Monday, February 28, 2011

Fornication, same gender sex and our oneness with Jesus

The continuing push for the right for sexual sin within the PCUSA cuts into the heart of the biblical truth that Christians cherish. The cross is demolished. Souls are left wounded and we have taken away the means of healing.

A gay Elder came to the microphone, at our Presbytery meeting, pleading to have our fidelity chastity standard removed because an older women, 65, living with her boyfriend for financial reasons was denied ordination. At the time, I thought surely, it will suddenly dawn on the commissioners that this is about more than gay rights. This is about allowing all kinds of sexual sin in the church, about accommodating the cultural milieu we live in. But eighty people did not care.

Jesus Christ suffered that we might be forgiven, transformed, changed, made new. To allow such sin to be ‘okay’ for the church is to deny that Jesus suffered for us. Paul in 1 Corinthians after naming many sins that are rampant in our own world, our Western world, coveting, idolatry, thievery, and yes homosexuality and fornication says to his listeners:

“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (6:11)

These dear people were first washed of their sins by the blood of Christ; they were set apart and made children of God. They received the righteousness of Christ which is the only sufficient righteousness.

But the righteousness of Christ does not exempt believers from living their lives for God in holiness, striving against sin. We are united to the Lord, one with him. How can we go on living in habitual and unrepentant sin? Paul brings the resurrection into this passage. Christ has been raised and so shall we. The body is important because of the power of Jesus Christ and the resurrection.

The biblical view of the body is unique, both in biblical times and today.

Several groups of ancient pseudo gnostics saw the body as evil or unimportant. Because of that they were antinomians. That is they believed they could sin without concern for their actions. Some Buddhists and Hindus, who see the body as an illusion, practice a left handed kind of tantra which uses sex to achieve what they consider the ultimate goal of their faith, dissolution of all sense experience.

Some post-moderns, who are gay, and supposedly Christian, attempt to explain their sexual acts as a means to unite or connect with God. Scott Haldeman in an essay too graphic to speak of God’s revelation tries anyway. Speaking of his passive sexual position as revelatory, he writes, “I am referring to something akin to an icon through which one sees, as through a portal, something of the attributes of God.”[1]

But God’s word which is badly muddied and slandered by such thoughts is vastly different. Because of the resurrection and because through the Holy Spirit we are united to the Lord what a Christian does with their body is important. Paul writes:

“But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (17-20)

Four Reformed and Biblical truths are trounced by the push for perverse sexuality in the church.

1. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection that sinners might be forgiven and transformed is ignored. Sin is called good and righteousness bigotry.

2. The resurrection of the body and the Holy Spirit’s presence within the believer is also ignored.

3. The wonderful reformed teaching that we are united to Christ, that we are one with him is set aside.

4. And clearly the truth that Jesus is God’s final revelation is in some cases made a mockery.

[1] Scott Haldeman, “Receptivity and revelation,” Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice Love, Editors Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-smith, ed. (The Pilgrim Press 2003)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Falcon & the Falconer: Going to Presbytery

One doesn’t feel like poetry or prose after the Presbytery meeting and yet ….

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”
(William Blake)

I think of two years ago, good wine, circling eagles and mighty Lions.
but find It hard to write of journeys now. And yet out of a ditch
in startling fashion an egret flew straight across the road barely missing our car, while from the same ditch, at the same time, a hank rose straight into the air.

Companions unintended by their creator; disaster almost came as they flew their separate ways. -
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

They stood there at the microphone owning their thoughts but more; the mighty words of God. Simply reading scripture. Hoping for the power of His word. It fell away.

The falcon cannot hear the Falconer.

He stood there the gay elder in the straight black coat. Pleading his cause: the older woman who lives in fornication for the sake of money. Her gifts are wasted he said- she needs our gift of ordination.

The falcon cannot hear the Falconer.

80 proud they stood; the Word was emptied before them.[1]
We filled a paper with our protest-they rushed away-
Surely some revelation is at hand” but it is not the Falconer’s.
Surely the lie of something new-but it is an old lie:

They “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4b)

The falcon cannot hear the Falconer.

The poet saw a lion- it was a monstrosity, “[It] Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert/ A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” It rose to fill a crib of Bethlehem. It rose to destroy.

But, no matter, the Lion of Charles Williams, the Lion of all Christendom, the Lion of Judah still reigns.

"By the side of the road, … there appeared the creature they had set out to seek. It was larger and mightier than when they had seen it before--and, comparatively close as they now were, they fell back appalled by the mere effluence of strength that issued from it. It was moving like a walled city, like the siege-towers raised against Nineveh or Jerusalem; each terrible paw, as it set it down, sank into the firm ground as if into mud, but was plucked forth without effort; the movements of its mane, whenever it mightily turned its head, sent reverberations of energy through the air, which was shaken into the wind by that tossed hair.” The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

“Stop weeping; behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome.” Rev. 5:5

[1] 10 A 80 for/ 76 against
Belhar 78 to 79 defeated
nFOG 70 to 85 defeated.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sunday-an invitation

“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

“Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have understanding will understand.” (12:10)

I love the cryptic, yet concrete wording of Daniel. It is like much of the wording of poetry. What I have taken from Daniel above is actually taken out of context in that an angel is speaking to Daniel about the last days. And yet the words put clearly the way of the Lord and those who follow him in every generation.

The Lord works in his people, using them to proclaim his righteousness, while they are used by the Holy Spirit to lead many out of the darkness of this age into the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

But there are those who, in their wickedness, no matter how hard one knocks upon the door, cannot hear.

