Monday, October 31, 2011

The Day of the Saints & holiness

On November the 1st many liturgical denominations in the West celebrate All Saints Day. It is a wonderful time to think about the holiness of the saints. Landon Whitsitt, Vice Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has begun writing about the foundation parts of the New Book of Order on a blog for the Synod of Mid-America. Using, F-1.0302b, he writes about The Holiness of the Church. I like Whitsitt's thoughts that holiness belongs to Christ rather than to ourselves and how holiness means we are set apart to bear witness to the love of Christ.

But I think that more needs to be said about how that occurs and what it means that because of the love of Christ our sins are taken away. And although Whitsitt opines about our concern to build a firewall for orthodoxy, I think it is unnecessary to toss aside the importance of doctrine or orthodoxy when we think about holiness and Christ’s great love. Rather, I’m in agreement with Dorothy Sayers, the lay theologian and author of the Peter Whimsy detective stories, who insisted that “The Dogma is the Drama.”

To put it another way, the fact that Jesus, fully human, fully divine, loved us enough to bear our sins on the cross is a beautiful and grand drama of God’s redemptive love. The dogma is so deeply intertwined with our life and confession that we cannot in anyway dismiss it. And yes, because of the drama that is the dogma, we who have put on Christ have been clothed in his righteousness and made holy. Better still as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:4-10 we have been redeemed by grace and now walk in the good works that God had already prepared for us:

“But God being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of god; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.”

So how do we bear witness to the love of Christ-we tell what God has done for us by sending his Son to die for us. Of course that also entails Christ’s life and resurrection. We also walk into the good works that God has prepared for us. And because we are set apart, made righteous in his righteousness, we live for Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, striving to be obedient to his word. As Paul puts it in another place “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” (Romans 12: 1) That has to do with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as costly grace as opposed to cheap grace.

This is the paradox we live with; Christ did not buy our salvation cheaply, therefore we do not wear it for nothing. Freely it is given, freely we receive it, but because of it we walk through many valleys. His burden is light, because it is his, but still he calls us to carry it in hard places. We are sinners all, but also saints, who are being transformed into his image. Praise the lovely name of Jesus.
Picture by Stephen Larson

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Covenant Network seeking unity

10-A, the overture that has allowed some to ordain LGBT persons, has passed; what is coming next?[1] The Covenant Network, an affinity group connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has agreed that it is too divisive to endorse overtures asking that the Book of Order be changed to allow same sex marriage. They will not support such overtures at the 2012 General Assembly.

The group, whose main focus has been to change the constitution to allow for LGBT ordination, states, “Given that there are many in the PC (USA) who are troubled by the change in ordination standards, the Board of Directors lifts up this effort mindful of its commitment to tend to the unity of the denomination.” Instead they will lift up and endorse overtures, “seeking Authoritative Interpretation to protect pastoral discretion to celebrate same-gender marriages where they are sanctioned by the civil authorities.”

Two troubling issues arise with this decision. The first is the issue of unity; the second is the issue of aligning morality with the prevailing culture. Both are, however, alike; they put aside biblical teaching in order to pull the cultural milieu within the denomination. The world seeks for unity as well as diversity but not a unity founded on Holy Scripture and the Lordship of Christ.

But unity has already been broken; it cannot be so easily fixed by withholding support from overtures seeking to change the Book of Order. The truth is the Covenant Network, surely unintentionally, is seeking a worldly kind of unity which has nothing to do with the faith. Instead it is seeking after a unity that would mix biblical authority with experience, sin with righteousness and cultural norms with biblical mandates. It isn’t real. There is no such unity. But the seeking has taken a different turn.

The decision to uphold Authoritative Interpretations that would allow ministers to marry same gender couples in a state where it is legal is an attempt at alignment with a worldly culture. And this is where we must remember that the Kingdom of God is not the kingdoms of this world.

Some are standing in the wilderness with Jesus and Satan is pleading worship me and I will give you the kingdoms of the world. Jesus quoted God’s word back to him and Satan, the Scripture text states, “left him until an opportune time.” And Satan did come back. And he keeps coming back to the Church. This is not the first time that the Church has been tempted to lift up sexual immorality for the sake of its life in the world.

I am reading a book mentioned by Dr. Richard Mouw, The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World by Elizabeth Rapley. Over and over the Church and the monasteries became a part of the world by choosing worldly riches, power and sexual immorality. Over and over they needed reformation. And still today, the same temptations involve the Church in seeking to conform to the sinful positions and laws of secular governments. And it is in many ways as much a temptation for power as it is for conformity.

This places the faithful in a dire position which has nothing at all to do with unity and everything to do with submitting to the Lord of the Church and his written word. There will be no unity when those in the PCUSA align with secular power while their brothers and sisters take the more humbling seat of refusing to walk with the culture.

[1] This is still to be settled in a court appeals case- see- An Appeal Will Be Filed

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reformation or descending darkness-a leadership letter to congregations

The king went up to the house of the Lord and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. The King stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant. (2 Kings 23:2-3)

The Presbyterian News Service recently posted a news article about a letter sent to congregations by “Cindy Bolbach and Landon Whitsitt, Moderator and Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010), Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, and Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council.” The letter was meant to uphold Reformation Day which occurs October 31st. The news article included the letter. I was troubled by several affirmations in the letter.

The affirmation I found the most troubling is the leadership’s belief that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in the midst of a “new reformation.” Another similar affirmation is that this is a time of another “great” reformation. The author’s of the letter did not base their affirmations of the “new reformation” on a return to the Holy Scriptures, nor an emphasis on justification by faith, nor did they write about the denominations return to Christ as the only Savior.

Instead they emphasized works, change, organization and visioning. And they wrote this at a time when some Presbyteries are simply falling apart as churches scatter looking for a denomination that will uphold the Holy Scriptures and the Lordship of Christ.

The other affirmation is that God is doing a new thing, that God is “creating a new church in and through us.”They use Isaiah 43:19 to support their affirmation. But they are misinterpreting the verse. And they also misunderstand how God has and does create his Church. The verse is speaking of how God will bring the Israelites out of exile in Babylon and rebuild the nation. This was new because it was different than bringing them out of captivity as in Egypt. Instead this was a time of redemption from exile caused by sin. The new thing also had implications for the future; it pointed to the coming Messiah. And it is in the Messiah that God, not us, builds the Church.

There are several stages that lead to reformation but if one looks at Church history it always begins with a return to the word of God. Of course that return occurs when the old institutions have become corrupt and turn toward all kinds of innovations to bolster diminishing fervor and growth. Both in monasticism and churches the cycle is almost always the same. Lack of faith, greed and sexual immorality destroy the integrity of Christian institutions, and then both leaders and laity turn toward politics, programs, power and even redefinitions of the essentials of faith in order to avoid a return to the clarity of God's word.

But the Church will not remain the Church if she does not return to the word of God. In the early years of America a group of men in Congregational churches, which had grown weak in faith, disregarded some Scripture texts. Their early beginnings included universalism but moved on to discarding the atonement and the Trinity. They became the Unitarian Church.

