Monday, November 28, 2011

Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 2

Stephen Sizer: A warrior against Christian Zionism

This is a continuation of my analysis of Stephen Sizer’s paper, “Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist’s Assumptions." Sizer whose specialty is critiquing Christian Zionism is a popular speaker at pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel conferences such as Christ at the Checkpoint. He is the first person whose theology I am analyzing with my series Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 1. With this posting I will look at the next three Christian Zionist’s assumptions that Sizer lists and critiques. This is my response to both the assumptions and Sizer’s critique. Continuing from the last posting the third assumption is:

3. The Promised Land was given by God to the Jewish people as an everlasting inheritance.

Sizer uses Ezekiel 33:24-26, 28-29, 47:21-23 and Hebrews 11:9-10, 39-40 to refute the assumption. Sizer’s first thought on this is “Contrary to popular assumption, the Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence is always conditional.” He is not wrong, that is scriptural, Ezekiel 33:24-26. But his thoughts are too wooden. It is God’s land, but it is also, because it has been given, land that belongs to the ancient Israelites. Truth told, all that any of us own belongs to God, and when we misuse it God may meet us in judgment. So it isn’t a case of either or, but of both.

Like the above there are all kinds of category problems in Sizer’s thinking. The ancient land of Israel was God’s but he did give it as an inheritance to the Israelites. Yes it did depend on a covenant and the obedience of the people, but it was given to Israel not to another ethnic group. Yes, God told the Israelites “to allot it [the land] as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” But that was nonetheless based on God’s gift of land to the ancient Israelites and not to another people. The verse does not prove that God didn’t give them the land.

Sizer also uses the New Testament book of Hebrews to prove that the ultimate goal of Abraham was not the land but a spiritual relationship with God. He writes, “Indeed, the writer to Hebrews explains that the land was never their ultimate desire or inheritance any way but a temporary residence until the coming of Jesus Christ.” This is true, the land was not their ultimate desire, but the text states that they lived in tents “in the promised land.” Abraham longed for the City without foundations but he nevertheless lived in the land promised to his descendents. This too is not an either or, it is both. The Promised Land does not necessarily end with the first coming of Jesus Christ, although he is the fulfillment of the promises.

In fact, we as Christians have many promises and gifts now, but it is the Lord himself that we desire. It is our eternal relationship with him that we value and we give up all, in order to gain him. But still that does not cancel out his promises or gifts, or as C.S. Lewis called them “many pleasant inns.”

The truth of the matter is that in later Jewish tradition “the celestial Jerusalem was shown in a vision to Abraham at the scene of Gn 15 9-21 (Apoc. Bar. 4 4).” [1] Both Judaism and Christianity claim earthly promises and a final new heaven and new earth. Sizer’s category mistakes are abundant.

Having shown where Sizer fails, I will now suggest that God has graciously placed the Jewish people back in their ancient homeland today. I do not think as Christians we can tie any prophecy to the event except to say God is gracious to his people, the Jews. Nor, can we predict the future for the modern State of Israel. But what we must do as Christians towards the Jews, including the State of Israel, is love, treat them fairly, have humility in the face of our past wrongs and stand against any anti-Semitism which includes post-modern anti-Zionism. This includes telling the truth about the history of the State of Israel including the sins of both sides.

The 4th Christian Zionist assumption is:

4. Jerusalem is the exclusive and undivided, eternal Capital of the Jewish people.

First we should look at this from the Jewish point of view. The Jewish State of Israel undoubtedly wants Jerusalem as its capital. That is understandable. Whether it is possible, and how it can be fairly accomplished is another question. On one side there are issues of Israel’s defense, and on the other fairness to Islamic and Christian citizens. These are complex issues that must eventually be worked out but they are not, from a Reformed position, worked out in Scripture.

The Western Christian has no right, on biblical grounds, to insist on Jerusalem as an undivided Capital of the Jewish people. The Western Christian has no right, on biblical grounds, to insist that Jerusalem should not be an undivided Jewish Capital. We belong to a heavenly Jerusalem and a heavenly King who will return. The physical city of Jerusalem is not ours, it does not figure into the promises that God has given us.

But Sizer while holding the traditional Christian view that we belong to a heavenly Jerusalem, insists on saying what a Jewish State should do about its ancient Holy City. He simply cannot have it both ways. Sizer quotes Psalm 87. If he sees in the Psalm a picture of the Church, as I do, then he cannot lay that picture over the ancient city of Jerusalem. He can only make God’s love for the ancient city a picture of the Father’s love for those who reside in Jesus. Today the real issues are about fairness and safety, security and even history.

The fifth assumption is:

5. The Jewish Temple must be rebuilt before Jesus returns.

To be fair, I need to point out that in most cases this is not a true statement of what Christian Zionists believe. Victor Styrsky is a friend of mine. He is a Christian Zionist who works with and for John Hagee. While we disagree on a lot, what he has written in his book, Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered, shows that that 5th assumption is wrong. Styrsky writes:
Evangelicals [insert Christian Zionists here] have no eschatological teaching (End of Days theology) that requires all Jews to be back in the land of Israel for a Messianic visitation. Neither do evangelical Christians believe that there is anything we can do to hasten the return (or first visit, as my Jewish friends believe) of Messiah.

Evangelical Christian theology concerning the coming of Messiah is fairly unified on the following points:

1. A date for the event has already been secured.
2. Only God the Father knows the time.
3. The coming Messiah is imminent.
The assumption Sizer has listed is not correct. But I need to add something more which my friend, Styrsky, may or may not agree with. Biblically, for the Christian, a Temple does not to be built at all. Jesus Christ is the temple and the sacrifice as well as the high Priest. And he is perfect in all of those ways. The Jews may build a Temple but it does not affect what God has planned. The temple and the sacrifices were a shadow of what God was doing. They were a promise of the coming Messiah, his life, death and resurrection. The Jews, in faithfulness looked toward the promises. We look back to their fulfillment in Christ.

So here is a good thing about Christian Zionists. They are not doing what they are doing to fulfill prophecy but because they love the Jews. Even when I disagree with their theology, I respect their motives. Sizer quotes 1 Peter 2:5-7, a beautiful verse “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” But I must say that part of that offering of spiritual sacrifices to God means truthfulness and humility.

In my next posting I will look at the last two Christian Zionists assumptions, Sizer’s critique of them and his connections to the wider world of anti-Semitism.

[1] Found in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the old and New Testaments: A Critical and exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, James Moffatt, later edition, (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark 1963) 170.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 1

I am beginning a series that will  focus on those Christian writers and speakers who are currently involved in pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel organizations, conferences, films and in many cases have written books. I am writing this series for several reasons. It is now clear that several well known Reformed and Evangelical pastors and leaders have begun circulating within these conferences as speakers themselves. 

Undoubtedly some neither understand the theological implications nor do they grasp some of the more anti-Semitic connections that they are involved in. Besides the first concern is the sorrow of watching this movement grow within my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My focus will be on the theological views of various leaders within the movement but at the end of each analysis of an author I will, if necessary, point out their connections to the wider world of anti-Semitism.

I am writing this, not as a Christian Zionist, but as Reformed and Evangelical. I invite my friends who are Christian Zionist to comment and correct me if I misunderstand their biblical or even political positions. I also invite my Jewish friends to speak up if I misunderstand a Jewish position. Actually I invite all to comment as long as there are no insults tossed about.

My first posting is on Vicar Stephen Sizer of Christ Church in the United Kingdom. It will take several postings to both look at his theology and his connections.

