Thursday, June 30, 2011

How can we find forgiveness from a Holy God": a Muslim Christian debate

At Christian Muslim one can find videos of this year's Muslim Christian debate in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The Christian in this debate is Reformed Baptist Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile who pastors in the Cayman Islands. Anyabwile has taken part in the last six debates. This years subject is "How can we find forgiveness from a Holy God.

You should listen to all of the videos, the debaters are friends and are compassionate and kind to each other. They also are not afraid to say what they believe or where they disagree.

As I was listening to Anyabwile's presentation I thought although this was meant for a Muslim to hear in debate, how good if members of the Presbyterians Church (U.S.A.) could hear this. So while I hope you will go to the site and listen to the whole debate, I am posting the video of Anyabwile giving his main presentation on God's holiness, our sinful nature and God's forgiveness because of Jesus Christ.

The video is about around thirty minutes long-so get a cup of coffee.

2011 Dubai Muslim-Christian Dialogue - Part 3 of 6 - Thabiti's Opening from gdskc on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Church in the world or the world in the Church?

The church in the world or the world in the church-I wonder which way the leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) want it to be? Recently I saw this blog posting, “Churches Could Take a Few Lessons From Gay Pride Festivals & Drum Circles!” I also saw this Advice and Guidance for a Photography Newbie? at Patheos under the Progressive Christian link. I was checking out why someone from that site was showing up on my feed- I never did find out, but I did find the pictures Bruce Reyes-Chow took at the San Francisco Pride Parade.

I remember as Director of Apologetics Resource Center taking our booth out to the Whole Earth Festival at the university in Davis. Yes, we did enjoy the arts and crafts booths, the falafels and even some of the dancing and entertainment as it was emceed by Wavy Gravy. But most of all, and the whole reason we showed up was to be able to talk to so many diverse people about Jesus Christ. I still remember one graduate student who was almost finished with his medical training but also had some other degrees in the humanities. He stood with us, both forcefully and graciously, presenting the gospel. Such fellowship at such times is one of the joys of knowing Jesus Christ.

One year across from our booth was the Hari Krishna booth with their large display of reincarnation. The display is larger than life figures of a man as he grows from childhood to old age, dies (with the skull to let us know) and then begins again to grow into a different life. It was something to shudder about, but also something to prod one on to witness to those who needed the eternal life that Jesus gives. Another memory is of the new age person who pleaded with us not to pray for him, “We would put a curse on him” he said. We prayed for him.

But I began this posting because I am concerned with the kind of friendship with the world that endorses the world and all of their sinful realities. The kind of friendship that says, “Yes, this is what we want.” But it isn’t and here is the reason why. And most have no idea, including Presbyterian leaders, about what I am writing about. The same people who attend the Pride Parade in S.F. also attend, each year another festival. It is an annual one. I did not know about it until I was reading the blogger photo journalist Zombie. She shoots her pictures in S.F. and Berkeley and sometimes writes other places.

I cannot link to this particular posting it might just as well be pornography. It is pornography. Zombie’s title, “Christians Mock Gays at Shocking Easter Service” is a satire and after explaining that and writing that Christians should be allowed to bash gays if the gay community can do this to Christians, she goes on to write that she is a non-believer and that she does not mind the festival just the bigotry toward Christians. Here is some of what she has written about the festival.
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed by now, everything in the report above is the exact opposite of true. Yes, there really was a huge public event in San Francisco on Easter Sunday involving Christians, gays, mockery and humiliation. But it was gays mocking Christians and it involved thousands of people laughing at the Christian “hero,” Jesus.

The event in question is known as the “Hunky Jesus” competition, a semi-serious annual male beauty contest seeking to crown the “hunkiest” — i.e. most sexually appealing — gay (preferably half-nude) Jesus lookalike in San Francisco. Actually, Hunky Jesus is only part of the story; it’s the culmination of a day-long Easter Sunday festival in the city’s Mission Dolores Park. The massive public party/picnic is the closest thing San Francisco has to a municipal Easter celebration, and features several events including an Easter egg hunt for kids, burlesque shows, a campy Easter bonnet contest, musical groups and so on, with Hunky Jesus as the headlining final performance.

As you will soon see in the report below, Hunky Jesus is intentionally as blasphemous as possible, an over-the-top religious-themed sexual beauty contest steeped in mockery of Christians and Christian beliefs. [and it is.]
So please, be careful about letting the world into the church! But please do be Christians in the world giving out the good news of Christ’s life giving death and resurrection.

My husband after reading this posting put up a hymn on facebook because of the feelings the links had provoked in him. The video is very beautiful, the words just right.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jack Haberer's "Memo to the Grieving"

My response to Jack Haberer’s “Memo to the Grieving.”

You are right I am grieving alongside all of the orthodox in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I am so deeply in grief that I sometimes find it hard to write.

But I have been in grief in this denomination before.

I grieve over our careless disregard for unborn babies.

I grieve over our failure to stop the anti-Semitism of the Israel Palestine Mission Network.

I grieve that we fail to discipline those who are ruling elders and elders of word and sacrament who do not believe in the deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, the work of Christ on the cross or even God.

I grieve over unconverted pastors and heretical seminary professors.

I grieve over my own self; my own coldness and carelessness, my desire to run to some safe place, my failure to weep over a dying denomination.