In the twentieth century they became the Universalist/Unitarian Church allowing any religious belief to be a part of their denomination. By the end of the twentieth century their adherents included both pagans, mainly wiccans, and atheist. Casting aside parts of the Bible was not the beginning of reformation; instead it was the beginning of darkness. In my library I have a study book used by some women, and men, in the Universalist/Unitarian Church, entitled Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. In the book a pagan goddess, Asherah and her son Baal, are honored; Jeremiah, the prophet, becomes the enemy.

We, likewise, have not entered a time of great reformation but a time of turning against those who call for reformation. Whether it is a teaching elder in Tennessee who calls the faithful, right-wing and superstitious, another who suggests that a devout pastor's letter should be read with a barf bag, or the Vice Moderator, tweeting that, those pursuing biblical morality standards in a church court appeals case are whining and costing the church money, the denomination is drifting toward rough seas. A subtle persecution of those who wish to bring the denomination back to the authority of the word is emerging rather than reformation.

One can repeat the words “Great Reformation” in the same manner that a new age devotee repeats a mantra, it will mean nothing. But like the ancient Israelites who found the lost book of the law in the temple we must find again the word of God and, as they did, submit to its authority. It is the word of the Lord of the Church. As we submit to him, we will submit to his word. We pray that in mercy through Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our denomination will turn back to the word, repent and be truly reformed.

[2]Conrad Wright, The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America, (Boston: Starr King Press 1955).

[3]See Jeremiah 7 and 44.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rich Mullins & the Ragamuffin Band-and a verse from Psalm 23

Have you ever had God drop a Scripture text into your heart and mind unexpectedly? Just as our plane was landing coming home from the fellowship gathering, this summer, a verse from Psalm 23 dropped into my mind and I couldn’t wait to get home and do a study on it. The verse, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” There is more to that verse but that is what God dropped into my heart. I wrote a posting on that verse and my study, A table prepared by the Lord.

Today someone mentioned and linked to a song by Rich Mullins. It was a beautiful song and I listened, but as I was listening I noticed another video of Rich Mullins which was a whole concert with both him and the Ragamuffin Band. I had never heard of Rich Mullins until my daughter Penny told me of her grief that he had been killed in a car accident. Then I found that another daughter, Jenny also was deeply grieved over his death. His music is beautiful.

But the fun thing for me is that in this concert two friends that used to come and visit me every so often when I was doing apologetics in the ARC office at Warehouse Ministries are a part of the Ragamuffin Band. I haven’t heard Jim Abegg or Aaron Smith play for many years. But returning to my original theme “a table prepared by the Lord” and that in the presence of my enemies, God through this beautiful and joyous concert reminded me of all of his many blessings.

I am thinking of all blessings, family, friends now and yesterday, of Jesus’ presence in the midst of many trials, now and yesterday, of his promise to come again. His tender care of all of his children, the Church. His word that lights our way. This is the table He spreads for me and for all of you as you walk with him in the presence of enemies.

I am posting the video here. It is almost an hour long, but please listen, you will be blessed. You will know who Jim Abegg is when he sings about a dream. Aaron Smith is the fantastic drummer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Carta a la Iglesia PCUSA (Letter to the PCUSA)

This is a letter written in Spanish to members of the PCUSA by Rev. Hector Reynoso. It was published in English by the Layman on October the 13th. Now the whole Spanish speaking Church can read it. I am placing it here for several reasons. One reason is that it is a call to the church to repent of sin and turn and be faithful again to Jesus Christ. Another reason is that the Presbyterian News Service placed a letter, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the PCUSA, within a news article about the troubling problems that have occurred among partner churches in other nations because of the PCUSA’s decision to ordain gays and lesbians.

Tutu’s letter, sadly, assured the leadership of the PCUSA that they are setting a good example to other Global churches. This was posted in a letter reminding the denomination that the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico had cut off partnership with the PCUSA. After this the PNS posted the same letter in Spanish which was surely aimed at the Presbyterian Church in Mexico.

So besides being for the Spanish speaking PCUSA members in the United States this letter, as far as I am concerned, is for all Spanish speaking Presbyterian Churches including those in the Global South.

Carta a la Iglesia PCUSA

Querida Iglesia PCUSA, miembro(a)s, anciano(a)s y diáconos, consistorios, pastore(a)s, presbiterios, sínodos y AG

Les saludo en el dulce, amoroso y poderoso nombre de Jesucristo nuestro único Señor y Salvador. Mi nombre es Héctor Reynoso y soy pastor en la iglesia Presbiteriana USA (PCUSA). Vengo ante ustedes en un espíritu de amor y humildad y espero que reciban esta carta en este mismo espíritu. Me motiva a escribir el amor tan profundo que tengo por la PCUSA y toda su gente.

Seguro que muchos de ustedes habrán leído y escuchado que un gran número de iglesias a nivel mundial están cortando sus relaciones con la PCUSA o están haciendo fuertes declaraciones en contra de ella. Esto está sucediendo específicamente por una razón, la inclusión de la enmienda 10-A (ahora G-2.0104b) en nuestro Libro de Orden. Estas son noticias muy desalentadoras.

En verdad que ha sido triste ver como a través de los años la luz de esta denominación se ha ido apagando poco a poco. Sin duda alguna la aprobación de la enmienda 10-A ha acelerado este proceso. Pese a todas las advertencias en cuanto a las consecuencias, la mayoría votó a favor de la enmienda 10-A a nivel Asamblea General y después a nivel de presbiterios. Las implicaciones de esta enmienda van mas allá de simplemente remover “fidelidad y castidad” como estándares de ordenación. Lo que esta enmienda hace es darle vuelta a un orden divino pre-establecido…antes de 10-A, entendíamos que Dios, de acuerdo a las Escrituras definía el pecado…ahora nosotros lo definimos. Nosotros escogemos lo que es el pecado y lo que no es…como si fuéramos dioses. Además, afirmamos que Cristo murió por nuestros pecados, pero si nosotros podemos escoger y definir lo que es pecado y lo que no es, entonces debemos preguntarnos seriamente, ¿Por qué pecados murió Cristo? La enmienda 10-A implica que Cristo murió por nada, o para nada; amigos y amigas, la enmienda 10-A crea un cristo diferente al que Dios nos ha revelado en las Escrituras.

Aún mas, la enmienda 10-A reduce la Biblia, la Santa Palabra de Dios de ser La Palabra inspirada por Dios y la única autoridad para la doctrina de la iglesia a ser simplemente una guía, al mismo nivel que las confesiones. Si creemos de esta manera, ya no podemos tomar en serio pasajes de las Escrituras tales como el Salmo 119. Este Salmo dice en le versículo 4, “Tú has establecido tus preceptos, para que se cumplan fielmente (NVI).” Permítanme presentarles una traducción tal vez un poco sarcástica, simplemente para establecer mi punto. “Nosotros hemos modificado tus sugerencias, para que se consideren fielmente.” Querida iglesia PCUSA, la enmienda 10-A hace a un lado la autoridad que Dios le ha dado a las Escrituras.

