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.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Preach it, Viola!

If there is no objective truth (which, by the way, Jesus talked about all the time, since he believed that true truth existed), then everything is about power: persuasive power, voting power, social power, popularity power, contemporary power, human power.

I will have nothing to do with a "faith" that sheds truth!

I love the grand line in the opening part of the Form of Government that reads: "[N]o
opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that
which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as
of no consequence what a man’s opinions are" (G-1.0304).

Amen.

James D. Berkley
Bellevue,WA

Anonymous said...

If we read carefully in the first chapter of the last book of the bible, Jesus says "I am the Alpha and Omege [which, interpreted accurately means "All things begin and end in Jesus Christ], the Living One. None other, earthly or heavenly, posesses the life that Jesus claims of Himself in this passage.If we reject any part of Jesus claims to Divinity and Authoority then everything about Jesus is reckoned of no value. It's either all or none! Jesus has left us nowhere along the way to choose whether to accept or reject one some things about Him.Christianity is truly the Way, Truth and Life and we can have His gift of abundant life in two easy words that he asks all through the Gospels, "Follow Me" It's so easy to be a "follower!"

Noel said...

The Outlook used the phrase "Christological Amnesia" as a headline in a response to the PCUSA Fellowship letter.

It's a great term to describe our PCUSA status quo.

Those who can't confidently affirm their faith in the Christ IS truth are not ready to be church members, let alone candidates for church leadership.

reformedpastor said...

"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."

Too true. For all too many mainliners, truth is now whatever a majority at General Assembly (or General Conference, or Church-wide Assembly, or General Convention) say it is.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Greg Scandlen said...

Exactly right, Viola. What is going on is all about politics, plain and simple. Putting a religious cloak on it is like clothing a wolf in sheepskin.

My Presbytery is voting tonight. I decided not to attend because it is painful to see people of faith get run over by a political steamroller. We may have lost "the debate" but I am happy to settle for the truth of Christ.

I think I'm getting the better part of the deal.

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

Greg if they need you to vote, you better go vote. Having done all stand. Please.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

There you go again...

"Vest is actually saying [...] the statements written by the German Christians about Hitler would be true"

How is it that you manage to juxtapose people you dislike with the name of Hitler? It's past hyperbole.

“Preach it, Viola!”

Since when did the Gospel become an excuse for such fear mongering?

Steve Blair
San Diego, CA

Dave Moody said...

Atta girl, Vi! You've brought clarity to the 'conversation.'

Blessings on you!
dm

Mike said...

Viola,

Excellent comments. Though I am sure John is well-intneded, this represents some of the poorest theological thinking I have seen in some time. Yet somehow he gets placed in some very high-profile positions! I posted a lengthy reply on John's blog page urging him to think through the implications of his approach. I may re-format it a little and offer it as an Open Letter on Presbyweb. Thanks for all you do.


Mike Armistead
Hilton Head Island, SC

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Mike,
I just finished reading what you wrote on Vest's blog. It is excellent.

will spotts said...

Mike - good response in comments section of Vest's blog.

Viola - thanks for bringing this up.

For my part, I find the thinking in Vest's original post sloppy. Yes, I differ in my conclusions, assumptions, and biases - but that is not the same as the thought process that undergirds the argument/presentation.

For one thing - as Mike points out - the Hebre Bible certainly records polytheism and henotheism among the Israelites. Just as it records instances of murder, adultery, conspiracies, political upheavals, child sacrifice, witchcraft, religious prostitution. That is quite irrelevant to the exceptionally clear tone of the texts. The texts - Judges, Chronicles, Kings, even parts of the Torah that describe these acts universally describe them in a negative light. The texts rather clearly present and accept OT orthodoxy as right, correct, true, desirable. Departures from that are seen as sinful. That they are included as descriptions in no way describes the religion taught in the Hebrew Bible as heterodox. It only describes orthodoxy and what it regards as sinful departure from orthodoxy.

The heterodoxy read into the New Testament fails just as completely.

But at the end, the thinking really becomes muddled. Vest denies saying that the orthodox are heretical. He rejects the notion that the progrossivists or even ancient heresies of the church are heretical. But what he seems to overlook is his major assertion - that Christianity is heterodox, that heterodoxy is good, that heterodoxy is normative for the people of God MEANS BY ITSELF THAT THE ORTHODOX ARE FALSE - their assertion that there is a true set of doctrines that is easily knowable that comprise Christianity cannot be right if heterodoxy is normative and good for God's people. So, while deny calling orthodox believers heretics, he is, in fact doing so.