You sound rather harsh but perhaps we/I deserve it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Malachi: images of Jesus

“But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly? says the Lord of hosts. “But now will you not entreat the Lord’s favor, that he may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will he receive any of you kindly?”says the Lord of Host. “Oh that there was one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you, says the Lord of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from you,” says the Lord of hosts. For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, my name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to my name, and a grain offering that is pure, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:8-11)

The text, from Malachi, is from post exilic Israel and is an indictment of the priests for allowing offerings on God’s altar that defiled the altar. The offering was to be pure, and whole. In the text Malachi goes on to tell the priests that they will be carried out with refuse (vomit) on their faces for allowing such offerings. God’s wrath is on the priests. But in the midst of the indictment there is a reference to God’s priest referring back to Levi. The Scripture states:

"My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he referenced me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge , and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is a messenger of the Lord of hosts.”

The reference to Levi is really the picture of an ideal priest. In the text there is a covenant between the ideal priest and God. Joyce g. Baldwin in his Tyndale commentary, using Deut 33:8-11, the blessing of Moses on Levi in his priestly role, and citing W. Eichrodt, points out that in the minds of the people this role and blessing has been elevated to a covenant which includes the whole people. Other scholars attempt to see the priest as Aaron. But neither Levi, Aaron nor the people fit completely the description given in the text.

This priest is a teacher (see Calvin) he worships with truth. He is also a messenger of the Lord of hosts. In Malachi 3:3 the text speaks of a messenger of the covenant who will “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. This is a picture of Christ. He is the reality of Malachi’s images.

Jesus like the messenger of the Lord of hosts in Malachi purifies the sons of Levi and all those who desire to keep covenant with the Lord. He, in the same manner as the God of the Old Testament enters into the events and needs of humanity in order to purify. The wrath of God is still there in the New Testament, but it is placed upon one person, Jesus Christ. That is so repentance and the irrevocability of true life could be in the one who is both God and human. He is the priest who is carried outside the camp not for his distain or arrogance but for the sins of the people. He is also the perfect sacrifice. And not only is he the ideal priest and the perfect sacrifice but now through him the blind, lame and sick can be brought into the presence of God as gifts to God.

In his righteous priesthood, Christ makes all believers, in union with him, priests before God and humanity. They too offer reverence to his name. They, the broken and lame, have perfection in Jesus and are called to live as a sacrifice to the Lord of hosts.

Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ( Romans 12: 1-2)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Office of the General Assembly, Belhar and confessing Christ today

The Office of the General Assembly Of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has released an article written by Sharon Young about the failure of the Belhar Confession. The article entitled, “All but one PC(USA) constitutional amendment headed for approval: Belhar Confession falls short of required two-thirds majority of presbyteries,” fails to acknowledge any reasonable grounds for its failure.

Those Presbyterians who spoke and wrote about some of the problems with Belhar were not quoted in the article, only those who wished it to pass. The article itself is a sign that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), within the Office of the General Assembly, is heavily weighted with progressives who care little for the views of the orthodox in the denomination.

One quote, that “Belhar might not have received sufficient attention in a year when presbyteries were engaged in several substantive discussions around constitutional amendments,” is a disingenuous statement for several reasons. The first being that the votes on all of the three hot items ran about the same, in fact, Charles Wiley coordinator of the Office of Theology and Worship has stated that, “It should be noted that despite the fact that Belhar will not pass, it actually received a higher percentage of votes than either 10-A or nFOG.”

The other is that, with the kind help of Charles Wiley, who was for Belhar and quoted in the article, a long running debate on the resource page of the GAMC continued even after Belhar was defeated. Putting a new confession in our Book of Confessions is very serious and Presbyterians took this action very seriously.

Also, let me state once again, orthodox Christians in the PCUSA applaud the help Belhar was to black South Africans, indeed, help to white South Africans who were sinfully racist. However, many of the orthodox, have rejected Belhar because of it’s emphasis on unity over the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we now exist in a denomination that upholds the morals of the culture over biblical morals, the cry for unity is now a cry for unity around moral failure. Belhar can only aid the disaster.

It should be noted by the OGA that some, including myself, in the PC (U.S.A.) are calling for a new confession. Above all we need once again to confess Jesus Christ. In the midst of our sinful broken culture and our sinful broken denomination which includes all of us, we are called by Christ to a confession of sin but more so to the act of confessing Jesus as our Lord.

Using the good reformed doctrine of our union with Christ, Presbyterian scholar Arthur C. Cochrane writes:
The primary condition of a Confession, the possibility of a Confession, is not that men decide to confess Christ for a variety of reasons—say, for the sake of a Church union—but that Christ for no reason at all, that is, in his sovereign freedom, has decided to confess himself to us. A Confession is Christological not only in the fact that its articles are related to Christ but in the sense that he is the confessor. The Church confesses only in him! The confession occurs not when we think we have discovered the truth, but when the truth has found us.
We should remember that the Declaration of Barmen was never a call to unity around a diversity of theological or ethical opinions. The signers of Barmen were concerned about a unity that upheld biblical and confessional truth. They believed, and it was so, that the German Christians were causing disunity by false doctrine, force and insincere practices. The Confession states:
Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.
The further move to encourage the study of Belhar without any truthful acknowledgement by the leadership of the PCUSA of the true reasons for its rejection by most of those who are orthodox is a further attempt to push on to many what they have rejected. And we have no one to speak up for or even acknowledge the words we have spoken.

We must confess Christ. Some questions by Cochrane are extremely appertain to the position of the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.) today.

