Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Vest and dynamic history

John Vest has written two interesting posts. One is “Historical Myopia,” the other is “Change.” They fit together and deal with what Vest sees as reluctance by conservative Christians to accept change as well as what he views as their misunderstanding of church history, which he views as dynamic. Vest gives his broad view of religious history in general, going beyond the history of the Israelites, but then he ties church history to it as a part of the dynamic flow.

History has its historians. By that I mean there are historians who write about the history of writing history. Historiography is a fascinating subject. And what many do not understand is that there have been various ways of writing and understanding history. They all, however, have problems.

For instance the rather romantic idea that history can be written by looking at the lives of great men leaves out everyone but great men. A modern mode of history writing called the annales school began by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, is basically concerned with empirical evidence such as records and statistics. It often fails to find a unifying theme around which to write history. And often it is very dry reading.

One type of history observes the movements of nations, cultures, and institutions seeing history in dynamic movements, and often seeing such movements as progressive. But the problem with such a history is that everything is viewed not by solid structures or ideas but instead by dynamism. The movement is the thing. When this plays out in either philosophy or religion it can make havoc with any kind of reality.

Hegel and his Introduction to the Philosophy of History is an example of this kind of history. Of course he is extreme. History is the movement of spirit working out the ultimate ideal and the players, whether nations or individuals, are simply a means to that end. One can mix religion with historical dynamism. But the results will divorce the past from the future. And events will simply be stair steps toward some religious ideal. To see Christian history or even Christian theology this way is unthinkable.

Vest concludes his last posting with these words:

First, the subsequent 2000 years of dynamic history demonstrates that we have not been in a holding pattern at all. But more importantly, the nature of God to be discerned from this history suggests that this continuing change is deeply rooted in the presence of God in our midst.

In the same way that we must correct our historical myopia, we must remove the blinders that prevent us from recognizing the dynamic nature of our religion, a faith that responds to a dynamic God.

By viewing church history this way one is able to eliminate any solid foundations because there are no events worthy of permanence. Not only are creeds, such as Nicene, and confessions such as Barmen tossed aside, even Scripture is lost. The lives of past Christians become meaningless except as agents of change. The same is true of church councils and reform movements.

Church history is either the history of Christ building his church, which includes the fellowship of brothers and sisters who love Jesus, the Lordship of Jesus and adherence to apostolic teaching, or it is a dynamic progressive movement that constantly leaves all else behind.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mourning doves and the Church

God has given us, my husband, one of my granddaughters who is living with us, and myself, a gift of two mourning doves. They came early this year and chose the window air conditioner that sets outside but in the window that is just above some of my books.

They have good company; C.S. Lewis and Willa Cather share that space. Dante’s circles of hell and Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle which is also hellish set in their shelves beneath them. And if they could stretch their wings through hard glass they would touch Flannery O’Conner’s The Habit of Being (her letters) and a biography of Edith Stein: The untold Story of the philosopher and Mystic who lost her life in the Death Camps of Auschwitz, a book I have yet to read.

They built a nest from twigs and now at least two tiny eggs can be seen in it when the female flies away to find her food. Their soft mourning sounds grace our morning coffee. Mostly they are quiet and still and we forget they are there.

Unannounced, with only seeming small complaints, they chose a very flat, hard, cold metal surface to build upon. Neither sand nor rock, yet they have survived the first spring storm. They had hardly finished when it blew our way. My granddaughter kept peeking through the curtains at them announcing “they are still there.” And they rode through windy blasts that took out many city trees; it even took out our electricity for several hours.

They exist like the church, on what seems to be a precarious perch. I worry that in a few more weeks the waxwings, while flying in a large grouping, eating the berries from a tree nearby, will frighten them away. Or even that one of the neighborhood cats will find some way to scale the side of the house, (we live on the second floor) and destroy their peace, their eggs or even their lives. But there the female sets protecting her eggs. And somewhere the male is watching and protecting.

God has placed them there for good or ill. No matter, for now they are a blessing. But God has also placed his church where he wants her in various parts of the world. Always for good, no matter how many cats roam the world. In weakness, suffering, in the power of his cross the church is blessed with his grace and promises. The gates of hell shall not prevail. Though storm winds blow or many trees- the mighty- fall- still she will exist eternally in his care.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is not ordaining unrepentant sinners an essential of the faith?

Is not ordaining unrepentant sinners an essential of the faith? A friend has been blogging on this,PRESBYTERIAN HABERDASHERY , answering the question with a no. And to be fair he says that he would not ordain unrepentant practicing homosexuals, which is of course what the question, at this time in history, is about. So having started this posting with a biblical understanding that same gender sex is sin, I want to look at why I believe, in this case, that not ordaining anyone involved in unrepentant sexual sin is an essential of the faith.

The Confessions and Scripture insist that some sins are greater than others. The Second Helvetic Confession referring to original sin states:

“We also confess that sins are not equal; although they arise from the same fountain of corruption and unbelief, some are more serious than others. As the Lord said, it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for the city that rejects the word of the Gospel.(Matt. 10:14 f.; 11;20.)”

And also The Shorter Catechism: “Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (7.083)”

One of the verses given for the above is Jesus’ remark to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given to you from above; for this reason he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” (John 19: 11)

The Larger Catechism states almost the same question and answer as the Shorter but goes on in question 151 to ask “What are those aggravations which make some sins more heinous than others.” The answer is long and detailed with several categories and lists.

But under # 2‘Sins receive their aggravations from the nature and quality of the offense’ one of the categories is “if it be against the … light of nature.” In an endnote, that particular sin is denying the knowledge of God’s invisible attributes, power and divine nature as known by God’s creation. This particular sin as listed in the endnote and detailed in Roman’s 1:20-21 is so heinous as to cause God to turn humanity over to their own sexual lust and many other sins.

The sexual aspects of God’s turning humanity over to lust have to do with same gender sex. The rest entails almost the whole range of human sins including slander, malice and disobedience to parents. So in this case the most terrible sin is denying the true God but the consequences are a whole range of sins including homosexuality. So God condemns and turns us over to our rebellion. And the circle is complete.

Humanity denies God’s power to change humanity, denies God’s mercy, and denies the very particulars of his creation. All of the fine details, the differences between creatures and God, between children and parents, between the sexes are denied and God allows the results. But God gives us over to pick us up again at the cross.

So what about not ordaining those who commit sexual sin and refuse to acknowledge it as sin and so do not repent. How does it touch the essentials such as the deity of Christ, Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross, the resurrection and the Trinity? In everyway such ordination denies essential biblical teaching.