Stephen Sizer: A warrior against Christian Zionism

Stephen Sizer, an Anglican priest in the United Kingdom is a frequent speaker at pro-Palestine, anti-Israel and anti-Zionists conferences. He has written several books on Christian Zionism his latest being, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. Sizer has been accused, by several bloggers, of connections with anti-Semites and even Holocaust deniers. I in fact put an endnote on a posting that he had linked to Holocaust denier, Charles Carlson at Strait Gate ministries in one of his postings. While Sizer is not a Holocaust denier himself, it is important to critique his theology, as it relates to Israel, since he is adversely influenced by some anti-Semitic ideas and in turn influences a small cluster of evangelicals.

As I have pointed out Sizer’s theological thrust is toward critiquing Christian Zionism and he does so from an evangelical position finding it’s teaching heretical. I, on the other hand, coming from a Reformed and Evangelical position, disagree with much of Christian Zionism while also disagreeing with Sizer’s position on Israel and even more so his poor opinions of the Jews and the Old Testament. While he finds Christ in the Old Testament he pours scorn on the history of the Jews in this manner:
In the second Millennium BC, the place to live was called Canaan. The estate agents described it as “a land flowing with milk and honey”. After 400 years in Egypt and another 70 wandering around in the desert, God’s people were keen to muscle in on the Promised Land. They would literally kill for it. They promised God and Joshua, everything under the sun if they could just get their hands on it.
Because Sizer has posted an article “Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions,” which he states is taken from his latest book, Zion's Christian Soldiers. I will critique his article.

The biggest problem with Sizer’s article is not what he states but what he leaves out. The first Christian Zionist' assumption is:

1. God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel

Quoting, Genesis 12:2-3 & 22:17-18 with Eph. 2:8-9, Sizer makes three points against the assumption. The first is that God is only referring to Abraham not to those descendants who follow him. Secondly in the New Testament the promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in those who receive him by faith, since it is not by works but by faith that we are saved.

Sizer also quotes Gal. 3:16, 28-29 to show that the word seed, as in the seed or descendant of Abraham, is singular pointing to Jesus Christ. In other words in Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, all the nations will be blessed.

And Paul makes it clear with Gal. 3:16, 28-29, that Jesus fulfills the promises given to Abraham. But, consider, it is the Jews, the children of Abraham that bless the nations with Jesus the fulfillment of the promise. And Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22b) The problem with both the Christian Zionists and Sizer is that they both leave out part of the biblical picture. The Zionist seemingly divorce the completeness of the promise, which in reality covers the New Testament believers who see the promise fulfilled, and the Old Testament believers who look forward to the promise fulfilled.

But Sizer is far worse; he cuts the Old Testament off from the New. It is as though he takes the scissors and cuts away only that material that pertains to Jesus in prophecy, typology and analogy. What Sizer ignores is God's active blessing of the very people from which Jesus descended. He does not take their history seriously. In a sense, Sizer is removing the humanity of Jesus by maligning the history of his people.

There cannot be a fulfillment if there is not in reality a physical nation with an important history that descends from Abraham. That nation is important and is God’s work in history. There is a promise of land to Abraham, (see Genesis 15:18), which is maintained through his descendant's faith and obedience to God. Likewise there is a promise of blessing and cursing for the Jewish people. One sees this when God uses pagan nations to punish Israel and then punishes the pagan nation because of their misuse of Israel. These: the land and blessings must be considered the material blessings of God. My disagreement with Christian Zionists is that land and blessing have anything at all to do with the future promises of God. The ethical position the Christian must hold toward the Jewish people both in Israel and elsewhere is love, fairness, truthfulness and humility

On the other hand, those who belong to Jesus Christ have far greater promises than this particular promise to a single chosen ethnic people. And those promises of salvation, eternity and union with Jesus Christ extend to both Jew and Gentile, but always through Christ. But this brings up the next assumption. That is:

2. The Jewish People are God’s “chosen people”

For Old Testament references, Sizer uses Deuteronomy 23:7-8; Psalm 87:4-6; Isaiah 56:3-7. For the New Testament he uses Romans 2:28-29, Roman’s 9:6-8 and Col. 3:11-12. And once again Sizer lifts up some truth. He writes, “Both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures insist membership of God’s people is open to all races on the basis of grace through faith.” That is the gospel. But then he goes on to state, “When the Lord Jesus died on the cross he was the sole remnant of Israel.” Now here is where there is a real problem for Christians and it is simply a matter of confusion. Both Christians and Jews, who have received Christ as their Savior, are spiritual Israel. They have been grafted into the root of the faithful of the Hebrew Bible.

But there is still a physical Israel disconnected from Christianity but nonetheless not forgotten by God. Although Sizer may quote Romans 2:28-29, “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God,” he has not proved that Israel has no more importance to God. With this verse Sizer has not proven that the Jews are not chosen.

This understanding of circumcision is found in the Old Testament. Except for the Philistines, all of the nations around Israel were circumcised, but they were not in covenant with Yahweh. Neither did they adore him inwardly. Paul is not saying something new; instead he is using the Hebrew Bible to insist that there is no need for the Gentiles to be circumcised.

F.F. Bruce, a Reformed theologian, in the Tyndale Commentary on Romans, points out that Paul, after stating the above “imagines someone breaking into his argument and saying, “will then, if it is being a Jew inwardly that counts, … is there any advantage in belonging to the Jewish nation, or in being physically circumcised?” And Bruce writes that we can be surprised at Paul’s answer.

The answer is, “much in every way.” And why is that? Paul writes, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” And Bruce in his comment states, “Of course it is an advantage to belong to the circumcised nation. Think of all the privileges granted by God to that nation – privileges in which other nations had no part.” Bruce in a note adds that further privileges are listed in Romans 9:4-5. That is, “…to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

So are the Jews as an ethnic people chosen? Here again Paul, in Romans, gives an answer. He writes:
From the standpoint of the gospel they [the Jews] are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (11:28-2)
Jesus, when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, counters her argument that the Samaritans worship on a mountain, with the truth that the Jews who worship in the Temple know who they worship and that salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22) But Jesus further reminds her that the time is coming and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus does not divorce his people the Jews; instead he points his followers to himself the one rooted by his humanity in the Jewish nation.

In my next posting I will look at the next several assumptions, two, like Sizer, I fervently disagree with, however I with the same fervency disagree with his solution.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The goodness of the gospel

For Thanksgiving here is a truly beautiful piece of music. And not only is the music beautiful but the video is beautiful. Someone has taken the time to highlight various instrumentalist as they play.

Plus remember as you listen that this was background music to a movie that captured the goodness of the gospel as South American indigenousness  peoples came to Christ through their love of music. It was also a movie about the evil of those who wanted slaves rather then righteousness. The selfishness of humanity was willing to tear apart peoples, missions, even buildings to have their own way rather than God's way.

And yet, God's way, Jesus Christ, has gained the victory already, on the cross, out of the tomb, in the lives of his own, and at last in His final coming.

Forgetting Tom Paine: the word, temptation and Bonhoeffer

In this season of flux, and for some despair, I am truly thankful for God’s word. I started to write about Tom Paine’s posting “Biblical Authority,” but it seems so unimportant at the moment. Sure it is easy to refute his thought that the writers of Scripture were inspired, after all most who read Scripture from an orthodox position know that it is the word that is inspired not, as Paine states, the writers. Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke the word of God, or so Peter tells his readers. Or, all Scripture is inspired by God, Paul states. It is God’s word, the living word and although it contains mountains and valleys they all speak God’s truthful word to us. But all the other things have been hashed out so many times-it is enough. Tonight I have been reading Bonhoeffer.

