Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Since October of 2012 More Light Presbyterians have provided a space where teaching elders and ruling elders can sign a commitment to preform same sex marriage in those states where it is legal. With this, they are not only bypassing Presbyterian polity but are also standing against the authority of Scripture. While many Presbyterian churches, orthodox in their beliefs, are struggling within their presbyteries to reach a place of safety for their people, one which includes their church property, MLP, in an article, “Seeking a Positive Peace in Detroit,” are suggesting that the real positive peace at the coming General Assembly would be to pass both an authoritative interpretation and an amendment to the Constitution allowing same sex marriage.
Tying their hopes to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that racial problems were not solved because of white moderates who wanted peace without tension which also meant without justice, the MLP author quotes King, “The great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” (Bold MLP)
After referring to the same attempt to bypass polity in the United Methodist Church the author states:
"We believe Stand for Love prefigures the presence of justice for LGBTQ people and teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). More Light Presbyterians and Covenant Network’s pursuit of both an A.I. and an amendment at the 221st General Assembly seeks to make the presence of justice a holistic reality for LGBTQ people and the entire church.
This is the positive peace we seek in Detroit and in our daily living." (Italics authors)
So if the Covenant Network fails in passing an AI and the MLP fail in passing an amendment to the Presbyterian Constitution there will be no real peace at the General Assembly?
On the contrary “Stand for Love” prefigures the presence of judgment on those who name the name of Christ while rejecting Christ's call to holiness and obedience. The passing of such an AI and/or an amendment to the constitution prepares the church for unending conflict and pain. And the pain will mostly be dumped on the head of precious individuals whose brokenness could be healed by the redeeming love of Jesus. But they will not hear that proclamation in the midst of a sexually compromised denomination.
Justice is a matter of the good news. But it is the justice of God, not human justice, which matters. The cross is God's answer to all of our sin. The blood of Jesus Christ is God's curative to our brokenness. And true justice, godly justice sets those in bondage free. It matters not whether it is the sin of greed, idolatry, homosexuality, corporate sin or individual sin, justice comes through the cross and turns the sinner around toward discipleship.
We are all like blind Bartimaeus calling to Jesus for healing. His is the true justice and the true peace.
Picture by Stephen Larson
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Dr. Stephen A. Hayner and Dr. Mark Labberton have written a paper on the Belhar Confession, “The Bible and Belhar.” Both are presidents of theological seminaries; Hayner of Columbia Theological Seminary and Hayner of Fuller Theological Seminary. They both have strong ties to the evangelical side of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). It is hard to disagree with two such prominent gentlemen and scholars, and I do so with (as Kierkegaard might say) much fear and trembling.
The authors' intentions are seemingly to reconcile Belhar and Bible to make the case that if it is the right time to include Belhar in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions that it is a biblically acceptable confession. That is, that everything in it is founded on Scripture.
Before addressing that subject I want to tie up what I consider a loose end. The authors intended that their paper should only address the biblical foundations of Belhar, I believe they have left a few other dangling strings. It is partly about the first quote in their article taken from C.S. Lewis' introduction to Sister Penelope Lawson's translation of St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. Lewis speaking of “the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century” finds some solution in the reading of old books. “None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books,” Lewis writes.
He continues, referring to the reading of modern books:
Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer than they are now; they make as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.
Using the quote and a bit more of it, the authors explain that if an old book helps surely the “Bible as God's inspired Word is certainly many times as strong and important.” And then they explain that any paper such as the Belhar Document which was written in a time of crisis should help also.
First, the help we are gifted with through the reading of Scripture cannot be equated with the help of “old books.” It is the living word that actually feeds and nourishes our lives. Secondly the Belhar Confession is not old. It therefore could possibly, and I believe it does, aggravate “the error with which we [in the postmodern western world] are dangerously ill.” We simply cannot see it because Belhar is a document which in its context performed a great service to the South African church.
Thirdly, there was a second reason Lewis suggested we should read old books:
But if any man is tempted to think—as one might be tempted who read only contemporaries—that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages 'mere Christianity' turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.
Lewis goes on to explain that as an atheist, reading so many varying classics, all of which held the odor of Christ, he now understands that those who look-in from the outside—the enemies or naysayers—see “what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity.”
And so now the Bible and Belhar. (But also what it means to confess Christ.)
