Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kairos humor and Sacramento Presbytery

After having posted the summary of the Sacramento Presbytery meeting in the posting below, as I was putting it on Twitter I saw something on Twitter that really surprised me—because it was on Twitter. This is how Sacramento Presbytery too often functions—this is the pain that is growing in our Presbytery, perhaps across our denomination. This is the statement I saw:

Ivan Herman ‏@ivanherman [he is a pastor in Sacramento Presbytery]
Lunch with today with a lesbian pastor. At the table next to us sat the 2nd loudest anti-gay elder in the presbytery. #kairoshumor

There really are no anti-gay people in our Presbytery; rather there are those who understand same gender sex to be sin. And we believe biblically,  as Christianity has for 2000 years, that it is improper for those who call sin 'okay' to be pastors or ruling elders. Not sure who the loudest elder is—but the person Herman is referring to as the 2nd loudest is a friend of mine. I know that because I know he had lunch there that day, since a former pastor of Fremont was also having lunch with Herman.

I am aware that many in Sacramento presbytery do not understood that homosexuality is a part of humanity’s broken condition which Christ wants to forgive and heal. Although I will not be with them—I believe it is a good thing that Fremont Presbyterian Church is moving to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. They still will not have peace in this world but they will have peace in their new denomination as they worship Christ and serve their community for his sake.

Notice, using what is called a hash-tag (#), Herman puts “Kairos humor” with his tweet. But it is certainly not Kairos humor if one is thinking of the Christian understanding of Kairos. That would tend to be God's appointed humor. Perhaps he intends the original Greek meaning. Wikipedia, speaking of Aristotle’s rhetoric, states this:
Kairos is, for Aristotle, the time and space context in which the proof will be delivered. Kairos stands alongside other contextual elements of rhetoric: The Audience, which is the psychological and emotional makeup of those who will receive the proof; and To Prepon, which is the style with which the orator clothes their proof.
Then perhaps the psychological and emotional make-up of those who will receive Herman’s humor, their Audience, would undoubtedly be anti-orthodox—and, of course, the style that Herman uses, the To Prepon, is absolutely not Christian, (since it insults another person). 

Believe me, one cannot stand for biblical truth in this presbytery and not be slandered and even hated. Please pray for us. Pray for everyone here that Jesus Christ and his authority as Lord will have sway in our hearts and life.

Sacramento Presbytery's Transitional Presbyter' Jay Wilkins' summary of the Presbytery meeting to dismiss Fremont Presbyterian Church to the EPC

This information was sent out by the Sacramento Presbytery’s Transitional Presbyter, Jay Wilkins. I am placing it here because it, hopefully, finalizes all of the postings I have made on Fremont Presbyterian Church and Sacramento Presbytery:  

What Happened at the Special Presbytery Meeting on November 10?
The Presbytery of Sacramento and Fremont Presbyterian Church reached a creative, faithful agreement to a year-long process of dismissal which shows the church a different way of resolving a conflicted situation.
The Presbytery gathered on November 10, 2012, at the Carmichael Church. This special meeting was called to address two items of business – an agreement on the dismissal of the Fremont Presbyterian Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which includes a license agreement between the Presbytery and Fremont; and, a motion to begin the process of forming a new worshiping community with those members of Fremont who wish to remain in the PC(USA).*
The dismissal agreement had been developed through a process of mediation with 15 people (six chosen by the Committee on Ministry, six chosen by the Fremont Session, and three chosen by the Fremont members wishing to remain in the PC(USA)). The mediation process was led by Tim Pownall, an attorney experienced in faith-based mediation. 
Moderator Bob Yule opened the meeting with prayer, and welcomed Anna Niemann Perrine and Rich McCormac to present the motion for dismissal. Patti Dusel spoke as a member of the mediation team representing Fremont, and shared the experience of being formed as a community by the mediation process. Carter Mosher spoke on behalf of the members wishing to remain in the PC(USA), and affirmed their support of the process and the agreement. Mediation calls for all to make compromises and find common ground for the good of everyone being represented.
Highlights include Fremont being dismissed with the property; the transfer of Rev. Don Baird to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church; a process for the Rev. Dan Willson to transfer to a denomination other than the EPC in the next year; a license agreement in which a new PC(USA) worshiping community has use of the Fremont facilities for 10 years (valued at $500,000); and, a gift from Fremont to the Presbytery of $50,000 over 10 years, or discounted to $325,000 if paid within six months. The dismissal agreement was approved by a vote of 66 in favor, 15 against. All members of the Fremont Church were invited forward for prayer and blessing.
The second item of business was a motion to begin the process of forming a new worshiping community with those members of Fremont who wish to remain in the PC(USA). A group will commit to the 6-9 months required by a process of “Starting New Churches”, which will develop a statement of identity, a vision statement, a mission plan, and identify the leaders of the mission plan – both pastoral and church member leadership. The new PC(USA) church will be located at 5770 Carlson Drive, Sacramento, under license agreement with Fremont Church (E.P.C.). The Presbytery will act as co-signers on the license agreement until the church is organized. This motion passed unanimously.
This has been a difficult year for Fremont and the Presbytery, but a way forward has been found that demonstrates love and creativity, and brings glory to God.