Además, esta enmienda no solamente abra las puertas a la ordenación de la comunidad LGBT (lesbian,gay, bisexual, transgender) como ministros, ancianos y diáconos, sino que también abre las puertas a la ordenación de cualquier individuo(a) que se encuentra envuelto en cualquier actividad sexual que la Palabra de Dios llama pecado. Esta enmienda de ninguna manera llama a nadie que busca la ordenación al arrepentimiento ni a reconocer su pecado. En vez de confrontarnos con el poderoso, amoroso y transformador evangelio de Jesucristo nos enseña que nuestro pecado sexual es algo natural, una inclinación normal, no algo que escogemos, que es simplemente un estilo de vida, que Dios nos hace de esta manera y que El completamente acepta esta manera de vivir.

Sin embargo, el propósito de esta enmienda es la ordenación de la comunidad LGBT; esta enmienda no busca la ordenación de gentes envueltas en otros pecados sexuales. Muchos han señalado que la practica LGBT es un pecado de acuerdo a las Escrituras, La Santa Palabra de Dios; yo afirmo lo mismo. La Iglesia PCUSA está llamando bueno al pecado, estamos llamando al pecado algo deseado por Dios, no solamente esto sino que también estamos forzando al cuerpo de Cristo, su Iglesia, a aceptarlo y adoptarlo.

Querida Iglesia PCUSA, en algún tiempo fuimos la luz de Cristo en un mundo caótico, ahora estamos trayendo obscuridad y confusión al mundo. Amada Iglesia PCUSA, hemos cometido adulterio puesto que hemos creado nuestro propio dios, nuestro propio salvador, nuestra propia biblia, nuestra propia definición de lo que es santo y de lo que es pecado. Ya no podemos ver claramente, necesitamos ayuda. Como institución, hemos abandonado al que dio su vida por nosotros, al que sufrió por nosotros, al que pago con su sangre por lo que ahora nosotros llamamos un estilo de vida.

No puedo evitar que las lagrimas corran por mis ojos el escribir esta carta…como pudimos hacerle esto a nuestro Señor y Salvador, no titubeamos en poner nuestros deseos antes que a El y sobre El, antes que a sus ovejitas. Pastores fuimos llamados a cuidar el rebaño del Señor! No el nuestro! Fuimos llamados a guiarlos a Cristo y a la Santidad de Dios pero los hemos dejado y ensañado a que hagan lo que quieran.

Tristemente, concluyo que la Iglesia PCUSA, como institución, ha perdido su camino…pero no la Iglesia de Cristo, puesto que dentro de la PCUSA hay gente que no ha doblado su rodilla a otro dios o a otro salvador, hay gente que reconoce que son pecadores, de lo peor, pero saben que han sido rescatados, transformados y perdonados por la sangre del Cordero de Dios. En la PCUSA hay gente que está herida y en dolor, así como Cristo lo está, por los pasos que ha tomado esta denominación, hay gente que está lastimada y enojada así como también Dios en su justicia está enojado por todo esto, dentro de la PCUSA hay gente que está tratando de amar y mostrar cariño hacia aquellos que han escogido un camino contrario a las Sagradas Escrituras, hay gente que está tratando de ser fiel al Dios de Abraham, de Isaac y de Jacob, al Padre de nuestro único Señor y Salvador Jesucristo quien nos da su Espíritu Santo para guiarnos hacia la verdad de acuerdo a las Escrituras.

No soy más que un pecador perdonado, sé que no merezco su atención, pero mi Dios ha escogido no permitirme dormir hasta que hable a aquellos que escuchen. Amados amigos y amigas, Dios no es simplemente un muñequito que dice “si” a todo lo que queremos, El te ama, El me ama…y su amor es poderoso y transformador, y se encuentra solo en, y por medio de Jesucristo. Este es un llamado a la confesión y al arrepentimiento. Humildemente vengo ante ustedes en el nombre del Rey de reyes y Señor de señores y con amor y en el poder del Espíritu Santo hago un llamado a la Iglesia PCUSA para arrepentirse por la aprobación de la enmienda 10-A.

Con cariño y amor en Cristo

Standing for Jesus

Rev. Hector Reynoso

Disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of my presbytery, or on behalf of any organization I belong to or have belonged to in the past. I am simply communicating what I believe our Heavenly Father wants me to say to the PCUSA.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deepak Chopra & pantheism

Deepak Chopra upheld spirituality against the attacks of atheist apologists, including Richard Dawkins, but in doing so he opened a different can of worms.[1] In the religious section of the Huffington Report, in an article entitled “War of the Worldviews: Let’s Talk God,” Chopra expressed the usual eastern view of religion, pantheism. The God he counters atheism with is actually located in creation rather than outside of creation. Chopra, after caricaturing the biblical God, presented several thoughts about the identity of his version of divinity:

I think a new and expanded spirituality can deliver a God that is the same as pure intelligence, creativity and consciousness. Such a God is our source without being human -- a source from which all possibilities emerge and flow. Quite a number of credentialed scientists are thinking in the same direction without necessarily being religious. It would explain a lot about the cosmos if we fit into a living, conscious universe.
In other words Chopra’s God is the universe seen as “pure intelligence, creativity and consciousness. Chopra also asks, “If God is the word we apply to highest purpose, why not keep it?” and even suggests that we find this within ourselves. There is another name for this kind of religious viewpoint; it is called “supernatural naturalism.”

The implication is that there is nothing outside of the universe. God, or intelligence or consciousness or whatever you want to call it is the universe which includes humanity. So in a sense there are miracles, spirituality, and supernatural events but they are a function of the universe-they are supernatural but they are also natural in the sense that they are a normal event in the life of the universe. There is nothing that is other, the universe is everything.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Miracles writes about this ancient religious viewpoint. Lewis points out that Christians face pantheism as an opponent:
Platonism and Judaism, and Christianity (which has incorporated both) have proved the only things capable of resisting it. It is the attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when left to itself. No wonder we find it congenial. If “religion” means simply what man says about God, and not what God says about man, then Pantheism almost is religion. And “religion” in that sense has, in the long run, only one formidable opponent—namely Christianity.
Chopra reveals how his beliefs about spirituality are in opposition to Christianity when he writes, “It's in the very nature of spirituality not to conform to everyday reason and logic. The point of spirituality is to transcend the ordinary world and reveal something invisible, unknown and yet part of ourselves.” This is not the spirituality of Christianity which is based on something altogether different.

The Incarnation, God taking on flesh is a historical one time unique event. It does not come from humanity but from God. It is not unreasonable; it is beyond reason yet based in history. It is about Jesus, the one who was uniquely God and human. He could be seen, heard, touched. (1 John 1:1-4) And this coming of the transcendent God, the God who is beyond us, to humanity is deeply personal. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

Knowing Jesus Christ gives the Christian an entirely different kind of spirituality than that promoted by Chopra and all other advocates of the various forms of pantheism. In ourselves we find uncertainty, darkness, lostness and evil. Our spirituality consists in being connected to that which is all goodness, holiness, truth and personal. We do not deliver a god through our spirituality, instead God delivers us into the fullness of his love through his Son who lived, died and was resurrected that we might know forgiveness and walk continuously into the purposes of God.

Drawing by Melissa Tregilgas 

[1]The article “War of the Worldviews: Let’s Talk God,” was linked to at CHURCHandWORLD.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Above all Jesus Christ!