1. The first one has to do with God as creator and humanity created in God's image, which implies the dignity which resides in each member of the human race. They use Gen.1, 9:6 and John 3:16 for this lesson.
3. The third lesson has to do with God using the church as the means of bringing about reconciliation. The authors see the unity focus of Belhar as theological and found in Christ. It was “to be modeled on very relationship between Jesus and the Father.” Among much other descriptive language the authors write:
“Belhar captures the scope and language of God's great plan for unity, borrowing liberally from the images and teachings found throughout the New Testament, especially from the book of Ephesians. It captures both the spirit and emphasis of the Bible on this great theme. While recognizing that individuals, people groups, and cultures bring differences of many kinds, including gifts to the body of Christ, the church is called to participate in God's plan to bring all things together in Christ. If the unity of God's people is not visibly seen across all possible divisions and within all diversity then the witness of God's people to the watching world is surely compromised. (Italics the authors)
So have Hayner and Labberton truly confirmed the biblical foundations of Belhar? Are their biblical lessons the same lessons we find in Belhar?
The first lesson about the Creator creating humanity in His image is certainly a biblical theme. And undoubtedly the writers of the Belhar Confession held that biblical view, but it isn't really within the text of Belhar. (Perhaps implied but certainly not stated) But that isn't a problem; other important confessions such as the Nicene Creed do not emphasize humanity's creation. But what it does imply is that the authors of “Bible and Belhar,” were digging deeper in Scripture than in Belhar.
The second and third lesson, God's desire for unity and the church's responsibility to demonstrate and participate in that unity are certainly the whole focus of Belhar. But when looking at Belhar one must look at the whole text. The whole text must stand on a biblical foundation; if even one part is false or unbiblical or even leads to a contradiction of Scripture the whole confession will not be helpful as a confession. Within the Confession there is a statement which does not have a solid biblical foundation:
...we reject any doctrine -which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation.
All of the other statements in the section which follow this statement under the subtitle “Therefore, we reject any doctrine” are not biblical. There is a natural absolutization of diversity that is biblical and is contained not only in the beginnings of Genesis but also in the words of Jesus:
“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.
That biblical statement, including the original text quoted by Jesus, cannot be changed, twisted or have words removed from it. It stands as it is and so leaves the Belhar Confession wanting.
It is true that in the beginning the authors of Belhar did not intend that the Confession should be used the way some in the PC (U.S.A.) desire to use it. They intended to attack the sin of racial absolutization. But it is because of its unbiblical insistence that there can be no absolutization of natural diversity that there are problems. And the problem occurred because the aim of a Confession should not be to attack a heresy in any other way but by a full confession of Christ. That is, the time comes when the Church must confess Christ anew in such a way that the church is renewed and brought back to the true word of God.
The Nicene Creed confesses Christ against the heresy of Arianism not by explaining the heresy of Arianism but by confessing the biblical truth that Jesus Christ Lord was begotten before all worlds, that he is God of God and Light of Light, that he is of one substance with the Father, etc., etc. A confession confesses Christ Jesus. And in doing so affirms biblical truths about Christ.
The Reformation confessions while very full of all manner of church doctrine, since their heresy involved a whole hierarchical system; nonetheless contain full confessions of Jesus Christ. For instance The Westminster Confession of Faith speaking of unity links it to Jesus Christ by affirming truths about Christ:
1.All saints being united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory; and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. (Chapter XXV! 6.146)
The Theological Declaration of Barmen as it stands against allegiance to any other Lord, goes straight to the word and clearly confesses that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Barmen explains that he is “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Barmen states a great deal about Jesus Christ; it truly confesses Christ.
The fourth lesson about sin in the world and caring for the poor, marginalized and lost while following the prophets and Jesus in this activity is certainly in Belhar and in the Scripture although Belhar carries a whiff of liberation theology in this area, it is certainly biblical in its call. But Belhar which helped the church of South Africa with the racial sin that pervaded their church is not universal in its usefulness. While aimed at racism it is open to misuse because of unhelpful language which is not biblical.
It should be noted, as C.S. Lewis saw it about contemporary books, Belhar aggravates the error of our day by allowing many to see the biblical insistence of God's plan for marriage between a man and a woman as sin. It allows instead for the blessing of a multiplicity of genders in marriage. But on the other hand we should also note that, as Lewis pointed out, there is also an “immensely formidable unity” within our divisions when seen by an unbelieving world. It is the natural outcome of our being in Christ, united to him by the Holy Spirit. And it is that “mere” Christianity that Lewis understood and clarified so well.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Sadly, Presbyterians will probably find that at the 2014th Generally Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) they are confronted by rainbow knitted wedding rings and stories of ancient Christian martyrs and early church fathers and mothers who were married in Christian rites intended as same sex rituals.
