Presbyweb linked to this story about a particular Presbyterian Church that is engaged in a fascinating new ministry. They are doing a service for dogs and their owners. It is certainly an interesting gimmick, and I as a dog lover and owner of three dogs myself was intrigued.
What was most revealing about this particular church and pastor was this section of the article:
Before the first Canines at Covenant service last Sunday, Eggebeen said many Christians love their pets as much as human family members and grieve just as deeply when they suffer – but churches have been slow to recognize that love as the work of God.
"The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an ‘is’: That God is light and God is love. And wherever there’s love, there’s God in some fashion," said Eggebeen, himself a dog lover. "And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that’s a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that."
First I would correct him about the “is”…does it not repeatedly say that God is holy and that God is righteous? But setting that aside, his statement about God is love, completely misses the point. Somehow he has interpreted this in some kind of nonsensical pan/en/theistic way to mean the reciprocal of the statement, namely that “love is God”, thereby making a logical fallacy. Clearly when the apostle John speaks of God being love, he is speaking of an attribute of a personal God. Yet this particular pastor has reinterpreted this to mean that when someone experiences some kind of warm (possibly fleeting) feeling of love, then God must somehow be present. Maybe this pastor will soon be holding a blessing for cash and currency, because we have all probably known people who dearly love money? His logic would then have us all experiencing God whenever we have some warm feeling that we attribute as love. My wife loves ice cream (as many do), so I wonder if he’ll be starting a Ben and Jerry’s service soon?
I have always been concerned with efficiency and effectiveness in the church. My undergraduate degree was in organizational management and I often look at the church through those eyes. It has been exceedingly popular to mimic the business/management world within the church setting, and there is some wisdom that we can glean from there. But we must never lose sight of the centrality of the cross. I truly appreciate all of the works of D.A. Carson that I have read, and this book is a must read. It is a refreshing prophetic reminder that all the wonderful sociological tools that are available to us today can never replace the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s inerrant word.
Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how "vision" consists in clearly articulated "ministry goals," how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements–but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry. (pp.25- 26) D.A. Carson The Cross and Christian Ministry
The gathering of Presbyterian women, began with a presentation of a panentheist. Cynthia Rigby wrote an article in 1996 in Theology Today titled, Free to Be Human: Limits, Possibilities and the Sovereignty of God. In that article she even claimed that “God cannot choose to become human” in reference to the freedom of God, denying the virgin birth of Christ and the incarnation. She also writes “in the panentheistic model proposed here, God is related to the world not because God chose to be but because to be related to the world is who God is, and the sovereign God is perfectly free to be who God is.” So it is with continued sadness that we find Dr. Rigby “kicking off” this major gathering of Presbyterian Women, and doing so “celebrating Calvin’s birthday.” Here is a revealing portion of this report on the presentation:
For Calvin, there were two major truths that are irreconcilable: how does God hold the all of creation in God’s hand while also being the shepherd who goes after the lone sheep?
“God is all in all, and calls us one by one,” Rigby said.
That gap of God being everything and caring for the individual creates a tension, and that tension is where Calvin often worked, Rigby said. In looking at God’s sovereignty, we are both challenged and assured. We realize that we are not God, and that God has to do with everything.
Ms. Rigby answers her own question in her 1996 Theology Today article. She believes that the solution is that all of the universe is ‘in God” or part of God. And in a fascinating twisting of Paul’s statement that comes from 1Corinthians 15, she alludes to her panentheistic worldview. She takes a verse out of the chapter that defends the physical bodily resurrection, the sovereignty of the God the Father, and Christ’s subordination at the end, and twists it to mean that creation is a part of God. This kind of nonsense is reprehensible, for a teacher of theology. Instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate Calvin’s birthday with a speaker whose worldview resembles Calvin’s, rather Presbyterian Women begin their gathering by twisting Calvin’s biblical views of the sovereignty of God into panentheistic, heretical nonsense. Is anyone surprised?
Believe it or not, I look forward to reading email notices from the Presbyterian News Service. It usually gives me good fodder to address the political foolishness and nonsense that masquerades as Presbyterianism. Just this evening I received a story called Choosing Life, written by Carol Gruber, reporting on Barbara Rossing’s presentation at the gathering of the Presbyterian Women. I was intrigued by the title of this article as I did not expect the topic of abortion to be addressed, let alone for a presenter to take a pro-life stance. I quickly realized that this had nothing to do with abortion, but with more nonsense regarding global climate change.
Barbara Rossing spoke of the enchantment of waking to the song of a bird, gazing at a waterfall or watching a child discover a new creature. But is all well with the world we cherish? As Rossing described the failing health of the earth, she reminded the audience, “The cruelest injustice of climate change is that it hurts the poor – those who have done the least to cause the problem – the hardest … As Christians, we should be concerned about that.”