To ordain the unrepentant GLBT person, denies, as above, the power of God as He takes on human flesh and suffers for our sins. It says God through the eternal son is unable to transform or keep through temptation the sinner. It denies the deity of Christ who is able because he is God to overcome death for our sake. It denies the bodily resurrection, because it denies that we are united to Christ’s resurrected body from which we draw nourishment and help. It denies the fellowship within the Trinity because it lets go of the eternal decision within the Godhead to redeem a people who will be set apart as vessels for the Lord. It denies the Holy Spirit who woos us away from that which the scriptures call sin.

Paul in 1 Timothy 1, in his explanation about how the law is good since it is used to catch up the sinner, lists many of those sins listed in the first chapter of Romans: liars, homosexuals, rebels and murderers. But he goes on to point out how he himself was a blasphemer, a murderer and a “violent aggressor” and yet God through his grace showed him mercy. He writes:

It is a trust worthy saying deserving full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life. (I Timothy 1:15-16.)

So Paul does not deny the mercy of God but instead admits his sin and the saving power of Christ. And so must we all. That is essential.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A time to speak-a time to confess

Noel Anderson has posted on his blog Anderspeak "TOWARD A NEW CONFESSION."

The Declaration, he has posted, was written in 1996 by a group of pastors including Anderson and my first Presbyterian pastor Darrell Johnson. When I saw it on Anderson's blog I was amazed at its relevance for the Church today. Because I believe Jesus is calling the Church to confess I am also placing it on my blog. I pray it will be received by many.


As forgiven sinners and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are troubled by the deep divide that is rending the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The division is rooted in two foundational questions:

1. Confusion over the identity of Jesus Christ, as well as the nature and extent of his redemptive work on the cross confirmed by his bodily resurrection;

2. Confusion over the place of Scripture and the extent to which it is the supreme and authoritative standard for our faith and moral behavior.

Among other places, this twofold confusion is manifesting itself in the painful debate over the combined questions of sexuality, standards of behavior, and ordination.

As men and women who have taken vows that we "receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do," while we "promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church" (G-14.0207), we publicly declare the following:

1. "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (II Timothy 3:16).

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments stand as the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ while providing the supreme and decisive standard for faithful living in obedience to his gospel.

We affirm that the Scriptures have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men; for God spoke to the prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. (Second Helvetic, BC 5.001).

We affirm that the historic confessions of the Presbyterian Church are authentic and reliable expositions of Scripture, articulating truthful descriptions of our Triune God, humankind, God's redemptive work through Jesus Christ, and both general and specific imperatives for faithful living in response to and cooperation with our redemption. We therefore submit all insights and experiences to the authority of Scripture.

We reject any and all statements and actions that deny the reliability and pertinence of the confessions as a standard to lead, guide and instruct us in what Scripture teaches us to believe and do.

2. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us." (John 1:1, 14) Jesus Christ is at once fully God and fully human; of the same substance with God, yet having two natures; "one who is a true and righteous man and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God." (Heidelberg Catechism --BC 4.015).

We affirm the witness of the Scripture and the historic declarations of the early church creeds, reaffirmed in the Reformation confessions, that Jesus Christ is both human and divine, the eternal Son of God, yet born of a virgin. He entered human life, was tempted as we are, suffered, was crucified, died and was buried, then rose from the grave. He ascended to heaven, exercises final authority over all creation, and is to be worshiped along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
We reject any and all statements and actions that intentionally or unintentionally degrade, diminish or deny the witness of the Scripture and confessions regarding: the identity of Jesus Christ; his earthly life, ministry and significance; or his position and authority as exalted Lord.

3. "But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh." (Mark 10:6-8).

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves…while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:22-23).

We live in a rebellious and broken world. This includes our sexuality. We all are broken in our sexuality. There are no exceptions. God's intention from the beginning is that men and women, complementing each other as male and female, would reflect together the image of God in their humanity. "The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God's ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man's alienation from God, his neighbor and himself." (The Confession of 1967 - BC 9.47).

We affirm that our sexuality is faithfully expressed in many ways, in marriage and in singleness, in sexual love and in other acts of love. We affirm that sexual love is blessed by God, is one expression of our gender complementarity that fully reflects God's image, and is intended only for the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We affirm that men and women may pursue fully satisfying and fulfilled lives outside of marriage, practicing chastity in obedience to Christ, while supported in the struggles and loneliness of life by the fellowship of the church.

We affirm that temptations and inappropriate desires are experienced by all people, but are not sin. Entertaining, nurturing, or acting on temptation and desire is sin. The honoring of sexual boundaries, in both thought and deed, as established in the Scriptures and re-iterated in the confessions, provides an environment within which life and relationships can flourish. This is God's intention for God's Kingdom.

We reject any and all statements and actions that intentionally or unintentionally bless human conditions and behaviors as either gifts from God or faithful responses to God which, nevertheless, stand in contradiction to God's revealed will for human relationships. We refuse to condone what God intends to redeem. Redefinitions of either marriage or sexual boundaries to accommodate culture, experience, political pressure, or even loved ones are further expressions of our brokenness and confusion. Such redefinitions and accommodations deny biblical notions of fidelity and integrity and further alienate us from God, each other and ourselves.

4. "Wretched one that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 7:24-25) "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18).

The Scriptures describe the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross in a variety of ways; it is "the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest…a ransom of a slave, payment of a debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil." (Confession of 1967, BC - 9.09.) All of these images together, clearly articulated in the confessions of the church, while not exhausting the meaning of the cross, capture its essential significance which is applied by the Holy Spirit to all those who believe.

We affirm that the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation of our hope. In Jesus Christ crucified we are delivered, body and soul, from darkness to light, from death into life, from bondage to obedience, in this life and the life to come.

We reject any and all statements and actions that intentionally or unintentionally degrade, diminish, or deny what the Scriptures testify to and the confessions articulate concerning the nature and function of the cross. We reject any and all statements and actions that reduce and limit the cross to an expression of devotion, a tragic and unanticipated event, a spiritually irrelevant piece of history, or view it as an act of abuse by a malevolent Father.

5. "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24). "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24).

When the completed work of Jesus Christ crucified is applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit, we begin the process of restoration in all aspects of our brokenness, including our sexuality. This is part of salvation. Our cooperation with that restoration requires on our part an act of the will empowered by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. This is taking up the cross and following Jesus.
We affirm that in the cross of Jesus there is resurrection power that breaks the hold of canceled sin; heals the trauma of the past; sets us free from sinful behaviors, desires and addictions; and enables us to live faithfully in obedience to Scripture as interpreted by the confessions of the church.

We affirm that Jesus Christ crucified both requires and provides for a re-aligning of the human will in life-giving conformity to the will of God.