On the More Light Presbyterians' web site, tucked neatly at the end of an article about knitting rainbow scarves for the 2014 GA, is a suggestion to also knit wedding rings in honor of two ancient martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus. According to the author of the article, Janet Edwards, Serius and Bacchus were a married gay couple. She references the historian John Boswell, writing:
“Since the focus in Detroit will be upon overtures regarding marriage, MLP is adding an additional wrinkle to the rainbow witness at this assembly. St. Sergius and St. Bacchus were early church martyrs who were Roman soldiers in Syria. According to the historian, John Boswell, they were united in an official church liturgy of their time. Perhaps we can agree: today, we would recognize their love and commitment as marriage. A mosaic preserved in a Syrian church portrays them wearing identical rings.”
This mythological idea has been soundly answered by a theologian who teaches church history, who was, herself united in a “same sex union” with a friend. As Robin Darling Young writes, when reviewing Boswell's book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe:
This is a subject about which I have the good fortune to speak not merely as a scholar or an observer, but as a participant. Nine years ago I was joined in devout sisterhood to another woman, apparently in just such a ceremony as Boswell claims to elucidate in his book. The ceremony took place during a journey to some of the Syrian Christian communities of Turkey and the Middle East, and the other member of this same-sex union was my colleague Professor Susan Ashbrook Harvey of Brown University. During the course of our travels we paid a visit to St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem, the residence of the Syrian Orthodox archbishop. There our host, Archbishop Dionysius Behnam Jajaweh, remarked that since we had survived the rigors of Syria and Eastern Turkey in amicable good humor, we two women must be good friends indeed. Would we like to be joined as sisters the next morning after the bishop's Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Intrigued, we agreed, and on a Sunday in late June of 1985, we followed the bishop and a monk through the Old City to a side chapel in the Holy Sepulchre where, according to the Syrian Orthodox, lies the actual tomb of Jesus. After the liturgy, the bishop had us join our right hands together and he wrapped them in a portion of his garment. He pronounced a series of prayers over us, told us that we were united as sisters, and admonished us not to quarrel. Ours was a sisterhood stronger than blood, confirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, and since it was a spiritual union, it would last beyond the grave.
Our friendship has indeed endured and flourished beyond the accidental association of two scholars sharing an interest in the Syriac-speaking Christianity of late antiquity. The blessing of the Syrian Orthodox Church was a precious instance of our participation in the life of an ancient and noble Christian tradition.”
Young's article “Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History,” was written for the Journal First Things in 1994. It is very relevant for PC (U.S.A.) members today. Young points to the many historical errors and poor translations in Boswell's book.
This is particularly evident when he writes of St. Sergius and St. Bacchus. As Young writes:
“In the story, Bacchus dies first, and appears in a vision to exhort Sergius to preserve his Christian faith in the face of certain martyrdom the next day. Boswell asserts that "Bacchus' promise that if Serge followed the Lord he would get as his reward not the beatific vision, not the joy of paradise, not even the crown of martyrdom, but Bacchus himself, was remarkable by the standards of the early church, privileging human affection in a way unparalleled during the first thousand years of Christianity."
To arrive at this conclusion requires that Boswell read Sun soi gar apokeitai moi ho tes dikaiosynes stephanos as "For the crown of justice for me is to be with you." But that is not how it reads; the Latin version more correctly translates the Greek as Tecum enim mihi reposita est justitia et corona: "For with you is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (in the Latin, "righteousness and crown") [cf. 2 Timothy 4:8]. In other words, the two will together gain the crown-not primarily one another's person, as Boswell wishes.”
More Light Presbyterians with the help of some very bad history, are setting up a scenario where affection/friendship between two women or two men is impossible. In their prevailing context, one cannot think of friendship without thinking of the erotic. With this they hurt the communion of the saints, they destroy the connectionalism of the church.