And yet—the Holy Spirit is there wooing, pleading, convicting. And we must be there also, praying, pleading.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hector Reynoso speaking about his Presbyterian background and faithfulness in the PCUSA

As I go to Presbytery this weekend I am leaving you with this video made by Reclaim Biblical Teaching. This is Hector Reynoso who "is Pastor of the Principe de Paz Presbyterian Church in south Texas. He was a candidate for Vice Moderator of the General Assembly in 2010. He has a heart for the PCUSA." He offers some of his history as a Presbyterian, his deep concerns and encouragement.

Hector Reynoso: Please vote NO on Amendment 10-A from Reclaim Biblical Teaching on Vimeo.

You can find other excellent resources and material at Reclaim Biblical Teaching.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two Storms & Margaret J. Thomas' paper

Friday my husband and I will drive to Chico where the Sacramento Presbytery will be meeting both Friday evening and Saturday morning. The Presbytery will be voting on all three important issues, Belhar, nFOG and removing our standards on sexuality from our Book of Order. Two storms are headed our way. One may actually bring snow down to sea level. (An unusual event in this part of California) That will undoubtedly affect our driving. The other storm will be a blast against the Church. That is not an unusual event in the history of the Church. Perhaps it will affect our circumstances but it will not affect the faithfulness of the Lord.

In the space of two days I have seen some discouraging news in two places. One is today’s news stating that President Obama has decided that the Defense of the Marriage Act is unconstitutional. I read this after reading, on the Voices for Justice web site, a paper by Margaret J. Thomas, entitled “Are we Deathly Ill?: Governance in a time of ferment.” And that is another rant against the fellowships’ White Paper and invitation; one which tends to see the strength of the denomination in its polity rather than its faith.

Because of the type of paper it is I don’t wish to go into any kind of analysis except to look at some of Thomas’s thoughts toward the end of the paper. And that is where the two pieces of bad news converge. Thomas lists, under the question, “So why can’t they be comfortable in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as it is evolving,” all of her conjectures about the pastors and their churches and congregations.

Some of her thoughts are almost laughable-for instance, “Do they not understand that one of the primary roles of larger congregations in the Reformed tradition is to help provide the supportive services and resources that only a more inclusive governing body can provide?” But there are two questions that truly bothered me:
Are they afraid that if they and their congregations remain identified with the PC (U.S.A.) when homosexual practice is no longer a barrier to ordination and same sex unions/weddings are permitted, they will lose members and financial resources? (Yes, they probably will even if they try to mitigate the transition by reminding members that a Foundational principle of Presbyterian governance is the right to elect their own leaders. If they respond with God’s grace, they will also attract new members and resources.)

Are they ill prepared to lead their congregations into a future where neither society nor the church condones the exclusion of GLBT people from the responsibilities inherent in citizenship or membership respectively?
Thomas’ questions and concluding words are troubling because she has already set the orthodox aside and concluded that ‘they are on the wrong side of history,” and are reactionaries. She suggests that the progressives should react to the orthodox by offering to “help them prepare their own hearts and their congregations for the changes that are coming.”

But there is already one who has prepared his people to walk with him through dark times. The Lord of the church suffered for the church, guides the church and through the Holy Spirit unites his people to himself. He is the sufficient Lord who never changes but is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb 13:8) He alone transforms and saves his people.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example for you to follow in his footsteps who committed no sin nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously; and he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live in righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hoping to clear some fog away: about nFOG

While I am concerned with the whole of nFOG, I am particularly concerned with “The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” section. Not only does the very first sentence uphold universalism but several other sections undermine a reformed understanding of the authority of Scripture.

Under section D. is this statement: “The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others.” In this sentence the apostolic witness of Scriptures is equated with those throughout the history of the Church. That is adding tradition to the apostolic witness of Scripture. We are not Roman Catholic or Anglican, we are Reformed.

Likewise this sentence, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages.” That is not complete; the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just in the Gospels or the Prophets; the Gospel is in the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
We must not dismiss any part of Scripture. We find the promise of Christ in Genesis and the rule of Christ in Revelation. We find the ancestors of Christ in Ruth and the social care of Christ in James. We find the need for Christ in Leviticus and the assurance of Christ in Romans. Our foundation must lift up the whole Bible.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Singing about Jesus-in the many languages of God's people

Here is a quote from my daughter Jennifer’s Facebook status:

“two things: One of the wonderful things about my church is that sometimes someone from some other country starts singing a hymn in their own language. Today it was Armenian, sometimes it is Korean, what a beautiful thing to worship God with people from all over the world and to hear them worship in their own tongue. 2. to God, we are all, each the apple of His eye! (strange grammar intended). :)”

She attends Peace Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove which is in the Sacramento area. Peace is an unplanned multicultural Church. I once wrote this about that church:

"The crèche at Peace Presbyterian was made up of beautiful, ethnically diverse, wiggling, sometimes shy, images of the Christmas story. I sat, watching with my family, as the children performed their parts in this multicultural church on the southern outreaches of the Sacramento area. Here, there is no need to be concerned with a Christmas scene that denies ethnic possibilities or the diversity of that first Christmas story. Instead here diversity sings silent night, holy night.

Better still, in the church I was visiting that morning, the church of my daughter and her family; there is no need to be concerned with the truthfulness of the story told. The incarnation, God of very God, God coming in the unique human, Jesus Christ, is always the story told and lived."

Our nation is changing. For good I think. Our churches are changing their texture, their sounds and their voices. The true story of the Incarnation, God coming in love to redeem his people is blessed by the addition of new notes. The sounds of those who together praise Jesus might remind one of the glory of being with Jesus.