[* These documents are available on the Stated Clerk’s page at]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A review of Horizon's "Salvation: Why it Matters"

C.S. Lewis writes of God’s glory. Lewis calls it a glory with some weight of which we must take care, since some bear it about their persons. Lewis writes, “Next to the blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.[1]

In the Nov/Dec 2012 Horizons, entitled “Salvation,” Karen Russell, program associate for the Office of Theology, Worship and Education, asks two interesting questions whose answers, in my mind, lead to the glory of God.  In her article, “Salvation: Why it matters,” she asks, “What, exactly, makes the good news so good? What difference does it make to how we live?” In the first part of her article Russell deals with the ‘good’ of the gospel. In the latter part she deals with the ‘difference’ to our lives—the ethics of a Christian. Russell makes hope the main focus of her article; it does affect the Christian life.

Russell, using Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding that “salvation counters the sin of despair, writes:

Despair is fed by looking at the world around us and realizing that we are not on a level with God. [2]Despair whispers in our ear that the hungry will never be fed, peace will never come and that nice gals finish last. Despair urges us to simply accept things the way they are.

It is from this that Russell turns to hope as a gift. She uses 1 Corinthians 13 where faith, hope and love are highlighted. Russell shows that both the prophets and Paul insist that hope entails knowing the reality of the situation while yet knowing, by faith, that God through Christ, is able to change the situation. That is hope. And yet something very important is missing. This is not the whole story-this is not the complete picture of salvation. This is not the ‘good’ of salvation.

As Russell begins her understanding of how hope “spurs us on to action,” she refers to 1 Thess. 2:12, Rom. 3:28 and most importantly Rom. 5:1-2. She writes:

In the intertwining of faith, hope and love, we can identify a Christian ethic that provides a guide for living a life that Paul described as worthy of God’s call to us (1 Thess. 2:12). It is through faith that we are justified (Rom. 3:28), and the gift of the justification is hope (Rom. 5:1-2). This hope fills us with God’s love, which is poured into us, filling us (Rom. 5:5).

This is not a bad beginning for Christian ethics, but Russell has missed a far more important beginning—the goodness of the gospel that is embedded in these verses. She fails to define the hope that is named. It isn’t just a hope that things will be better, not even that God will make them better. It is so much more than that. The Scripture text states, “we exult in hope of the glory of God.” It goes on to say “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations …” The first part, hope of the glory of God, refers back to the ‘why salvation matters’ question. It is the ‘good’ of the gospel. The latter, exulting in our tribulations, leads to the hope that shapes our ethics. And they are both wrapped in our union with Christ.

The hope of the glory of God is our hope in sharing once again in the glory that was humanity’s before the fall.  F.F. Bruce explains using Romans 3:23, “The image of God in which man was created was believed to involve a share in the divine glory, which was forfeited through sin.”  Of Romans 5:2 Bruce writes:

… the glory of God is the end for which he created mankind … and it is through the redemptive work of Christ that this end will be achieved. So long as his people exist in mortal body, it remains a hope, but it is a sure hope, one that is certain of fulfillment, because those who cherish it have already received the guarantee of its realization in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who fills their hearts with the love of God.

Our hope of the glory of God, which is promised, entails our redemption and our union with Christ. We are united with him. In his death we also die, in his resurrection we share his life and power. Because he suffered we share in suffering. We, as the text states, exult in our tribulations. Why? The text has the answer and it is bound up with our discipleship, our ethics.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

All that is ours we have in Christ—including our suffering. He works it out in us through the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not simply knowing that God will eventually change the circumstances, it is knowing Christ Jesus—it is living in him. It is Christ changing us as we, through the Holy Spirit, live in him.

Russell writes of our actions toward peace, justice and need. She writes, “Hope spurs us to action, whereas despair (hopelessness) bogs us down. If we believe that injustice will eventually be defeated we are more likely to fight against injustice now.” This is certainly true for most of humanity, but it is the transforming life we live in Christ that spurs the Christian on. And Russell does refer to the love shed in our heart by the Holy Spirit. It is our life hid in Christ that makes the difference.

In the end the works that are truly good works are his also. It will be his peace, his justice, his need, not arbitrarily chosen ones. As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand so that we would walk in them (2:10).  

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, revised and expanded edition, (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing 1975) 19.
[2] Karen Russell’s note: Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, (Minneapolis: Fortress 1993) 22.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A review of Horizons'“Salvation as Right Relationship”

The November/December (2012) Presbyterian Women’s Horizons is entitled “Salvation.” There are five articles on salvation; some are good, although weak in important areas, others are speculative and historically inaccurate. Most of the articles do not make an adequate use of Scripture or the confessions. I believe that the greatest problem with all of the articles is a lack of enthusiasm for the great gift Jesus Christ has given his people. I will write about the articles one at a time over the next few weeks.

A review of “Salvation as Right Relationship” 

Kevin Park, associate dean for advanced professional studies and assistant professor at Columbia Theological Seminary has written what I would call a three pronged look at the meaning of salvation. He begins by attempting to explain what salvation is not; his explanation somewhat caricatures evangelical Christian faith. Park also looks at what he believes are the roots of the western understanding of salvation. His basic focus is how the Christian understanding of the Trinity underscores a relational salvation. For this he uses both the first statement of the Heidelberg Catechism and ideas from the Office of Theology and Worship’s paper on the Trinity, “The Trinity: God’s  Love Over Flowing.”