But MLP and Janet Edwards, in using Boswell's book, will undoubtedly go much further. Boswell in his book, and as Young also points out, does more than slander ancient martyrs, he slanders the Lord of the church, suggesting that Jesus and the beloved disciple were perhaps lovers:
“Certainly the most controversial same sex couple in the Christian tradition comprised Jesus and John, the beloved disciple. The relationship between them was often depicted in subsequent art and literature as intimate, if not erotic. John refers to himself six times as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
This touches the very heart of the gospel. For those who claim that the PC (U.S.A) is not changing the church's Christology—let them stand against this immoral heresy invading the denomination.
Read Young's article, Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History, and prepare as followers of Jesus to stand for his sake in witness and kneel in intersession for the broken hurting people of this denomination, including ourselves. May Christ have mercy on his people, may the Holy Spirit turn many to the Savior, may the Father walk with his children through this dark time.
...in the furture there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 8)
 found at Amazon in Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Picture of Serius and Bacchus taken from Wikipedia
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The Presbyterian News Service reports that on October 14-16 during the annual Polity Conference, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons preached about Ahaz and his refusal of a sign from the prophet Isaiah. He spoke of a sign needed by those in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and concluded that the sign, unlike the apostle John's dream of the new Jerusalem, was that God was not done. There are still budgets, committee meetings and sermons that need attention.
Connected to the news posting are links for the Polity Conference schedule and various workshops and handouts for the workshops. One of the workshops was entitled “Workshop A4 - Dismissing Congregations to a Reformed Denomination - A Panel Discussion” It was led by Laurie Griffith, Manager of Judicial Process and Social Witness of the Office of the General Assembly. One of the handouts was The Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report from the Maumee Valley Presbytery.
The report is written by those who participated in an AC which oversaw the dismissal of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, Michigan. The outcome of that process was that the larger body of First Presbyterian was required to leave without the church property. While there are always problems and sin on all sides in such disputes, I found the report troubling and wondered why this particular report was used for such a workshop. The implications are many, and for that reason I have written an e-mail to Ms. Griffith asking her why the paper was used, and will report on her answer if I receive one.
In the mean time I have several thoughts about the AC report. First, the report and the actions of the AC reminded me very much of the actions of the AC that was at first put over Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento. However the actions of the AC in Sacramento were challenged by several wise and faithful teaching elders. The actions of the Sacramento Presbytery changed and the outcome of that change was that Fremont entered the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with their property and with a tiny group of PCUSA members nested as a church on their campus.
So here are several items that were brought up but not answered in the report. The presbytery required that at least 50% of the congregation should be present to vote. Since that did not happen they resolved to find out why. Yet, no answer is given about why in the report.
The vote was 150 to leave, 31 to stay. But nowhere in the report does it say how many did stay and whether they were original members or newly recruited members.
And there is a discussion about values. The AC report states that they had supposed that both sides held the same values. “Our core values assumed common convictions among all parties involved in the negotiations. Simply stated, we assumed that we all believed in the same one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” But earlier they state “There were groups that, in retrospect, we know were operating out of different core values,” and they do not explain what the different values were, which would seem to me to be extremely important.
The AC members evidently believed they had failed in some sense because they were unable to reconcile the two groups in their beliefs—but the reader is left without any understanding of who believed what. And yet they believed they did have some success, writing, “We were successful in the sense that there are two healing congregations with different ethos, core values and make up in the Tecumseh area located a few blocks from each other.” But because there was no reconciliation this was called schism which would of course place a burden on the body that wished to leave the PCUSA.
The conclusion was:
"We presented multiple plans for resolution, at two different Presbytery meetings. Those who intended to leave the PCUSA presented multiple plans for resolution. When the portion of the congregation desiring to be affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church communicated their desire in writing, the Administrative Commission brought a motion to the February 21, 2012 Presbytery meeting requesting disapproval of the actions of the Session in making application to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and to warn the Session and the Pastor of the Presbytery’s disapproval. The debate provided an opportunity to begin to discuss some of the differences in perspectives held by the differing entities.
The Administrative Commission sought to recognize the broken relationship at Tecumseh by formal action. We brought a motion declaring schism to the Presbytery on May 15, 2012. One part of the congregation was declared to be “true church in the PCUSA”. Original jurisdiction was given to the Administrative Commission by vote of the Presbytery on that day after extensive debate.”
Beyond the unanswered questions are what I would consider scary conclusions in the report. They are at the very end of the report where AC members write suggestions that others might follow.
There is this: “We needed to manage the transition into the Original Jurisdiction in a different manner. In the future, we would recommend receiving the books and the financial documents at the time of the Original Jurisdiction. If there is doubt, freeze the assets.”