I wonder if Ms. Rossing is aware of the rising worldwide skepticism of human-caused global warming?
I wonder if she is aware that more and more scientists are rejecting human-caused global warming, and more and more empirical evidence is showing no global warming at all?
I wonder if she is aware that “the poor” are more likely to suffer because of draconian efforts, like cap and trade that impacts the poor quite dramatically with increased costs for everything?
Her comment on watching a child discover a new creature saddens me. The title of this article could have easily been associated with a report on pro-life efforts. Seeing that instead it is a report about a Presbyterian leader pushing a progressive agenda, despite growing scientific evidence, it could have been about saving millions of lives. It breaks my heart.
Recalling Deuteronomy 30:19, Rossing challenged the listeners with the urgency of choice. God says to the people, “(C)hoose life so that you and your descendents may live.” Rossing reminded the crowd that “choosing life” means living in a more sustainable way. She also reflected that the time to choose life is now.
Wow! Talk about taking a biblical text way out of context! Moses’ speech is clear and unambiguous. He calls on the Israelites to obediently and exclusively grasp onto Yahweh and his revealed law. For the Lord is Life and his Word brings life. Moses warns them to not let their hearts and wills to stray from exclusive love and obedience to the Lord, or they will be destroyed.
“We are living in an urgent moment … a ‘kairos moment,’” Rossing said, defining a kairos moment as “when your whole life comes to a focus, an urgent moment in time.” She pointed out that even in this week, those at the Gathering are at a kairos moment — a turning point. In fact, Rossing said that the whole world is standing at a turning point, an “urgent kairos moment for God’s creation.”
Wow! You would think that a Christian speaker might be referring to a massive renewal or evangelism, where thousands of people are repenting and coming to Christ, finding salvation. Instead it looks like she is referring to a green theology.
As people consider how to work for renewable energy, sustainable food economies and the revitalization of local communities, Rossing asked, “How will we, our churches and our world, lead? How will we face this moment … and how will our church inspire the world to take action, choosing the path of life?” Rossing credited the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with “what is probably the most visionary statement on energy use and climate change of any U.S. church, a statement called The Power to Change, that commits your church to ambitious goals for climate change advocacy and reductions in carbon emissions, for the sake of the healing of the world.” As we work to correct the wrongs of the past, the climate crisis can be an opportunity for evangelism, Rossing said. A church in Delaware put 180 solar panels on its roof, and because of this, new people were drawn to the church. A Seattle church brought hybrid cars to its energy fair. Many other churches are drinking fair-trade coffee and advocating for stronger clean energy and green jobs legislation in Congress. Rossing, author of the 2010–11 Horizons Bible study on the book of Revelation said she believes “the book of Revelation can help us find the healing we need … Revelation’s images of renewal and healing — the river of life, the tree of life, the shepherding Lamb who wipes away our tears — these beautiful images can give us vision and courage today, as we stand ready to cross over into a new future. “We stand at a crossing point, a kairos moment for our world. In little and big ways, each day, we are called to make choices that affect the whole creation,” she said. “This moment really matters. Therefore ‘choose life,’ God tells us, ‘so that you and your descendents may live.’”
So to reduce global warming, by putting solar panels on your church is a wonderful way to evangelize. Reading this you get the idea that we are “saving” the world. She amazingly connects a prophetic apocalyptic message from Revelation of John, to adding solar panels.
“Biblical spirituality and our contemporary spirituality are not two variations on the same theme. They are stark alternatives to each other. In the one, God reaches down in grace; in the other the sinner reaches up (or in) in self-sufficiency. These spiritualities belong in different worlds, one moral in its fabric and the other psychological. One thinks in terms of salvation, the other in healing. One results in holiness, the other looks for wholeness. In the one, God’s sovereignty is seen in the establishment of what is spiritual; in the other, a human-seized sovereignty is at work to create its own spirituality. Between these two kinds of spirituality there can be no accord, no peace, no cooperation. The one excludes the other. This is the message we have heard from the apostles. This is the message that was recovered at the time of the Reformation. And this is the message that should be resounding in the church today.” David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, pp.177-178
I am beginning a new series on the different religion that is growing and becoming more vocal throughout much of the church today. It might be because of the increase in internet use, but today most Christians are exposed to a greater level to alternative views of “spirituality” that sounds Christian, but is opposed to Christianity at every point. It is what David Wells refers to as a spirituality from below. In subsequent blog entries I will be addressing issues of leadership in my own denomination that is really a spirituality from below and the stark difference this is to historic Reformed Protestantism.
The great “myth” of this spirituality is the story of Indian origin of the blind men and the elephant. The basic idea of the story is that reality can be viewed differently depending on one’s perspective and what seems to be absolute truth is really only part of the greater “truth”. No one has a complete picture of reality, and so we must be “tolerant” of all views of reality, because they probably have some understanding that we need to hear.