Park equates his early views of salvation with conservative and evangelical beliefs and sees them as understanding salvation only as a means of escaping hell and gaining heaven.  In other words, for conservative Christianity, salvation has everything to do with humanity’s existence after death and nothing to do with this life. Park, correcting what he believes is true of evangelical teaching and I believe is his caricature, writes beautifully of the Greek meaning of the word salvation which is soteria. Explaining that the root of soteria is sozo he writes:

This word has a wide range of related meanings, including rescue, deliver, protect, save, make whole, preserve, heal and set free. The word sozo is closely related to the Hebrew word shalom—a very robust word that is much richer than its usual translation of “peace.” The meaning of shalom includes restoration, completeness, wholeness, health, prosperity, complete peace, wellness, reconciliation, fruitful life, rightness and justice.

However, simply defining the word salvation with its Greek shades of meaning fails to pull in the whole meaning of salvation as it is meant in Christ Jesus.  It fails to deal with the depth of human depravity. It fails to speak to the historical actions of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who dying gave redemption to an utterly lost people. But most of all it fails to deal with the union between Jesus and those he has redeemed.

Park finds the foundation for what he sees as evangelical Christianity’s preoccupation with life after death in Platonism and its “tradition of the dualism of body and soul.” Park explains, “Platonism taught that the physical world was a shadowy corruptible copy of the real, eternal, spiritual world.” The soul found redemption without the body by “practicing philosophy and contemplating the spiritual realm.” 

Park turns to the Eastern Orthodox tradition which supposedly followed a better way because they were influenced by Aristotle who, “took the physical world much more seriously than did the Western tradition.” These ideas are overstatements, in some ways untrue and simplistic. But more importantly there is too much emphasis placed on philosophical influence and not enough on the Scripture and Confessions.

It is true that early medieval Christianity was cognizant of Platonism using some of its terms to explain what they believed. And later medieval Christian scholars, as well as Renaissance scholars, were interested in Aristotelian philosophy—in particular, among western Christians, Thomas Aquinas’ name is equated with Aristotle. But one does not really find that divide running between western and eastern Christianity. Park has set up a caricature of evangelical beliefs, they are only interested in the afterlife, and then he tries to undergird it with philosophical history, but the lines of that history run in too many directions to be used that way.

Park turns to the Trinity to write about relational salvation. Park quotes that beautiful beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism:

…I belong—body and soul, in life and death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me… (4.001)

He goes on to point out that this answer brings body and soul, life and death together. He, also, once again points out what salvation is and isn’t. “…salvation is not attained by assenting to a doctrine or a set of knowledge.” And then:

Salvation is in Jesus Christ … Truth and salvation for us is a person not information. Therefore salvation is entering into relationship with the person who has initiated and invited us into this love relationship.

Park points out that this relationship has its “roots in the very being of God as Trinity.” This is because “God is relational.” He “exists in divine community and has created the world in order to share God’s overflowing love with us and with all of creation.” Emphasizing broken relationships, and never denying that humanity has sinned and attempted to live dependent of God, Park summarizes salvation this way:

The relational understanding of God and creation shapes the meaning of salvation. Salvation, then, is living in loving and right relationship with God and with all of God’s gifts, including relationships with our human neighbors, as well as with all of creation, marked by generosity of self-giving love as demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

 He goes on to show how this salvation brings meaning to the whole created world as Christians become reconciled to all of creation. This is a salvation that touches all of life, ecology, money, those who live with need—and Park rightly insists that it is costly-it cost the death of the Son of God.

But something is missing—something very important. That is the righteousness of Christ and our union with him.  While Park attempts to pull in the very important objects and people that are affected by our salvation he leaves out the very crux of the matter, that we bear the righteousness of Christ rather than our own righteousness. And our relationship is more than a relationship, we are united to Christ, in Christ—our communion is a life sustaining gift. This is what eliminates the dualism of a salvation concerned with only heaven. We are instead concerned with Jesus whether we touch earth or heaven. And because of our union with Christ we see the harvest fields in all of their whiteness—we also feel more deeply the needs of the wounded.

As Paul puts it, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, that will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” (Phil. 1:21-22) The point is it isn’t a question of dualism but the gift of Christ.

Because the Father has chosen us and redeemed us by the death of Christ we bear the righteousness of Jesus. Yes, we are in a relationship with the eternal God. We are united to that one who took on flesh and carried it into the midst of the Trinity. Forever the Incarnation resides at the center of the Trinity and we, the redeemed, with him. Forever, we have communion with the Triune God. The word salvation, as it relates to us and the Lord of the Church stands alone, a unique category.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meandering thoughts before Thanksgiving

There is a story, I have forgotten the actual title, it is something like “The Green Grass of Home.” The story is about two astronauts whose links to their space ship have become disconnected and they are slowly floating away from each other and their ship. As they float they begin talking to each other, remembering all of the goodness of life on earth. Very slowly their voices fade from each other as they drift further into space and they are alone. Not a happy story, not a happy ending. Some of us in this denomination, PC (U.S.A), find ourselves in that position. We are becoming disconnected—and it feels lonely. But there is a difference.

In the midst of a denomination where others seem to be trying gleefully to be as theologically different as possible, ignoring the pain that many others are experiencing, there is still at the center of our lives the Lord of the universe. As some move on to other denominations seeking to be obedient to the Lord of the Church—still he is the Lord of those remaining as he is of those going. There is a uniting foundation; it is the One who keeps us in fellowship with one another. But the Lord of the Church will brook no strange vision of his being. He has given his Church the apostolic witness-the authority of his word.