And this: “In contentious situations, we recommend courteous visits to the civil authorities such as Police Chief or Sheriff; to the media, including local newspapers; to the political leadership including the Mayor or Township Supervisor in order to assure them of the desire for peaceful resolutions.”
And this: “We also would recommend a visit to the bank in which the church’s assets are held, and a conveyance of the appropriate documents indicating the Presbytery’s authority over the assets if such actions become advisable.”
It is troubling that this report was the handout for a forum/workshop on dismissing congregations. There are so many questions. Was all of this used as the best way to dismiss congregations? Was the report seen as a good model? Certainly that part of the body of Christ leaving goes because their values are usually different then those who want to stay. They can be reconciled in friendship and care for one another but hardly in beliefs.
For a different viewpoint concerning all of these actions one of the members, Mary Cates, of the original First Presbyterian Church which is now Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church, has written a paper, From Faith to Victory, on the church's journey. And there are additional papers and letters found at the end: http://emmausroa7.wix.com/whatsgoingonatchurch#!page4/cfvg
I would like to suggest that it is perhaps not a sign that the PCUSA needs, but a call about goodness; “to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God.” Give justice to those who are departing—real justice—don't grab for their money or buildings—recognize their ministries and the ministries of those outside of the PCUSA. Love the departing ones with kindness—don't take away their means of ministry. Walk humbly with your God; come under the Lordship of Christ. He has called us all to faithfulness.
Ahaz rejected Isaiah's word and promise of a sign and the sign, although fulfilled in some manner in Ahaz's time, was clearly fulfilled in Christ. When a denomination rejects God's promises of redemptive love bought on the bloody cross of Christ and instead seeks humanistic justice which includes sexual sin and the killing of innocent babies, committee meetings, budgets and even sermons will not be signs but heavy burdens without joy. I believe God is calling the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to repentance.
picture by Stephen Larson
Friday, October 18, 2013
Several evenings ago I took a long journey through the internet looking for a document which I did not find. I had gone from the Facebook page of the Presbyterian Advocacy Committee for Women' Concerns to one of their 'like' pages, the web site of Religious Institute. There I saw this, “We loved this speech from Religious Institute friend Robert Pennoyer, Esq. on religious liberty and reproductive justice www.afj.org/formatted-pennoyer-remarks.pdf We cannot "surrender liberty to the male dominated religions obsessed with doctrines from the middle ages."
I was curious, I wondered what else Robert Pennoyer had said about orthodox Christianity. But the link did not work. And when I used a search engine I still did not find it. As I stated, I never found it, but I did find something that is troubling, something that stands in the valley shouting at the people of God, just as the biblical giant Goliath did.
I went to the organization that had evidently posted the original document, that is Alliance for Justice, an advocacy group made up of more than 100 organizations. AFJ's main focus is maintaining progressive minded justices within the United States judicial system including the Supreme Court. And it was their focus on the courts combined with the purposes of many of the 100 organizations that I found disturbing.
Yes, Planned Parenthood is among the organizations as is the Center for Reproductive Rights, there are several other abortion advocate organizations included. Another organization Center for Inquiry is an organization focused on atheism although that word is not used. This is their purpose statement as found on the AFJ site:
The purpose of the 501(c)(3) Center for Inquiry is to promote and defend reason, science, and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor. The organization encourages evidence-based inquiry into science, pseudoscience, medicine and health, religion, ethics, and secularism through education, research, publishing, and social services. The Center is also interested in providing rational ethical alternatives to the reigning paranormal and religious systems of belief, and in developing communities where like-minded individuals can meet and share experiences.
Compassion & Choices is a right to die organization. Their several focuses include, helping “clients with advance directives, local service referrals, and pain and symptom management” and offering “information on self-determined dying when appropriate ...” The organization helps fight court cases that are about the right to die and even about not calling assisted death suicide.
Another organization, Drug Policy Alliance not only advocates for legal use of marijuana it has some rather heinous views about the addictiveness and affects of cocaine and crack. And of course there are several LGBTQ organizations including, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
There are also some helpful organizations among this mix of progressives, but the overload of those seeking to shape society into what might be equated with the culture of the ancient Roman Empire is stunning. One abstractly realizes the connection that exists between the culture of death and the culture of immorality, and yet seeing them together under the umbrella of one organization whose main desire is to move the Supreme Court toward a more progressive court is understanding concretely the possible future of orthodox Christians in the United States.