“What an astonishing act of love was this, for the Father to give the Delight of his soul out of his very bosom, for poor sinners.” The Fountain of Life, John Flavel

Having shown in my last posting that the theology that bolsters the ordination of LGBT people and the push for same gender marriage is generally intertwined with a faulty Christology I want to address how one might respond as an orthodox Christian. Of course the issue of biblical prohibitions against LBGT sex should be upheld, taught and explained; and the ultimate work has already by done by Dr. Robert Gagnon. But the issue of Christology-who is Jesus, what is the meaning of the Incarnation, how does Jesus affect our theology must be the Churches biggest concern.

In making Christology the ultimate concern the devastating problems inflicted on the western mainline Churches by LGBT advocates will eventually be affected producing either a great expulsion of the orthodox from all mainline denominations or a renewal of biblical Christianity within. The truly biblical and confessional proclamation of Jesus Christ can never be ignored. The affect of that proclamation will be as Paul in 2 Corinthians puts it:

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. (3:14-17a)"

The proclamation of Christ also requires that all of the essentials of Christianity be lifted up including, the Trinity, the redemptive act of Christ and the sinfulness of humanity.

We understand from Scripture that Jesus is truly God as well as human, therefore the Trinity. (John 1:1, 14, 18; 1 Cor. 13:14; Col 2:9; Rev. 1:17-18; etc.) We know from Scripture that Jesus died for our sins, therefore the fall of humanity resulting in the sinfulness of humanity. (Matt 21:28; John 6:51, 10:11; Romans 5: 6-10, Eph 2:8-10; Rev 5: 9-10; etc.) We know from Scripture the promises of Christ that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit therefore the power to be transformed. (Acts 1:7-8, 4 23-31; etc.)We know from Scripture that in our union with the resurrected Christ we bear the righteousness of Christ and are children of the Father. (Col. 3:1-4; Phil. 1:21, 3: 7-11; etc.) Christianity circles around the person of Jesus Christ.

This means that writing and speaking about the on-going battles over sexual sin in the Church, must be melded with proclamation about Jesus Christ. Simply put, if I say that homosexuality as a practice is sin, I must also say that Jesus Christ, who is Lord over all of life, loves the sinner and has died for sinners. If I write that homosexuality as a practice is deviancy I must also write that Christ transforms the sinner. But there is more.

The person of Jesus must be lifted up from a biblical position, and the words spoken saturated in prayer; his goodness and his beauty, his redemptive work and his kingship correctly and compassionately explained. The incarnation, from its lowly beginning in an animal’s food box to the powerful and glorious return of the King of Kings must be declared. We are compelled to speak of an empty tomb, the power of a resurrected Savior and the promise of life eternal.

And just as Martin Luther threw his ink bottle at the devil we should gather from Scripture every truth about Jesus Christ, reinforce the truth by confessional texts and throw it, so to speak, at the devil. As I stated in the first posting, “the lowering of sexual standards, is the place where the Church in the West, in this day, is called to do battle for the cause of Christ. It is here, on the issues surrounding deviant sexuality that all the essentials of the Christian faith can and will come tumbling down.” I add now, only the work of Jesus Christ on the cross will bring the great sins and heresies of our times to a halt. So preach, teach, proclaim the risen Savior in all his fullness and completeness.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The connection between LGBTQ ordination and Christology-Only bedroom issues?

Recently on the comment section of one of my postings several people complained that the Orthodox Evangelicals in the PC (U.S.A.) were more concerned with bedroom issues than essentials such as the resurrection of Jesus. The complaints were made by both orthodox and progressive believers. They were referring to the issue of the ordination of LGBTQ people as well as same gender marriage.

I want to take issue with them in this posting by looking at the LGBTQ agenda for the Church along side the importance of essential doctrines of the Church. After this, in further postings, I want to look at the Christology of several LGBTQ theologians and/or leaders. That will mean a focus on queer theology.

The three areas I will cover in this posting are (1) the church’s need to address the issue of LGBTQ ordination and same gender marriage, which is being forced upon it, (2)a look at a subject that is frequently ignored, that LGBTQ theology is too often linked to very heretical Christology which is itself based on a poor view of Scripture, (3) and calling sexual sin, including fornication, right, healthy and good, is as damaging to the church as is any denial of basic tenets. Each of these areas overlap.

(1)The Church’s need to address the issue of LGBTQ ordination, same gender marriage and fornication, which is being forced its direction, is really developed further in the other two issues. But here I want to look at the technicalities involved. The reality is, there are no affinity groups connected to the denomination whose main goal is to change the Book of Confessions or the Book of Order in order to make it say the bodily resurrection of Jesus is untrue, or Jesus is not God, etc. There are only groups pushing for lowered sexual standards. While foundational Christian beliefs have priority in the Christian Church the Enemy of souls is pushing his agenda for false teaching by means of sexual liberation and there the Church must face its major battle.

But even here, within the issues of sexuality, the essentials of the faith are under attack. That is true because even some evangelicals have devalued or ignored scripture texts in order to affirm friends, supposedly work for human rights or align with what they see as good cultural norms. On the other hand, many progressives, hold few or no foundational beliefs at all, and easily add to their unbelief advocacy for the ordination of LGBTQ people, same gender marriage and living together without marriage.

(2)Very few theologians who advocate for the ordination of LGBTQ persons or for same gender marriage are orthodox. The few Evangelical teachers and theologians, who do advocate, tend to leave out parts of Scripture when preaching or writing about this issue. They generally begin their exegesis from experience, using only that text which fits their experience. But on the whole most progressives seeking to legitimize gay sexuality or even heterosexual fornication have a poor view of Scripture and a heretical Christology.

For instance, a recent book, Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation, published by Westminster John Knox Press , a part of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, totally tears apart the Christian faith. The author, Wendy Farley is attempting, among other things, to make a case for the faithfulness of the LGBTQ lifestyle.

 And Chris Glaser, a prolific author who writes on LGBTQ issues including past curriculum for the PC (U.S.A.), on his blog, “Progressive Christian Reflections,” a blog connected to "Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice", writes of Jesus and the Gospel of John:
For example, during different phases of my life I have liked and disliked the Jesus of the Gospel of John. I love that John is a mystic and sees the deepest meaning in the life of Jesus. But at other times I have found the certainty of Jesus portrayed by John unsettling and unfriendly, formal and rigid. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” These self-affirmations seem audacious and self-centered even in this day and age when self-affirmations are all the rage!
Margaret Aymer, who wrote this year’s Horizon’s Bible Study and who also advocates for LGBTQ ordination and same gender marriage, likewise, combines an alternative view of sexuality and Christology. On her blog, Mayog’s Posterous, Aymer is concerned with biblical exegetics from a feminist and cultural anthropological view.

Going through Acts, she focuses on the eunuch who was led to Christ by Phillip, she writes that he was the first, “explicitly gender-queer convert.” Later, Aymer, shows, through several postings the supposedly evolving identity of Jesus. She writes, “As we get further into Acts, Lesous [Jesus] functions less as a Holy Person and more as a Deity. As such we see the power of the name of Lesous to heal and to raise from the dead.” In another place she suggests that Peter separates Jesus from Deity.