Strangely, but perhaps not so strangely, as many false Christs arise even within the denomination, so our love for the true Christ, Jesus, who is fully human, and fully God, Jesus, who has given us life by the shedding of his blood, will grow and our closeness to those who are intent on following him will also grow. There is a peace placed so deeply at the core of our being that we know there is a holy tomorrow to slip into—it is not disconnected from the mother ship—the Church that is anchored to Christ and his word.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Extra news about Gaza-Update

As most people know there is once again conflict in the Middle East. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is asking that the media report the whole story.IPMN Condemns Violence in Gaza & Israel, Encourages Better Reporting From US Media Although I usually disagree with them this report is in alignment with their request. This is news about something happening in Gaza that I have not seen on the regular news.  It was sent to me by a friend with permission to post:

"17 November 2012

Hamas Detains Foreign Journalists in the Gaza Strip

(Communicated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

 Hamas is not allowing at least 22 foreign nationals who wish to exit the Gaza Strip for Israel to do so. Among the members of the foreign press being detained are nine Italian citizens, six citizens of Japan, one Canadian, one South Korean and a French national. In addition, two Turkish Red Crescent members have been refused exit.

 This violation of the human rights of neutral foreigners is yet another example of Hamas’ attempts to manipulate and pressure the press.

 For its part, Israel is keeping the Erez crossing into Gaza open, allowing passage to the foreign press, diplomats and humanitarian workers."

 Update-this is now being reported in other papers see-

Hamas Detains Foreign Citizens in the Gaza Strip at Algemeiner. 

Dr. Mark Achtemeier & God's plan B

This is a word to Dr. Mark Achtemeier, Presbyterian pastor and theologian. Be careful of the future path you are making for old friends. Your words may influence badly those whose morality knows no light at all. Yesterday, November 16, Hans Cornelder, of ChurchandWorld  linked to an interview CNN did with Franklin Graham; he noted that the comments were “enlightening.” When I looked there were several about a bloodbath.

 Achtemeier has at times, undoubtedly, been too badly chastised by those disappointed in his change of mind about LGBT ordination and same gender marriage. Generally attacking the person rather than his theology is not a good idea—it is not Christian unless the person is extremely unkind in his actions toward others. I heard Achtemeier speak at the Confessing Church Celebration—so many light years ago—the sermon was good; it was about the greed troubling so many Christians.  But he is now, seemingly, throwing old friends under the train. And he has, I believe, twisted Reformation history and Scripture in order to make that acceptable. 

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians has posted, on their site, Achtemeier’s sermon, “The plan-B God,” given at one of the Network’s regional conferences.   

While, being insistent that most of the people he ministered with in the renewal groups, who are against gay marriage, have such perspectives from a “compassion and a desire to help people who were struggling,” Achtemeier nonetheless sees those perspectives as influencing the culture to see Christianity as hateful and bigoted. He pleads with those in the denomination who agree with him, about same gender marriage and ordination, to not be silent, stating:
This is our present reality: While the PC (USA) keeps silence, other churches across the land loudly proclaim that their opposition to gay marriage is deeply rooted in the Gospel and the Scripture. And because of this, broad reaches of American culture have become convinced that the Christian Gospel is something hateful.”
Of course Achtemeier is right, “broad reaches of American culture have become convinced that the Christian Gospel is something hateful,” but he believes that Christians who hold that the Bible teaches that same gender sex is sin are the problem.  He sees the Covenant Network and other groups that uphold LGBT ordination and same gender marriage as the solution. Achtemeier insists that the Covenant Network and all the others must use the Bible and reformation teaching as the basis for allowing same gender marriage and LGBT ordination. He states:
 The vocation of groups like the Covenant Network will be critically important in the months and years ahead. It is not within our power to turn back the rising tide of cultural and historical forces that are sweeping our church into a period of decline. But we are confident that the day will come when God will purge the poisonous legacy of exclusion and hatefulness from our culture’s image of Christianity. Until that time it falls to you and me to keep the lights of a gracious witness burning in the midst of the surrounding darkness.
Achtemeier reminds his readers that the reformers insisted that all monks, priests and nuns be allowed to marry. Only he puts it a bit differently.  “When Martin Luther and John Calvin went back to the Bible to purify the life and witness of the Church, their conclusions included the strong conviction that it was unfaithful and cruel to impose vows of mandatory celibacy upon whole classes of people.” But it should be noted that it wasn’t about whole classes of people. It was about priests, monks and nuns. And it wasn’t a rule that all of them should get married, only those who wished to be married.

The truth is that the sexual sins troubling the Catholic Church and its monks and priests were both fornication and same gender sex.  Luther certainly wrote to correct fornication with the covenant of marriage but the problem of same gender sex was not corrected in that manner. [1]

The bigger problem has to do with Achtemeier’s title, “The Plan-B God.” It is Achtemeier understanding that for God, when plan A doesn’t work, plan B will be the alternative.  For instance when the temple and its priests, sacrifices and laws did not work God had a plan B. As Achtemeier puts it: “Note this carefully: “God’s redemption of the world through the cross of Christ is a “Plan-B” arrangement that stands dramatically apart from God’s ordinary “Plan-A” religious establishment of the Holy Temple and the Holy Priesthood in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

So in the same way, Achtemeier sees same gender marriage as an alternative to the original plan A of marriage existing between one man and one woman. Achtemeier goes through several biblical accounts of what he believes are plan A becoming plan B, including the Hebrews becoming slaves in Egypt, but he forgets a very important Reformation teaching. That is the sovereign predetermined plans of God:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be blameless and holy before him. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself according to the kind intention of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)
To go further all that we see God doing in the Scripture is one straight line, not different plans. God doesn’t plan one thing and when that doesn’t work do something else. As Paul tells his reader’s the law is a school master that brings us to Christ. The rites of the temple pointed to Christ. The promises, God’s plans, were for both the Old Testament people who looked toward Christ and the New Testament people who were given Christ. Achtemeier, in his arguments, is not presenting reformation theology—but there are several other problems.