I just received a book I ordered, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theological Education: 1937-1940. It is from a series, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 15. The book, tome really, is filled with letters by Bonhoeffer to his Finkenwalde students after the seminaries were closed by the Gestapo. There are Bible study outlines, sermon notes, and so many letters as well as studies on such words as joy and temptation. And temptation is one of the important subjects in the letters written at the time. As the editor to the English Edition points out, the former students of Finkenwalde and other Confessing seminaries were deeply bothered by temptation.

The seminaries were developed by the Confessing Churches and their Councils of Brethren to help those called to ministry receive a proper education without being infected by the German Christians who at the time had taken over the official seminaries. But even at the beginning there were problems. The seminarians knew that they could not be ordained in the proper way. So they would have to rely on the Council of Brethren to ordain them and the Confessing Churches to use and pay them. And then the German Christians stepped in with the larger temptation. They would ordain them if they would come under the official consistories and take the exams given by the German Christians.

The temptation became greater when the Gestapo closed the Confessing Seminaries. Afterwards to be an unofficial pastor meant great risk. The first letter from Bonhoeffer that one reads to the former students mentions that four of them were in prison. Some of them stood strong. But not all.

In a letter to the “Young Brothers in Pomerania,” Bonhoeffer, writing of the earlier joy and unity of the Confessing Church, writes:
… but what made us joyful and ready to fight and, perhaps even prepared to suffer was one thing, namely, that we knew again that a life with Jesus Christ and his church is worth the whole effort. We believed that in the Confessing Church we not only had found the church of Jesus Christ but through God’s great goodness had actually experienced it. A new life under God’s joy-giving word began for individuals, for pastors and congregations. If only God’s word was among us then we no longer wanted to be afraid and worried about the future. With this word we were willing to pass through struggle, through suffering, through poverty, through sin, and through death to fully reach God’s eternal kingdom. Young people and fathers of large families stood here side by side. What was it at the time that united and fortified us with such gladness? It was the one and ancient realization, given to us once more by God himself, that among us Jesus Christ wishes to build his church, which lives solely from the preaching of the pure, unadulterated gospel and by the grace of the sacraments, and which in its actions is obedient solely to him. Christ wishes to hold fast to such a church; he wants to protect and lead such a church. Only such a church is permitted to be free of all fear. (29-30)
 Christ will hold fast to his people.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some family blogs for Thanksgiving week

This is a time of thankfulness, and to begin my week of thankfulness I am going to feature some family blogs. Some I have featured before and some are new.

A very new blog is one just started by my niece, Kristen, "City Girl Gone Ranch Mama." Kristen lives with her husband and four children in the very wild and cold reaches of Montana on a guest ranch. Her husband is the General Manager of the ranch.  She is an excellent writer and I believe you will enjoy her hair-raising stories. The first covers a lot of snow-or is it the snow covers a lot of ground.

Kristen's brother Wes Andersen, on the other hand, has a blog that he has maintained for a long time. If you remember and know of the comic strip Mary Worth and like satire you will enjoy this one. It is called "Mary Worth and Me," and the best thing to do is explore it.

Another blog written by my grandson, Ethan McHenry, is "Ducks with hats." Ethan is in his second year at California Maritime Academy part of the California university system, but a university which teaches both the piloting of and the engineering on ships. (And I have a feeling my grandson is going to laugh at that sentence.) You can watch a news video about it on his front page. Ethan is a great photographer so go through the postings with an eye on his pictures. But read them too.

And finally, there is the blog of my granddaughter Melissa, the granddaughter who is an artist and writer. "A Freeform Life" is a blog, Melissa started sometime before she and her husband, Spencer, attempted to relocate to New York City. God seemed to have other plans but they had a great cross country trip, until they got to New York. They now are again living in Sacramento, raising chickens (three) and thinking about farming-well Melissa is... anyway enjoy because Melissa is such a great writer.

In fact, here is a paragraph from her last posting, "I meant it! but I am a heartless meany" :
Spence and I ordered the Saint James Daily Devotional Guide, [that is what I use] and it finally came a week ago, but the devotions don’t start until December 4th. I am itching to get at that thing. Even though Spence and I met at a Bible study, and used to host one at our house some years ago, we’ve never done a devotional or study just the two of us. It sounds so nice to sit together and read that Good Book. It’s fun to read any book as a couple, to laugh at the same funny spots and commentate on it to each other. But it’s extra nice to talk about Jesus and His book, and laugh at it’s funny spots (“Hey, I’m alive again–and look, I made you breakfast”), and ponder over the troubling ones together too. Cause He’s the third party of our marriage, and our best friend, and our King, though we ignore Him half the time to our own detriment.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Morality & reason: what is Noushin Framke really saying?

Morality and reason, the two are linked in incalculable ways. But too often in the name of reason morality is flung out the door. And although I believe, as a Christian, that it is both the word of God and the Holy Spirit that draws the individual up out of the morass and shows them the reasonableness of righteous behavior, warning when evil is being called good and good evil, still reason and morality do work together. And this problem of morality and reason is also mixed with the issues that surround the Middle East conflict. A recent article written by Noushin Framke of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, for Ecclesio-com started me thinking about the connections. Her article is “Switching Costs.”

Framke is writing about those people some have called “PEPs,” that is, “Progressives Except on Palestine.” The conclusion by Framke and others is that if you are for all of what is called progressive issues such as fair labor laws, immigration reform and abortion you must be totally on the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict. Framke’s contention is that those who are not totally for the Palestinians are afraid to take a stand. According to Framke they would be called anti-Semitic. Framke’s article is divorced from reason in several ways.

One of Framke’s unreasonable thoughts is that what a person believes about an issue is or should be determined by a label. That particular view lends itself to dictatorial rulings since it takes away individual freedom of conscience. Labels can be very misleading. I am both orthodox and Evangelical, and I am also a Democrat, who does not vote the party line, but who does agree with the need for both immigration and prison reform. Few progressives such as Framke realize that in the early twentieth century many progressive pastors and churches were heavily invested in the eugenics movement. Labels often mean one thing in one era and other things in a different era.

Making decisions about ethical issues cannot, must not, be determined by following any list that can be neatly tucked under a label. I think conservatives need to learn that also. Instead each issue must be looked at from its own particular set of circumstances. And for a Christians that means finding out what God’s word says about the issue. It may not have a direct imperative but there are biblical values that cover most issues.

Making it even worse, Framke fills in all of the qualifications for progressive with what she believes about issues, making her self the epitome of what a progressive is. Because she does this, Framke can find no other reason for disagreement with her views than fear. If the other progressives weren’t afraid of ridicule they would believe like her. Not only is this kind of argument not based on clear logical thinking it is tainted by arrogance.

There is a third issue here that totally wipes out any reasonableness. That is that the issue Framke writes about, the Israeli and the Palestinian conflict, has both a history and many complex sides. But by insisting that all progressives take one side, Framke is avoiding even looking at the other side’s needs and she is refusing to look back at the history that explains why there is so much contention on all sides.

As communications chairperson for IPMN, Framke links to internet sites that supposedly give information about the issues. But because she is not a PEP and certainly not a PFI (Progressive For Israel-I made that up-but I like it) she is one-sided to the extreme. If she finds a Jewish rabbi in the United States who has been indicted for a crime, she links to the article. If she sees an article on crime in Israel she links to it, but not to any crime article in Gaza. If she finds an article where the IDF have bombed militants in Gaza because they have fired rockets at Israel she links to that but not to an article about the original rocket attack.