The list of those who both advocate for LGBTQ issues and whose Christology is flawed is long. But the point is the issue of ordaining LGBTQ people as well as advocacy for same gender marriage is so deeply intertwined with unbiblical Christologies that to stand against one is to stand against the other. This should be enough to squelch any argument about the orthodox only reacting strongly to “bedroom” issues. But there is more that should be said.

(3)Sin un-repented of is damaging to any Christian’s spiritual life, and that includes all kinds of sin. Part of the damage is a breach in the relationship between the Christian and God. While God is holding fast to the sinner, the sinner, like Adam, is moving away, hiding and ashamed. Consider; that condition is caused by un-repentant sin.

But what about sin that is considered not-sin, sin that is blessed and even ordained. Sin that is taught and encouraged among those meant to live holy lives. The damaged, hurt lives will be the sin we must all confess. One should never disparage those who are now moving away from the PC (U.S.A.) because of the lowering of sexual standards. They are attempting to protect the people of God.

But one should also never disparage those staying to follow Christ. This, the lowering of sexual standards, is the place where the Church in the West, in this day, is called to do battle for the cause of Christ. It is here, on the issues surrounding deviant sexuality that all the essentials of the Christian faith can and will come tumbling down.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lost in Jesus

There are profound ideas in the music and the words of the David Crowder Band song "Sometimes." The words "Sometimes every one of us aches/Like we'll never be saved/," are in opposition to the words "we are lost in You."

What a wonderful thought-lost in Jesus. That not only turns the song around it turns our whole world around- we have been so wonderfully bought by his death that we can no longer be found in Satan's lair. God will not let us go because of Jesus. He is our righteousness-we are forever in his care.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me, and I give eternal to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Picture by Ethan McHenry

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The redemption of Christ: was his death necessary? # 4 & Final

I give two examples here of groups that became evil when the cross of Christ was neglected. I end with a suggestion about contextulizing the gospel and the cross in a way that helps without denying Christ's redemption.

At this point, in my postings, I will look at an example of a new religious group and how their misunderstanding or neglect of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross caused irrefutable harm. In their very early beginnings in Sacramento, California, Aggressive Christianity, at first known as Free Love Ministries, began by putting more emphasis on demonology and an aberrant teaching known as “Manifested Sons of God,” than on the scriptural teaching of salvation by grace because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

According to Jim and Lila Green, founders of the group, the sins of humanity were caused by demon possession.[20] They also believed that a group of people more spiritual than the average Christian would arise in the last days to overcome God’s enemies and death. This is the manifested Sons of God teaching. The Greens ignored the biblical teaching that Christ has already done the work of overcoming enemies, including death, on the cross.

We live in the already, not yet time, united to Him, waiting for our complete salvation. (Col. 2:13-15) Both of these teachings, Manifested Sons of God and demon possession of Christians, negate the grace of Christ’s death on the cross. That is because both teachings use humans and techniques to rid humanity of sin and problems. For Aggressive Christianity righteousness comes by removing demons from bodies and by becoming more spiritual. They believe that any encounter with God happens through a deeper spirituality and knowledge that is arrived at by such religious techniques as praying in tongues for several hours and fasting for excessively long times.

In order to keep new converts to Aggressive Christianity pure and free from demons, they were encouraged to move into the group’s commune and to not communicate with their families. Eventually several wives were branded as demon possessed and spiritually dead. They were made to live in a small shed and expected to do heavy labor. Their husbands were separated from then and encouraged to have nothing to do with them.

One small boy was tied to his mother’s leg while she worked since it was revealed by a revelation, supposedly given to Lila Green, that he also was demon possessed. Thankfully one of the women walked away and sued the group, which ended their time in Sacramento. This group divorced their concept of Christianity from any real work of grace. [21]

Aggressive Christianity began with strident and harsh concepts and methodologies devoid of the true meaning of the cross. The outcome led to the abusive destruction of families. Starting from a different direction, a kind of sloppy sentimentality, that divorced Christianity from the orthodox teaching of the cross, helped to shape a violent ideology which engulfed a whole nation.

Nineteenth century liberal theology in Germany developed a theology that was devoid of many orthodox Christian doctrines. To Friedrich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) the father of liberal theology, human consciousness or experience led to knowing God. And that knowledge based on experience was intended to lead to an understanding that Christianity was the highest form of religion. The emphasis was on experience, the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity; original sin and the need for a cross were eliminated.

Adolf Harnack (1851-1930) insisted that “the whole Jesus’ message may be reduced to these two heads—God as the Father, and the human soul so ennobled that it can and does unite with him--” [22] Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) who William Placher describes as ‘the leading theologian of the ‘history of religions,’ posited a view of religion which insisted that various religions were shaped and held by differing national groups due to their religions dependence on “the intellectual, social, and national conditions among which it exists.”

He did not invalidate other religions but rather insisted that the various religions and civilizations connected the people to various experiences of God in different ways. Troeltsch saw European culture as a product of a “deorientalized Christianity.”[23] Basically all three denied the necessity of Christ’s redemption bought on the cross.

This easy theology, devoid of serious Christology, Atonement, or any other important Christian doctrine was a seedbed ready for the German Christians to spring from. Arthur C. Cochrane in his book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, writes:
The “German Christians,” regarded from the standpoint of Christian faith, were a liberal, nationalistic sect which, at the initiative of the National Socialist Party, formed a union of various schools and groups. These schools and groups, in spite of all differences, were united in their nationalistic tendencies and liberal Christianity.[24] (Emphasis mine)
In an attempt to make love and brotherhood the basic doctrines of a reconstituted Christianity Liberal theologians and church leaders backed one of the most tyrannical rulers in history. Walking through a door that eliminated the holiness of God, the sinfulness of humanity and the cross of Jesus Christ, they had no way of comprehending the great evil that was on the other side.

They joined forces with what some have seen as the greatest cultic movement in contemporary times, the Nazis. Interestingly enough the views of this liberal Christianity began with attempts to do apologetics with people involved in enlightenment thinking and then with the Romantic Movement. Which means in contextualing the gospel for a different or diverse culture one should proceed with great care. How do we proclaim the good news to the many diverse new and old theologies and religions in such a way that they will hear the message? How do we do this without leaving behind the truth of God’s word?

So to push this question of contextualization deeper, how, for instance, does one go about offering the gospel to Delores Williams who believes “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians?” She is not asking the same questions that early Jews and Athenians were asking about God, nor is she seeking the same kind of answers the medieval scholastics was when they formulated their theories about atonement. We might start from her questions or even from her weaknesses. We would surely start from her position as one who is an advocate for the needs of Afro-American women, and as one who is concerned for those who are ancestors of slaves.

Williams sees Afro-American women’s survival in the present, as well as the survival of those who were slaves, rooted in their strengths. She believes the cross, understood as sacrifice, harms her position. So she needs to see the cross as neither advocating for slavery nor wimpishness on the part of women. Nevertheless she still needs to see the cross as Christ’s great sacrifice for sinners. She needs a clear picture of God’ holiness, humanity’s sin, and God’s redeeming love.

Paul the Apostle is an example of a Christian who proclaimed the Gospel contextually. In his preaching in Athens he appealed to his listeners using the words of some of their Greek poets. And he used the many gods they worshipped as an opener to speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:22-34) In 1Corinthians 9 verses 19 through 22, Paul speaks of becoming as a Jew, becoming as a Gentile, (those without law) and becoming weak for the sake of the weak, that he, “may by all means save some.” Paul, however, has not denied the Gospel here, he has not compromised the person of Jesus nor found fault with the atonement.