 Two other ways Achtemeier deals with Scripture. He suggests that the Genesis account that Jesus uses when speaking about divorce (Genesis 2-Matt. 19-3-6) does not constitute “Jesus’ own endorsement of heterosexual marriage as God’s exclusively authorized pattern for human life.” His proof is that Jesus did not marry. But once again the emphasis isn’t on a commandment to marry but rather a commandment to stay married because God has made them one flesh. It is totally illogical to insist that because people are allowed to be single, others should be allowed to marry same gender people.

The other problem is far greater since it rests on an assumption that not all Scripture is inspired. Achtemeier suggests that the prophet Malachi is correcting Ezra and Nehemiah. Both Ezra and Nehemiah raged against some of the returning exiles because they had married foreign women, after they returned to Judah, thus endangering the Jewish people to once again worship false gods. Marriage was after all a covenant between the two people and their deity. The men divorced their foreign wives. Achtemeier states that Malachi who lived reasonably close to their era was speaking to the divorces when he states:
Enter Malachi the prophet. Following on this great purification, Malachi brings a word from the Lord that first of all reiterates the command to marry within the tribe of Israel. But then in Malachi chapter 2 the prophet delivers a blistering condemnation of the decision to divorce the foreign wives and children.
[T]he Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant…
In the face of irregular marriages contracted in direct opposition to the divine command, God elects to bring blessing anyway. God rejects in the strongest terms the peoples’ pious attempts to force their marriages back into a normative Plan-A pattern.
So once again Achtemeier sees Plan A being routed by Plan B. 

But there is a better interpretation which makes better sense of the text. Elizabeth Achtemeier in her Interpretation commentary of Nahum-Malachi admits that the text is difficult but writes:
The charge is twofold: First, some in the community have broken the Sinai covenant with the Lord by turning to the idolatrous worship of their wives’ heathen gods (v.v. 10-12); second, some have broken their marriage covenant by divorcing their wives of many years (vv. 13-16).[2] 
Using the key word of “faithless” to pull this section together Elizabeth Achtemeier then writes: “It can therefore be assumed that the wives (vv. 13-16) have been divorced in order that the husbands may marry non-Israelite women (vv. 10-12).” This has nothing to do with Plan –B over Plan-A, but instead focuses on the covenant of marriage as it pertains to a man and woman and God. In fact, this text neatly nests in Genesis 2.

The gospel—the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is not hateful. Neither is that part of the gospel that declares “Go and sin no more.” Jesus picks up our fallen pieces and over a lifetime puts us back together. If the shed blood of Jesus must be drug through the dirt of other people’s speech we will be there with him, he with us—but it is necessary to keep proclaiming that Jesus died to save sinners (we are included) and call them to repentance.

[1]] Bernard Hamilton, Religion in the Medieval West, (London: Arnold 1986) 137-138.
[2] Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, James L. Mays, Series Editor(Louisville: John Knox Press 1986) 181.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dr. Peter Makari: A denominational leader making friends with hate

It has been several years since I looked through my racists and anti-Semitic files. It is like rummaging through garbage—I feel as though I need to wash my hands afterwards. Tonight I had reason to pull them out and reread. I was interested in some files on the Liberty Lobby—their paper Spotlight as well as the Institute For Historical Review. All founded by Willis Carto. The latter is an organization whose main purpose is to deny the Holocaust.  One brochure I have from them, yellow with age, entitled, “Leon Degrelle Epic: The Story of the Waffen begins with this.
A Million European Volunteers fighting on the Eastern Front—Fighting to save Europe, their homelands and families. Less than half of them were German, yet they all fought side by side—the first truly European army ever to exist.
The words are of course referring to Hitler’s army.

In another paper, tapes of conferences speeches are offered such as “The International Holocaust Controversy” by Arthur R. Butz., or “SS ‘Confessions’ about Auschwitz.” These are denials of the Holocaust. 
I write this because recently, Dr. Peter Makari, Executive for Middle East and Europe, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), two of the denominations who along with most mainline denominations, including my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), sent a letter to Congress asking them to investigate Israel before sending them anymore military aid, gave an interview to the “successor” of Liberty Lobby, American Free Press.[1] 

The title of the interview is Churches call for Congressional investigation on Military aid to Israel. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in their press release, Wiesenthal Center denounces church’s senior Middle East Executive interview with extremist American Free Press  explains that American Free Press “is regarded as the successor to the now defunct Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight.

