Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Proper Perspective

I’ve been obsessed with keeping current, via the Internet, on the events occurring in our denomination this past week at the General Assembly in San Jose. On our way to church this morning I asked my wife, "how many people sitting in the pews this morning do you think have a clue about what our denomination just did this week?" She said, "probably not many, maybe you and Dan!"

The sermon was delivered by our Associate Pastor. In the spirit of the 4th of July he preached a scathing sermon from Jeremiah 2:4-13 against the direction that our country has taken for the past 30 years. He mentioned Edwards’ great sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and the horrible descriptions of how precarious is our sinful position in relation to an awful eternity in Hell. He reminded us of how Oprah has now become the spiritual leader of our country and how her New Age philosophy and teaching is so pervasive in the land. As he kept pointing the finger at the ills of our country, I kept waiting for mention of the "thumb" that was pointing back to us as a denomination and how Jer 6:10 must apply to us now.." To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it." But there was NO accusing thumb. No mention whatsoever of the historic events of this past week in San Jose.

After the service I happened to see our Associate Pastor standing briefly alone and I rushed to him before anyone could divert his attention and asked if he was aware of what had taken place in our denomination this week at the 218th General Assembly. He stated that he hadn’t kept up on it but that we did send a representative and he will come back with a report...probably on Monday or Tuesday.

Now, I know our Associate Pastor and I know of his reputation for giving his all to our Lord and what an exemplary self-sacrificing person he truly is. As I was writing this and thinking about this subject and wondering what our Associate Pastor has been doing all week, the Lord impressed upon me this thought about him, "he’s probably been out feeding the hungry and ministering to the sick." Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And the Lord said (inaudibly) to me..."What have you been doing all week?"

Friday, June 27, 2008

More Bad News

The full General Assembly has approved both Committee decisions mentioned in the "Bad News Bearers" entry below.

Authoritative Interpretation:

Deletion of Fidelity and Chastity (G-6.0106b)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bad News Bearers

"It changes nothing"...was the cry from the progressives in the PCUSA after the Peace Unity & Purity (PUP) Report was received and Authoritative Interpretation G-6.0108 was approved at the 217th General Assembly in 2006. This AI effectively granted local option for ordination standards. It concerned our local congregation so much that we purchased this three-quarter-page ad in the local newspaper along with seven other concerned congregations on Saturday June 24, 2006. I am tempted at this point to call them "seven golden candlesticks" (Rev 1:20) as I did in a previous blog entry for seven unrelated churches in Western, Pa. The question remains, was our concern warranted? Did we have the right and the obligation to our membership and to the world to proclaim that the direction the denomination was taking was a wrong and dangerous direction? The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding, absolutely!

One local unnamed PCUSA blogging pastor wrote at that time, "The implication (of the ad) is that the PC (USA) is now akin to a mere collection of individuals who have sanction to do what is right in their own eyes. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the GA's actions further bound members of the PC (USA) to one another and to a set of standards for ordination. More loosely, the assembly's actions asserted the binding character of the "essentials" of Reformed faith and polity upon those who would be ordained as officers. " Well, it seems that the true intentions of the 217th General Assembly have been clarified for the world to see in the 218th General Assembly. There is now no ambiguity. There has been no positive "Kairos Moment" in the PCUSA this year.

Here are the two decisions by the Church Orders and Ministry Committee:
Authoritative Interpretation

Removal of Standard

The first link affirms that the 217th GA PUP report did effectively give local option to each individual congregation, and the second link attempts to remove the fidelity ordination standard completely. Both actions need to be voted on by the full GA. This vote should occur on or prior to this coming Saturday. The second decision to remove the ordination standards altogether will additionally require a majority of our 173 presbyteries for approval. The second, in my opinion, would be a moot point when the first passes in that the first allows the ordination standards to be scrupled or ignored anyway.