Reason and morality; they have always been important in Christian ethics. Disagreement over complex issues is not a sign of fear. Rather, suggesting that other people’s disagreement with your views happens only because of fear is itself a sign that you have not looked into why the person disagrees. You may find after you do that that you still disagree with the person’s views, but at least reason and respect have become a part of your argument. Perhaps Framke should take the time to ask fellow progressive Presbyterians why they disagree with her views.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What I heard-listening to N.T. Wright

I didn’t take notes. I generally don’t take notes for later study, but the act of writing notes helps me remember what was said. But in this case I just wanted to absorb the lecture given by N.T. Wright on Jesus and the Kingdom. After having just read some of Nain Stifan Ateek’s book A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation Wright’s lecture was like eating hot buttered English muffins when you still had the taste of cold burnt toast in your memory. Ateek divided up the various pictures of the promised messiah as competing paradigms; he was either the Davidic king or the suffering servant. Finally, in the New Testament, the suffering servant wins. Wright on the other hand pulled the whole Hebrew Bible into the New and allowed Jesus to bless the promises with his life.

Wright spoke of four themes about Jesus in the Gospels and how sometimes we in the West listen too loudly to several; Jesus as the second person of the Trinity was one we listen to at full volume. We don't listen to his life enough. But Wright used the Old Testament to show how the life of Jesus fulfilled the promises of the kingdom to Israel.

One highlight, at least for me, was Wright’s use of Daniel. And he used a great deal of Daniel. One surprising detail was a rarely used excerpt, except by dispensationalist trying to make a different unhelpful point. The passage is chapter 9, Daniel’s prayer of confession and hope for the fulfillment of God’s return of his people since the promised seventy years of Israel’s exile was finished. But Gabriel restates the prophecy; it is 70 weeks of years. And Matthew’s genealogy holds that detail intact showing how Jesus fulfills the promise of God’s presence to his people. Jesus’ birth and life, according to Wright is God returning to Israel in fulfillment of the promises and in answer to Daniel’s prayer that God would “let” his “face shine” on his “desolate sanctuary.”

And here, to make a jump, Wright reminded his hearers that the new Kingdom, the promise to Israel could not really be found in the second temple built after the exile. And that was because God had not yet returned to Israel, they were still waiting. And although I don’t remember exactly the verses that Wright quoted he did go to Malachi. And there is God’s word, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, ‘He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” (3:1b)

Returning to Daniel, the picture of the kingdoms of the world that rise in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream are shattered by a stone cut out without hands. The stones smash the kingdoms of the world to fine dust that is blown away. And the stone “becomes a great mountain,” and so the kingdom of Christ. And then Wright pulls in the suffering servant, that beautiful picture in Isaiah of the coming Messiah. Wright covers Isaiah 40 to 52, reminding his listeners of the shepherd who carries the lambs and leads the nursing ewes. But this is God who bares his arm in the midst of his people, this is the Incarnation. Now Jesus fulfills the image of the suffering servant. God comes back to Israel and to all the nations, in the suffering servant who is nonetheless a king.

So the whole life, not just his birth and death are a fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. He is the promised one whose kingdom fills the whole earth. And then, at the end, Wright did write the cross large in our minds, because he connected the cross of Christ to the kingdom. Jesus challenges Pilate with his kingdom, coming from above, his kingship that is not like worldly kings, his truth. And truth often brings suffering—so Jesus dies but the resurrection—brings the cross to us, his followers. We too must speak the truth and bear the cross and so the kingdom comes.

When one finishes on a note of suffering and crosses it is best to bring in real witnesses. Wright spoke of those he knew in Nigeria and Sudan. We could add so many places, Egypt, North Korea, and Iran. But the Kingdom comes through suffering. In the coming of Jesus it will be over. But God is with us now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Liberation theology or Christian Zionism? Why not Reformed instead!

My friend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Post that caught my attention, Palestinians to Evangelicals: Zionism is a Sin. They are concerned about a conference “Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference under the aegis of the Bethlehem Bible College, aimed specifically at Evangelicals.” And it is aimed at Evangelicals.

But I think Adlerstein and Cooper take a wrong turn when they write “Evangelical and conservative Christians – Israel’s most important allies – are increasingly targeted for conversion from Christian Zionism to Christian Palestinianism.” They in fact did what the leaders of the conference did they put all of their eggs in the Christian Zionist basket.

The reason, and my good friends, please bear with me—I am both Reformed and Evangelical and, as you know, care about Israel and the Jews but I am not a Christian Zionist. There are many of us. Christian Zionism is just a straw man being used by various pro-Palestinian groups to made evangelicals feel like there is no other ground—to make a pun—worth taking. And not all that they write about Christian Zionism is true. But that is another posting.

So let me proceed to examine the true position of the people who spoke at the conference not from a typically evangelical position but from liberation theology and other theological positions.[1] They were obviously attempting to influence the evangelicals but there is a need to hear what they were actually saying. In most cases the evangelicals have been seduced because of their love for the marginalized not because they understood the theology.

And I think the harshest words should be aimed at Mitri Raheb, who is the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Cooper and Adlerstein point out in their article that Mitri makes a horrid anti-Semitic statement in his speech. I will quote it but add a little bit more than they do:
And the second assumption [Raheb’s assumption] is that the Palestinian people and part of the Jewish people are the continuation of the peoples of the land. It’s not Israel, according to what I am going to present to you…. I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
For those who don’t understand, Raheb is saying that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not Jewish at all. And in saying this he is saying that none of the Jews who came from Europe are really Jews. And that is a lie birthed in the pit of hell.

Another speaker, Naim Stifan Ateek, states that he is speaking about contextual theology or as he also calls it liberation theology. He writes that most Christians in the Middle East were in times past Orthodox in faith who emphasized the divinity of Jesus, but now with liberation theology “our emphasis is also on the humanity of Christ. So, for us, Jesus was a Palestinian who lived in Palestine.” But the truth of the matter is, it was the Greek Church from which the orthodox emerged that put great emphasis on the two natures of Christ, his divinity and his humanity.

And Ateek's view of Scripture is very problematic. He states that evangelicals place an emphasis in the Bible on land and he sees it as an emphasis “on that part of the Old Testament that,” for him, “really reflects a tribal understanding of God and I [Ateek] see that tribal concept in the development of religious thought within the Old Testament itself. It is overcome; it is transcended by a much more universal concept of God.”

Ateek develops this thought in greater measure in his book A Palestinian Cry for Reconciliation. In his chapter on “The Bible and Land,” he pictures the Old Testament as possessing various points of view about God. He writes:
Beginning with Amos, we find a theology that vacillated between nationalism and universalism, between bigotry and openness, exclusivity and inclusiveness. And although some learned during the exile that there is one God who is concerned about others (as expressed by some of the prophets), many held to a narrow theology of God and a chosen people. (63)
These kinds of thoughts about the Old Testament are scattered all through the chapter. I hope all Evangelicals reading this will understand. Ateek is saying, with out saying, that not all of the Old Testament is the inspired word of God. This downgrading of the Hebrew Bible is not new. It has happened over and over coming to a head in the years of Nazi Germany.

Two of the speakers spoke about the Holocaust and Evangelicals. One of them, Manfred W. Kohl, using a history of pietism, ended his speech by placing the Holocaust squarely on Evangelical teaching. The connection is extremely speculative. Instead, I would recommend the secular historian George L. Mosse and many of his books on Nazism, Arthur C. Cochrane who was a theologian and friend of many Confessing Church members has written on the subject. And I would highly recommend the new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which covers many details of the ideological foundations of Nazism. The book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy was written by Eric Metaxas.