Rather, he is avoiding offending their scruples that he might either bring them to Christ or if they are Christians “win them for greater strength.”[25] But Paul is strong in his emphasis on the doctrines of the faith in particular the cross of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and 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.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and human, who died for us, who carries our sin away on Himself, who stands before God the Father for us, this is the great offer to the religions and cultures of our day. We must come in a spirit of humbleness and empathy, shedding any of our cultural layers that are contrary to the gospel and harmful to Christ’s message. But we cannot compromise the gospel; we must preach only that good news which is scriptural, the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Those in Christ stand before God robed in the righteousness of Christ enjoying and pleasing their creator because of the death of Christ on the cross. Those in the religious world, including those who call themselves Christians, who deny the cross of Christ, stand without, striving to encounter God, and sometimes accepting a doorway toward evil rather than the One who is the Truth, the Life and the Way. (John 14:6)

[20] For a paper refuting the idea of Christians being demon possessed see, Gunther Juncker, “Doctrines of Demons,” at Naming the Grace, . &   A Brief Analysis of Deliverance Ministry Doctrine  by Dr. Robert Wetmore 

[21] For information on Aggressive Christianity when they existed in Sacramento, see Viola Larson, “Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps,” (Paper also on file at Naming His Grace) This group has moved on. I link here to there new site to the page that is telling- they are more then a New Religion they are a cult-

[22] Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity, in Placher, Readings, 150.

[23] Ernst Troeltsch, “The Place of Christianity Among the World Religions,” in Placher, Readings, 154,155.

[24] Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1962), 74.

[25] Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, revised version, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company 1996) 135-137.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The redemption of Christ: was his death necessary? # 3

In this my third posting on the redemption of Jesus I look at some of the atonement theories, but mainly at Abelard's exemplar theory. I also look at how evil develops out of a crossless religion.

There exist several theories of atonement theology formulated through more than a thousand years of Church history. Thomas Oden in his book The Word of Life points out “four essential types of atonement exegesis.” He names “exemplar [moral Influence], governor, exchange, and victor motifs.”

Oden believes that these are all incomplete without each other. He writes, “They are best viewed as complementary tendencies rather than as cohesive schools of thought represented by a single theorist.” [9] Although Oden explains each, giving both their usefulness and problems, I want to look at the one connected to Abelard since that is the one which has gained popularity with those wishing to eliminate the atonement as the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.[10]

First, it is true that the death of Jesus Christ for sinners should cause us to want to follow Him and to live a life of self-giving. That is very biblical. However, most of the theologians attempting to use Abelard’s view wish to eliminate God’s part in this act. That is, they do not believe that it was necessary for God the Father to send his Son to die for our sins. Rather they believe Jesus was killed for political reasons because he was friends of the poor and the outcasts of society. (This is of course, not an either/or situation; He was sent to die for our sins and he undoubtedly was killed partly because of His care for the poor and the outcast. It was not only the sins of the whole world that sent Him to the cross, it was also the particular sins of some Jewish and Roman leaders in Palestine two thousand years ago.)

Those who call themselves progressive theologians see Jesus as someone to emulate and one who pictures how God works and moves within a human totally given over to God. They totally reject the classical view that humanity is fallen and Jesus died for our sins.

Oden points out that, “The tradition of Abelard and Socinus, anticipated by Pelagius, is not a consensual tradition, but a distortion that reappears in heavier or lighter tones periodically.”[11] Abelard, in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, questions how God could forgive humanity for killing his Son if he was not able to forgive them before this event. He also questions the goodness of God if it was true that God demanded the death of His son for the sins of the world. Abelard writes:
Indeed, how cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should please him that an innocent man should be slain—still less that God should consider the death of his Son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!” Abelard concludes that we are justified, “in that his Son has taken upon himself our nature and persevered therein in teaching us by word and example even unto death-- [12]
At the instigation of Bernard of Clairvaux the Council of Sens condemned Abelard’s view.

Oden offers nine problems with this theory. The first three deal very much with problems in contemporary theology. That Christ was simply a “noble martyr,” and therefore there is no transforming aide for the sinner is the first problem. As an answer to this problem, Oden writes, “Humanity does not need merely to be instructed but to have sins forgiven, not merely enlightened but redeemed from sin, for we are not only ignorant but corrupt, not merely finite but sinners, not merely those who feel guilty but who are guilty.”[13]

Oden’s second problem with the exemplar theory is that it often “does not say enough about who the teacher was.”[14] This is very much in line with both the milder and more radical contemporary theological views that attempt to change or do away with Christ’s work on the cross. In Anna Case-Winters’ speech referred to in my first posting, she not only questions orthodox views of the atonement she also attempts to say that there is more to Christ than Jesus thus separating the person of Jesus from Christ.[15]

Delores S. Williams, (see in the first post) places the incarnation, first in Mary, then in Jesus then in the Church. As she puts it, “Incarnation in a womanist understanding of it in the Christian testament, can be regarded as a continuum of the manifestation of divine spirit beginning with Mary, becoming an abundance in Jesus and later overflowing into the life of the church.” [16]

Carter Heyward, (Likewise in the first posting), totally dismisses the incarnation of Jesus Christ writing:
In making Jesus the sole proprietor of the title ‘Christ,’ we Christians not only have heaped violence upon those who are not Christians (Jews, Moslems, pagans, Buddhists, et al.), but also have disempowered ourselves as Daughters, Sons, People, and Friends of the Sacred, bearers together of the same sacred—Christic—power that jesus experienced in relation to others in the Spirit that drew them together.[17]
Oden’s third problem with the exemplar theory is that its proponents have “too optimistically assumed that the will is not radically bound by sin and that no punishment for sin is required.” He adds that this is often linked to a “humanistic pantheism that views each individual soul as a spark of divinity.”[18] One can note that the above remarks by Heyward falls into this category.

This expectation of the human ability to conform to the holiness of God without the gracious work of Christ is one of the areas that lead to the rise of evil in the religious experience of even Christianity. The desire for an encounter with God, without His provision of the door of encounter, means failure and can be disastrous. I have addressed the problem of evil in religion in a book review of Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search For What Saves Us.

The two authors, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, see Jesus death on the cross for our sins as child abuse. I point out in the review the problem of evil inherent in any religion that minimizes the cross:

“For some, Islam is an example; God is so transcendent, so other, that he would not become human nor could he enter into our suffering. For others, for example Paganism, God is so “us” or “nature” that to know humanity or nature, even with all its/our corruption is to know deity. For still others such as Zen Buddhism, God is all there is and yet a void or emptiness, entered into only with the loss of self-consciousness.

The human propensity to do evil can be nurtured in very human attempts to connect with God by trying to imitate God’s perfection, integrating the good and evil or seeing such dualities as good and evil as unreal. If God is totally other and does not enter into our world in an act of grace and atonement we are left to overcome evil with our own will. If we are deity then all of our nature is divine, the evil included. If God is that which is all and non-dualistic, in the end evil does not matter.