Two of my wife’s Presbyterian relatives just rolled over in their graves: (Cousin)Rev John Witherspoon, signer of Declaration of Independence and GGGGGGGGGGGrandpa Rev John Knox.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In His Image

I’ve been thinking about this subject lately and have consulted several books, articles and essays regarding the image of God in man. What does it mean when the Bible says " the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.?" What is the Image of God that, evidently, we all bear? Kenneth Copeland says (God is) "very much like you and me … A being that stands around six foot two inches or six foot three inches, that weighs around a couple of hundred pounds, and has a [hand] span nine inches across." Is that the image about which the Bible speaks? Is Copeland correct? How could he know this? Why doesn’t Copeland say that God is about 5’2" with eyes of blue, since he may be rather feminine according to Copeland’s eisogesis, given the fact that He created them "in the image of God..male AND female. Or... why wouldn’t a Danny DiVito image be a better likeness for Copeland? By the way, in Christmas pageants, why is Christ always portrayed by a Charleton Hesston type rather than a Danny DiVito type? Wouldn’t a Danny DiVito type be just as reasonable, if not more so? We may be getting into pure speculation and a 2nd Commandment issue here, inadvertently. Back to the topic.

Can any serious student of the Bible give any credence to the Copeland claim? I hope not! So, now that we have that out of the way, what IS the image that we bear? The WCF states: "After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it." This statement in Chap 4.2 says basically, man has a logical or thinking capacity, has been designed to never cease to exist, endued with a capacity for learning about God and His creation, and in the original version empowered or created with true righteousness and true holiness. In the spirit of a Hank Haanegraff or any others that love to create acrostics God’s I.M.A.G.E in man could be defined as Immortal, Moral, Analytical, God-fearing, or Goodly and Ethical.

Berkhof writes, "To sum up it may be said that the image consists: (a) In the soul or spirit of man, that is, in the qualities of simplicity, spirituality, invisibility, and immortality. (b) In the psychical powers or faculties of man as a rational and moral being, namely, the intellect and the will with their functions. (c) In the intellectual and moral integrity of man's nature, revealing itself in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. (d) In the body, not as a material substance, but as the fit organ of the soul, sharing its immortality; and as the instrument through which man can exercise dominion over the lower creation. (e) In man's dominion over the earth." Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology , pg 174. The key, in my opinion, to an understanding of what constitutes the image of God in man is found in Ephesians 4:24, "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." This is the "paradise lost" of which Milton wrote. This is what was lost at Eden. True righteousness and holiness was gone and all other moral, rational, and spiritual apects of God’s image in man were drastically defaced. And these are the areas of life that the Gospel of Jesus Christ effects and renews most drastically. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Cor 5:17 And that new man (that new critter) as Ephesians says (is) after God created in righteousness and true holiness.

I operate on no illusions of special revelation or esoteric knowledge regarding the Imago Dei. I have read enough to know that this subject has been debated or discussed all through Church history and a true consensus on exactly what constitutes the Image of God in man has not yet been achieved. However, I think we can come to some universal agreements as brothers in Christ. These areas of agreement, I believe, would be in the practical application of the fact the we do bear His image, whatever it is. How does this work out in our relationships with others? It, at the very least, requires an acknowledgement of the worth and dignity of each and every soul that is born into this world. And especially as we are "in Christ" a high value is to be placed upon that soul no matter what stage of development we encounter it; from the womb to the tomb, as someone has said. And, finally, how does this work outwardly in our relationships with things? In other words, stewardship of possessions, property, and environment would be affected based upon our understanding that we DO bear the image of our Heavenly Father. Col 3:10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—And verse 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Sheep

Israel wins significant EU Upgrade

A statement put out by the (Israeli) foreign ministry said this agreement "will usher in a new era in Israeli-European relations." Now, don’t get me wrong, I really look forward to this new era of Israeli-EU relationships, but what I really dread the most is the possibility of another "Left Behind" type series of books from those who interpret biblical prophecy via the front page of newspapers, especially the Jerusalem Post.

What fodder this story will be for the likes of Jerry, Tim and Hal. I’m getting a TBN "word of knowledge". I can see the board-room meeting now:

"Well Jerry, that EU Upgrade story looks like the beginning of the end doesn’t it? This must be the preamble to the seven year treaty that Anti-Christ makes with the Israelis", said Tim.

"Sure looks like it, to me" remarked Hal.

"By the way", queries Jerry, "where did this seven year treaty thing come from anyway?"

"I think it came from Chap 4, verse two of "The Late Great Planet Earth", answered Tim.

"Good enough for me, lets run with it. What shall we title our new piece of literary excellence? How ‘bout "Raiders of the Lost Sheep"?, exclaimed Hal

"Wow! Good..that’ll make big €Euros!"