One of my favorite songs from the Jesus Movement:

Picture of Jennifer and her husband Derek hiking.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Voting, Bonhoeffer and the confession of the church

In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was involved in church elections. The German Christians would win that election by 70 percent over the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer, as Edwin Robertson,1 points out would preach his last sermon in Berlin. He used Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ found in Matthew 16:13-18.

He started his sermon with the statement, “If it were left to us we would rather avoid the decisions which are forced upon us this day; if it were left to us, we would rather not be caught up in this struggle in the Church, which tears it apart; if it were left to us we would rather not insist on the rightness of our cause.”

Bonhoeffer goes on to say that it is God whose plans have forced the conflict on the Confessing Church.

And then he continues, “We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing is made easy for us. We are confronted with a decision and we are divided.”

Through the body of his sermon Bonhoeffer speaks of the church and where it is. He refers to it as the eternal church. He states:

Amidst the creaking and straining of the very foundations of its structure, amidst the cracks and destruction we hear everywhere the promise of an everlasting church; a church against which the powers of hell shall not prevail. A church which Christ has built upon a rock, and which he continues to build throughout all time.”
Bonhoeffer asks where one finds this eternal Church. He sees it away from the crowds where Peter makes his confession. He looks at the weaknesses of Peter and other disciples, and yet since it is Christ’s church finds it to be the church of revelation rather than human opinions or ideas. The important thing is the foundation, Christ the Lord.

He advises the troubled Christians listening to his sermon that day:

We shall confess—he shall build. We shall preach—he shall build. We shall pray to him—he shall build. We do not know his plan. We do not see whether he builds or tears down. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of collapse, are for him the times of great building. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of great success, are for him times to tear down. It is a great comfort that Christ gives to his church: confess, preach and bear witness to me. I alone will build as it pleases me. Don’t give me orders. Do your job—then you have done enough. You are all right. Don’t seek out reasons or opinions. Don’t keep judging. Don’t keep checking again and again to see if you are secure. Church, remain a church! You have only one Lord—Christ alone. By his grace alone you live. Christ builds.

And the power of hell shall not overcome you. Death is the legacy of all who live. Here it finds its end. On the hard foundations of the valley of death, the church is built, the church which confesses Christ as its life. It has eternal life precisely where death grasps at it. And it grasps at it because it has eternal life. The confessing church is
the everlasting church, because Christ protects it. Its eternal nature is not visible in this world. The waves go high over it and sometimes it appears to sink and be lost. But the victory lies with the church, because Christ the Lord is with it and he has conquered death. ‘Do not ask if the victory is yours, but believe in the victory and it is already yours.’

His exhortation for the church is:
Whether the numbers are great or small, whether the members are lowly or high, whether they are weak or strong, if they confess Christ, the victory is theirs through all eternity: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32) ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20), The city of God remaineth!
For this our day also. The City of God remaineth!

1. All quotes of Bonhoeffer taken from, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, Editor and Translator Edwin Robertson

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A repost: Submission to God or human opinion

Just slightly more than a year ago I put up a small article with the words,” This morning reading in Auguste Lecerf's An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics.” This evening I noticed someone on my feed looking for Lecerf’s Dogmatics. They had stopped to read the year old posting, “Submission to God or human opinion.” Often I can’t remember what the posting is about because I have too many so I click and read my own writing out of curiosity. This time I realized that except for a link the posting was very relevant for the present.

Minus a link to a More Light video, I have decided to repost it. I think it is a worthwhile read as we think about the future:

"This morning reading in Auguste Lecerf’s An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, I noted this statement, “Submission to God is the means and condition of liberation from enslavement to human opinion. If we wish to restore legitimate authority it is only the better to true liberty.” (262)

Submission to God or enslavement to human opinion, these are the two realities the Church must choose between. Choose the first and the Church will be the Church under the Lordship of Christ holding on to Scripture. Choose the second and the Church will succumb to enslavement to the world. Choosing sin, the Church will find only the world’s glory, a sorry, tarnished thing.

If we keep traveling down this same road, pushing for the ordination of practicing homosexuals as well as seeing other sexual sins as normative, the mainline churches, will find what they believe to be a haven. However, the haven will not be the Lord but rather the state.

I am remembering the Scripture where Pilate is so relieved to find that Jesus is from Galilee and that he can be sent to Herod for judgment. Now the interesting thing about that scripture text is that although Herod did not take control of the situation and instead sent Jesus back to Pilate the two leaders who hadn’t liked each other very much, in fact, they were enemies, became friends that day. (Luke 23:1-25)And why was that? They agreed with each other’s opinions.

They agreed that Jesus was innocent but they also agreed that he was bothersome and his words were hard to hear. He spoke with authority and he was too much trouble to save. Each political leader had him mocked and beaten. (Matt 27:26)

Jesus submitted to his Father. They, Pilate and Herod, were owned, each by their desires for acceptance. They didn’t want to submit to anyone who was referred to as the King of the Jews, or the Son of man, or the truth or the only way to the Father. They didn’t want to be overcome by his words. So they submitted to the prevailing opinion.

Yes, Jesus’ disciples, who continued to submit to the authority of Christ, who held on to his word which is the word of God, suffered for their willingness to preach Christ. Still, they now glory in his glory.

