confessions. He writes:

“Similarly Barmen is a genuine Confession in that it clarified the meaning of the Reformation Confessions in a new situation, confessed the old faith in a new way, and gave a more precise definition of the old. In order to counter the errors of that time, Barmen had to speak more clearly than the Reformers had done, especially in regard to revelation and the Word of God. It was faithful to the Reformers by going farther in the direction to which they pointed.”

Cochrane then looks at three ways that Barmen went farther than the Reformation Confessions. I will cover those in my next posting, however, an important last point here is that new Confessions of the Church never move away from past Confessions but instead move along a path that has already been lit with the flame of the confessing Church.

The Confession of the Church 1

The Confession of the Church 2

The Confession of the Church 3

The Confession of the Church 4