 American free Press offers such books as Made in Israel: 9-11 and the Jewish Plot Against America and Northern Traditions. Amazon includes, in their description of the latter book,                            “By combining academic level material with practical work the aim of the book is to take contemporary pagan practices to a new level where they can be accepted as a serious spiritual movement.” American Free Press gives this description:
Faith in the old gods of the Germanic people has been reawakening in the modern world as the Christian religion is forcibly sucked into New World Order socialism and perverted by the forces of political correctness. But who are the ancient gods of the white race, and what do the ancient scriptures of the pagan religion mean?
On the site of American Free Press, at the time of my writing, is an article and pod-cast, “Black gun violence leaves white man paralyzed. There is an ad for anti-Semite identity preacher, Pete Peter’s, radio program. There is a link, hard to find, to The Barnes Review with a link on that page back to the American Free Press. The Barnes Review is connected to the American Free Press. It was founded by the same person who founded the Institute For Historical Review, Willis Carto. On the Barnes Review are such books as “The Work of All Ages: The Ongoing Plot to Rule the World from Biblical Times to the Present,” which seems to be another version of the Protocol’s of the Elders of Zion.

All of the dirtiness of the Nazi area is on the pages of these two sites, and yet Makari is willing to give them an interview. The letter sent to Congress by the leadership of the mainline denominations was outrageous but the connection between Makari and American Free Press is obscene. [2]

[1] Part of the letter stated,We urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance. “
[2] See also,

Mainline Spokesman Speaks to Anti-Semitic Publication by David Fischler

Monday, November 12, 2012

The kingdom of God or the Church?

When denominational leadership starts advising by the use of unnatural dichotomies such as “We must remember that we don’t serve the church — we serve the kingdom,” deep and painful theological problems lie ahead. According to the Presbyterian News Service, the unnatural dichotomy was uttered by Rev. Herbert J. Nelson, Director of the PC (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. In an article, Elasticity of spirit, written by Bethany Daily, one learns that the advice was given during the Presbyterian Moderator’s Conference.

Nelson was undoubtedly speaking of the Kingdom of God—so we should explore the Kingdom in relationship to the Church. But first some other thoughts. Nelson was speaking of the problems the PC (U.S.A.) is having as church after church leaves. He offers an analysis and a solution. I agree with the words of his analysis but not his meaning. And I am horrified at his callous disregard for empty churches, undoubtedly left so by congregations who were not allowed to take their property with them as they exited the denomination.
What I see as Nelson’s analysis is:

The PC(USA) has fallen to the temptations of outside pressure and needs to answer the call to engage in kingdom thinking.

Yes, the PC (USA) has fallen to the temptations of outside pressure. If one lingers on the More Light Presbyterian site, reading and then following the links they often end up at secular sites such as The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and The National Gay and Lesbian TaskForce.[1] The secular organizations are pouring money and resources into denominational groups seeking to further the LGBT agenda.

Nelson’s ideas about the outside pressure fits with his praise of one particular presbytery executive he spoke with, as the PNS author states:

He [Nelson] spoke about a recent conversation he had with a presbytery executive about churches that have left the PC(USA). That pastor looked at the possibilities that that situation brings and told Nelson how the empty church buildings are now being used to distribute school supplies to children in need.

“They had a vision for restoring the integrity of God’s work on behalf of the PC(USA),” he said.

What might happen if other empty church buildings were used for tutoring centers, medical clinics or social service agencies?

This sounds good and charitable but it is about a building which once held a congregation that lost their church property. The empty church has been turned into a school supply distribution center. It is appalling that one should hear praise that houses of worship are becoming social service centers instead of places where the word of God is preached.  But this is the problem that I began with, Nelson’s insistence that Presbyterian moderators do not serve the Church but instead the kingdom of God. 

In George Eldon Ladd’s book The Gospel of the Kingdom, he uses the parable that Jesus told of the nobleman who after leaving his vineyard with caretakers went away to obtain a kingdom. Ladd writes:

We read in Luke 19: 11-12, “As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a basileia and then return.’” The nobleman did not go away to get a realm, an area over which to rule. The realm over which he wanted to reign was at hand. The territory over which he was to rule was this place he left. The problem was that he was no king. He needed authority, the right to rule. He went off to get to get a “kingdom,” i.e., kingship, authority. The Revised Standard Version has therefore translated the word “kingly power.” [2]

Ladd explains that the kingdom of God is defined as God’s power, his will, his authority. The kingdom of God is also the kingdom of Christ. His authority, power and rule, occurs in the midst of humanity because of his redemptive work. The church, of which Christ is Lord, proclaims Jesus’ redemptive work, which is the good news. Proclaiming the kingdom-God’s rule and redemption in Christ is the work of the Church. The two are intertwined. While the kingdom is not the church, one cannot serve the kingdom of God unless one serves the Church, because there God’s power, rule and authority are proclaimed and made known to the world.

The kingdom is present now in the Church—and the Church’s existence and message in the world is why the enemy rages so harshly—that is why the saints do battle. In our union with Jesus Christ we are a part of his kingdom—we share in his death, suffering and resurrection. The kingdom will be complete at the coming of the King.

“For he rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14.

[2]George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, reprint, (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans 1973) 20-21.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"The Church's task is the preaching of the word"

After Tuesday’s election, reading the religious section of the Huffington Post, I found plenty of advice for Christians, in particular, for orthodox and evangelical Christians.  Most of the articles could be wrapped up with the expression, “you are bigots.” The article I was drawn to was Emily Timbol’s, “America Has Spoken Christians Need to Listen.” Timbol is a progressive Christian and her main thought seems to be that Christians who want to influence other Americans need to hear what the culture is telling them and move in that direction. Timbol, with the usual tired words of fear and discrimination, writes:

America said, loud and clear, that they support measures that protect equality. They also elected a president who believes the same. This does not mean that America has become a godless, heathen nation. It means that conservative Christians have stopped listening to America. Specifically those Americans on the opposite side of the aisle who worship the same God. By fighting against the growing movement of inclusion into the body of Christ, for all people, conservative Christians are just showing how out of touch they truly are. Does that matter, if Christians should be listening to Christ, and the Bible above all else? Yes. Because God did not say that we should live in a bubble. He commanded us to go out and reach the world.