But Pilate and Herod? One was eaten by worms (Acts 12:23); the other became an obscure politician, whose history is incomplete. Except for this, all those who love Jesus will always remember that Jesus 'suffered under Pontius Pilate.' "

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unity and Peace? No- just slander-Update

Tom Eggebeen, a PC (U.S.A.) pastor and blogger at the Presbyterian Outlook has led my thoughts through some bumpy roads. The reason is I didn’t just read his blog posting, Home in the – somewhat impure – PC(USA) at the Outlook. I also read his comments on Margaret Aymer’s “About Your Invitation” posting. And I read his other blog, Chat & Chew and his posting A Letter to John Ortberg. (Ortberg is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and one of the signers of the Fellowship letter and white paper.) It was all of this reading that led me to believe there is a growing effort to defame and hurt these pastors. This is called persecution.

Eggebeen’s article posted on the Outlook is not harsh. It is a plea to push as hard for unity and peace as one pushes for purity in the church. He equates the desire for doctrinal purity with those pastors who published the paper and invitation. He calls for loyalty to the church, and suggests that we need unity and peace in order for purity to flourish.

But in his letter to Ortberg his accusations are harsh and different than the Outlook article. He writes:
Whatever pretensions there might be about the centrality of Jesus Christ with high doctrines of revelation, claims of orthodoxy, notions of mission for the glory of God and being Reformed, the root is politics and money and property and pride, buttressed by powerful interests on one singular issue: the ordination of gays and lesbians, and, in California, marriage rights. Fueled by the political far-right, the ordination of LGBT persons has become the line-in-the-sand.
And in his comments on Aymer’s blog Eggebeen’s true feelings emerge viciously. He agrees with another commenter, Chris, who with Aymer, equates the pastors with fundamentalism and concludes:
What I have to admit is that I, and a great number of my peers, have been far too tolerant of those voices in our denomination who left “mutual respect” behind years ago. There are men who say that “they are no better than anyone else”, but then their actions make it quite clear that they are not able to live in such “mutual respect”. Their actions, including self-righteous proclamations, indicate that they no longer respect those “on the left”. Here I am referring not to their private thoughts, but their public actions. I am working to repent of my excessively tolerant position, and hope that a few will join me,
Eggebeen agrees with Chris’ thoughts about fundamentalists and then writes, “Your entire comment has been added to my data base.” Hopefully he won’t use it at the Outlook!

The votes on Amendment 10-A are growing very close with 10-A ahead at the moment. There is a kind of bravery that, perhaps unintentionally, lends itself to darkness in the face of such a victory for sin. I can only think of fiction, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the death of Aslan. As the witch has Aslan muzzled those about him grow braver. As Lewis puts it:
… as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage that entire rabble. Everyone was at him now. … kicking him, hitting him, spitting him, jeering at him.
Whether we agree with all that is in the paper or not, If we stand for Jesus as Lord, we must also stand for those brothers and sisters who are being maligned with so much villainy and dishonesty.

UPDATE: Oh my- is this a personal vendetta?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Margaret Aymer's "About Your Invitation"

I am writing about the manner in which Margaret Aymer answered the Pastor’s white paper and original letter , so recently on the minds and in the complaints of many in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Among other things I write poetry and I have a few rejection letters I have treasured over the years. I treasure them because the poetry editors were good enough to complement some of my writing, asked me to send more poems at other times on subjects relevant to the subject they would be focusing on and gave me some excellent criticism.

None of them treated my poetry as though it was a novel, a sermon or a book review. They knew they were reading a poem and they critiqued it like a poem. For instance they did not look for a plot or a consistent ending, but thought about its structure and its concreteness.

Margaret Aymer is undoubtedly a good exegete and it is true that any kind of text might be looked at from an exegetical perspective; however one must also take into consideration the nature of the analysis. Doing a religious exegesis of texts, which are not sermons nor sacred texts or even theological treatises, brings the risk of appearing a bit arrogant.

Aymer focuses on the word congregations because it came up prominently in her Wordle word cloud and then goes on from there to count religious words such as Christ and God. She then states that, “Other often repeated words are PC(USA), new, and Fellowship, and, (less frequently), Reformed.” The interesting part here is Aymer could have taken the word “fellowship” and expanded on it. But perhaps that would have allowed the pastors to seem more human, perhaps even kind.

She could have written about the word PCUSA, and considered their concerns for their beloved denomination and their own particular churches. At least one of these pastors has four generations of Presbyterian pastors in his family including two sons. A building at the San Francisco Theological Seminary is named for his grandmother.

This was clearly a letter and an invitation by some pastors who wish to do something new in order to either stay and renew or leave and be faithful in some other way. Why the exegetical put down?

Next Aymer brings to her exegesis a sociological examination. She does this using shame and honor as a methodology for investigating the attitudes of the pastors. In some sense this is also psychological. The problem is Aymer uses her own definitions. I don’t think anyone can take words like honor and shame and place their own meanings over the lives of other people, especially when they didn’t use the words themselves. That is in fact authoritarian.

And once again this is a methodology meant to make the pastors seem unkind, unfriendly, unbiblical and even out of date.

The real problem is that neither the ancient world’s views of honor and shame, nor the modern or post-modern’s view of the same have anything to do with where the faithful Christian, church or denomination is meant to focus. Christ Jesus is Lord of the church and when pastors are troubled over the endless controversies “scripture, authority, Christology, the extent of salvation; creeping universalism” that should be a sign to everyone that they are trying to faithfully walk with the Lord. Being out of step with a decadent society is not unusual for the faithful Christian or church.