We affirm that confession and repentance are necessary for healing, transformation and the affirmation of the true self. We affirm that no matter what the condition or set of circumstances, the Holy Spirit gives many graces sufficient for the day.

We reject the claim that people cannot experience any change at the core of their being. We reject and denounce attempts to deny and even to silence those who testify of their own transformation and restoration in their sexuality.

6. "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." (John 13:14).

The church of Jesus Christ is a community marked by God's grace and mercy extended to us in Jesus Christ crucified. The church opens its arms to all, declaring and offering the forgiving love the church itself has experienced. At the same time, with mutual forbearance and self-giving service, the church steadily calls its members into holiness and wholeness in obedience to Christ as defined in the Scriptures and articulated in the confessions. The fellowship of the church is the primary vehicle by which the love and power of the Crucified One heals and restores. This is the love and justice of Jesus that does not condemn, yet calls each one out of brokenness, sin and confusion. This is true compassion.
We affirm that the church must be a safe place for each person to work out his or her own salvation in all areas of life, including one's sexuality. We affirm that when the church is faithful to the gospel, the church offers good news and hope for those struggling in their sexuality. We affirm that those who are faithfully wrestling with core issues of sexuality are a gift to the church, representing a prophetic witness within the community.

We reject quick condemnation by some Christians aimed at the specific sins of others while excluding their own. At the same time, we reject the assertion that an individual's internal struggles and lifestyle choices are private matters and no business of the fellowship of the church. We reject the undiscerning sanction of behaviors and lifestyles by the church that the Scriptures, clearly articulated in the confessions, have defined as sin. We reject false notions of love, justice, and compassion that deny the reality of our brokenness, the costly and effective sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

We now call the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to engage in prayerful reflection upon and the faithful preaching of the cross. We call the church to develop and provide clear teaching and effective ministries that address the reality of our shared brokenness in our sexuality. We call on the church to recover its own, clear, biblical voice that declares the love, justice and resurrection power of Jesus Christ crucified to the church and to the world.

*This statement is also known as The Glendale Statement, drafted by a croup of pastors in 1996. Their names can be found HERE

Friday, March 25, 2011

My two minute speech on 10-A

My two minute speech during debate on 10-A-(removal of our fidelity and chastity clause): Just as I posted my five minute presentation on Belhar below, I am posting this with the hope it might help someone. With this particular speech I decided that the best action to take was to simply confess Jesus Christ. I was so impressed by all those who stood for Christ and the authority of his word, but in particular by those two pastors who read the scripture for their main emphasis. Here is the speech:

The proposed substitute for our fidelity chastity standards, 10-A, begins by suggesting that our standards for ordination reflect “the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” But if we remove the standards that the church is now in conflict over, biblical standards on sexuality, we are rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

First, to say Jesus is Lord is to recognize him as God, the eternal Son of the Father. That means that the words of Scripture are his words. They should not be rejected, twisted or ignored. When Jesus speaks of marriage being between a man and a woman as he does in Matthew 19 it is his words, but it is also his words in Leviticus 20: 13 as well as Romans and all the rest. So if the Church calls Jesus Lord, and she must, she will obey his word.

Second, the word of God is illuminated within our heart and mind by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would glorify him. That the Holy Spirit would take what is Christ’s and disclose it to his disciples. (John 16: 14-15) He also stated that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. (John17:8)

In the midst of a culture so totally given over to deviant sexuality, to resist the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit opens the words of Scripture to the hearts of this generation, is to reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Affirming the Lordship of Jesus, the church must be willing to live a life that is loving and yet counter-cultural, strong in faith yet winsome, holy and obedient. We cannot live that life with contradiction. Either Christ is Lord or he is not. Please vote no on amendment 10-A.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My presentation against Belhar at Sacramento Presbytery

At Sacramento Presbytery's last meeting, in February, before we voted on the three big amendments, two presenters gave a short, five minute presentation, one for and one against. I gave the presentation against the Confession of Belhar. Just in case my presentation has any thoughts that will be helpful I am posting it here.

Adding a confession to the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions is a very serious action. So serious that it requires a two/thirds vote by the Presbyteries and a second vote by the following General Assembly. The Confession of Belhar, within its text, must above all confess Jesus Christ as Lord in order to be a true confession of faith. That is what we must consider as we vote.

On the Racial Justice web page of the PCUSA, one finds information about Belhar which includes this: “It [Belhar] calls the church to a deeper appreciation of the values of unity in diversity in relation to the divisions of race and culture and many other facets of the human condition.”

History: Belhar was written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa in the midst of apartheid; black Christians of South Africa were sinfully excluded from fellowship with their white brothers and sisters. A statement about such horrific conditions was needed, Belhar fulfilled that need. It was faithful in its context. But it is not a universal confession. Although structured in the same manner as the Theological Declaration of Barmen it does not confess Christ in the same manner rather it confesses unity.

Unity: Belhar calls for an unqualified unity. In one place it states: “We reject any doctrine “which absolutizes natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church ...” In another place it states, “a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin,” and still further, “anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.”While “true faith in Jesus Christ” is mentioned as a boundary it is not defined.

So let me ask, are we, as a church, called to be in unity (that is in agreement) with those who deny the deity of Christ, the authority of scripture, or justification by faith? Unity without qualification could mean that we, as a connectional church, would be denying the faith.

And notice, as I have pointed out, the Racial Justice page interprets Belhar’s unity in terms that not only include unity in the midst of racial diversity but also unity in the midst of “many other facets of the human condition.” But, the human condition is broken and sinful. Unity needs a foundation; a Savior who transforms. We must confess Jesus Christ before we confess unity.

Racism: There are only two small references to racism in Belhar. But both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith speak to racism and diversity in the context of the United States’ particular problems. The Confession of 67 speaks of fair housing, education, work and even political rights. And both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith carefully confess Christ.

The many uses of the Belhar Confession: Because Belhar does not, above all else, confess Jesus Christ, as he is known in Scripture, it may be used for unintended purposes. Insisting on the oneness of Islam, Christianity and Judaism is one suggested use. Others are the ordination of GLBT people, the ‘racism’ of Israel and power sharing. Now you may agree with one or all of these, (certainly the first is not a confession of Christ) but you may agree. Nonetheless you can see the danger of having a document in our Book of Confessions which can, so easily, be used for any particular group’s cause.

Some have countered this argument with the thought that even the Bible has been misused. That is true. But the Bible has corrections within it. One of Belhar’s weaknesses is that it does not.