Humans do not have the ability to live by religious moral codes perfectly. In fact, for some the attempt toward perfection leads to the radicalization of their religious beliefs. That is, in an attempt to obey the laws of their religion as a means of connecting with God, they apply the moral code so stringently to themselves and society that they become authoritarian in nature. For instance, in radical Islam women become non-entities, hidden people, in order to prevent lust and adultery. Radical Islamic men reach for God through the suffering and humiliation of their women.

In paganism, since God is seen as creation, the desire to embrace an ethic that honors and cares for nature often leads to nudity and sometimes sex is accepted as religious ritual. Every human protection against vulnerability, including clothing, is removed in order to manifest and connect with the divine in humanity.

A God who comes down in love, who suffers for humanity, is lost in this religious maze. The God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ removes the human effort to connect with God as well as any insistence that somehow evil is necessary or unreal. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross speaks to the awful truth of human sin while at the same time providing a way past humanity’s guilt. Individuals are set free to serve God knowing that it is the work of Christ rather than their own righteousness. Indeed, whenever Christianity moves away from the implicit meaning of the cross—there evil begins to rear its head—whether that means selling indulgences, burning witches at the stake or replacing Jesus as the suffering savior with a Jesus of noble blood as a means of elevating war as the German Christians under Hitler did.[19]

In my next and final posting on the redemption bought by Jesus on the cross, I will look at two examples of how evil arises from  a so-called Christianity that denies the redemption of Christ on the cross.
[9] Thomas Oden’s two chapters, “The death of Jesus,” and “In Our Place,” in his book The Word of Life: Systematic theology: Volume Two, is highly recommended for anyone wishing to understand the atonement. 403. Also for a Reformed view see, louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines,( Grand Rapids:Baker Book House 1937) also, Andrew Purves, “The Ministry of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: A Reformed View of the Atonement of Christ,” TheologyMatters (Vol3 No 4. Jul/Aug 1997) and , J.S. Whale, Christian Doctrine: Eight Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge to Undergraduates of all Faculties,reprint, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1984.)

[10] One author who sees the idea of atonement leading to violence does reject Abelard ideas. Speaking of Abelard’s position J. Denny Weaver writes, “The result [of removing the devil from the equation], is an atonement motif in which the Father has one of his children – the Son – killed in order to show love to the rest of the Father’s children, namely us sinners.” “Violence in Christian Theology,” Cross Currents, at 4.

[11] Oden, Word, 404.

[12] Peter Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, in Readings in the History of Christian Theology: From its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, vol.1, editor, William c. Placher, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1988) 150,151.

[13] Oden, Word, 406.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Case-Winters, “Who Do You Say That I Am,” 4.

[16 ]Williams, Wilderness, 168.

[17] Heyward, Saving, 32.

[18] Oden, Word, 407.

[19] Viola Larson, “A Book Review” on Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search For What Saves Us, Rita Nakashima Brick and Rebecca Parker, (Beacon Press 2001)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The redemption of Christ: was his death necessary? #2

In this second part of my paper on the redemption of Jesus Christ, I look at sacrifices in the Old Testament and how that relates to the Incarnation. It is really very basic but important before looking at the various views of atonement and how that relates to evil and religion.

The biblical view of atonement and Incarnation begin in the Old Testament. The sacrifices of the Old Testament are looking forward to the coming of Christ and to the work of Christ on the cross. They are incomplete without Him. We find in the first part of Hebrews 10 that the Old Testament sacrifices are a “shadow of the good things to come.” The author of Hebrews weaves the verses of Psalms 40:6-7 into the picture of Jesus’ body as sacrifice.

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’” (Heb. 10:5-7)
These verses, which seemingly deny the need for sacrifice as a means of salvation, really illustrate the need for the death of Jesus on the cross. F.F. Bruce, writing about these verses, sees the Old Testament sacrifices as requiring the “obedient heart” and Christ offers that “wholehearted obedience.” Quoting J. Denny’s The Death of Christ, Bruce writes, “Our author’s contrast is not between sacrifice and obedience, but between the involuntary sacrifice of dumb animals and ‘sacrifice into which obedience enters, the sacrifice of a rational and spiritual being, which is not passive in death, but in dying makes the will of God its own.’” [6]

Bruce goes on to explain that while it was the Father’s will for Jesus to die, “it was also His own spontaneous choice.”[7] Elaborating further and once again quoting Denny, he writes:
"It is the atonement which explains the incarnation: the incarnation takes place in order that the sin of the world may be put away by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” The offering of His body is simply the offering of Himself; if here sanctification and access to God are made available through His body, in verses 19 and 29 they are made available through His blood. Whether our author speaks of His body or His blood, it is His incarnate life that is meant, yielded to God in an obedience which was maintained even to death. So perfect a sacrifice was our Lord’s presentation of His life to God that no repetition of it is either necessary or possible: it was offered “once for all.[8]
Bruce and Denny’s commentary are important in light of the attacks occurring on the theology of atonement and in the context of religious evil. First, God’s desire for Old Testament people is not different than His desires for New Testament people.

His desire is that sacrifice be made with a willing heart; the desire to obey God is all-important. In the Old Testament the willing heart was bound-up with the sacrificial animal. However, only Jesus Christ could offer that perfect willing obedience. He made the perfect sacrifice and was the perfect sacrifice.

To eliminate Jesus as sacrifice on the cross is also to destroy the theology of the Old Testament. Christ’s death on the cross was not just the Father’s will it was the “spontaneous choice” of Jesus Christ. Atonement theology is infused with the doctrine of the Trinity. To redo or give up the meaning of the atonement tends to eliminate the Trinity.

The understanding that “the atonement explains the incarnation” clarifies the biblical understanding of God’s purpose in the incarnation. If a theologian says that for our salvation the incarnation “would be enough,” but fails to acknowledge the redemptive purpose of the cross he simply does not understand the biblical view of the incarnation. The biblical statements of the purposes of God concerning the incarnation are very clear.

Peter’s first sermon emphasizes the purpose and meaning of the incarnation in the death of Christ on the cross. “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts2: 23) Furthermore, Paul writes to the Colossians:
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians1: 19-20)
The final important note is that the sacrifice is “once for all.” This also speaks about the God of the Old Testament, who is of course the compassionate God of the New Testament. His grace of redemption covers all of the scripture, both old and new. The scripture confirms all of this:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10)
In the next posting I will look at various theories of atonement and how they should work together. I will also explain why using only an "exampler" theory is damaging to Christian faith.
[6]J. Denny, The Death of Christ, (London: 1951), p131, in F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to The Hebrews, The New International Commentary On The New Testament, reprint, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing 1981) 234.
[7] Ibid, 235.
[8] Ibid. Denny, Death, 131. in, and Bruce, Hebrews, 236.

Picture by Stephen Larson

Monday, October 17, 2011

The redemption of Christ: was his death necessary?

Recently, it has been reported that the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina received a Teaching Elder (minister of Word and Sacrament) who does not believe Jesus died for our sins. This is not unusual in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (See "Did Jesus Die for the Sins of Humanity, Or Not?)