Aymer also uses “sacred texture” to look at how the pastors say what they believe. Her conclusions are amazing given what she has written in the earlier part of her essay. Under shame and honor she writes,” The letter, on its face, seems to be a call back (or forward) to modernist values of separation upon disagreement and radical individualism, and pre-modernist/fundamentalist elevations of all aspects of religion, regardless of changing cultural norms (e.g. slaves obey your masters).” (Bold mine)

But in the sacred texture section she concludes that, “Their theology, teleology and soteriology remain unstated. Therefore, it is unclear to what kind of theological like-mindedness the church is being summoned by this invitation.”

I believe this is the biggest problem Aymer is having with this letter. She was hoping to debate theology. She was hoping for a matching of wits between some evangelicals and a progressive. And the pastors were trying to kindly, politely and righteously, simply stand their ground without being attacked. They were trying to make a safe place for their people. They were trying to emulate the Good Shepherd.

I am not at all sure that is possible but at least they were trying and trying in kindness.

Aymer goes on to write about how she thinks we got to the place we are. But she believes we are in a different place then I believe, so I will, rather than write about her conclusion, be very Presbyterian, Reformed and even Evangelical. I will quote some Calvin. (But before I do, as always, I must say, I am not leaving unless I am told I must.)
The quote:

We ought to be deeply grieved that the Church is torn by divisions arising among those who profess the same religion; but it is better that there are some who separate themselves from the wicked, to be united to Christ their Head, than that all should be of one mind in despising God. Consequently, when schisms arise, we ought to inquire who they are that revolt from God and from his pure doctrine.” (John Calvin Commentary on John vol. 1)

None of these pastors have insulted anyone, but they have been horribly insulted for no reason. I think that all in our denomination ought to ask why there should be so much vileness and hatred flung their way.

Please Christ have mercy on you Church.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Because of Jesus: held in the Father's hand

In an earlier post, Kattie's pleasure and the pleasure of the Lord, I wrote that the battle, which belongs to Jesus, has already been won. Jesus bought our salvation on the cross. He suffered in our place. We are held in the victorious, but scarred hands of our Lord. Because of that victory, although we still strive in a daily battle against ‘the flesh, the devil, and the world’ yet we also rest in Christ, the keeper of our souls. We have a promise.

In a scriptural text where Jesus speaks of his deity, his oneness with the Father, he also assures his disciples that no one can remove them from his hand. In the same text where Jesus insists that those who do not recognize him are not his sheep he claims that his true sheep hear his voice and follow him. In that same text Jesus speaks of his knowledge of us, his care of us and the care of his Father.

“But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. 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. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:26-30)

This is an amazing coupling, the assurance of God’s children and the insistence on Jesus’ oneness with God the Father. And surely one rests within the other. Calvin writes:

He intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him, so that he could promise to his disciples that it would assuredly protect them. He therefore testifies that his affairs are so closely united to those of the Father, that the Father’s assistance will never be withheld from himself and his sheep.
But before this Calvin explaining the line, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” writes, “Christ infers that the salvation of believers is not exposed to the ungovernable passions of their enemies, because, ere they perish, God must be overcome, who has taken them under the protection of his hand.”

To be taken under the protection of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to be united with a King who has already won our ultimate battle- this is astonishing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fervor without truth, religion without biblical faith: the broken church

Recently I listened to a couple of videos by Jud Hendrix, Pastor of Covenant Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The videos were recorded more than a year ago; they are about evangelism, beginning with the video “Evangelism The Teresa, Rilke, Rumi Way.” Today I read John Vest’s blog posting The New Frontier of Evangelism.

Both pastors speaking about evangelism are trying hard to focus on the fervor of the early church without adhering to the apostolic teaching of the New Testament. The atoning work of Jesus Christ, the heart of the gospel, is missing.

Listening and reading I am convinced of three realities. 1., The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is so very badly broken that the Church of Jesus must be formed anew within her. 2., The progressives, in the midst of this denomination, are both gaining power and yet are becoming so heretical that they will splinter into factions and fail to sustain their own coherence. Without renewal and revival the denomination will continue proliferating false teaching. 3., Jesus Christ weeps over this denomination and calls his people to a ministry of biblical urgency.

Hendrix’s theological views can be equated with Gnosticism, New Age and an Eastern worldview. I wrote about his views several years ago in a posting entitled “Something mystical this way comes: A new syncretism in the Presbyterian Church USA.”I wrote in that posting that:

Hendrix refers to Jesus’ baptism as the time when he realizes he is God. Hendrix states, “A person wakes up, Jesus a human person … wakes up to the reality that all is sacred, that he is God … He some how becomes the channel for truth and grace… somehow with this new moment there is a new potential for the human experience.” This leads to the view that “There is new opportunity for all of history for us to wake up and realize who we are … we are god present in time and space.”
In the later video on evangelism, Hendrix states, “Luke is the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life, then there is this transition [Acts] where Jesus is taken into the life of God and comes back as a community.” He goes on to lay out a peculiar type of evangelism that need not proclaim what the early Church proclaimed.

Using Acts, chapter 2:43-47, and referring to the Holy Spirit as this Christ energy, this spirit of God, this energy or consciousness Hendrix, among other things states, “there’s some ways the [early] Church bubbled over that we might be concerned about.”

Hendrix wants his congregation to be aware that “the spirit is always bubbling over in new ways, that the spirit finds a way in every context in every place in the world, it takes on new energy, new forms, new structures according to where it is and how it bubbles over.” He speaks of the hope of the Incarnation which “is that God always needs flesh and that flesh always looks different because each context each moment is unique.”