Another speaker at the conference, Stephen Sizer [2], uses a chapter from his book; Zion’s Christian Soldiers and writes:
It may surprise you to discover that the New Testament never uses the term ‘chosen’ to describe the Jewish people. It is only used of those who follow Jesus. Does that mean God has two separate ‘chosen people’? Some like to think so. They are usually called ‘dispensationalists’ and this is a popular viewpoint among evangelicals in the United States.
 Although not a dispensationalist I have to counter that with several verses. One is Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22) The Jews were chosen to give a Messiah to the world. Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician woman, “Let the children [the Jews] be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark7: 27) Jesus is of course testing the woman’s faith nonetheless he has still called the Jew’s his children. And what is it that Paul states?
From the stand point of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11: 28)
I believe that the best way to end this is with the words of David Torrance. He is a brother to James and Thomas Torrance, all Reformed. David Torrance’s views are not different than his brothers and he also believes that the Jews need, like everyone else, Jesus Christ. Yet, he contends that God has chosen the Jews and still, in fact, uses them. This is from a small book with chapters by all three on various subjects that has to do with Christianity: The book is A Passion For Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry. The chapter is, “The Mission of Christians and Jews.” I have placed this in a posting before but it should be read again. Torrance writes

In what way does God confront the nations and peoples of the world today through the Jews?

1. Their remarkable preservation through history, scattered as they have been across the world and persecuted time and again in the most horrific ways, points to the miraculous hand of God who has set them apart for himself and promised, ‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the lord, ‘will the descendents of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me (Jer 31:36). Their preservation points to the hand of God.

2. The very presence of the Jewish people today recalls us to their origins-to the great things which God has said and done in Israel and which are witnessed to in the Old and New Testaments.

3. The continuing presence of the Jewish people today-particularly their presence back in the Promised Land-reminds us that we and the nations have to reckon with a living, personal God. He is a God who acts in space and time, a God of judgment as well as mercy.

4. Their presence in the Promised Land reminds us in this twentieth century [and 21st] that our destiny is not in our hands. The nations do not hold their destiny in their own hands. It is not in the hands of their governments. Our destiny is in the hands of God who personally intervenes in history challenging the nations to humble themselves and to obey him, even as he challenged Pharaoh of old.

5. The modern history of Israel reminds us that God is over-ruling the continued sin of this world, as he fulfils his purposes of love and redemption. All history is leading up to the consummation of God’s purpose for this world, when he himself will come in Christ and the nations must meet with him and render account to him.

Israel’s return to the land of promise, following as it does an attempt under Hitler to obliterate everything Jewish, reminds us not only that God is the Lord of history but also that events seem to be moving on fairly fast toward the ultimate goal of history. Israel continues to be God’s covenant people and God continues to speak through the Jewish people and through them to show his glory to all who have eyes to see.”

[1] All of the speeches but one can be found at The speech I highlighted on the Holocaust will not open on that site but it can be found here:

[1] Stephen Sizer uses revisionist writers in some of his blog writings. In this particular posting he refers to a man named Charles Carlson. Charles Carlson is a historical revisionist who thinks the holocaust never happened.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Contradictions aplenty: an analysis of the Covenant Network's “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers”

The day that I wrote The Covenant Network: disqualifying orthodox candidates I also sent an e-mail to one of the co-moderators of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, who is a Teaching Elder in my presbytery, explaining my concerns, directing her to my posting, and asking her a question about ordination procedures in our Sacramento Presbytery. So far I have not received a comment or answer. I believe that a non-answer about published material often implies the importance of a paper to the publisher; it is one way of protecting ideas and plans considered significant to the well being of a group. It is because of concerns both by the Covenant Network, as well as orthodox believers, who come under dire threat in this document, that I find it necessary to further evaluate “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.”

The biggest problem with the guidelines is the subject of my earlier paper. It attempts to provide a way to prevent Teaching Elder candidates from being accepted for ordination if they, because of conscience, cannot ordain gays and lesbians. There are several connecting issues I want to look at. The first is the contradictory nature of the Guidelines. The second is the section on “same sex relationships.” Another is historical accuracy when referencing the Reformation and sexual issues. Finally there is a moral issue that needs to be addressed which I wrote about in the earlier posting, that is, the duplicity connected to this paper.

The Contradictory nature: The most troubling part of the Guidelines is their contradictory nature and methodology. Near the beginning of the paper the authors write, “Sessions and presbyteries are always governed by these actions [GA actions confirmed by presbytery vote and GA authoritative interpretations] of the whole church—lower councils can neither ignore, nor add to, these Churchwide standards. Thus, the GAPJC has admonished that ‘no lower governing body can constitutionally define, diminish, augment or modify standards for ordination and installation of church officers.” (Italics authors) (2-3)

Nonetheless, at the end of their paper, the authors, writing about the examination of candidates who for conscience sake cannot ordain unrepentant gays and lesbians, define, augment and modify standards for ordination and installation of church offers. The authors do this by insisting that only two things can prevent a candidate for ordination from bring ordained. One is not adhering to Reformed faith the other is not adhering to Reformed polity. Referring to all cases that followed the Kenyon case, which clarified that no one could be ordained who did not ordain women, the authors insist that in the same way a candidate who will not ordain gays and lesbians cannot be ordained. (11-12)

Yet, neither the Book of Order nor any court case has yet given clear directions in the area of the ordination of gays and lesbians. It is true that Douglas Nave who helped write the Guidelines used the same argument in the case against John Knox Presbytery and the ordination of Scott Anderson, (that is, one could only be denied ordination for not being able to fulfill a ministerial duty and he pointed to not ordaining gays & lesbians as an example.) However; in doing so he did not create official polity. As the document itself states only the GA through either votes by Presbyteries or AI’s can determine official denominational polity.

On the other hand the Book of Order refers all members back to the Bible and the Confessions which the Guidelines have already stated are debatable. The Covenant Network with this paper is defining, augmenting and modifying the work of the GA and Presbyteries. And these kinds of contradictions are everywhere in the guidelines.

Same gender sexual relationships: The section on same gender relationships is also contradictory. The authors write that “there is significant disagreement about what the Bible and confessions teach in this regard.” But then they go on to lay out a defense for a supposed biblical approval of same-sex sexual relationships, never mentioning any counter argument. In fact, they recommend two “overviews” by authors, who have maligned the scholarship of Robert Gagnon the author of academic and orthodox books on the Bible and homosexuality. (7-9)

Daniel A. Helminiak after debating Gagnon at Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California, and after admitting Gagnon uses the historical-critical method and uses it formidably, writes “On my reading, however, he is not genuinely historical-critical but has moved only half way from outright literalism to historical-critical method. He represents the dangerous thrust of the Evangelical tradition, which rests on insistence that the Bible has the first and last word on everything and which reaches its blatantly irrational epitome in the magic-like literalism of Fundamentalism.” Lifting up only Jack Rogers, Helminiak and other advocates of gay and lesbian lifestyles in a paper that insists there are two differing views is contradictory.

The truth is that no scholar has been able to prove that gay & lesbian sex is biblical without insisting that human experience should have authority over the text, leaving out some of the text, or disregarding all of the text. An example is note 18 on page 8 of the Guidelines.

The authors suggest that the only words spoken by God in the first two chapters of Genesis about sexual relationships, is “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) And they insist that this could apply to both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The first answer to that statement is they left out “I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Or it could be “corresponding” to him. The second and much larger part left out is all of the words that are also God’s words, which explains how God created a woman to be a suitable mate for Adam.