The need for a Confession from the Southern Cone: Some have suggested that we have no confession from the Global South and Belhar meets this need. But even the racial Justice page admits that the Nicene Creed is a Global Southern Creed. And so is the Apostle’s Creed, since some parts of it were formed in Africa. However, the important point here is that we do not choose Confessions on the basis of where they come from but because it is time to confess anew Jesus Christ. A Confession confesses Jesus Christ that is its purpose.

Please, vote no on the adoption of the Belhar Confession.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

About Critics

Those who criticize what is written on my blog are generally helpful. They give me time to pause and think more deeply about what I have written. They give me ideas for further blog postings. They cause me to reevaluate my assumptions. I have a friend on Facebook who either criticizes me on my blog or on Facebook. We are almost always opposed to each other’s values and beliefs but I don’t believe we harass each other, just criticize, and not too often.

Some people wait a long time to criticize, and then it just seems they can’t stand it any longer and they finally write something. They generally do not return that often, undoubtedly from shyness or fear, or perhaps they just don’t care. And sometimes that is disappointing. But there is another kind of critic. I do not totally understand them, but I am trying to. But they do harass.

Several people have been asked not to post on my blog for various reasons. The biggest reason is because of their insulting words. But there are other reasons which I won’t detail at the moment since it is not important to what I want to say. Sometimes people who have been asked not to comment on my blog give me a real laugh. One person came back as anonymous. (Now here is something I haven’t mentioned. I have a feed on my blog. Mostly it is just fun. I love to see where people are coming from. You can see the feed on the front page of my blog if you scroll down. However I do have a page of my own where I can see several things, including city, state and country of the person who is reading my blog)

So this is the funny part. Anonymous, who was someone I had asked not to comment on my blog, came back and on the front you couldn’t see where he was coming from. But on my page I could see where he was coming from and that he was using something called, “Hide My Ass.” Only he wasn’t.

But here is the serious part. Sometimes people become so obsessed with thwarting what you have to say on a blog that they will resort to all kinds of tricks. They will even pretend that they are other people living in other places. And they seem authentic because they appear on feeds to be coming from where they say they are coming from. But instead they use proxy servers.

I know they are the same person for several reasons one being that they generally write the same. I know for other reasons that will be mine alone to know. But I am writing this to say this. If you see critical comments that you know are simply tearing apart language, are insulting and constitute harassment; if I don’t delete it, just ignore it. Write around them and ignore them.

And do something else. Pray for them. I do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Is it once again time to confess Christ?

Christology, as well as soteriology, issues that in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have lain latent for several years, are rising once again to prominence but possibly for the wrong reasons. Although the Lordship of Jesus Christ was the big question at General Assembly over ten years ago it has been buried beneath the debate raised by ordination standards. And the many issues floating around redemptive theology, issues about violence, universalism, and pluralism, have abated for the same reasons.

But always just under the surface of the ordination debates, and with the possibility that progressivism will win on questions of sexuality; the bigger foundational essentials of Christianity are emerging in many conversations on various web sites and blogs.

Two important points should be noted about the emerging debates. (1) Since ordination standards were very much connected to the Scripture and the Confessions, loss of the standards also means a loss of the authority undergirding the standards. This makes it easier to begin attacking foundational teaching. (2)Those pastors who have displayed a remarkable distaste for traditional Christianity are now, slowly, rising to prominence among various Presbyterian related organizations, both official and unofficial.

It seems as though some were waiting in the wings for their cue. It is as though Arius has risen from the dead to insist that the church should be more concerned with his and Athanasius’s unity than with the co-equality of the eternal Son and the Father.

John Vest, a youth pastor, as well as a member of the Middle Governing Body Commission writes in his posting “Heterodoxy” that, “The fact that these creeds and doctrines are still debated centuries later is not an indication that heretics and apostates are rejecting the word of God. Rather, it is a demonstration that heterodoxy is a fact of human existence.” He goes on to explain why there is orthodoxy and to place biblical authority under his same disdain:

It is also important to remember that “orthodoxy” was established by the winners of human debates, not handed down to us from on high. (The same goes for the contents of the biblical canon, for that matter.)

Vest is actually saying that the deity of Jesus Christ is a matter of human speculation. In fact, there is for him, and others, seemingly, no longer any revelatory authority at all.

Let’s think about what is being stated with such pronouncements. The Nicene’s statement about Jesus being ‘Light from Light’, ‘God from God’ is only true because a debate was won. And the same would be true of the Reformation Confessions. Justification by faith, accordingly is not necessarily true and even if biblical perhaps still not true. The Theological Declaration of Barmen’s insistence that Jesus is the only Lord we have to hear is only an orthodox statement because the allies defeated Hitler otherwise the statements written by the German Christians about Hitler would be true.

This is the ultimate issue; it doesn’t just affect the life of the church, it decides where there is a church and where there is not a church. It decides where there is right preaching of the word and where there is not. Within this denomination, the Church needs to stand up and confess Christ as the only true Lord and the only true Savior.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In our weakness...

"Our churches operate as fallen powers when the gospel is no longer a stumbling block, when the ‘foolishness’ and ‘weakness’ of God outlined in 1Corinthians 1-2 are discarded in favor of status, position, wealth, popularity, acceptability to the modern or postmodern minds, or power. Only in the paradox of glory through suffering can we find the truth of God’s triumph, not as an oppressive power, but in the power of submission to death. Churches have lost their vocation when they please the world too much and lose the scandal of justification by grace—the helplessness that sticks in the craw of those who want to be able to fix themselves by themselves. "(Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God Marva J. Dawn)

As I was preparing to post this, last night, with winds gusting in Sacramento close to thirty miles an hour the power went out. I laugh now but there is somethings one cannot do without the power of electricity. All that the church does must be dependent on her union with Jesus Christ. The words above in the quote are because usually the words of others are so much clearer than mine, and the words below, the biblical text, because always the word of God gives life to those who will receive it:

em>For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness I will set aside.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and the Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Friday, March 18, 2011

A spirituality that knows no grace

Yesterday I saw a twitter on The # pcusa Daily which pointed to an article on an unofficial Catholic site entitled “Queering the Church.” The article, “Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Reflects the Bigger Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love,” was about how passage of 10-A by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will affect the rest of Christianity.

The author of the article, Terence Weldon, writes:

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to lesbigaytrans Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church.
As can be seen by the link provided in the last line of the above quote, Weldon is also making a case for the soon occurrence of same sex marriage in the PCUSA as well as other mainline churches. That article is “Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.”

Weldon looking at the changes in the ECLA and their new acceptance for ordination of those who are in “committed, monogamous and faithful partnerships” goes on to write:

The Assembly did not approve a parallel proposal to provide for gay church weddings – but simple logical consistency will ensure that Lutherans must recognize that if all pastors are to be held equally accountable, equal opportunities for publicly declaring those monogamous, faithful and committed relationships must be provided – which will mean marriage where it is legally possible, and blessings for less formal unions where it is not.
Weldon adds the PCUSA to his list of those who will easily follow allowance of ordination of LGBT with church weddings where legal.