Were those terrible yet blessed years of the Church under Hitler a foreshadowing of the destiny of the Church in other lands in this atomic age? [Written in the early sixties] Were they prophetic of a return for us too to a pre-Constantinian, New Testament time of the Church? Are we on the threshold of a day when the Church knows that its only weapon and defense will be its Confession of Faith? Are we conscious of some great heresy by which our Churches are “grievously imperiled” and of some great truth by which we are possessed? Are we prepared to make dogmatic and, much more important, ethical decisions as a Church, and for the sake of them to lose our life in order to find it? Are we really ready for the fearful “either-or” decision involved in a Confession of Faith?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

History, news articles, truth & mercy

By education I am a historian; I have a Master’s degree in history. I also have BAs in Philosophy and Religious Studies as well as 37 units from Fuller Theological Seminary. That is to simply say I am interested in history and faith issues and how they relate to one another. It is also to say that I deplore news articles that fail to be honest about either history or religion. Perhaps that is part of the reason I deplore so many of the news articles the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) link to on their Facebook or place on the front of their web site.[1]

I have just read two articles, (one is an opinion piece the other news) that will never make it to IPMN’s Facebook page. And that despite the fact that they are in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that is often linked to by IPMN. The first is an article by Shlomo Avineri emphasizing the importance of using facts when reporting on historical events. It is entitled, “The Truth Should be Taught About the 1948 War.”

Avineri begins his article:
On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. That is truth, not narrative. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked and destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. That is truth, not narrative.

Of course, there are also narratives. For example, the Germans had quite a few complaints against Poland. First, that in the 1919 Versailles Treaty, the victorious Western powers stripped Germany of territories with a large ethnic German population and annexed them to Poland (the "Polish corridor" ), while declaring Danzig, which had been a German city for generations, an international city. Moreover, Nazi Germany accused the Polish government of discriminating against ethnic Germans under its jurisdiction.

Not every claim in the German narrative was baseless, but the factual truth is clear: On September 1, 1939, it was Germany that attacked Poland, not Poland that attacked Germany.
Avineri goes on to write of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using the same understanding of the difference between narrative and facts. From that he moves to the 1948 War between the Arab States and Israel. While he points out the importance of knowing the Palestinian narrative that involves sorrow and loss he nevertheless reminds the reader:
But above and beyond these claims [by the Palestinians]is the simple fact - and it is a fact, not a "narrative" - that in 1947, the Zionist movement accepted the United Nations partition plan, whereas the Arab side rejected it and went to war against it. A decision to go to war has consequences, just as it did in 1939 or 1941.
That is history and we in the PCUSA need to remind ourselves of that fact every so often. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show mercy to all peoples as well as preach the gospel to them. In order to show mercy or preach the gospel we need to hold on to the historical facts as well as the terrible needs of all in the Middle East.

The other article is about those Jews who were forced from Libya both during the Nazi years of Germany and during the birth of modern Israel. The article by the The Associated Press, is entitled “Libya fighting stirs memories of country’s Jewish past.”

The article begins:
What was once the most beautiful synagogue in Libya's capital city can now be entered only by sneaking through a hole smashed in a back wall, climbing over dusty trash and crossing a stairwell strewn with abandoned shoes to a space occupied by cooing pigeons.

The synagogue, Dar al-Bishi, was once the center of a prosperous Jewish community, one whose last remnants were expelled decades ago in the early days of Muammar Gadhafi's regime.
The authors trace the history of the Jewish community in Libya going back to its beginning. In doing so they also trace the Libyan Jews' particular persecution. They write:
Jews first arrived in what is now Libya some 2,300 years ago. They settled mostly in coastal towns like Tripoli and Benghazi and lived under a shifting string of rulers, including Romans, Ottoman Turks, Italians and ultimately the independent Arab state that has now descended into civil war.

Some prospered as merchants, physicians and jewelers. Under Muslim rule, they saw periods of relative tolerance and bursts of hostility. Italy took over in 1911, and eventually the fascist government of Benito Mussolini issued discriminatory laws against Jews, dismissing some from government jobs and ordering them to work on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest.

In the 1940s, thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa where hundreds died. Some were deported to concentration camps in Germany and Austria.

Their troubles didn't end with the war. Across the Arab world, anger about the Zionist project in Palestine turned Jewish neighbors into perceived enemies. In November 1945, mobs throughout Libya went on a three-day rampage, burning down Jewish shops and homes and killing at least 130 Jews, among them three dozen children.
This is a particular story but not unique. In almost all Arab nations the Jews were persecuted and in one way or another exiled during the birth of Israel. The article emphasized the feelings of the descendents of the Libyan Jewish community and their thoughts on returning to their homeland as they watch and listen to the news and the possibility.

My interest is that we have a page in the PCUSA that tells the facts of history for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. If that actually happened we would then be able to make polity suggestions that would be rooted in history and draped in mercy.

[1] Just as I was posting this and went back to pick up the link for the IPMN, I discovered that they had linked once again to Veterans Today a vile anti-Semitic site that even the The Southern Poverty Law blog “Hate Watch” dislikes and has written about. See, "Buyer Beware: Veterans Today and its Anti-Israel Agenda."

Several streams of concern and enthusiasm

Once again looking at an old post to see what someone else was reading, I found a song and a quote that are even more meaningful in the present. I will place them at the end of this posting.

In the now early days of the removal of sexual standards from the first half of the constitution of the PCUSA, I see several streams of concern and enthusiasm arising in the denomination at the moment.