Tell me it ain’t so!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Liberal Professor Robert S. Mc Elvaine has sent an open letter to the Pope urging him to change what the misogynistic folks at Nicaea did in the year 325AD suggesting that the wording of those old male sexists be changed to reflect the political correctness of the day:

"We believe in one God, the Creator, the Almighty,maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen. "We believe in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the Human Incarnation of God, eternally begotten of the Creator, God from God, Light from Light true God from true God,begotten, not made, one in Being with the Creator. Through him all things were made. For us people and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Father/Mother, He became fully human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again, in fulfillment of the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated beside the Creator.He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,and his world will have no end. "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lady, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Creator and the Redeemer. With the Creator and the Redeemer, She is worshiped and glorified, She has spoken through the prophets. "We believe in many holy ways to worship God. We acknowledge baptism as one means for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College. As a member of the PCUSA, I suppose that I shouldn’t complain too loudly about McElvaine given the silliness that was produced at the last PCUSA General Assembly that prompted the creation of this cartoon: (I wonder what the 2008 cartoon will depict; we will know in less than a month)

For the original English translation Nicene Creed, go HERE.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Now there’s a word that, perhaps, many have not come across in a lifetime of reading. In discussing this subject, this blog entry could easily be 97 pages, minimum. Relax, I will not write 97 pages on this subject and I’m not sure that I, personally, could, but there are others extremely more qualified that could write voluminous books on this subject...and have, for that matter. Jonathan Edwards and "The Freedom of the Will" immediately comes to mind and that book covers 348 pages, not counting the preface and the table of contents and there is very little "white space". What can I do, then, in 3 or 4 short paragraphs on this so profound and deep subject? My goal would be limited to entice to further and in-depth study and research.

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard or read the phrase.."God is in control..." This phrase can be recited in connection with everything from death and disease to happiness and health and everything else in between. Do we really believe, as Christians, that God IS in control..or is it just "lip service"? Is it just religious lingo or is it a firmly held and scripturally understood belief? Compatibilism attempts to explain how it is that "God IS in control AND that human responsibility and accountability is also in full effect. We see this supposed dichotomy in full view in the following scripture: (Jesus) "..being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken , and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Acts 2:23 Here we see that God has determined and humans have carried it out and yet they are fully accountable for their actions and will ultimately be held responsible. Our Holy Scriptures sees no inconsistency with Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. The scriptures teach both!

Another example of this supposed unresolvable dichotomy is illustrated for us by Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus Chap 7: "You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt." (vs. 2-3) God commands, through Moses, that Pharaoh "let my people go", yet He says, "I will harden his heart..." Again, scripture sees no inconsistency with God’s Sovereignty and human accountability. Now, just so we will not think this passage is an anomaly, the inspired, infallible scriptures repeat this phrase no less than four times in the book of Exodus. (4:21; 7:3; 14:4 & 14:17) As we hear so often in this modern culture the phrase, "..the devil made me do it", here we see that, perhaps, Pharaoh might have said, "...not my fault, mon, ..God made me do it!" But what does he say? "And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." (Ex 9:27) God says He hardened his heart and Pharaoh readily acknowledges his accountability. Here again, we see that God is in control and yet man is accountable for his actions.

How is all this possible? How can God be in control of all things and hold individuals accountable for their sinful actions? In scriptural terms how is it that "..all things work together for good to them that love God.."? We all certainly believe that verse found in the book of Romans, don’t we? Can God actually work all things together for good without being in control of all things? That would be a logical impossibility. The next question that follows logically is are we really doing what we want to do when we do what we want to do? How could it be any other way? Could we possibly do anything that would be contrary to our greatest preferences? Of course not! And, that is all that is needed for human accountability. "I want what I want when I want it!", as the old hedonistic phrase goes. The Science Channel has a program called "How it’s Made" which delves into a plethora of products that we all seem to take for granted. We could also ask concerning God’s Sovereignty and Human Accountability..."How Does God Do That"? I’m sure this topic will never be on the Science Channel, by the way. There should be no question that He that, that is. In Ezekiel God says "And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." Ez 36:27 Look up the verb "cause" in the Bible and see how many times it refers to God’s actions in human lives.