And yet, Goliath, fell before David with his slingshot and the Lord God of Israel. And David was promised that his Son would sit upon an everlasting throne and rule forever:
The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:11b-13)
Yes, the messiah, Jesus, God with us, went through suffering that we might possess abundant and eternal life, and we too are called to suffering. But the eternal reign of Christ is forever and our position, portion and callings are with Jesus Christ, Lord of the church.
Picture by Stephen Larson
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
- Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while he was sleeping, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.
- But when the wheat spouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then to go and gather them up?'
- But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares , you may up root the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares ad bind them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30)
- “As Jesus points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, it is not up to the servants to decide before the harvest what is wheat and what is tare, and even at the harvest time, it is not the servants who will separate one from the other. Ours is to plant and to nurture, side by side, that which we think is good and that which we think is bad, because our Lord has told us that we cannot tell the difference.”
While France sees the contrast of the weeds and the wheat existing between those in the world and the those in the church, Calvin, in his commentary on the gospels, sees the contrast within the church. And Calvin uses this picture of the weeds and the wheat, within the church, as a means of comfort and hope. He also insists that the difference does not have to do with good doctrine or false doctrine but with immorality. As Calvin puts it, “But as soon as Christ has gathered a small flock for himself, many hypocrites mingle with it, persons of immoral lives creep in, nay, many wicked men insinuate themselves; in consequence of which, numerous stains pollute that holy assembly, which Christ has separated for himself.”
On the need to point out false doctrine Calvin writes:
“These terms [tares and wheat] cannot be explained as referring to doctrine, as if the meaning had been that, when the Gospel is sown, it is immediately corrupted and adulterated by wicked inventions; for Christ would never have forbidden them to labor strenuously to purge out that kind of corruption. With respect to morals, those faults of men which cannot be corrected must be endured; but we are not at liberty to extend such a toleration to wicked errors, which corrupt the purity of faith.”
The tares are those who in their unredeemed state become a part of the church and continue in their habitual sin seeing it as a natural thus acceptable condition of humanity. They therefore insist that it is a acceptable condition for Christians. And as for affecting the purity of the church some who are redeemed will, in desperation, using the unredeemed as models, also see some sins as acceptable. And this is why the church must continue to proclaim the whole gospel which includes warnings against “wicked errors.”
As for the hope and comfort of this text it has to do with looking toward that time when the church will no longer struggle in the midst of either their own, as Calvin puts it, “infirmities of the flesh” or the immoralities that invade the church. That is the final day when the redeemed are separated from the unredeemed. That is the only time that the church will exist as a pure church, and the Lord of the church is working in the church preparing it for that day.
But what of the idea that “Ours is to plant and to nurture, side by side, that which we think is good and that which we think is bad, because our Lord has told us that we cannot tell the difference.” The whole idea is false.
First, although God uses Christians as his workers, it is the planting of the Lord. The text tells the reader that it is the landowner who has planted the wheat.
Second, even the Scripture text tells us that the servants saw that the weeds were weeds. And not just any weed but poisonous weeds. We can tell the difference between morality and immorality. Above all, Christians are not in the dark, we have the word of God. “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” (Psalm 119:160)
Third, we are not called to nurture what is bad, but are instead to warn, correct and pull others to safety. I have used this scripture over and over but it is so applicable for today:
But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatch them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 20-23)
The Christian is called to persevere in the midst of troubling times and situations but always with the promise that comes in Jesus' explanation of his parable; “Then the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
 R.T. France, Matthew, Tyndale: New Testament Commentaries, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press 1985).
 John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Picture by Melissa Tregilgas
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Interfaith dialogue has a place in Christian settings when it involves working toward some common goal or standing against evil. I saw that happen in Sacramento when three synagogues were mostly destroyed within minutes of each other. The faith community of Sacramento, together, stood against the evil.
But there is an interfaith dialogue that overcomes our own Christian faith. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and particular churches within the denomination, tend toward that kind of dialogue . Too often PC(U.S.A.) churches allow worship to replace conversation and thus participate in the worship of false gods. Additionally some churches choose dialogue but never evangelism.