1. The orthodox are gathering toward each other with some sense of a deeper love for one another and an understanding that God’s calling to them may be to be in different places. But their centrality no matter any differences is in Jesus Christ as Lord and the authority of his word. There is no question about who is Lord. While there are complex issues, and anxiety, there is confidence in the sovereignty of the Lord.

I believe the orthodox are finding their feet and will find the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to and through them as they stand on the authority of scripture and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

2. On the other hand there is already a move by the progressive people in the PCUSA which will further divide members of the denomination. Recently Presbyterian Voices for Justice web site advertised their conference at Ghost Ranch this summer which will be led by Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith editors of Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love. I wrote about the book at Amendment 10-A& the monstrosity that is coming.

The conference will include the 1991 sexuality report rejected by that GA, as well as such issues as gay marriage. The blurb on the Ghost Ranch site includes this, “This seminar will be welcoming of all perspectives and experiences, and will be designed to maximize participation of those who attend. Sessions will prioritize discussion of these issues, and participants will be invited to share their insights about the ongoing personal, social, and ecclesiastical quest for an "ethical eroticism," one that deepens self-respect and strengthens inclusive, radically hospitable communities.”

Every advocate group for GLBTQ persons has made announcements or placed sermons in such a way that one sees the future quite plainly. Celebrations on the 10th of July:

Create a Celebration on Sunday, July 10. The Presbyterian Church (USA) passed Amendment 10-A which removes barriers to ordination for LGBT people. Mark this historic moment in the life of the Church and your local congregation by opening your service with a celebration. This can be a procession or a "minute for mission" where congregants share the importance of this Presbyterian action and what it means to you. Work with us to generate interest among journalists so the stories get out to the whole world. Consider a procession of rainbow banners, scarves or balloons at the start of the worship service so the reporter can get a photo and not disturb the rest of the service. Interviews can be held at another time. We will provide you with a template for a media alert that you can send to the religion reporter from your local newspaper. Just register your celebration below and we will be in touch!

Michael Adee"
The push for same gender marriage,

Insistence on unity and radical diversity at the same time, jeers for those who wish to maintain a biblical and orthodox safe place or to protect their sheep are constant themes on progressive web sites, blogs and tweets.

And yet from another of my postings:

Are all the foes of Sion fools,
Who thus devour her saints?
Do they not know her Savior rules,
And pities her complaints?

They shall be seized with sad surprise;
For God’s revenging arm
Scatters the bones of them that rise
To do His children harm.

And Karl Barth about what the confessing churches of Germany needed to do and know. And so do we.

"Of course something has to be done; very much so; but most decidedly nothing other than this, viz. that the Church congregations be gathered together again, but aright and anew in fear and great joy, to the Word by means of the Word. All the crying about and over the Church will not deliver the Church. When the Church is a Church she is already delivered. Let persecution be never so severe, it will not affect her! 'Still,' it is said, 'Still, shall the City of God abide, lusty beside her tiny stream.' (Psalm xlvi. 5; Luther's translation.)"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our Lord Jesus Christ

“Paul, called as the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:1-10)

"And O that all to whom Christ is dear, would study to exalt and honor him ....

By frequent and delightful speaking of him and for him. When Paul had once mentioned his name, he knows not how to part with it, but repeats it no less than ten times in the compass of ten verses. 1 Cor.1:1-10. It was Lambert’s motto, ‘None but Christ, none but Christ.” It is said of Johannes Milius, that after his conversion he was seldom or never observed to mention the name of Jesus but tears would drop from his eyes; so dear was Christ to him. Mr. Fox never denied any beggar that asked alms in Christ’s name, or for Jesus’ sake. Julius Palmer, when all concluded he was dead, being turned as black as coal, at last moved his scorched lips, and was heard to say, ‘Sweet Jesus,’ and fell asleep.” (The Fountain of Life by John Flavel)

Friday, June 17, 2011

"A Joyful Path," The Center for Progressive Christianity, Yogananda and Presbyterian children Update

A new curriculum for Sunday school children has been developed by The Center for Progressive Christianity. It is mainly written by Lorna Knox who is on staff at the Ananda Temple and Teaching Center in Portland Oregon. After looking at the curriculum, which includes religious information for both the teacher and children, it is clear that the material is religiously aligned with the teaching of the Ananda Temple which is a part of the Self-Realization Fellowship connected to the teachings of Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. The religious viewpoint of the material, “A Joyful Path,” is a form of Hinduism.

Among mainline denominations at least two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches are using the materials. (In all fairness they may not realize where the material is actually coming from.)The Self Realization Fellowship has always insisted that they uphold all faiths but their teachings are always akin to Hinduism as can be seen by reading the children’s curriculum.

In sample material (Year 1 of the Inner Wisdom series) on CPC’s site, the first lesson, “The Nameless One: Who or What is God?” guides the children as well as the teacher in affirming that all is god. Knox writes:
There is another way of thinking about God and prayer. [Instead of as a personal entity] It is the way of Jesus. Jesus spoke in Aramaic. When he taught people about the “kingdom of heaven/God,” when he told them they would “see” God, when he spoke to them about being “children of God,” when he taught them the prayer we know as “Our Father who art in heaven,” his listeners did not hear “God” as if God were a deity far removed from them. They heard Jesus speaking of “God” as “Breath,” “Oneness,” and “Unity” resonating all throughout the universe.