Like Hendrix, Vest, a member of the PC (USA) Middle Governing Bodies Commission, rejects the traditional word of God. For Vest, the message of evangelism must change. He believes that, “In order to buy into the conservative Christian narrative of salvation you must first accept a complicated … mytho-theological metanarrative that is based on a bunch of assumptions no longer native to our contemporary American culture.” He goes on to state , “By contrast, there are lots of other people that look at this metanarrative—with its ancient understandings of heaven, hell, judgment, and atonement—and find it completely unintelligible and irrelevant.”

Vest suggests that progressives need to focus on re-imagining the gospel. He sees examples of this in the theologies of Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong. But Vest is different in not lifting up a radical Gnostic, new age view of Jesus. Hendrix suggests a new age kind of transformation. The Christ energy bubbles up and brings about a change in community. Jesus was the potential Christ, the community is also. Vest is not so clear, but like the nineteenth century liberal theologians, he seems to see Jesus offering a way rather than being the way. He writes:

If we truly believe that the way of Jesus has something to offer our world—indeed, if we believe that the way of Jesus is the salvation of the world—we need to follow the Spirit into new ways of being, thinking, and practicing Christianity. This is the new frontier of evangelism.
As heretical movements spread, but diversify in the denomination, they will affect others in various ways. As I left a presbytery meeting early this last year, after asking a candidate if it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, another candidate who had been voted in despite his poor statement of faith, grabbed me by the arm, demanding I answer my own question. And of course he wanted to argue with my answer. Heretical teaching does something more than create diversity, it creates angry souls misunderstanding the loving grace of God.

It is possible for the Lord of the Church to work through his followers to counter the deepening apostasy. But that will mean something different. It will mean, not politics as usual, although working in presbyteries must not stop. It will mean times of saying no we will not be a part of that outreach it is not centered in the true mission of Jesus Christ. It might mean saying I will not take communion here because the word you have preached is contrary to the word of God. It will certainly mean praying for and proclaiming the gospel to the lost in the denomination.

There is another possibility, which is not a seventeenth synod and doesn’t need a vote. I have written about this in other postings under a main title, “A Church within a church.” From my first posting on that subject I write of the call for free synods in Germany before the writing of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. In the posting I quote Arthur Cochrane:
There remained for Christ’s flock the one thing possible—the one thing the Church can do when all other possibilities have been exhausted, namely, a common Confession of Christ in the face of a heresy that threatens the life of the Church as the true bride of Christ. Thus in the early months of 1934, a new movement appeared on the scene, in which the laity played as important a part as the clergy. A.S.
has called this the ‘synodical movement, because it took the form of local synods of clergy and laity who expressed their mind on the dangers that threatened the Church.’
There are several calls for conferences, there are prayers and papers. There should be meetings in every presbytery, or perhaps two or three presbyteries together, of the orthodox that would come together as Pastors and Elders to worship, pray and confess Christ. And also to express “their mind on the dangers” that threaten the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There ought to be an attitude such as the Biblical Presbyterian Network calls for:
In his sovereignty and for his good purpose, God has placed our ministries within the PC(USA), a denomination which is our context for ministry whether or not it continues down a path of departure from the faith once held. And yet, even as our denomination fails, stumbles and so often impedes the work of God’s Spirit, we acknowledge that this reality does not change our calling to be faithful and hopeful where we are. Our denomination’s chosen path need not impede our connection to one another or our calling to work for reformation. Instead, this situation calls us to greater activity in Christian living, teaching and preaching in fidelity to the gospel.
I believe all of this must grow up out of a deep love for Jesus and for one another among those who are reformed, orthodox and evangelical.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Another great blog by a Presbyterian Pastor

Randy Working is a Presbyterian Pastor and board member of Theology Matters I did not know until today that he is a blogger. His blog is “What’s Working.” Working is also an artist and you will note as you visit his blog the great works of art he often uses to highlight his postings.
His posting for Feb. 5th is “On Forgiveness.” It begins:

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis considers the Christian virtue of forgiveness, embodied in the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Our neighbor includes our enemy, which means we have a responsibility to forgive our adversaries. Lewis holds that this is the most unpopular of Christian virtues, even more so than chastity. I think he’s right.

Scan popular culture for depictions of forgiveness, and you might be hard pressed to find many. More common would be stories of getting even after one has been hurt. Something in us cries out for justice, for a righting of wrongs—especially if we’re the injured party.

The next posting is “Singing The Mystery Of The Ages” with links to music on YouTube.

Visit for some excellent reading.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kattie's pleasure and the pleasure of the Lord

None but the Virtue understood, in its soaring comprehension, the safety in which the sheep still lived, or from what yet deeper distance of spirit was to arise the Innocence which everlastingly formed and maintained them. The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

It is he who has made us and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3b)

I don’t often respond when other people talk about me on the comment section of other blogs, (and it does happen), but this time it led to something I wanted to write. So I will respond to Kattie Coon’s remarks. It seems she has set up a page with predictions about how amendment 10-A voting will turn out. She thinks it will win 91 to 82. And she wrote on John Shucks blog telling him he was wrong about it now being a tie.
But my interest is this comment:

Kattie W. Coon said...
John, the best part is that the model predicts that Sacramento (Viola's home base) will flip. She really has her work cut out for her.

I know, I know, I need to repent of that guilty pleasure.”

But Kattie apparently doesn’t know about the sheep.