And the same is true of the Confessions; the authors of the Guidelines use human experience, leave out part of the text and/or leave out all of the text. Without any proof at all the authors of Guidelines suggest that the Westminster Confession where it condemns sodomy and unnatural lust (7.249) “might well be concerned with violence/rape (as existed in the story of Sodom) or with obsessive sexual interest—not with loving, covenantal partnerships.” (9)

This is a totally bogus argument because the authors of Westminster did not exegete the story of Sodom with post-modern eyes. They would therefore make no difference between same sex consensual sex and same sex rape except to see one as violence and biblical disobedience and the other as biblical disobedience minus the violence. The biblical text informed their experience not their experience the text.

But more importantly the authors of Guidelines left out all of the confessional texts that speak of marriage as between a man and a woman, that is, The Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XXIX; The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXIV; The Confession of 1967 9.47. They also ignored the Book of Order which sees same gender sex as outside of the biblical order since it always refers to man and women when speaking of marriage.

To add to this problem of only half way addressing texts and contradiction, the Guidelines paper insists that fornication, sex out side of marriage, is acceptable. They base their belief on the constitutional statement that “there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty’ (f-3.0104), and that the decisions of church councils ‘are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both’ (6.175). But what a huge amount of explanatory material they left out:
The truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to the Savior’s rule, “By their fruits you shall know them.” And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
And this is addressed to the ordained officer of the church who is to discipline in order to cast out “the erroneous and scandalous” (F-3.0103). Certainly sex outside of marriage is unbiblical and sinful. So writing that fornication is acceptable as a Christian practice is setting truth and falsehood on the same level. Instead biblical truth calls for the Christian to follow Jesus Christ in both purity of mind, heart and body. (1 Thess. 4:2-6; 1Cor. 6:9-11; Romans 12: 1-2; Matt. 5:8; 1 Peter 1:1-15)

Reformation: The authors of the Guidelines, when addressing gay and lesbian sexual relationships and the Reformation seemingly put an emphasis on the insistence of the Roman Catholic Church that priests be celibate. They write “At issue were matters of both belief (like the primacy of Scripture) and personal conduct (like a requirement that all clergy must be celibate).” (4) In another place writing of the various changes in sexual ethics they write, “Leaders of the Reformation rejected the Roman Catholic rule that all clergy must be celibate.”(9)

But this is again an elusive reference to both sexual ethics and the Reformation. It says little. The Reformers were very clear. Marriage between a man and a woman was biblical. Just as it was unbiblical to insist that all pastors stay celibate, it was unbiblical for the clergy to live with a woman outside of marriage. And with great compassion Martin Luther tells those priests who are living with a woman and who have children to pay no attention to the Pope’s rules, but to marry according to Scripture. And certainly it would be unbiblical to allow same sex sexual relationships. All was predicated from the biblical text. For the Reformers the Scripture was primary; all of life including sexual morals must conform to the word of God.

And since the authors writing about the Reformation and sexual issues are also discussing the liberty of the conscience and make reference to two chapters in the Institutes of Calvin it is important to clarify. Calvin insists that the Christian is above the law—has liberty from the law because the believer is justified by Christ, comes before the judgment seat of God clothed only in Christ’s righteousness and yet in the same chapter Calvin writes:
Still, it cannot be rightly inferred from this that believers have no need of the law. It ceases not to teach, exhort, and urge them to the good, although it is not recognized by their consciences before the judgment seat of God. These two things are very different, and should be well and carefully distinguished. The whole lives of Christians ought to be a kind of aspiration after piety, seeing they are called unto holiness (Eph 1.4; 1 Thess. Iv. 50. The office of the law is to excite them to the study of purity and holiness, by reminding them of their duty. (Book III, Chapter XIV. 2.)
And when, in the same chapter Calvin explains that liberty of conscience has to do with things indifferent, he also writes:
Let my readers only bear in mind, first that whatever be the offences by which Satan and the world attempt to lead us away from the law of God, we must nevertheless strenuously proceed, we are not at liberty to deviate one nail’s breadth from the command of God, that on no pretext is it lawful to attempt anything but what he permits. (Book III, Chapter XIV. 13.)
Duplicity. The duplicity of this paper lies in actions and words occurring back several years. I am thinking of words that speak of unity, peace and purity, words that even now plead for unity and peace within the denomination. Recently Mary Lynn Tobin and David A, Van Dyke, Co-Moderators of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, signed a statement about the Fellowship of Presbyterians. The last paragraph in the statement is:
We urge the brothers and sisters of the “Fellowship” who are looking for “a place to stand” to join the rest of the PC(USA) in seeking to stand humbly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (G-2.0104b). When our differing interpretations of Scripture lead us to divergent understandings of what faithfulness to Christ entails, may we bear with one another in love, firm in the conviction that nothing in all creation can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I can only ask, did they really mean that, because the “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers” speaks differently. Its speech is hard and its words seem to be saying, “We now have what we want so please go. You are good Christians but we really don’t want you standing beside us anymore.”

[1] If and when I do receive an answer I will add it to this paper.

[2]For this statement the Guidelines references John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) BK. III, Ch. 19 and BK. IV, Ch.10 (John T McNeill, ed.) (Ford Lewis Battles, trans.) (Philadelphia Westminster Press, 1960) and long with a journal article.

[3]See Works of Martin Luther vol. two, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg 1943)121-22.

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Trans. Henry Beveridge, 1559, reprint (Grand Rapids: W.M. B. Publishing Company 1989).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I know it is Sunday Morning...but:

Garlic, IPMN, Circumcision, anti-Semitism

It is Saturday night as I write this, and I am feeling very sad. I should be busy thinking of planting garlic and fava beans for a winter garden. I should be plotting where the Christmas tree will go, how many people will be here for Thanksgiving, whether we should play musical instruments for both holidays, etc., etc. Sometimes it is hard to think about anything except what is happening in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is hard to even be logical or feel rational. To the point, after my meanderings, I have discovered that for some reason I can post comments on the Israel/Palestine Mission Network site.

Tonight I saw that they had linked to this article, The Zionist lobby's First Lady in US Congress - Salem-News.Com on this site The article is by Alan Hart and it is also on Veterans Today, a vile anti-Semitic site which believes that Israel was behind 9-11, that they are trying to take over the world and control the United States. They have several sister sites which use the same writers and the same articles. One sister site is Salem-News.Com, the one the IPMN linked to. And IPMN links to the sites all of the time.

I discovered that Salem-News is now catering to the anti-Semite who is attempting get laws passed that no one can have their child circumcised. In California, before the court stopped it, a referendum, if it had passed, would have forced all Jewish parents who practice their faith by circumcising their sons, to leave the city of San Francisco or go to prison. The article I first saw is, “CIRCUMCISION as Attenuated Homicides.” There is a whole page of such articles.

There is also a vulgar one, “Vulva Girl Serenades Foreskin Man on San Francisco Election Day.” And in case you wonder, Foreskin Man is a superhero created by Matthew Hess, the man who attempted to put the referendum on the S.F. ballot. In one comic he attacks the evil rabbi who loves performing circumcision. In the above article, “Circumcision as Attenuated Homicides,” you can understand the underlying foundation of anti-Semitism by reading one of the footnotes # 27:
Note: Circumcision was brought into the 12 tribes by the Levites. Jews are from the tribe of Judah which since the Dispersion of Rome in 70 AD incorporated the tribe of Benjamin, but not the other 10 tribes. To make a point: Moses and Aaron were not Jewish, yet were Levites even though neither of them circumcised. Also, the Christian Apostle Paul was not Jewish. Paul (Saul) was a Benjamite – Romans 11:1.