The author goes on to explain that Jesus, urged his listeners to be attentive to this presence which he named, in accord with his religious tradition, Divine Breath, the One, and Unity present in our breathing, in our words, and in our loving.”

The children are told the story of the elephant that is touched in different parts by different blind people so each person understands the elephant in a different way. In this adapted story the blind are children. Sadly the children hearing the story are led to believe that it is okay to understand who God is in different ways.

The 5th lesson, “God in Nature,” more clearly affirms the pantheistic or panentheistic view of the curriculum’s author. For the teacher, Knox writes:
The natural world constantly offers opportunities to experience the presence of spirit in endless variation. Nature is one of the most clear and obvious manifestations of God in our universe.The variety we see in the natural world — in the plants, animals, insects, birds, and water creatures — shows us that spirit is not limited in form or expression. The world around us continually speaks of the presence of spirit in all forms and every setting.
One of the questions asked of the children is, “Do you feel there is a Spirit in parts of nature?”

The 19th lesson “Dangerous Trips Willpower” begins with this, “Applying our willpower to achieve goals is really a discovery of the divine power and guidance that lies within all creation. We discover that willingness opens the gate to infinite possibilities.” The author gives the teacher exercises to bring about a goal. She writes:
Turn your responses into a personal visualization. Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take a few breaths to calm your mind. Visualize yourself in the situation. For a moment, watch what is happening, noticing any obstacles or challenges that arise. Feel your willingness cooperate with your divine inner power. See yourself applying willpower to bring the situation to a positive conclusion or resolution. Observe the results manifesting in your life. Notice how using your willpower positively affects the situation and other people who may be involved.
Sadly, the children’s story connected to this lesson is of the slave Harriet Tubman who helped so many of her fellow slave’s escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. A beautiful story used in a very bad way.

The exercise for the teacher in lesson 20 like the one above is outrageous in a Christian setting. It is about fear and supposedly offers a way to get beyond fear:
While mentally standing on the continuum, take several deep breaths. With each breath, allow yourself to connect to the divine within. You may visualize the light around yourself growing brighter, or you may feel increased wellbeing and confidence. Maybe you will sit up a little straighter or feel a smile coming to your face.
All of the descriptions’ and quotes are to demonstrate that the lessons are not progressive in the manner that one thinks of progressive in the post-modern age. Instead the children’s lessons with the teacher’s guides are rehashed eastern religion and religious views from the 20th century New Age movement. But they are something more. They are deceptive tracts bent on introducing both the teacher and the child to the idea that we all have God within and we just need to meditate, think hard, etc. and we can connect with our inner divinity.

God is everywhere but not everything. As the book of Romans in the New Testament puts it God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature are known as one looks at and explores the created world. But God is not nature. A flower is not an expression of the Holy Spirit. And there is only one way to know this mighty, creator God, that is, through the eternal Son. Not willpower, but surrender to the one who suffered for us on the cross.

As the PCUSA and other mainline denominations fall deeper into a bed of idolatry our children, all children, need to be covered with prayer, fed scripture, protected with love.

Update: I wrongly wrote the Self-Relization Foundation, when I meant the Self-Realization Fellowship. (A thank you to Rich Poll of Apologia for seeing my mistake)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lowered standards, lowered Christology

The Covenant Network which has worked for years to lower ordination standards in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has posted a Pentecost sermon which lifts up pluralism while ignoring the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The biblical standard that Jesus Christ is the one Lord, the only way to the Father is forgotten. And with that it seems there is an intentional slamming of the door against any theological synod for the orthodox in the PCUSA. The sermon is “Communion of the Different” by The Rev. Dr. David A. Van Dyke, pastor of The House of Hope in Minneapolis Minnesota.

The sermon is a Pentecost sermon and its first focus is on the many different nationalities and ethnicities in Jerusalem on the day the Holy Spirit filled the disciples. Van Dyke uses this as a plea for pluralism and quotes Diana Eck, writing that she “cautions against tactics of religious conversion” and “argues that followers of America’s traditional religions, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism, need to open paths of understanding to different cultures and faiths because no longer are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jains living on the other side of the world, they’re living on your street.”

Van Dyke goes on to write:
She also argues that accepting as legitimate the beliefs of others deepens one’s own faith rather than endangering it or diminishing it, and that increasing one’s understanding doesn’t mean leaving your religion at the door or discarding it, rather it’s about affirming a commitment to live together and to respect one another.
We certainly must understand other faiths. How can we rightly present the good news if we are unable to speak to another’s faith and culture? However the misunderstanding here is that tolerance and freedom means “accepting as legitimate the beliefs of others,” when instead it should be accepting as legitimate the right of others to hold the beliefs they hold.

As Christians we cannot view other faiths as legitimate unless we forfeit the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life,” that only in him we have redemption.(John 14:6) Buddha cannot be Lord if Jesus is Lord. Krishna cannot be a true incarnation if Jesus Christ is the unique Incarnation. Mohammad cannot be the true prophet of God if he taught that Jesus was not God, did not die on the cross and was not bodily resurrected.

Van Dyke uses pluralism to introduce a new thing into the Church. He writes, “The coming of the Spirit is known when new speech is heard for the first time—when people begin to hear things differently than the way they’ve always heard them. When those who had been strangers are suddenly seen and understood in a new and different light. When understanding develops as a result of real listening.”