They are hid in Christ and protected by his care. They wear the yoke of the Lord, not the burdens that others attempt to place on them. His yoke is easy he tells us and his burdens light. And, thinking deeper, it is his work and not ours. Furthermore, in following Jesus, one follows and works with many. In fact, one labors amid the church triumphant who stand as witnesses to battles already fought and finished. (Heb. 11)

And here is the most important part, the battle, which is his, has already been won, this is just a skirmish. So if it loses, if Sacramento flips, as Kattie puts it, if 10-A wins in the denomination, if the demons of hell spend a few nights (and they will be nights) cavorting about, remember Christ has already risen and stands at the right hand of the Father guiding his church even in its broken state. He feeds and nourishes his people giving them the true and pure pleasure of fellowship with himself. (John 14:23)

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the :Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord himself is God:
It is he who made us and not we ourselves;
We are his people the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Please take time to watch the sheep in this video of Psalm 100 and think about your joy and pleasure in the Lord

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"A Fellowship of Pastors" and a true story as parable

Since a letter from “A fellowship of Pastors” with a paper “Time For Something New” has been forwarded to many and there is a great deal of discussion about the paper, I would like to make a few comments.[1]

The pastors who have signed on to this paper are a wonderful group of saints. I respect each one of them. And they are to be thanked for starting such a conversation. As has been noted by some, others have also started the same conversation.[2] Much of what I read in the paper I agree with. For instance their understanding that “Our divisions revolve around differing understandings of Scripture, authority, Christology, the extent of salvation amidst creeping universalism, and a broader set of moral issues.”

I agree with their humility that we all must take the blame for what is happening in our denomination. I agree with their desire to hold on to the essentials of the faith. I applaud their attempt to find a way to be a more faithful Church; that is a goal we must all pursue.

However, I disagree with a few of their ideas, one being that they will continue conversations with Louisville and the Covenant Network. As they put it “We hope to work together to see if some new alignment might serve the whole Church.” I am bothered that they have already met with Louisville and the Covenant Network, but are just now inviting their brothers and sisters to the conversation.

I offer here a true story with all of its theological twists and mean it for a parable. I think all of us will find ourselves both for good and ill in some of the story. It is about the theological meanderings of another broken church in another time and place. They wrote many papers, minor confessions and held many meetings and conferences. Finally in desperation they confessed Christ, they wrote the Theological Declaration of Barmen.

Although it happened in another place and a different era I believe it fits our situation. We are just now entering a time in our country’s history when the Church and individual believers may find themselves in unending conflict with laws that deal with both life issues and sexual morality. Some in all of the mainline denominations are preparing to acquiesce to a decadent culture.
Almost ten years ago I placed an essay on my web site. It was entitled “What gate of hell stands just ahead.” I began the article with this:

Theologian, Arthur C. Cochrane, writes of an interesting train ride taken by Karl Barth and Dr. Hermann Hesse. Dr. Hesse, who became a member of the Confessing Church Movement, was one of three in a committee writing a constitution for the German Evangelical Church, an attempt at a church union during the years of Hitler. Dr. Hesse and the two other theologians invited Ludwig Muller, an advocate, for the German Christians, the heretical movement of the day, to be a part of the group. They were attempting to protect the church by compromise. In the midst of all the politics and troubles Muller and the German Christians were creating, Hesse called on Barth. Hesse states:

“In my utter helplessness I telephoned Karl Barth and asked him to go with me to Berlin. It was July 3, 1933. We met in the train at Hamm. [This may refer to Hamburg] Barth put into my hand a pamphlet and said: `Read that!' … It was entitled Theological Existence Today. I read and read while the professor paced up and down the train. It was an attack upon us three men, upon the `German Christians,' and the Young Reformation Movement. All of us were accused because of our natural theology. As I read, the scales fell from my eyes. Here lay my mistake since my early days under Schlatter! Besides Holy Scripture, another side of revelation had been authoritative for me, namely, nature. When I had finished reading, I was deeply moved. I could only give the professor my hand and say: 'You are right! I am grateful to you for everything!' Then began for me through God's great grace a whole new era.”
When I wrote the article and quoted Hesse, I was interested in the difference between God’s revelation in Scripture and natural revelation and how that worked out in that era and now. For this posting I am instead interested in Barth’s insistence that Hesse and others had compromised their positions by attempting to workout constitutional issues with those whose theologies reflected unbiblical positions. I am also interested in some of his other replies to the church issues of his day.

The German Christians who were in opposition to the theology of those who became the Confessing Church pushed forward several explicitly unbiblical ideas. Of course the most troubling was the idea that God revealed himself in events such as the nationalism of Hitler thus bypassing proper Christology for a purportedly new movement of the spirit. Another horrific idea was that Jewish Christians could not be a part of the German Church. And for many German Christians this also meant the elimination of the importance of the Hebrew Bible. This was also an attack on Christology. (I wrote about these in the article I have linked to above.)

Another unbiblical idea was that the churches must do whatever they could to encourage Germans to enter the churches—for the sake of Germany. And, still another was the claim that the church must be wedded to the state and comply with whatever the state mandated as culturally proper for the German people. There was an insistence that a bishop be placed over all of the protestant churches and the German Christians advocated for a politician to fill that position. Finally, because of Hitler’s persistence that there be a union of the churches, there was, as mentioned above, the writing of the new constitution for the “German Evangelical Church,” which was the federation of the confessional churches of Germany.