These, supposedly prophetic words are not all that is offered on the site. Some tend to think that LGBT rights are the only interest of such advocates. But since this is really a spiritual matter that would leave western Christianity in shambles one must understand that this is a full blown attempt to turn the church into a worldly unfaithful institution. And it is not simply a gay issue; it is a spiritual battle for the soul of the church.

One article, written to promote the idea of gay/lesbian spirituality, is Homoerotic Spirituality. After an attempt to show that most Christians have denounced any kind of sex as sinful, the author looks at sex and other religions. He does this to show how sex and spirituality go together. One weird example he brings up, is the Islamic idea of 1000 virgins for those who commit suicide for their faith. Another is tantric sexuality which is sex used by some Buddhists and Hindus to aide in the dissolution of the senses as a means of attaining absorption into the one. It actually does not lift up sex but uses it. Weldon also mentions the use of temple prostitutes in worship.

After naming all of these aberrations of sexuality Weldon writes, “It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality.”

If the Christian church is touched or changed by any of these ideas it will pull the curtain of night over itself.

Weldon also attempts over and over to pull the saints of the church into his web. In one article, "Eternal Bliss" - SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th, while admitting that there was probably no sexual relationship between the two martyrs he nonetheless calls their relationship queer.

Going on to other early martyrs he names them and then admits there is no real evidence that proves they are homosexuals. What he does describe, in his misguided attempt to make them fit in his queer community, is the deep love that Christians through the centuries have had for one another. It is a part of that unity of the faith that seems so elusive in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); it only comes from the deep love the Christian holds for their Lord.

There are so many more vile articles one could wander through on this site such as one that attempts to prove that the Magi, who brought gifts to Jesus, were gay. But my point in all of this is to show that to open the door to LGBT ordination is opening the door to so much more. There is a darkness that wishes to flood our lives with a spirituality that knows no grace. Where humanity enters with full force into unrepentant sin, mocking what God calls righteous, calling good evil and evil good, there they enter into communion with the un-god, forgetting the Lord who in love died for their sins and transformation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jesus and salvation: wrapped up in our voting

John Vest writing about, First Principles and Like-Mindedness and a new church development training conference listed four principles which a presenter felt should be agreed upon before a committee for new church development began planning. The principles are:

§ Who is Jesus?
§ What is Church?
§ What is Salvation?
§ What is Service?

Vest felt that a conversation on those topics was important but not a consensus on the answers. He wrote, “I’m a little troubled by the suggestion that we must arrive at a consensus on these matters, because I’m not sure how realistic—or necessary—it is for an NCD team, a congregation, or a denomination to be in agreement on each of these questions”

He also stated that,“ When it comes to new church development—or any expression of the church’s mission—do I really need to find people that I can agree with on first principles before beginning missional work together? Should people that cannot agree with me find people that they can agree with and go about mission in a parallel but separate way from what I end up doing with people that I agree with?’ These are good questions but Vest’s assumptions I believe are totally misguided, as are the assumptions of many others.

Sure, it is possible to build a Habitat for Humanity house with even unbelievers. It is possible to stand side by side with a diverse mix of religious people and feed the poor in the inner city or rebuild communities torn by disasters.

But for the orthodox that part of mission only deals with the fallen- physical world; but there is a fallen humanity that needs a Savior. The Savior is both God and human. The Savior shed his blood on a cross for the sins of humanity. The Savior, who is both God and human, because he is God and human, forgives and transforms the sinner. That is revelation about the incarnation and redemption as found and known in God’s word. That is the core of mission; bringing that good news about Jesus to lost humanity. It is non-negotiable.

But that brings me to the second part of what I wanted to say.

Vest is right when he writes, “In many ways, the debates we keep having with each other are symptoms of not talking about these foundational issues [the principles he has listed]. But still he says he does not want consensus. He wants discussion, theological debate with out resolution, Nicaea with out choosing the deity of Christ over the created creature of Arianism, the Confessions without confessing. And this is what is happening in our voting.

Those seeking the ordination of practicing GLBT persons think that our polity is the necessary movement of the Holy Spirit. They believe that voting continually on the issue of standards will eventually lead the church to accept a different viewpoint about what God wants for the church. For progressives nothing is fixed, solid or absolute. It is for them, at the moment, like Vest’s ideas about conversation; the outcome will have no real resolution. Although many in the church will not agree they believe voting will make it so. Although scriptures and confessions will not agree they believe voting will make it so.

But what the progressive side does not understand is that the orthodox are not voting as a means of deciding the outcome of what God wants, they are instead, with their vote, defending the faith against a sinful invasive cultural decadence. The orthodox are voting as a means of defending the faith which upholds Jesus as both God and human. They are voting as a means of defending the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross whose bloody death brings forgiveness and transformation to all sinners who repent.

The whole of our faith is wrapped up in the voting. Sinful, weak and needy though we are, we are standing where the apostles, martyrs and followers of Jesus Christ have stood through all the centuries. It isn’t just about voting. It isn’t just about gay sex. It is about Jesus Christ as Lord of the church.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Power & Privilege and the Christian life

Below is a video of Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt interviewing Professor Margaret Aymer. They are discussing “power and privilege and what we can do with it.”

Now to be honest perhaps Aymer and Whitsitt are not talking about living the Christian life. But I am. So the Christian life, is it about using our power and privilege whatever that might be?

Believers do have power and privilege but where do they reside. It isn’t the personal power and privilege of the Christian but belongs to Jesus Christ the Lord. The Christian's power, their only real power, comes from Jesus and his resurrection. By union with Christ the believer has life that is full, abundant and eternal. And not only is it the power of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is also the promise of Christ’s righteousness, and his suffering. Paul writes:

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

And privilege? It is not the privilege that race or nation, class or wealth, education and position offer. Those belong to the world and as Paul did, so the Christian must also count them as loss because of Christ. Instead is the wondrous privilege of knowing Jesus Christ. This involves everlasting life with Christ, As Ralph Martin puts it, “The person and work of Christ are inseparably joined. To gain him is to have him as one’s all-prevailing merit; and, in the classic words of Melanchthon, to know him in the intimacy of personal trust and surrender is to know his saving benefits.”

From this relationship which has nothing to do with personal power or privilege but with Christ’s great self-sacrifice the Christian walks in the good works that God has provided, never in contradiction to his word, always uplifting the person and work of Jesus Christ. The works, always in conformity to the work of the suffering and resurrected Christ, will be both comforting, redemptive and transformative.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seventy years!