What became clear last night is the way to reach the world is not through fear, discrimination or a movement farther right. It's through faith, love and equal treatment of all people. If the majority of Christians reject this, and further alienate Americans who disagree with them, they'll be doing a great disservice to the church.

Immediately my mind, and heart, went to some words that Karl Barth wrote in his small booklet, Theological Existence Today. He was questioning some doctrines published by the German Christians of his day. The German Christians were writing that the German people wanted to return to the church and therefore the church needed to “prove herself to be the Church for the German people. …” Barth’s answer was very direct and the church in America needs to hear his answer to this particular doctrine. I will quote it but substitute the title American for his use of German.

1.      "The Church has not “to do everything” so that the American people” may find again the way into the Church,” but so that within the church the people may find the Commandment and promise of the free and pure Word of God.

2.      It is not the Church’s function to help the American people to recognize and fulfil any one “vocation” different from the “calling” from and to Christ. The American people receives its vocation from Christ to Christ through the Word of God to be preached according to the Scriptures. The Church's task is the preaching of the Word."

There were several movements in Germany during the Nazi era; Barth disapproved of most of them including the ‘New Reformation Movement.’ He found they were compromising too much with the German Christians.  During the crisis in Germany, Barth pushed toward a church that emphasized prayer and proclamation of the word. And so must the American church including the mainline denominations.

Later in his writing Barth was to point out that while the church believes the state is to be “guardian and administrator of public law and order,” it nonetheless does not “believe in any state.” Therefore “The Church preaches the Gospel in all the kingdoms of this world.” He enlarges his thought to insist the church does not preach “under or in the spirit of the Third Reich.”

In the same way the American church, be it Catholic, Protestant or any other, may not rightly preach the word under or in the spirit of any government. While praying for the government, obeying, in the Lord, what can be obeyed, she only and always preaches the word of God so that the people who hear may be fed, converted and transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

And what is said of a government must also be said of a culture. A church might use the goods of a culture, that is its music, art, food and even customs  but the church cannot, must not, preach the culture back to the culture. If we hear Americans saying that killing the unborn is acceptable, that greed is a good, that sex outside of marriage is fine, that same gender sex is a gift, that using drugs is okay, we may tremble but we must keep proclaiming the pure word of God. If we see government beginning to enforce laws that undergird a broken society, providing rights for its dark temptations, thus putting religious freedom in harms way, still the word of God must be proclaimed.

lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) The word of God is not fettered.” (II Tim. 2:9)

The Church’s commission upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and the work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” (The Theological Declaration of Barmen 8.25-8-27) 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Outside the camp--for us

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  … We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also that he might sanctify the people through his own blood suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we do not have a city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Heb. 12:8, 10-14)

Monday, November 5, 2012

My vote on November 6th

This is for November 6th, voting day. I am a Democrat who will vote for life, upholding the biblical view of marriage between a man and a woman (rather then redefining it), and freedom of religion. Asking religious institutions, who believe abortion is murder, to pay for abortion is a violation of their religious freedom. I placed the video below on my site once before. But today is a good day to place it there again. There is an Evangelical version of this but I prefer the Catholic one because I agree strongly with the Cardinal Dolan quote. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Iran's persecution of Christians

A few days ago a friend sent me an article on the persecution of Christians in Iran. The article entitled, Shining a Spotlight on Iran’s persecution of Christians is written by David Burrowes. It begins:

Have you heard the one about the American and the Iranian Christian? The American asked him when his family converted to Christianity, expecting the response to speak of a recent transition from Islam. The Iranian replied, 'about two thousand years ago'. This conversation could have taken place throughout the Middle East - Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Iran where many family lines lead back to the earliest Christian Church - as well as many from other religious backgrounds who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Iranian could also have pointed out that Christianity was embedded in Persian society - along with Zoroastrianism and Judaism - long before the arrival of Islam. He could express pride that Iran provided the backdrop for five books of the Bible and recall the time when missionaries from the early Iranian Church brought the Christian message to China, India, Central Asia and even England.

Burrowes also writes:

We have heard evidence of widespread, state-perpetrated attacks on a Church which has been driven underground through fear. Our report, which will be launched later today, catalogues abuses including the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of more than 300 Christians in the past two years — including Church leaders such as Farshid Fathi, who was arrested in December 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison. My colleagues and I heard heart-breaking evidence of physical and psychological torture, and the murder by government agents of Christian pastors. The testimonies of Iranian witnesses included evidence of education and employment discrimination driven by the state and other direct and indirect persecution.

I have not found the report that the author writes about. But when I do I will post a link to the report. But it is important to take note of Iranian persecution of Christians. Some in the PCUSA have not acknowledged that there is persecution in Iran. Pray for the Iranian Christians.

Shining a Spotlight on Iran’s persecution of Christians
Hat tip to Kathryn Churchill.

Here is another report on the report which was evidently made by a group of Christian members of Parliament.: British Members of Parliament release report on intensifying pressure on Iranian Christian converts


Friday, November 2, 2012

David D. Colby, resurrection or same gender marriage?