Hearing new things and understanding things in new ways is not the sign of the coming of the Spirit. Over a hundred years ago, self-styled metaphysical Christianity, Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity and Science of Mind, introduced the idea of new spiritual understandings into liberal Protestantism. The ideas were resisted but today when so many are equating sexual deviance with God’s new word they are returning. But, rather then a new thing, the Holy Spirit always lifts up Jesus Christ. The Spirit always turns the Church’s attention to Jesus as he is known in the Old and New Testaments.

Van Dyke also uses pluralism to insist on conformity to Presbyterian polity in the midst of lowered standards. He states that he and other progressive leaders will be meeting with a group from the new Presbyterian Fellowship. However, he is not open to what he considers an isolated position for the orthodox. He writes:
This week a small group of us in the more progressive stream of the Church will be meeting with seven Presbyterian ministers who represent the more conservative stream of the Church and who are among the most vocal critics of the recent decision on ordination and who are now the most fearful about the Church’s future.
Van Dyke writes that he does not understand these Christians. He believes that any grouping of like mindedness would be “utterly dull and unhealthy.” Van Dykes’ idea of the Church has to do with difference. His foundation is diversity. He writes:
Diversity doesn’t mean that anything goes as some fear, but neither does unity mean that there is only one true expression of faith, as some claim. God’s grand creation is simply too large, too diverse and too mysterious for anyone to claim with much certainty anything that sounds exclusionary. It’s why someone once said that all good theologians know when to mumble.
This is not Christianity and notice in a sermon about ‘the Spirit’ and the ‘Church,’ one does not hear the name of Jesus Christ used in a devotional way except at the end of a prayer and in the words of Wendell Berry. But Christ is the foundation; he brings unity; he holds his Church together. Those who rest in faith in Christ are diverse but they do hold a common faith in the Lord of the Church. And they know no other Lord, only Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Monday, June 13, 2011

2 Peter 2, false teaching & the Church

“The bond of holy unity is the simple truth of God, and whenever that is discarded nothing remains but disintegration.” John Calvin

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many well follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and there destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 1-3)

Heresy; does the word of God speak too harshly to those who push false teaching onto the Church? D.M. Lloyd-Jones writes of 2 Peter 2,
Of all the chapters which are to be found in the entire Bible, this second chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter is among the most terrible. For threatening, for warning, for the idea of doom and disaster and destruction, there is nowhere in the Holy Writ itself, anything which surpasses this particular chapter.
Lloyd-Jones goes on to explain that the Church is involved in a great battle, God’s battle with Satan for the souls of humanity. And he emphasizes that one defense is to be aware that the greatest danger to the Church comes from false teachers and false prophets. He insists that because of this, and so does the whole New Testament, we must know the difference between truthfulness and falsehood.

I am looking at this text because someone in the comment section of my last blog posting commented using some of this text. And someone else objected to it believing it was awful to refer to another person, in this case radical Catholic feminist Joan Chittister, using this particular text. But two extremely important truths are in question here.

The authority of scripture is the first truth. We can pass over the words and ignore them if the scripture has no authority, but in doing so we will also pass over the great grace of the one who died on the cross for the sinner. The falsehood always has to do with Christology. We will have considered God’s truth in Jesus Christ unworthy of our defense. We will mock God because he defends his own truth.

God’s care of his people is the second. The Scripture speaks of Jesus Christ and his people before the foundation of the world; chosen “to be holy and blameless.” (Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 17-21)Satan hates Jesus, he hates those who love and belong to him. And deception is the great enemy Satan aims at the Church. Deception destroys the gift of grace. Who can know Jesus minus the forgiveness and love of the Father through Jesus death and resurrection? Who can know Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s gift of illumination? False teachers destroy the truth of Scripture.

John Calvin points out that in this same chapter Peter shows God’s care for his people. He uses the story of Noah and Lot; two persons who were helped while living in the midst of evil cultures which were given over to falseness and sensuality. And Calvin makes the point that until the day of God’s judgment, he did not remove either Lot or Noah from their culture but kept them steady and faithful in the midst of such evil. God’s care for his Church involves both love and in the end wrath.

“But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children forsaking the right way ….

These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desire, by sensuality those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for what a man is overcome by this he is enslaved. (12-15a; 17-190)

These words are the offending words that bother many. But remember these words are not spoken about those in the world, who need the good news, but those in the Church who are attempting to destroy the good news of both forgiveness and transformation. The false teachers in this text were involved in false teaching that included both a distortion of the good news and a promise of the supposed freedom of hedonism. (They of course need the good news also but have rejected it.)

Without the good news of forgiveness there is no salvation. Without the good news of transformation there is no new life or true freedom. Michael Green in his commentary on 2 Peter looking at this text refers to the two contrasting but similar claims made by Peter and the heretics. Using Käsemann he writes:
Their [the heretics]mistake is to confuse the thrill of animal instinct with the presence of the Holy Spirit-for it is very likely that those advocates of Christian liberty were loud in their claims to fullness of the Holy Spirit. … The heretics have claimed to have “knowledge”, to have the Spirit who gave liberty (both from ecclesiastical discipline and moral restraint) which they prized; they regarded the orthodox as devoid of the Spirit. On the contrary, Peter seems to say, the Spirit manifests his presence not by ecstatic thrills and insubordinate action but through moral renewal. … Peter, like the rest of the New Testament writers, emphasizes that Christianity is inescapably ethical. You cannot have relationship with a good God without becoming a better man.
There has never been a time in the history of the Church when there was not a battle between falsehood and truth. But the battle belongs to the Lord of the Church. We may complain and rant against the word of God, but the one who paid the ultimate price in the battle is alive and will return. The victory belongs to him as does the judgment. Christ will keep his Church in his truth.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Holy Spirit: the third person of the Trinity or an embodiment of the life force of the universe?