This is all to say that I put a comment under the link on the IPMN Facebook page:
Please! this article is on a news site that is a sister to Veterans Today. They are both horrible anti-Semitic sites. They both believe that the nation of Israel was behind 9-11. Now they have on their site articles about how Circumcision is wrong which is a sick attack against the Jews. VT writes articles about the Jews attempting to take over the world just like the Nazis did Alan Hart writes for both sites. And Veterans Today is advertized on Salem-News.Com. Please, please, I am a Presbyterian don’t shame us in this manner. Quit using junk.
And then, yes, rather irrationally, I placed it on the Facebook page of the Director of World Missions, Hunter Farrell, with a plea to do something about the problem. He, of course deleted it. I can’t blame him, but something does need to be done.

So, when this is read on Sunday morning, I will undoubtedly be in Church singing of the Jewish man who is also God, who died for all of our sins including members of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. May they and all of those who read their site be moved by the Holy Spirit to work towards a peace that includes Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. May they learn to love both sides and tell their story without using anti-Semitic sites. It is possible.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Covenant Network: disqualifying orthodox candidates

Lady Bug Lady Bug-fly away home-your house (denomination) is on fire-and your children will burn-Jesus Christ Lord of the Church have mercy on us. 

The Covenant Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), just a few weeks ago wrote of their desire for unity, but their actions and words belie their true hopes and plans. They are ready to muffle the orthodox and force them out of the denomination. There will be none left if their plans are blessed by higher leadership-or if their arguments are used in presbyteries. In a paper entitled, “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers,” they have pointed back to the Kenyon case and subsequent ones that forbade ordaining a candidate for Teaching Elder from being ordained. Towards the end of a very flawed document they write:

“ … a person who wishes to engage in ordered ministry must be prepared to carry out the functions of office. General Assembly has affirmed that an examining body “cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).”28 Consistent with this, a series of judicial cases has made clear that a presbytery may not ordain or install someone who declares that he will not participate in the ordination of women.29 Indeed, it is fundamental to our polity that the responsibility for assessing the fitness of officers-elect is vested in councils (sessions and presbyteries), not in individuals. Accordingly, the pastor who officiates at an ordination thereby performs a ministerial act that is required by the Constitution (not a discretionary one), and the act of officiating indicates neither approval nor disapproval of the congregation’s choice of leaders and council’s approval of them.30 This point pertains primarily to pastors, who must officiate at child baptisms, ordination and installation of church leaders, and the like. While candidates who cannot agree to perform such functions in conformity with Presbyterian polity may be fine Christians, they may not be ordained or installed in the PC(USA).”

This comes after a shotgun scattering of reasons why it is biblical to ordain LGBT persons, an attempt at proving that it would be against Presbyterian polity to refuse ordination to any homosexual or heterosexual who are sleeping with someone outside of marriage, an insistence that no presbytery or session may set standards and a further insistence that debates within Presbyteries are not to be about the right or wrong of essentials but about the over all qualifications of a candidate. But last and certainly not least is the above attempt to disqualify any candidate who states that they will not ordain unrepentant gay and lesbian candidates.

If one godly candidate comes before a presbytery anywhere and states that they will not ordain an unrepentant sinner and is disqualified for that reason, because the progressives will use these guidelines, the split in the denomination will be wide and deep. The denomination will be guilty of despicably persecuting its own people including the already ordained. May Christ be with all of us as we stand in the midst of wickedness.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Compromise & syncretism

In the time of Jeroboam, the priests of Israel left behind their houses and lands in order to serve God without compromise. And other Israelites followed them in an act of seeking God and turning away from heresy. But the crux of the matter was that the Levities were excluded from the religious life of Israel. New places of worship, with a syncretistic religion had, for the ten tribes of Israel, replaced the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. 

Jeroboam led away ten tribes from the 12 tribes of Israel and thereby Judah and Benjamin were left standing alone. Jeroboam’s cause was right and God had promised to make his kingdom and house like David’s if he remained faithful. But he did not remain faithful; instead he provided an alternative religious system for the ten tribes. He tried to prevent his people from returning to Jerusalem to worship, fearing they would abandon his leadership.

Jeroboam provided the Israelites with several different places of worship and different gods, calves or Baals, idols linked to fertility worship. In doing so he excluded the Levites, choosing whoever he pleased to be priests. Abijah, one of the godly kings of Judah, would later accuse him of making priests of whoever would bring an animal for sacrifice.(2 Chronicles 13) The one who needed to come in repentance with his sacrifice instead became the priest who made the sacrifice.

So the sacrifices that were meant to be to Yahweh were mixed with the worship of Baal a fertility god, and those who offered the sacrifices failed to live up to the requirements of God. They were not Levities. As the text states:

For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord. He set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs and for the calves which he had made. Those from all the tribes of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel followed them to Jerusalem, to sacrifice to the Lord God of their Fathers. (2 Chronicles 11: 14-16)

In the early beginning of the ten tribes as a separate nation, religion was simply a ruse to prevent loss of kingly power. Jeroboam did not care for his people; he certainly did not care for the Lord. Eventually Jeroboam lost his power and the Northern kingdom of Israel, faltered, slipped downward through the years and was conquered because of disobedience and faithlessness. (2 Kings 17)

The people were carried away by Assyria. The Assyrians replaced them with other conquered peoples. The syncretism developed earlier continued to evolve. The text explains that since the worship of the Lord was unknown among the various groups, God sent lions among them. And the ruler of Assyria sent one of the former Israelite priests to live among them and teach them about the God of Israel.

But how could a priest who had himself existed and ministered within such a false religion teach others without encouraging a destructive pluralism. Afterwards the people worshiped the Lord but they also worshiped their own gods even burning their children to the gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. And as the Tyndale Commentary puts it, “Worship of the Lord must be faithful and exclusive, never part of paganized worship (vv. 37-40).Those who do not do this do not in fact worship God, whatever they profess.”

History is full of God’s setting aside peoples, churches, (denominations) who will not serve the Lord as he has commanded in his word and through his covenant with his people. The O.T. worship was to be followed by those truly seeking to worship God with hearts totally given over to him. The design was a shadow of God’s promised coming Messiah. It was the faithful heart obedient to the word of God that made the difference.

With the coming of Christ all was fulfilled; the faithful now have a true sacrifice, a true and innocent Priest. Now the command to worship is fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ. He is the exclusive One, the One who cannot be denied. Jesus is the only Way to the Father, and the One whose word demands our exclusive obedience. The faithful will give up, “ pasture lands and their property,” everything for this One who saves from sin.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Presbyterian dilemma for the orthodox

Yes this post is about sexuality and it intentionally addresses LGBT issues. So what is the dilemma? The Christian is called to several ministry tasks. Among the tasks are bringing good news of healing to the broken, equipping the saints for ministry and keeping the wolves away from the sheep. But too many times the hurting are the wolves and the wolves are wolves because they are hurting. Carefully, one must walk in ministry to all.

This dilemma confronted me recently as I was reading a news articles on Presbyterian News. The article, “Great Ministry Practices: Using social media to broaden the reach of traditional ministries,” features several women in leadership who are using social media, blogging and Facebook to connect others in fellowship and ministry. The article provided links which I followed out of interest, after all I blog, I use Facebook and I am a member of Presbyterian Women’s All Women in the Church.

But one of the links I followed, and followed further, left me troubled. Part of the original article referred to two pastors who both blog and have created a Facebook page for those women who for various reasons cannot meet in the conventional circles of Presbyterian Women. The group is “Presbyterian Women Interest Group.” It is a private group. One of the pastors who started it, Katie Mulligan, has several blogs, and exploring I found this, “Inside/Outed:Mother/Pastor/Queer/Me.”