This sermon, “A Reformed Understanding of Marriage” raises so many questions and has so many errors that one must explore and write. It was preached for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians by David D. Colby in Minnesota and is aimed at the vote that is being taken there on the definition of marriage. Colby uses Romans 8:23 as his text and, for me at least, raises questions about the biblical meaning of the believer’s adoption as sons and daughters of God. In fact, the reformed doctrine of salvation is distorted in this sermon, as Colby tries to use the idea of adoption to make a case for same gender marriage.
But first some of the other errors:

1.       Colby tries to use the Bible’s honest telling of humanity’s disregard of God’s original intention for marriage. Quoting an article, “Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves,” by Jay Michaelson, Colby insists that there is no certain definition of marriage in the word of God. However, the Bible does not hold up polygamy as a model, instead there is the beautiful creation story of God providing for and instituting the first marriage, between man and woman. Jesus uses this first union to teach about the covenant of marriage. (Matt. 19: 3-9) And 1 Timothy 3, insists that an ‘overseer’ must be the husband of one wife. The Bible’s standard isn't anything goes, but from the very beginning, “...a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”

2.     Colby states that for the Roman Catholic Church, it is the celibate priests who hold the sacred office and those who are married are considered profane. “Marriage and intimacy was and is considered profane, basic.” But this is not true, for the Catholic Church both are sacred; ordination is a sacrament but so is marriage. He then moves to the Reformation teaching that all should be married, that none should be forced to live a celibate life. Colby uses the Reformation teaching to insist that those with same gender attraction should be allowed to marry. But this is simply apples and oranges. Biblically, marriage is between a man and a woman. And same gender sex is sin, not marriage.

3.      Colby states: “The Gospel always comes wrapped in culture and, try as we might, there is no “pure Gospel” that can be separated out with any certainty from the culture in which Jesus was born, the culture of the New Testament writers, our own culture or some combination of the three.” At first sight this seems confusing—but not really. The Incarnation, Jesus, his life, death and resurrection are the pure gospel—and the whole story, the whole text, that surrounds the life, death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the word of God because Jesus wraps the whole story around himself and molds it to his meaning. (The Old Testament is included in that wrapping.)The life of Christ either blesses or judges the culture. It does not matter, Jesus’ culture, the apostles’ culture, our culture. They are all judged or blessed by how Jesus is received or rejected.

4.     Colby adds to his formula, “The good news always comes wrapped in culture” and it falls to us to sort out what is the good news, and what is the culture.” Well, yes, we need to understand what ancient culture was, what they thought and taught—but the good news is that Jesus overcame the culture of his time—he entered it and either changed it or left it to diminish and perish. For instance in 1 Corinthians we see that there were fornicators, idolaters adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers and swindlers, (the Scripture text lets us know they were sinners no matter what the culture believed), but Christ transformed some of them. They were washed, and sanctified and justified in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. God took a community of unrighteousness and turned them into saints bearing the righteousness of Christ. The good news is that Jesus changed those who received him and he still does. Jesus is Lord over culture not wrapped in it.

And this is a good place to write about adoption. Colby writes:

The apostle Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:22).  It is as if the gospel is being birthed, Paul writes.  Being birthed and coming into being amidst changing cultural norms and expectations.  And it is our job to sort out what is gospel from what is culture. 

I want you to have, deep in your bones, the belief and instinct that for a church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God that God’s work is still unfolding.  That the whole creation, as Paul puts it in our reading today, is “groaning in labor pains” while we are awaiting adoption.  Waiting to be embraced in God’s love.  Waiting to be adopted.

Colby is confused about the meaning of adoption in Romans 8. And he is confused about the gospel “being birthed.” And he is confused about what our job is in the midst of changing cultural norms and expectations.

When Paul writes about adoption in verse 23, he is writing about our final and complete redemption, that is the resurrection of our bodies. That is why it is connected to the redemption of creation. “And not only this, [creations pains of childbirth] but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” This is not a birthing of the gospel—Christ on the cross and in his resurrection provided us with the good news. We are already now the adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. We are, in suffering, awaiting glory and so is creation.

And it is in that final completeness that there will be no more striving against sin. We struggle now to lay aside our sin and walk more closely with Jesus, in the transformation of creation we will be utterly like him. This is not about the unconditional acceptance of sinners, but the transformation of sinners. And we are not waiting to be embraced in God’s love, because Christ has redeemed us we are embraced in his love. We are adopted as sons and daughters—waiting for the final transformation, the resurrection. F.F. Bruce puts it very well:
If inanimate creation longs blindly for the day of its liberation, the community of the redeemed, who see the glory shining before them, strain forward intelligently for the consummation. For them it is the day when they will be publicly and universally acknowledged as the sons and daughters of God; for them, too, it is the day of resurrection, when the present body of humiliation will be transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorified body, when the whole human personality will finally experience the benefits of his redemptive work.

This is the hope of the people of God – ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’, as Paul puts it in another letter (Col. 1:27). This hope is an essential element in their salvation; it enables them to accept the trials of the present, so that by patient endurance they may win their lives; it is, along with faith and love, one of the crowning graces of the Christian life.”

These beautiful promises to the Christian rather than having to do with some final acceptance of same gender sex have to do with the final transformation of all kinds of sinners. We are adopted, we will be finally, and completely new at the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.