A prayer for Pentecost by the Catholic radical feminist Joan Chittister was recently placed on the Facebook page for That All May Freely Serve. Chittister begins with an introduction, “The Holy Spirit embodies the life force of the universe, the power of God, the animating energy present in all things and captured by none.” She goes on in the prayer to say:

"May the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
bring fire to the earth
so that the presence of God
may be seen
in a new light,
in new places,
in new ways.

May our own hearts
burst into flame
so that no obstacle,
no matter how great,
ever obstructs the message
of the God within each of us."

The view that the Spirit “embodies the life force of the universe” is either pantheistic or panentheistic, making the Holy Spirit an embodiment of an impersonal force. The Father becomes the life force and Jesus is simply someone who has somehow gained a greater measure of the force or the animating energy present in the universe. Our redemption is shattered on the hard rock of gaining for ourselves this spirit in the same manner that Jesus supposedly did.

How different the biblical view of the Holy Spirit. How different the blessed work of the third person of the Trinity. Andrew Purves and Charles Partee in their book Encountering God: Christian Faith in Turbulent Times write of that work in the chapter, “The Communion of the Holy Spirit.” They write:
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity through whom Jesus Christ is present within history drawing Christians to and binding them to himself, to share in his communion with the Father, and leading them to participate in his “horizontal” ministry to the least of the brothers and sisters (Matt. 25:31f). The Spirit is the means by which Christians are ‘grafted’ into Christ (Rom. 11:17), by which Christians “put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) In the Spirit we participate in the holiness of Jesus Christ. In the Spirit Christians can be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit is none other than the Spirit of Christ, alive and reigning in power to the glory of God the Father.
The authors go on to write of how Christians through the Holy Spirit are united to Jesus Christ. Using John Calvin’s Institutes they write “Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ brings us into union with himself, so to share in his own life before and from the Father.”

Through the Holy Spirit we are always united to Jesus Christ and always before the Father. And all of this is a gift given because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is not impersonal; it is about a person, the Holy Spirit who is God. Pentecost is relational; it is about our relationship, not with the universe, but the God of the universe. Pentecost is redemptive; we are united by the Holy Spirit to Jesus and stand before the Father robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is the Holy Spirit speaking only one message, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The story of Jesus worthy of tears, dancing and "holy profanity!"

Richard Wurmbrand, the Romanian pastor who spent many years in prison during the Soviet occupation of his country tells the wonderful story of a Russian soldier who hears for the first time the story of Jesus. Wurmbrand writes:
I read to him the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus. After hearing them, he danced around the room in rapturous joy proclaiming, “What a wonderful beauty! How could I live without knowing this Christ!” It was the first time that I saw someone so joyful in Christ.

Then I made a mistake. I read to him the passion and crucifixion of Christ, without having prepared him for this. He had not expected it and, when he heard how Christ was beaten, how He was crucified and that in the end He died, he fell into an armchair and began to weep bitterly. He had believed in a Savior and now his Savior was dead!

I looked at him and was ashamed. I called myself a Christian, a pastor, and a teacher of others, but I had never shared the sufferings of Christ as this Russian officer now shared them. …

Then I read him the story of the resurrection and watched his expression change. He had not known that his Savior arose from the tomb. When he heard this wonderful news, he beat his knees and swore—using very dirty, but very “holy” profanity. … He is alive! He is alive! He danced around the room once more, overwhelmed with happiness.
I love this story for several reasons including the fact that one who did not know this glorious news found so much joy in Jesus. I also love it because it reminds me of a little boy I once had in my good news club so many years ago. That was a Bible story telling time for neighborhood children. If you remember the old fashioned flannel graph cutouts of Bible stories, we used those to tell the story.

One little boy was just that excited (Well he didn’t cuss or dance) when I told the Easter story because he had never heard it before. He prayed with me to accept Jesus as his Savior. And then every time we met he insisted on accepting Jesus and I couldn’t understand why until it dawned on me that he also had never experienced praying and he simply wanted to pray. So we talked about praying and how he could talk to Jesus any time he wanted to. Sometimes we forget that that is also a gift of redemption.

“Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil that is his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful …”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Confessing Church in Germany & the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.)

Many orthodox Christians, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in conversation with one another, find themselves often referring to the Confessing Church of Germany. The analogy, while not complete, is nonetheless helpful.

German Christians took their theological and political position by reinterpreting scripture, insisting some scripture was less than the word of God and claiming new revelation. They promoted nationalism, anti-Semitism and a Christianity that fit their cultural milieu. The Progressives of today have on the whole reinterpreted scripture, they insist that some scripture texts are not useful or relevant and they often refer to the new thing that God is doing or to God’s on going revelation. With this ‘new revelation’ they are aligning the denomination with the decadent morals of western culture. Using Kyle Jantzen’s book Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany I want to show how the analogy is possible and then at the end offer some lessons the orthodox might draw from Janzen’s history.

Kyle Jantzen in his book looks at three local parishes in Nazi Germany. He reveals the battles that were fought between local members of the Confessing Church and German Christians. As someone has pointed out it was messy. The Confessing Churches in many cases were churches within churches. Confessing pastors and members often fought very personal battles, some with their parishioners standing behind them, some with moderate leadership protecting them. And discernment often failed.