There are many examples such as the one I wrote about with the posting, Presbyterian Stony Point Center & Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Now a new example comes with the article, “First Presbyterian Church in Rutherford hosts Jain program”. The First Presbyterian Church of Rutherford has actually promoted an on going interfaith program for several years. But, the biggest problem is their use of the different religion's worship or devotion in their church's worship or teaching times.
Learning facts about what others believe can be helpful, but participating in their worship is syncretism (the mixing of different religious ideas & objects including gods) at its best and apostasy at its worst. The article about FPC of Rutherford hosting Naresh Jain and His Holiness Amrender Muniji of Jainism states, “The Jain Guru, led the group though a powerful session on Jain meditation and chanting of mantras. Meditation and mantras or sounds are widely used for purification, protection, healing and awakening of divine powers.”
In this case, because the followers of Jainism do not believe in a god who created or rules the world but rather in human “fordfinders” who show the way and lesser gods who are in bondage to the material universe, members of FPC of Rutherford, when participating in the meditation were actually, perhaps unknowingly, focused on themselves. Jainism teaches that the only way to salvation, (which means release from the material world and the cycle of reincarnation) is through extreme asceticism (tapas) and extreme nonviolence (ahimsa). Neither a personal creator God nor a redemptive Lord are honored when Christians engage in the meditation practices of Jainism.
But this is not the only time members of FPC of Rutherford have allowed syncretistic worship. In September of 2012 the interfaith class focused on the Sikh religion and it began in the worship service as well as the 11:30 interfaith gathering as stated on the church's Facebook page:
The program will begin during the 10:00 a.m. worship service on Sunday, October 14th with a formal program following at 11:30 a.m. Included in the formal program is a recitation of Mul Mantar which is the first composition of the Sikh Holy Book and the basis of Sikh theology, Shabad Kirtan devotional singing and a presentation on the Sikh religion and its commonalities with Christianity.A recent news article on the Presbyterian News Service, “Consultation on interfaith relations maps way forward for PC (U.S.A.),” written by Toya Richards, pointed to a gathering of those interested in interreligious engagement and the PCUSA. Sponsored by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR) attendees met to discuss the PCUSA and the denomination's response to interreligious issues and relationships. Their recommendations will go to the 221 General Assembly of the PCUSA.
According to Richards, the chair of GACEIR, Krystin Granberg, stated, “In light of the ever-changing interreligious landscape, Presbyterians must look at an approach that individuals and congregations can use in their day-to-day lives as they engage with others.”
And there are answers, biblical answers: people who belong to other faiths need compassion, respect for their humanity, as well as our interest and friendship. Certainly Presbyterians need to know what other religions teach. While a member of Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, I taught classes on world religions and new religions, that is very important. But there are two ingredients too often missing in PC (U.S.A.) churches when they engage with other religions.
The first missing ingredient is failure to see the spiritual needs of members of other religions. Like all of us they are broken, they need Jesus Christ. They need to hear the good news; there is redemption, love and new life through Jesus Christ. There is a harvest waiting and we are called to be reapers. As the Lord tells his disciples, “Behold I say to you lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that are white to harvest.” In the United States they are very white. We are also called to be sowers planting the seed of the gospel so that others will follow and reap our planting.
The second ingredient missing in our attempts to understand and know about other religions is discernment, caution and love for our Lord; we possess a kind of carelessness that tries to gain nourishment from artificial food. Participating in any religious exercise that is an attempt to secure salvation by any other means than the cross or is worship of a different god is sacrilegious. Participating in any religious exercise that in any way infers that Jesus is less then God or demeans the cross is apostasy.
“Jesus said ..., 'I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)
John A Hutchison, Paths of Faith, third edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company 1981).
Picture by Ethan McHenry
Friday, October 4, 2013
More Light Presbyterians and Covenant Network GA strategy: leaving behind Reformed polity, theology and compassion: Update
Paula R. .Kincaid, a Layman reporter, with her article “Same-Sex marriage advocates outline plans for 2014 General Assembly,” has truly opened our eyes to the damage that may pile on top of an already hurting denomination. The article clarifies the direction the two PCUSA organizations, advocating for same sex marriage, are headed as they ignore what it means to be Reformed. Both the More Light Presbyterians and The Covenant Network are willing, in their strategy to change the denomination, to leave behind reformed polity, reformed theology and reformed compassion. I will look at each of these departures.