Today, March 12, I am enjoying being seventy years old for the first time. I intend to take some time off for awhile.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine

Pastor John Stuart (Stushie) of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville Tennessee has written an impassioned blog posting about the direction the Presbyterian Church is taking as it comes close to voting away any sexual standards. His post is found at Heaven’s Highway. The title is, Cradling the Grave - 1 Timothy 4

Stuart writes, “The denomination that I belong to finds itself at an unprecedented and unenviable crossroads. Within the next couple of months, the current ordination standards are going to be changed. This means that people who are in an active relationship, whether homosexual or heterosexual, who are not married, can be ordained to ministry if their local presbytery agrees. The only barriers to ministry and eldership will now be academic ones, but even they could be challenged.”

He also writes, “The Christian church will flourish elsewhere. Faithful Christian communities will grow and we will watch with enviable eyes as they are blessed. There will come a day when we will curse this moment in our denomination’s history…”

I wish, no pray, that all the ‘moderate members’ of this denomination would at last understand what is happening. Our congregations are being sold out to the god of this world. The culture of this generation is about to become the acceptable culture of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As our culture tumbles into deeper darkness the denomination will tumble into a deadening antinomianism, a turning away from the privilege the redeemed possess, that is, to live the law within the freedom of Christ's redemptive transformation. Jesus fulfilled the law, now united to him we walk in that freedom.

We are transformed and given the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we might walk in newness of life. God is not doing a new thing, he has done a new thing already and in Christ we belong to newness. We are washed and made clean that we might praise our Lord with purity of heart. With the help of Jesus we keep catching up to the righteousness he has given us. He wills that we should walk in good works “which God prepared beforehand.” Eph (2:10)

Soon our churches will be emptied or filled with broken people who will find no balm in Gilead, no healing for sin sick souls. We cannot rightly preach Jesus when we do not preach his love for the outcast and the maimed. And his love entails their redemption, forgiveness and transformation. May God turn our hearts to Jesus and make us hungry to do his will at all cost.

A song for Lent

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison of his love for Paul Gerhardt's hymns. Here is one for the beginning of lent:

A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth

1. A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grow weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
"Willing all this I suffer."

2. This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father saith,
"And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation."

3. "Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I'll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.
"O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the mountains rendeth.

4. From morn till eve my theme shall be
Thy mercy's wondrous measure;
To sacrifice myself for Thee
Shall be my aim and pleasure.
My stream of life shall ever be
A current flowing ceaselessly,
Thy constant praise outpouring.
I'll treasure in my memory,
O Lord, all Thou hast done for me,
Thy gracious love adoring.

5. Of death I am no more afraid,
New life from Thee is flowing;
Thy cross affords me cooling shade
When noonday's sun is glowing.
When by my grief I am opprest,
On Thee my weary soul shall rest
Serenely as on pillows.
Thou art my Anchor when by woe
My bark is driven to and fro
On trouble's surging billows.

6. And when Thy glory I shall see
And taste Thy kingdom's pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before Thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown,-
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought
As Thine own bride, I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside Thee.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Two articles during Israel 'apartheid' week: one by a Presbyterian

This week is supposed to be “Israeli apartheid week.” Presbyterian News has offered what I believe is a helpful article on the Israel and Palestine problems. And another author in a different paper has written an excellent rebuttal to the whole issue of “Israeli Apartheid” and the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement.

The Presbyterian news article, written by the Rev. Byron Bland, “Giving Shape to peaceful solutions” is meant to be an assessment of the Middle East problems. He rebukes those church groups that simply work against what is called the occupation and believe they need to work harder at peace.

Two important points he makes, as far as I am concerned, is that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is not helpful. He writes, “U.S. Christians should feel the need to respond to Palestinian suffering. Their cries against the injustices they have suffered are heart-rending, and their desire for a better and more normal future is morally legitimate and compelling. Nevertheless, joining a BDS campaign is not the most effective way for U.S. churches to respond.” (Italics mine.)[1]

He also clarifies that a two state solution is the better solution. Both of these two concerns have been loudly ignored by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Additionally, Bland offers concern for Israel as well as Palestinians, writing about several important needs in the situation, he adds “Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.” The IPMN have never been concerned with Israel’s security needs and this is very important. I would encourage all Presbyterians to read the essay.

The paper on Israeli apartheid and the BDS movement is “What About Arab Apartheid Week?”, written by Arsen Ostrovsky. It is in The Hudson New York paper. I will just offer several paragraphs and let the reader go to the paper and read.

“Today, March 7, begins an annual part of the global campaign to delegitimize Israel, as student groups and academics -- on campuses around the world -- hold events marking "Israel Apartheid Week" [IAW].

None of these groups is holding similar events protesting human rights abuses in any number of Arab and Muslim countries -- Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, the Sudan or Jordan -- where people are being jailed, tortured and often killed fighting for their human rights.

The IAW features a series of events, including lectures, films, demonstrations and other activities, which, according to organisers (, is aimed at "raising awareness about Israel's apartheid policies toward Palestinians and gathering support for the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign."

If Israel were an apartheid State, people like Arab Israeli Salim Jurban would not have been elected to Israel's Supreme Court and Ishmael Khaldi, a Bedouin Muslim, would not have been appointed an advisor to Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and then to the position of deputy Consul General of Israel in San Francisco. If Israel were an apartheid state, there would not be 5 different Arab parties and 14 Arab Israeli members of Knesset, some of whom are the most outspoken and harshest critics of Israel, including Haneen Zoabi who participated in the terrorist flotilla in June 2010, and Ahmed Tibi, currently one of the Deputy Speakers of the Knesset.”

So go and read. “What About Arab Apartheid Week?”

[1] I should note that when the Presbyterian article first appeared on the PNS the sentence “Nevertheless, joining a BDS campaign is not the most effective way for U.S. churches to respond,” it was minus its “not.” Because of that some of us were put off by the article. Thankfully it has been changed. Too bad it was only changed after the article moved on and was no longer featured.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Co-inherence and fellowship within the vine

A book by Charles Williams, Descent into Hell, keeps turning up in my thoughts. I have a copy somewhere but I cannot find it. I would like to reread it; I read it so long ago. The main character, whose name I do not remember, has recurring bouts of anxiety when she leaves her house because she keeps seeing herself coming toward her self.

Part of the plot’s resolution, the only part I remember, is that the heroine discovers that the person meeting her is not herself but an ancient ancestor, a reformist of some sort who is preparing to die at the stake for what he believes. She becomes his sustainer in the midst of his sufferings. This idea was a part of what Williams named co-inherence. It is a complex idea but in the novel, Descent into Hell it focuses on the sustaining love and help Christians offer to each other even through differing generations and ages. As one might be able to see, this also unites the believer to the sacrificial love of Jesus.