In a similar way, in the Sacramento Presbytery, well over a year ago, we voted for a teaching elder who was uncertain if Christ needed to die. When I asked the Teaching Elder if he believed that the death of Christ was necessary he was unable to answer my question.  I have written elsewhere about this, but as I left the meeting early a retired Teaching Elder, which we had also just voted in, grabbed me by the arm and asked how I would have answered my question. When I said with a “yes,” he started arguing with me. These are just a few examples of a growing problem.

In 2002 I offered a paper for a workshop at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions entitled “The Cross: New Religions, New Theologies and the Only Difference in a Pluralistic Society.” Since that time new books and differing theologians have emerged pushing the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross if instigated by the Father would be child abuse.
One book I recently wrote a review of “Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation,” among its many heresies, defames the atonement of Christ. Another book not nearly so problematic yet still with problems is “Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.” The former book is published by the Westminster John Knox Press, a publishing arm of the PC (U.S.A.).

The problems are immense. I am posting in parts my essay, with the reminder that it was written in 2002.

The Cross: New Religions, New Theologies and the Only Difference in a Pluralistic Society.

Recently, in her address to the 2002 Covenant Conference,[*] Anna Case-Winters, Professor of Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, suggests that for our atonement, “‘The incarnation’ would be enough!” She also advocates for the theological position of Abelard, the medieval scholastic who held a position of atonement referred to as moral influence or example. That is, the death of Christ on the cross becomes an example of the willingness to suffer for others and for that reason Jesus Christ is followed and loved. [1]

Other proponents of this view of the cross and salvation were Socinus, a sixteenth century theologian who also denied the Trinity, and Friedrich Schleiermacher the father of nineteenth century liberal theology. [2]Pelagius is seen as an early anticipation of this view, since he believed humanity capable of living up to God’s requirements of holiness. At present, some contemporary theologians are attempting to get rid of the meaning of the cross in far more radical ways. Delores S. Williams, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, in her book, Sisters in the Wilderness: the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, writes, “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians.”

Going further, Carter Heyward, Professor of Theology at Episcopal Divinity School, pictures atonement on the cross as a feature of a violent aspect of patriarchal Christianity. She writes:
The deity we must reject is the one whose power over us is imagined to be his love, the god who morally can destroy us. Such a concept of deity is evil—a betrayal itself of our power in mutual relation—in a world being torn to pieces by violence done in the names of gods who demand blood sacrifice. Such god-images feed twisted psychospiritualities that normalize sadistic and masochistic dynamics, rape and intimate violence, abuse of children, relationships of domination and control, violence against people and all creatures, and wars justified as holy.

Contrary to these distorted views of the cross and atonement I wish to hold up the orthodox view and show how it is in reality the central difference in a world of diverse religions both old and new. My central theme is that Christ’s atonement on the cross is the place where evil is expelled from religious belief; that where the cross is emphasized in its true biblical meaning there is true transformation.

I also want to emphasize that all religions, including Christianity, hold within their traditions the seeds of evil. Where the cross loses its meaning there Christianity itself stands in danger of being overcome by the evil within humanity. I will begin by examining the biblical and historical views of atonement. I will look at the potential for evil in religion including Christianity and explain the importance of the cross in addressing the new religions and the new theologies of our time.

This entails explaining how Christ’s death on the cross is God’s answer not only for our salvation but cuts through the violence of human attempts to connect with God. I will show how both ruthless violence and sloppy sentimentality in religion are answered by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In the next posting I will look at sacrifice in the Old and New Testaments and how Christians should understand sacrifice.

* The Covenant Network is an independent group within the Presbyterian Church USA whose members advocate for the ordination of LGBTQ persons  and for Progressive Theology.

[1]Anna Case-Winters, “Who Do You Say That I Am? Believing In Jesus Christ in the 21st Century,” Address to the 2002 Covenant Conference, November 9, 2002,

[2]For information on Socinus see: I. Breward, “Socinus and Socinianism,” New Dictionary of Theology, The Master Reference Collection, editors Sinclair B. Ferguson, et al, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press 1988) 649.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My church voted to leave PC (U.S.A.) A reason to hurry away (A correction)

Fremont Presbyterian Church, in Sacramento, voted today to leave the PC (U.S.A.). The vote was 427 to leave and 164 to stay. But a question came up that has been asked before in the forums we attended. Why are the orthodox churches, including Fremont, hurriedly leaving for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church rather than wait for the Fellowship of Presbyterians to form a New Reformed Body connected to the PC (U.S.A.)?

Well, of course, there are technical reasons, such as it will take so long, or it may not even happen if the General Assembly votes it down.
Picture by Ethan McHenry

But in my Presbytery I believe there are other reasons. And I address this because if other Presbyterians and Presbyteries listen in they may begin to understand a little bit some of the discouragements and real concerns among many of the orthodox in the denomination. (But first, as I have explained, ad nauseam, I am not leaving because God has not released me.) Also my explanation focuses on my own presbytery; I just believe it may image other places.

This is the discouragement part and it can only be understood by those who have been a part of Presbytery by being either a Minister of Word and Sacrament or a commissioned Ruling Elder: The utter weariness of fighting battles that contain such a dark side. One can debate or dialogue in good faith still expecting disagreement, and yet to have arguments and decisions mean nothing because of unconstitutional actions destroys all trust.

After the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force recommendations were adopted one of the churches in my Presbytery ordained two gay elders. (This was when we still had a fidelity and chastity clause in the Book of Order) The Sacramento Presbytery sent a committee to look into the matter and make recommendations. The committee ended by sending a letter of apology to the church and when a very faithful pastor complained in presbytery the head of that committee made fun of him on the floor of presbytery. He immediately apologized when many of us more or less booed. (Correction-I removed this last sentence because after doing a great deal of research, speaking to the faithful pastor, and finding no records, I am not sure that the person I linked to is the same person who made fun of the pastor in presbytery. I do not want to slander anyone.)

One of the gay elders, before 10-A was adopted, was elected by our Presbytery to be a commissioner at the General Assembly that voted in 10-A to be voted on by all of the presbyteries. All of this came about, not originally because of voting in the presbytery, but because a committee led by someone who wanted ordination for LGBT people, failed to apply biblical and constitutional correction and instead made fun of those who were concerned about that failure.

This is one evolving instance. There are many others. Another: a church deciding to marry same gender couples when it was lawful in California but still unconstitutional in the PC (U.S.A) - and no-I am not writing about that other person but about my presbytery.

Another is the speech made by one of the members of the discernment team today. He stated that contrary to Fremont the Danville Church in the San Francisco Presbytery had taken 16 months for discernment. He failed to state that part of that time was because an "ecclesiastical litigation was filed by three minister members against the presbytery (not the Danville church directly),complaining that the presbytery was letting the church go under terms that were too lenient. That case is now in mediation." They have been waiting for a long time and under great duress. (I have corrected this section with the help of a friend.-the outcome is the same.)

All of this has to do with the reason that many in leadership in orthodox/evangelical/reformed PC (U.S.A.) churches are inclined to hurry to a place where mission, fellowship and honest love can envelop them rather than fighting wearisome battles whose victory can be so easily thwarted simply by ignoring constitutional laws. This is a plea to all- In Christ’s high priestly prayer he not only called his church to unity but also to truth. Unity without truth would be a false unity—perhaps that is because Jesus is truth.