Leaving behind reformed polity:
According to Kincaid, Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network stated that “it is absolutely essential” for GA to pass an authoritative interpretation. That would be an AI which allows same sex marriage and protects pastors who wish to perform such marriages. But is this how an AI is supposed to be used. The Presbyterian Book of Order states:
“The General Assembly may provide authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order,which shall be binding on the councils of the church when rendered in the manner described in this section or through a decision of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission in a remedial or disciplinary case.” (G-6.02)
An AI is meant for a time when there is confusion about the meaning of a Book of Order statement. But such an interpretation for the issue of so called same sex marriage would mean reinterpreting a section of the Book of Order, and even reinterpreting the clear meaning of the English language, since all educated people clearly understand what the words man and woman mean. That is, when one reads in the Book of Order “Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman.” & “For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship (W-4.9000),” one does not need an interpretation to know the meaning of a woman and man. Nothing could be clearer.
So what is happening is a desire by same gender marriage advocates to bypass the constitutional rights of Presbyteries to vote on any change to the PCUSA' constitution.
Evidently Ellison has insisted that there is no place in the Book of Order where same sex marriage is addressed. (So it most be addressed?) But that is simply doublespeak; if the Book of Order states that marriage is between a man and a woman it has already addressed any new definition of marriage. Ellison, the Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians are simply trying to bypass the reformed polity of voting by Presbyteries.
Leaving behind reformed theology:
As far as an amendment goes, Heidi A. Peterson, co-moderator of More Light, according to Kincaid, stated,“We didn’t look at what was in the book and think about how to change it … We thought about what is marriage in the Reformed tradition? Is it about gender identity or is marriage in our faith tradition about covenant, abiding love and commitment?”
Here theology gets fairly well flattened. Yes marriage in the Reformed tradition is about covenant and commitment. It isn't always about abiding love, at least not romantic love. Only that kind of love that sticks even when one is not sure of love, but that is another article. But marriage in the Reformed tradition is also about gender identity. It is about Jesus' love for the church reflected by the love a man and a woman have for each other. (Eph. 5:23-30) It is God's love pictured in the life of a man who rescued a sex slave and although marrying her forgoes sexual relations with her in order to bring her life into conformity with God's will. (Hosea 3)
It is Jesus reminding his questioners that God created them male and female so that the husband might cleave to his wife. (Matthew 19:3-6 & Genesis 2:18-25) It is the confessions of the church referring to marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. The whole definition in the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions cannot be changed to fit a smaller, shallow definition that leads to sin. It is covenant, commitment and gender—a man and a woman. Anything else leads away from Reformed theology. Anything else is not Reformed theology.
Leaving behind Reformed compassion:
There are two areas where both More Light Presbyterians and the Covenant Network lack the kind of compassion that are marks of Reformed teaching. One is about transformation. Jesus lived, died and was resurrected that we might be both redeemed and transformed. The later is called sanctification. We are led in our new life to live out the life of Christ. That is transforming. As the apostle Paul puts it after naming prevailing sins which included homosexuality:
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified I the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 9:11)
But those advocating for same sex marriage are encouraging others to come to the birth, but stay broken as they cling to their old life. God wants to change and transform all of us through Christ. If we do not long for newness for the other we lack, in that area, compassion.
The second lack of compassion is compassion for the unity of Christ's body. Our denomination is already terribly broken—I experience that deeply in my own presbytery. If an AI passes or an amendment to the Book of Order passes which allows sin to enter our constitution the exodus from our denomination will be like that of the children of Israel from Egypt, and rightly so. Fellowship around the world, and fellowship at home will be broken, it must be so.
Jesus in his high priestly prayer prays not only for the unity of his body, he also prays that his disciples will be sanctified in truth which is the word of God. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:18.) If the truth is taken away as the word is dismissed for the sake of living a LGBTQ lifestyle there will be no unity. Who can minister where sin is embraced and transformation is checked. Reformed compassion will fall away as the sheep scatter.
Update: Here is a link to the MLP & CN statement for the upcoming GA: http://www.mlp.org/standing-for-love-in-the-pcusa/
Picture by Ethan McHenry
Thursday, October 3, 2013
In memory of Pastor Chuck Smith who has gone home to be with Jesus. He influenced the Warehouse Ministries where my family and I went throughout most of my children' teen years. He was a man who allowed God to use him to the salvation of many young people who were lost in the drug and hippie culture of the sixties & seventies.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!" "Yes," says the Spirit, "So that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them." Rev. 14: 13.