Williams’ writings often connect the church, the body of Christ, to the Lord of the church in fascinating ways. I believe I have written before about the image in the ‘Place of the Lion of a small Methodist chapel filled with the glory of God as the tiny congregation receives the Lord’s Supper. Co-inherence is seen in the text also:

There didn’t seem to be many there; one or two figures were moving at the upper end; a few more were scattered about the small building. They were seated as if waiting—perhaps for the Breaking of Bread … It was standing at the other end of Zion; it was something like a horse in shape and size, but of dazzling whiteness, and from the middle of its forehead there grew a single horn. He [the main character, Richardson] recognized the myth of poems and pictures; he saw the Divine Unicorn gently sustaining itself in that obscure and remote settlement of the faithful. … It moved with the beauty of swiftness however small the distance was that it went; it lowered and tossed its head, and again that gleaming horn caught all the light in Zion, and gathered it, and flashed it back in a dazzling curve of purity.

Williams goes on to mesh the whole picture together, the light, Richardson, the Unicorn and whole multitudes “whom no man could number.” It is his idea of Christ sustaining the church and the church sustaining one another. He jumps from this dazzling picture to two very ordinary and sweet church members who are concerned about a man turning into a monstrous wolf. (You will just have to read the story.) But they are also concerned about the salvation of Richardson the main character.

“Beautiful” the old lady said, she hesitated, fumbling with her umbrella; then, taking sudden courage, she took a step towards Richardson and went on, “You’ll excuse me, sir, I know its old-fashioned, and you quite a stranger, but—are you saved?”

Richardson answered her as seriously as she had spoken, “I believe salvation is for all who will have it,” he said, “and I will have it by the only possible means.”

“Ah, that’s good, that’s good,” the old gentleman said. “Bless God for it young man.”

“I know you’ll pardon me, sir,” the old lady added, “you being a stranger as I said, and strangers often not liking to talk about it. Though what else there is to talk about …”

“What indeed?” Richardson agreed. …”

Humanity and simplicity wrapped in the glories of Zion because the Lord of the universe became man. The church is human and the church is glorious because she is filled with the glory of Christ.

I will end with a poem of mine I placed here almost four years ago as my first posting. It has a bit of co-inherence too.

The Sweetness of Gathering to the Vine

These, childlike made, they bless the cup and dine
upon the fleshy food they cannot see, and drink the holy bloody wine.

Like sibling children fighting in a line, who later laugh when by the bell set free, these happy ones are laughing in the vine.

And raging gods whose deeds their shape confine have called for war, whose very end shall be determined by the drinking of the wine.

Go death to death, the children life define; now blood of saints and Christ's good blood agree the holy life is living in the vine.

If nails be sharp pursuing flesh to pine, and wooden burdens bend and bruise the knee, feast on the broken flesh, drink up the wine; hold fast the fellowship within the vine.

I am sorry, the lines should be three for each verse until the last with four. Blogger is just having problems with my verse.

More news on the Coptic Church in Egypt

Dexter Van Zile is reporting on the attack on a Coptic church which occurred in Egypt several days ago. He has added information about that attack and other attacks on Coptic churches, including information that Muslims intend to build a mosque on the church site. Because the Western Media is not reporting these incidents I feel it is important for Christianss to do so.
Zile article begins:

Anti-Christian Rampage in Egypt Goes Unnoticed

People who follow the #copts or #helwan hashtags on Twitter will know that on Friday, a Church in the town of Sool (or Sol) was attacked by a mob of Muslims. Al Masry Al Youm reports that “Two men have been killed during clashes between Muslims and Christians, which culminated in Muslims setting fire to the Shaidain church in Sol, a security official said on Saturday.

The violence, which so far has received very little coverage in the West, was triggered by a feud between families, which disapproved of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.”

And continues to this:

"The Copts are Egyptian citizens, but it appears state officials in Egypt are not all that interested in protecting their rights. After the attack the Egyptian military promised to investigate and rebuild the church in Helwan, but the damage is done and the signal has been sent. Copts are the low-cost target of choice.

After the attack, Coptic Christians and their allies in the Muslim community protested in Tahrir Square. Moreover, some Copts who fled the violence in Helwan were able to find refuge in the homes of their Muslim neighbors.

Run this page from a Coptic news site through google translate and you’ll find indications that the land on which the destroyed church is located is still under the control of rioters – who intend to build a mosque on the ruins of the destroyed church. The military is encouraging the Coptic community to have a new church built somewhere else."

There are links to videos of that and other attacks. We need to keep praying for the Coptic Christians in Egypt that true freedom of religion will finally come to that region.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In the hands of Jesus

Two people or more,
not alone, the One is there.
I saw a cluster of violets today
against the outer wall.
They flowered in abundance, in cold February.
Their roots grew deep beneath the wall warmed soil
Together, I Am in the midst of them.

I think a lot of us are feeling weary, sad and yet quiet before the Lord. Jesus is after all the only reason we are walking where we are walking. He is the head of his church and he has promised that even in the midst of only two or three he is there. All of our tomorrows are in his hands. Praise to his holy name.

“But now I come to you; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have my joy in full in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also send them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:13-19)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The continuing pain of the Coptic Church in Egypt: a news report

The church in Egypt is still suffering. The news tonight from an Assyrian International News agency: "Nearly 4000 Muslims Attack Christian Homes in Egypt, Torch Church."

It begins:

"A mob of nearly four thousand Muslims has attacked Coptic homes this evening in the village of Soul, Atfif in Helwan Governorate, 30 kilometers from Cairo, and torched the Church of St. Mina and St. George. There are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the Church pastor Father Yosha and three deacons who were at church; some say they died in the fire and some say they are being held captive by the Muslims inside the church.

Witnesses report the mob prevented the fire brigade from entering the village. The army, which has been stationed for the last two days in the village of Bromil, 7 kilometers from Soul, initially refused to go into Soul, according to the officer in charge. When the army finally sent three tanks to the village, Muslim elders sent them away, saying that everything was "in order now."
A curfew has been imposed on the 12,000 Christians in the village."

According to the report this started because of "a relationship between 40-year-old Copt Ashraf Iskander and a Muslim woman."

But it has escalated into this:

"The Muslim mob attacked the church, exploding 5-6 gas cylinders inside the church, pulled down the cross and the domes and burnt everything inside. Activist Ramy Kamel of Katibatibia Coptic advocacy called US-based Coptic Hope Sat TV and sent an SOS on behalf of the Copts in Soul village, as they are presently being attacked by the mob. He also said that no one is able to contact the priest and the deacons inside the burning church and there is no answer from their mobile phones."