Cochrane points out that the evangelical and reformed were disappointed with the constitution, not because of its wording, but because those with unchristian intent so easily bypassed its words. He writes:

The peace that many thought had been achieved by the formulation of a constitution was soon to be exposed as a spurious peace. For as Wilhelm Niemöller has observed: “The constitution was a contradiction in itself. On the one hand, it spoke about the gospel being the inviolable foundation of the Church, and on the other hand the Church’s order was regulated in a highly unevangelical manner.”
These are Barth’s answers to some of the problems which admittedly all connect in some way to Christology:

1. Collaborating on the future of the church with those who hold unbiblical views:

Of Mueller, the German Christian, and his collaboration with the three church members on the constitution, Barth wrote, “…where, in this business, remains the Church’s responsibility? Where, too, at this place, the inevitability of the inquiry as to Christian Truth?—an inevitability which could not be affected by any ‘brotherly love,’ so as to give scope and currency within the Church to this error [the German Christian error]. In view of the remarkable flabbiness with which the Church has been meeting the ‘German Christians,’ even in the Supreme Court of the Church itself, can anyone marvel at what the transaction has come to mean in the churches up and down the country?”

This is Barth’s views on trying to collaborate in unity for the sake of “brotherly love” over against the truth. He notes how it has affected most of the churches.

2. On the churches doing whatever they could to encourage Germans into the church:

Barth wrote, “The Church has not ‘to do everything’ so that the German people ‘may find again the way into the Church,’ but so that within the Church the people may find the Commandment and promise of the free and pure Word of God. … The German people [and all others] receive its vocation from Christ to Christ through the Word of God to be preached according to the Scriptures. The Church’s task is the preaching of the Word.”

3. On the issue of a head bishop, which in actuality deals with leadership in the Church:

“The German Evangelical Church, through her responsible representatives, has not comported herself as the Church which possesses her Leader, during these recent months. And yet He possesses her: as surely as we have to hear His law and His gospel ever again from Him. When it is recognized that He, and He alone, is the Leader, there is the possibility of theological existence. And then, in all deference, even if one be but an ever-so-insignificant theologian, or the obscure village pastor[3], or even not a pastor or theologian at all, but ‘merely’ somebody like a lay-elder, then one is himself the genuine Bishop, if he only knows his Bible and his Catechism: a ‘bishop as foreseen in Holy Writ.”(Italics Barth)
4. A church wedded to the state and forced to accept all that the state mandates culturally:

The Church believes in the Divine institution of the State as the guardian and administrator of public law and order. But she does not believe in any State … The Church preaches the Gospel in all the kingdoms of the world.” She preaches in the State, neither under it nor “in its spirit.”

But we are under obligation to be what we are, and true to the mission entrusted to us: to serve the Word of God within this nation. If we pursue other ideals and aims, which have not been committed to us, we sin, not only against God, but also against the people.

We need not expect any gratitude or glory; nor need we be surprised if from all sides we earn the very opposite from carrying on. Eventually we have to accept having to be alone, simply for the sake of the people’s fellowship. We should be sinning not only against God, but also against the people, if we were to go with the people, instead of standing for them.
I want to stress that all of these pastors have upheld the Church and the Gospel. They are brave men in a stressful time. I pray that the orthodox, the truly reformed, the evangelical in the PC(U.S.A.) can find ground to stand on that is faithful, biblical and filled with the fellowship of all of those who uphold Jesus Christ as Lord. I believe that Christ is leading his people. He is faithful.

[1] See, New PCUSA Schism Coming Up? (UPDATED) by David Fischler; “An Interesting Invitation and Some of my Preliminary Reactions by Steve Salyards at GA Junkie; Pastors release Signed Letter to PCUSA at the Layman; Pastors call for denomination to be ‘radically transformed’ by Jack Haberer at the Presbyterian Outlook.

[2] For instance the Biblical Presbyterian Network has in their call this, “We seek to bring hope to dark places and to bind our hearts together for the work of reformation in our time wherever God has placed us. We seek to reach out with gospel hope to church leaders and congregations within our denomination, to bring us into fellowship for the cooperative effort of reformation, according to the Word of God.”

[3] I know many obscure village and city pastors and I think of them when I read this.

*All Barth quotes taken from Theological Existence Today-published in 1933

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

George Beverly Shea's 102nd birthday and some memories

I didn’t like Billy Graham very much when I was fifteen and listened to him on the radio. But a year or more later, as a new Christian, watching TV with someone I worked for, he was the vice-president of Stockton’s rice elevators, and I was a live-in babysitter for him and his wife’s girls, I enjoyed watching the evangelist.

And I was tickled because my boss had just said “you know he just puts on a big show,” and the first thing that Graham said when he came to the podium to speak was “this isn’t a show.”

As a new Christian and a teenager, I loved listening to George Beverly Shea. When I could afford it I bought his albums. I took them with me when I went to my next live-in babysitting job. That time it was for a darling baby boy. One day when I was gone the mom and dad played the records. They asked me not to play them when I was baby-sitting because they were too depressing. They thought they sounded like funeral music.

I’m not sure why. They were both Catholics. He had been raised as a Catholic, she was raised a Presbyterian and had converted to Catholicism when she married. I think they may have just liked Frankie Lane and old blue eyes too much. They were nice people, very young, and I have always wondered what happened to them and their son.

While I am thinking about those years, I also worked for a large very devout Catholic family. I think they were my favorites. But I laugh now. It was in those days when Catholics and Protestants looked at each other with suspicious eyes. And, really, they didn’t know much about the church I belonged to. I was a Baptist and they thought I worshiped John the Baptist.

Anyway one of my Facebook friends reminded all of us yesterday, Jan 31, that it was George Beverly Shea’s 102 birthday. And he posted a tiny interview where the singer explained how he came to write the music to "I would rather have Jesus."

And then one with Beverly Shea singing a song with words we all need right now.

Hat Tip to Jim Jordan