Anonymous said...

Mike - good response in comments section of Vest's blog.

Viola - thanks for bringing this up.

For my part, I find the thinking in Vest's original post sloppy. Yes, I differ in my conclusions, assumptions, and biases - but that is not the same as the thought process that undergirds the argument/presentation.

For one thing - as Mike points out - the Hebrew Bible certainly records polytheism and henotheism among the Israelites. Just as it records instances of murder, adultery, conspiracies, political upheavals, child sacrifice, witchcraft, religious prostitution. That is quite irrelevant to the exceptionally clear tone of the texts. The texts - Judges, Chronicles, Kings, even parts of the Torah that describe these acts universally describe them in a negative light. The texts rather clearly present and accept OT orthodoxy as right, correct, true, desirable. Departures from that are seen as sinful. That they are included as descriptions in no way describes the religion taught in the Hebrew Bible as heterodox. It only describes orthodoxy and what it regards as sinful departure from orthodoxy.

The heterodoxy read into the New Testament fails just as completely.

But at the end, the thinking really becomes muddled. Vest denies saying that the orthodox are heretical. He rejects the notion that the progrossivists or even ancient heresies of the church are heretical. But what he seems to overlook is his major assertion - that Christianity is heterodox, that heterodoxy is good, that heterodoxy is normative for the people of God MEANS BY ITSELF THAT THE ORTHODOX ARE FALSE - their assertion that there is a true set of doctrines that is easily knowable that comprise Christianity cannot be right if heterodoxy is normative and good for God's people. So, while deny calling orthodox believers heretics, he is, in fact doing so.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Will,
I hadn't thought of the bad logic in Vest's thoughts about not calling the orthodox heretics.

Adel said...

Viola,

Thank you for your cogent and reasonable response.

I just read the postmodernist liberal position of Mr. Vest. I simply have to ask...are you surprised by this?

Is this not the sort of irresponsible "revisionist history", anti-supernaturalist bias that regularly drips out from the PCUSA hierarchy? I am not the least bit surprised, except to say that he is more bold than most other heretics...though they all get bolder every day.

I would personally be surprised to read something that is unambiguously theologically sound. There is so little of this as to be non-existent.

I am therefore grateful to Viola...a voice crying out in the wilderness...

Pastor Adel Thalos
Hixson, TN

Greg Scandlen said...

Hi, Viola,

To follow up, if I were allowed to vote I certainly would have attended, but since I am only a lay member of the church I would have been there only as an observer. As it turns out our Presbytery (Carlisle, in South Central Pennsylvania) rejected all three amendments by substantial margins. I am told the discussion was civil and respectful.

I should explain, too, about what I mean when I say "political." Politics at its core has one principle -- "identify your supporters and get them to vote." This has been the case for 200 years that I know of.

Note that there is no thought of discussion or persuasion. There is no interest in getting the other side to vote or even have a voice.

In my opinion, it is the polar opposite of a mission in Christ.

I understand that in some Presbyteries opponents of the amendments have been heckled and mocked. That is "politics" because it discourages one side from speaking out or even attending. It is not Christ-centered, in my opinion.

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

That is great news Greg and I agree about the political.

Debbie said...

Steve Blair, please don't read "Hitler" and suddenly become offended and unable to see an analogy. What Viola said was true. She is not saying that John Vest and those like him are people like Hitler. But she is saying that his reasoning would extend to those situations.

In other words, if you take Vest's reasoning and apply it to all situations, it would mean that the only reason we have the Confession of Barmen is because it ultimately won, in a sense, by a human majority, because the Allies won World War II and those who sympathise with those who wrote the Confession of Barmen support what was written in it. If Hitler had won World War II, his philosophy would have spread, and our church today might have a confession in it written by the German Christians, and Vest's reasoning would say that a human majority had put it in place and made it as valid as the confessions that we have now are.

That's what Viola was saying; not that Vest and company are like Nazis. And it's good reasoning, and exposes the illogic of his thinking, or at least exposes why many of us don't want to go with his thinking. We don't like believing things merely because a human majority has succeeded in getting it approved. We prefer to go with the Word of God.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

Debbie your answer is right, your logic is perfect, but you should read my posting after this "About Critics" and think "Proxy servers" : )

Kattie W. Coon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Debbie,

It is not an analogy, it is superposition. You put the name of someone you don't like in the same sentence as the name of someone nobody likes. The factuality of the statement can be totally innocuous. That is not the point.

The point is propaganda. Something else Hitler was famous for.

Steve Blair
San Diego, CA