One very radical German Christian pastor was accepted in a parish because his candidacy sermon seemed biblical and he used the Apostles Creed and the trinitarian version of the invocation. The author writes, “It soon came to light that Pastor Gille was in fact from the extreme racial wing of the German Christians. He had in the past regularly deviated from the Apostle’s Creed because he did not fully subscribe to it and generally conducted syncretistic German Christian religious celebrations rather than the prescribed services of the Old Prussian Union Church.” The protest from parishioners reveals the heretical views of the German Christians.

In the petitions against the German Christian pastor many of the complaints were about his lack of orthodoxy. Jantzen writes, “One accused Gille of neglecting to preach about Jesus Christ, of belittling God by conflating divine and human faithfulness, and of emphasizing human obedience as the way to God rather than Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection.” On the other hand those pastors who were faithful to biblical and confessional standards continually spoke the truth, refused to cooperate with higher church bodies and worked to protect their parishioners.

One particular Pastor, Herbert Posth of Berge, refused to send money to higher church organizations, refused to handover his parish responsibilities to German Christian leadership and fought continuously to keep German Christian pastors out of other confessing churches. Posth used his vow of ordination including the upholding of biblical and confessional truth as his foundational reason for his faith stand. Other Confessing pastors ministering at the local level struggled in the same way. All of them in the end, as the struggle continued, insisted that it was the German Christians who had become the false Church and that they themselves were the true church which upheld the Bible and the Confessions.

Some local pastors and leaders were never members of the Confessing Church but because of their orthodoxy protected those pastors who were a part of the Confessing Church. Such non-Confessing pastors detested the German Christians because of their heretical views and because of their aggressive political manipulative activism. Jantzen writes of one such pastor and leader, Ulrich Bettac.

Bettac, as Jantzen points out, used three means of stopping the aggressive takeover of his district. The author writes: “by advancing pastoral candidates who would support the Confessing Church in their parishes, by transforming the divisive monthly pastoral conferences into informal ‘brotherly get-togethers’ which drew in neutral and Confessing Church clergy, and by opposing German Clergy in interpersonal conflicts among pastors in the Nauen district.” There are some important points here.

Bettac intentionally stayed with the Prussian Church government rather then join the Confessing Church which rejected the church government. However, Bettac referred to the ‘brotherly get-togethers’ as confessional church convents. He only invited those who were neutral or confessing church pastors, that is those who actually rejected his leadership. And he chastised confessing church pastors because they did not nominate their members to the synod which would have prevented the German Christians from taking over the synod. On the other hand, without the Confessing Church, there would have been no formal protest against the German Christians.

In all of the above I believe there are lessons:

• The Confessing Church in Germany lived in messy times-so do we and that is not unusual-read some Reformation history.

• The local Confessing Church pastors and elders stood on their ordination vows, the Bible and the Confessions. That was their foundation. Sometimes they lost their churches and/or went to jail, sometimes they won.

• Those pastors who had parishioners in agreement with them were helped by them. Your church cannot help you if they don’t know what is going on. Neither will they know how to help if they have not been taught the essentials of the faith. Teach the Bible and the Confessions.

Not giving money to higher denominational bodies which advocate for heretical views was and is important. Where your heart is there will your treasure be.

• Discernment. Discernment. Discernment. Ask questions.

• Do not speak against those you know to be theologically orthodox just because they stay in full fellowship in the PCUSA. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.

• Do not speak against those you know to be theologically orthodox, who join, if possible, theological synods or presbyteries. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.

• Do not speak against those who you know to be theologically orthodox who leave the PCUSA. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.

• The Confessing Church had a particular confession which confessed Christ in the midst of claims of new revelation. In the midst of new claims to new revelation we also need a new confession; we need to once again confess Christ.

• Rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A battle with rest

Returning to Sacramento from Virginia this Friday I flew out of Richmond. Just as we were to board an announcement came that a formal military service was going to occur on the tarmac because a fallen solder was being transferred from the plane to a hearse. Many of us stood at the large windows in the airport watching while we waited to board. The soldier had died in Afghanistan. One could not help thinking of battles, sadness and sacrifice as we all stood watching.

One great and perfect solder fought a battle to the death for his people. But in his resurrection he won over the curse of death and hell; for his people they are no longer the chains that drag the soul down. Instead they are given rest in the everlasting arms of God.

The Puritan writer Richard Baxter wrote:

“Christian, believe this, and think on it: thou shalt be externally embraced in the arms of that love which was from everlasting, and will extend to everlasting—of that love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from the grave to glory—that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spit upon, crucified, pierced—which did fast, pray, teach, heal, weep, sweat, bleed, die; that love will eternally embrace thee. When perfect created love and most perfect uncreated love meet together, it will not be like Joseph and his brethren, who lay upon one another’s necks weeping; it will be loving and rejoicing, not loving and sorrowing. Yes, it will make Satan’s court ring with the news that Joseph’s brethren are come, that the saints are arrived safe at the bosom of Christ, out of reach of hell for ever. Nor is there any such love as David’s and Jonathan’s breathing out its last into sad lamentations for a forced separation. Know this believer, to thy everlasting comfort, if those arms have once embraced thee, neither sin nor hell can get thee thence for ever.” (The Saints Everlasting Rest)

Because we are his we are also called into his battle; amazing, the battle that he has already fought and won we find ourselves in the middle of. We are fighting in a battle that has already been won; one that can never be lost. We may be at peace and rest in the midst of every trial.