For October, Mulligan mostly wrote on intimate violence and she did a good job. She suffered as a child from sexual abuse and she has first-hand knowledge of her subject, plus she is a winsome and interesting writer. But then the dilemma, she is also a pastor; she oversees sheep, who can themselves be hurt. And she writes on her blog, Letters From Inside Out,  that in taking her vows of ordination she could not tell the truth. (Well she didn’t quite put it that way, but she didn't tell the truth.)

And then when writing of marriage and the push for same gender marriage, I'm Queer, I'm Here, and other such things, she writes, “There's a lot of folks seeking equality (however one measures that), and I'm glad the folks who want to marry are getting their chance. But that's not my goal. Part of the fun (yes, FUN) of claiming a queer identity is setting myself at odds with normative structures in this world.” Still, despite her desire to not confine her sexual practices to marriage she does offer to help those seeking same gender marriages.

So here is a woman who has found a way to defend herself against the past events which broke her body and soul; that is by defying “normative structures” in the world. I should add in the Church as well! But who will protect the sheep? Not the PC (U.S.A.) as an institution. And who will help her, out of love, learn of the transforming good news of Jesus Christ? Not the PC (U.S.A.) as an institution.

In fact the trajectory is going the other way. Another Presbyterian pastor, Adam J. Copeland, has written new curriculum for The Thoughtful , an ecumenical site hosted by the PC (U.S.A.). The curriculum is entitled, “Same Sex Marriage: for Better or for Worse?” It is written for youth and comes with multiple perspectives according to the question Copeland asks in his blurb, “Are you looking for a way to discuss same-sex marriage with youth, a way that gives credence to multiple perspectives and acknowledges that (no matter your personal view) Christians read the Bible in different ways?”

This is truly our dilemma. It is our nightmare and disaster. We are encouraging the sinner, not helping them. All of our sins will eventually multiply a thousand times over. All the hurt will come back to plague the already hurting.

So what must the orthodox do? Simply this. Learn to die the death that Christ calls the Christian to. “He who has found his life will lose it, and he has lost his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:38). Learn to die for the sake of Christ so that others may find forgiveness, transformation and real love in Jesus. We cannot be afraid to say-“that is sin,” or “You need the transforming power of Jesus Christ,” or “You are causing the ones Christ died for to be hurt by your careless handling of sinful issues.”

The sinner who leads others astray needs to be admonished, but the same one needs to be enfolded as much as possible into the love of Jesus.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An overture & same gender marriage

The Presbytery of East Iowa has sent an overture, [OVT-009] to the 220th General Assembly seeking to change the language of the Book of Order as a means of allowing same gender marriage. The overture asks that language in W-4.9000 be changed. In W-4.9001, W-4.9002, W-4.9004, W-4.9006 “man and woman” and “husband and wife” would be changed to “two people.” The rationale for the overture is contrived and theologically misconstrued. It is also dangerous for the life of the whole church. It is based on three thoughts.

1. Using [F-1.01] God’s grace is for everyone “We are called to make disciples.”

2. Marriage is a response to God’s word proclaimed “The Marriage ceremony is worship.”

3. Our polity is contradictory because we are not allowing all to worship. “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership.” [F-1.0403]

The first point in the rationale is certainly biblical, we are called to make disciples and no one is to be turned away from following Jesus Christ. However the next two points do not follow from the first.

In the second part of the rationale the authors of the overture state that “Responding to the Word is a demonstration of the love of God for God’s people.” Instead it is the believer’s response to the love of God for God’s people as heard in the word proclaimed. And more importantly it is the act of participating in the work of Christ as the great high priest of his people. In our union with him we freely come before God in adoration. In fact, we do not come before God in any other way but through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Book of Order lists many ways that worshipers respond to the word proclaimed, including marriage, but it is a response to God because of his word, and it is, if we are believers, always through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the BOO explains the response as being expressed “in an affirmation of faith and commitment.” That means one has faith in the word and is committed to that word preached. Response to the word by same gender marriage has two possibilities within the mandate of this overture.

One possibility is that the word preached is not truly the word but a false word that teaches that marriage is not only between a man and a woman. (Matthew 19:4-6) In that case the ceremony would not be true worship because the word is false.

The second possibility is that the word is rightly preached but the response is not of faith or commitment to the word. For if one does not believe that marriage is between one man and one woman then there is no faith or commitment to the word. Those attempting to worship by responding to the word with a same gender ceremony would be worshiping falsely because their commitment and faith toward the word is false.

Finally if one worships in union with Christ, it will be in obedience to his word, since he is the sinless Son of God and the fulfillment of the law.

The third part of the rationale, that the church is denying some the right to worship, isn’t at all true. If we worship rightly we will have faith in and be committed to the word of God. No one is denied this when same gendered marriage is denied, because the word is not denied but rightly preached. All may freely worship by honoring the word.

And finally if we accept the final thought in this rationale, that F-1.0403, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership,” means that we must allow for same gender marriage it will follow that all will not only be required to subscribe to the ordination of practicing LGBT people but all will be required to marry same sex couples. This will effectively end the participation of all the orthodox in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Pastor in Enid Oklahoma & "A Time to Play the Long Game"

Two opposing forces met today in my reading material. One was an article in a newspaper in Enid Oklahoma; the article Enid minister removed from post. Rev. Roy Schneider was removed from his church, First Presbyterian, by an Administrative Council of Cimarron Presbytery. Schneider had already announced his retirement on Dec. 18th, but because his church has voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by a vote of 131-69, the pastor, it seems, is being punished by the AC. His removal, just a few weeks before his retirement, is unconscionable. This is church politics at its worst.

The other article was on the Theology and Worship blog site, Thinking, Praying, Living. The article written by Barry Ensign-George is A Time to Play the Long Game. In the article, Ensign-George is trying to encourage both sides of our denominational split to be civil with each other so that in the future there might still be a remaining relationship. He writes:
Let us live our present disagreements, sharp as they are, in ways that refuse, wherever possible, to break relationship completely. Where it is necessary to take leave of one another (and we have the witness of faithful sisters and brothers that in some cases it is necessary), let us seek steadily to do so in ways that establish new relationships that leave us praying for, and genuinely wishing God’s gracious goodness for one another – however differently we may understand what that goodness is.
But this has not happened at the Cimarron Presbytery in Enid. The AC is playing the short game. And I have a suggestion for those in top leadership positions in the PC (U.S.A.). Ensign-George's article is good, there are some very good suggestions, but in some cases, the Enid case in particular, one cannot use only abstract principles. Leaders of the PC (U.S.A.), leaders of Cimarron Presbytery, be bold! Lift up the hurt and point out the harassment of a good pastor. Risk something for the sake of Christ, give the church back its pastor until after Christmas.

Perhaps no one in leadership cares to caution against such actions but history will place you on one side or the other of a damaging event. When all of the events of this time have moved on and records are filed away in dusty bins and boxes some annals historian may look through all the dust and name you and/or the offenders.

But more importantly, God, who holds all of history, even the minute events in his hands, who sees clearly in the human heart and promises to care for his own, will not forget at all (Unless there is repentance).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What to sing about... and write about

Lately I have been feeling like this! An old song of Barry McGuire’s after he came to Jesus. The recording was made in 1974.  He was the musician who sang “The Eve of Destruction” and was  in the play “Hair.”  He used to give concerts at the Warehouse where I went to church. The song in the video is “Anyone but Jesus.”