Compatibilism simply takes verses like the Ezekiel verse to its logical conclusion. God is in control of all things. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." Ez 36:26 Matt Perman, from whom the inspiration for this blog entry comes, writes, "Since we always choose the option that we find most preferable, then it is clear that our choices are determined--they are determined by our greatest preference. But since this is a determination to choose the option that we want the most, it in no way destroys our moral agency. Having understood this, it is not hard to see how God can control all things without violating our moral agency. He simply arranges the situation so that the option which we find most appealing is the choice that He has ordained for us to make. In other words, if God wants us to choose option A instead of option B, He works things out so that option A is the one that we find most preferable. Thus, God is in sovereign control, yet we are choosing what we want most and are therefore making real, genuine choices." An understanding of this doctrine which is clearly taught all through-out the scriptures should cause us to give all the glory, praise and honor to God for all the great things He has done and continues to do in the lives of all believers. God is in control! "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power..." Ps 110:3

Rich Mullins has written: "Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above, With wisdom power and love, Our God is an awesome God! " Amen!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jesus was a "Liberal"

This was quoted to me by a good friend, and, of course, I agree with the statement up to a point. However, I think it is imperative, if we are going to call Jesus a "liberal", as some would even call Him a "Republican" or a "Democrat", that we define our terminology. It is easy to say that Jesus was "a liberal"..or even that Jesus was liberal, but what do we really mean? What does the conservative mean by the term "liberal" or "liberalism" and what does the liberal mean when he uses the term? In my previous post concerning J Gresham Machen he writes, "In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called "modernism" or "liberalism." Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as "liberalism" is regarded as "liberal" only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts." (Christianity and Liberalism, 1923)

Machen, in this book, immediately lays out a dichotomy of understanding between friends and opponents of "modernism or liberalism" which, I believe, continues to this day. Therefore I think it behooves us to lay out some definitions to see if my liberal friend and I can agree on whether Jesus was really a "liberal". The "liberalism" about which I speak is not to be confused with political liberalism or left wing vs right wing politics. The liberalism we are concerned with here would best be described as Christian Liberalism, if that is not really an oxymoron, that is. And, by the way, there are some that would deem it just that, an oxymoron. (e.g., an evil good person) Ok, so let’s get down to definitions. What, exactly, is Christian Liberalism?

Let’s take a look at Wikipedia : "Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically informed religious movements and moods within late 18th, 19th and 20th century Christianity. The style of scriptural hermeneutics within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within an historic/cultural context. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding. Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings." (selected portions)

So, if you’ve read that previous paragraph closely, what it all seems to boil down to is a question of hermeneutics. In other words, the major difference between Liberal Christianity and Conservative Christianity lies in the method of scriptural interpretation. (hermeneutics) According to the above definition, Liberal Christianity is "philosophically informed, non-propositional, individualistic in its hermeneutic, and is characterized by its view of the Bible". So...what, then, is Conservative Christianity? Basically, just the opposite! Conservative Christianity is: divinely informed (scripture interprets scripture), holds to propositional truth (truth may be deduced logically from scripture within certain limits), and this truth is objective truth, not subjective or individualistic, and finally, the Scriptures are held in the highest regard. ( inerrant in all parts, in the autographa ) Both definitions certainly do not exhaust all the various nuances of each group and all the various sub-groups under each umbrella. In my humble opinion, scripture teaches Conservative Christianity, sola gratia along with four other SOLAS! We can explore that statement in a subsequent post.

Back to the original question. Is my friend correct when he says that Jesus was a "Liberal"? In view of the above, I believe that my friend had in mind the political view of liberalism. Political liberalism is identified as a concern for the common man, the downtrodden, the worker, etc. So...yes, in that sense Jesus was a "liberal". However, I think that I could just as easily make the claim that Jesus was, politically, a "Conservative", especially in His claims of exclusivity and in many other areas. However, Christians, I believe, are to be defined theologically and certainly not politically. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." John 18:36 Please don’t mis-understand. I do not mean to imply that, as Christians, we are to meekly bow out of the political struggles in which we find ourselves. Rendering to Caesar, as Jesus admonished, in our form of government, means involvement.

And, rather than defining our Lord in any 21st century political fashion, whether from the right or the left, my friend and I will both agree that our predecessors and friends from a bygone era did a masterful job in the year 451 AD: "The Chalcedonian Creed":

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

In view of all the above, my good friend and I will certainly disagree in many areas; however, I am sure our 59 year friendship will continue to flourish, as brothers in Christ.