May God protect his people in Egypt.

See also:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Amendment 10-A & the monstrosity that is coming

One of the more troubling aspects of the possibility of Amendment 10-A winning in the Presbyteries is the thought that some are voting yes because they are weary of the battle over GLBT ordination standards. And in fact this was one of the issues that Sacramento’s presenter for 10-A brought up. That is the need to get beyond all of the conflict and simply do mission. Those Presbyterians who feel this way have no knowledge of the monstrosity waiting out beyond the boundaries of gay ordination and same gender marriage.

It has been noted that during at least two presbytery debates, one was Sacramento, as well as a Christmas letter published by the More Light Presbyterians, heterosexual sex out side of marriage was lifted up as a reason for deleting the Fidelity -Chastity clause from the Book of Order. But there is much more to follow.

In 1991 a report, “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality and Social Justice” on human sexuality was rejected by the General Assembly of the PCUSA. In that report both GLBT sex and heterosexual sex outside of marriage was lifted up as gifts given by God. In 2003 a book was published by the LGBT community that utilized some of the authors and words of that rejected report. The book is Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice Love. The Editors of the book, Sylvia Thorson-Smith and Marvin M. Ellison, state that all of the authors in the book were asked to review the rejected Presbyterian report.

Much of the book, in reality reminds the orthodox reader of the spiritual outlook of the ancient biblical Canaanites who worshipped the gods and goddesses of fertility. It is a picture of what our tomorrows may be like if we do not care now about honoring Christ and his church.

One author, Robert E Goss, quotes from the sexuality report about how erotic pleasure grounds people in an ethic of justice and love and then he goes on to write:

The theological notion of justice love does not preclude erotic relationships other than pair-bonded, monogamous relationships, and yet, we should note, Christian exploration of single sexuality and polyamory [having more than one intimate relationship at a time] is only at its ethical infancy.
In other words, the above kinds of sexual relationships are okay, they just have not been given enough exploration. The writer goes on to write about how personal pleasure must expand into an ethic of community, but in doing so he sees other deviant sexualities as acceptable, writing:

Erotic connecting of bodies means that gay bodies are connected erotically and joyfully, producing and inventing pleasures. Gay indigenous ethics has often echoed the ethical norms of “safe, sane, and consensual” of the S/M [sadomasochism] subculture. While these norms may be useful for individual sexual encounters, they remain too narrow for gay Christians because they reduce sex to the realm of private pleasures. Good sex, although pleasurable, is not a sufficient end for a Christian, for good sex must be expanded beyond private pleasures to integrate justice.
In other words, it isn’t the type of sex that is the problem, instead it is the private pleasure that does not affect anyone else.

I see two immensely troubling thoughts about this quote. One is simply that the author’s notion of some parts of an ethic of sex includes accepting pain. For him it is okay if it is consensual. The other idea is the notion that a whole worldview about ethics and justice should be grounded in, not just sexuality, a frightening idea in itself, but rather in deviant sexuality. So the justice we will now promote and work toward if 10-A passes is a justice not grounded in the cross of Christ but in deviant erotic sexuality.

Throughout the book on Body and Soul, the idea that human sexuality is both a revelation and a connector to God is promoted. For instance, Rebecca Todd Peters writes, “If we start with woman’s bodily experience of sexuality as a window into the divine, its very mutability can offer insight into refining the way we think about God/ess.” In an earlier posting I explained how Scott Haldeman saw his passive position in gay sex as a revelation of God’s attributes.

So the monstrosity that will enter the church with the passage of 10-A is a worldview founded in deviant sexuality with an emphasis on justice as it grows out of such sexuality. Combined with such a worldview is a pagan view of spirituality that insists that all sexuality is a door and connecter to God. A yes to 10-A will almost immediacy allow the authority of Scripture and even confessional authority to be put aside, it will eventually cause God’s revelation in Jesus Christ to be disregarded.

To lay aside this battle is to enter a far bigger one which can only end in a denomination shattered in every direction. And rightfully so-it will be the judgment of God. It can only end with the sheep of God’s pasture wounded and wandering. How can anyone refuse to be bothered by the very battle which belongs to God’s calling?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Two Friars & a Fool, Landon Whitsitt and grace

Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap Grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.

Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson of Two Friars and a Fool have posted a YouTube video of the PCUSA’s Vice Moderator, Rev. Landon Whitsitt, and intend it for conversation. A lot of his talk is about the internet, and how it, with open sourcing, will affect Christianity. It seems to me to be somewhat of a put down to orthodox Christianity. He says that most American Christians have the same understandings of Christianity that they had when they were in sixth grade.

But that is simplistic and without definition. Christians believe in the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by faith, the resurrection and life eternal and yes God’s amazing grace. These are just basic to Christianity. Is this what Whitsitt is speaking of?

Whitsitt also speaks, at the end about grace.
The Christian faith, a lot of Christians, people who would call themselves progressives or open source Christians, start to emphasize the notion, the idea, the truth of God’s grace over and above everything else. I know that’s true for me. When I think about God, when I talk to people about God, I talk about a God of grace. A God who freely gives, a God who loves, who freely gives in love. A God who doesn’t require anything of me in order to receive the benefits and the truth of this gospel, right? This God interacts with me in a way, and interacts with the entire world, and let’s be clear not just me, interacts with the entire world with a notion of grace, with a notion of I am going to give you goodness and benefits and truth and I am going to give to you, as Jesus said, I am going to give you abundant life, I am going to show you abundant life and I am going to teach you how to effect abundant life for everyone else and in exchange for this I am not going to ask you for anything. Right you don’t have to pay for this I’m giving it to you freely.”
Now I will be truthful, Whitsitt does go on to suggest that because we possess this grace we are required to pass it on and to love those we disagree with. In other words, God does ask something of us. But there needs to be a clearer understanding here. Grace, God’s unmerited favor, is free and yet as God gives it he also gives faith and repentance. We repent and turn around and walk a different direction, all by God’s grace but it isn’t an empty gift. Grace changes us. We produce fruit that comes from the new life that Jesus gives.

Bonhoeffer has a lot to say about the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. I have quoted him above. Aric in the video discussion on his website mentions, playing the devil’s advocate, cheap grace and Bonhoeffer. So after I place the video of Whitsitt on this posting I will quote a bit more. But do go and listen to both Doug Hagler and Aric Clark. Also Nick Larson is funny.[1]

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “Ye were bought with at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”

And that grace has nothing to do with the internet except we can all proclaim it there.

[1] scroll down to see the other videos