There are certain assumptions of the myth and the view of spirituality from below that must be addressed initially. First, there is a presumption that there is no one that is greater than we are (humans) that reveals anything about reality that we need to know, and if there is, that person is so different from us that we cannot understand. If there were a revelation from God, then the spirituality from below would disintegrate. Secondly, there is an assumption that we “know” that reality is really an elephant and that we are all just hunting around. This is ultimately self-refuting. For the story requires a narrator who knows more than all the blind men that there is more to reality than they can conceive. So too, in a spirituality from below.
Just today I received an email from the PCUSA news organization about a “Bible Study” at the National Elders conference which is a part of the “Big Tent” event happening just down the road from me in Atlanta (my invitation must have been lost in the mail). The title of the report is: Study hall Elders’ task is to help others get into the Bible, Gardner says
The title made me think it was going to be about how to help people realize that they need to spend more time in God’s infallible Word. I thought maybe it would be an encouraging story about the importance of being grounded in God’s infallible Truth. But sadly it was just another bait and switch.
Freda Gardner…hmmm…I remember her. She is a former GA moderator. After the Dirk Ficca (What’s the big deal about Jesus) fiasco, the issue of whether Jesus was the only way to God the Father found itself on the floor of the 2001 General Assembly. During the discussion, she adamantly opposed making any form of exclusive statement, saying, “words can become stumbling blocks”.
Here is a portion of the Presbyterian news article:
…there are no right or wrong answers when approaching scripture. “If our attitude is that there is only one way to interpret scripture then we leave a lot of people out,” she said.
For those called to teach the Bible, as elders are charged to do, part of the task is to help people understand that their interpretations are valid, Gardner concluded. “We want believers to understand that there is a place for their gifts and their ministry in the church.”
I wonder if any interpretations are out of bounds for her? I wonder if someone had interpreted something as excluding women from Christian leadership, if she would have objected? I wonder if their are any interpretive boundaries? I was not there, and I do not know if this report is leaving some things out that would clarify what she was saying, but the report leaves the impression that there are no such boundaries.
Since we as Presbyterians at a minimum are called to state that the Bible is God’s Word to us, then this must assume that God is communicating through the scriptures. If this is so and God is quite powerful (the term omnipotent comes to mind, not to mention omniscient and omnipresent), then would God want to communicate in such a way that he should be interpreted in many ways, even conflicting ways? Does God not want to communicate anything so clearly that nearly all of us can understand the majority of the main idea? We might not exhaust the meaning, but can we not understand the major point? Are there no essentials that God wants to communicate very clearly? What exactly is the point of having our Christian leaders study biblical Hebrew, Greek, hermeneutics, and exegesis, if not so that they can rightly divide the word of Truth? If everybody can interpret a passage however they please based upon their own experiences, then why even have biblically trained Christian leaders?
Maybe, just maybe, what she meant to say is that our culture and experiences can influence the way we read scripture, and we need other Christian believers from around the world to help us reflect on how we sometimes see certain scriptures through cultural eyes and miss out on important aspects. Somehow though I suspect that a leader who was unwilling to support an unambiguous statement that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, would unfortunately concur with the pluralist, wishy-washy, any interpretation goes bend of this article.
True Reformation part 5a: Christ Crucified – deeply rooted in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus
We sing the praise of Him who died,
Of Him who died upon the cross,
The sinner’s hope let all deride.
For this we count the world but loss.
Inscribed upon the cross we see
In shining letters “God is love.”
He bears our sins upon the tree,
He brings us mercy from above.
The cross! It takes our guilt away;
It holds the fainting spirit up;
It cheers with hope the gloomy day
And sweetens ev’ry bitter cup.
It makes the coward spirit brave
And nerves the feeble arm for fight;
It takes the terror from the grave
And gilds the bed of death with light;
The balm of life, the cure of woe,
The measure and the pledge of love,
The sinner’s refuge here below,
The angels’ theme in heav’n above.
To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore
The final point I would like to highlight on the elements of true reformation is a deep and abiding passion for the Cross of Christ. I will look at this central aspect of reformation more thoroughly in the next several entries.
In recent decades it has become quite fashionable by evangelicals to ignore the substitutionary atonement of Jesus (focusing on more pragmatic applicable thoughts), while many mainline progressive theologians and many Emergents openly mock the belief as “child abuse”.
At the heart of true reformation is an abiding and deeply growing understanding, appreciation, and even passion for the Cross of Christ. Reformation requires a surrender to the full meaning of the cross of Christ—to know Christ and him crucified. In the gospel of Mark, at the pinnacle of his earthly ministry, having withdrawn with his apostles to the northern district around Caesarea Philippi, he asked them who they thought he was. After Peter said that he was God’s Messiah, immediately Jesus “…began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this” (Mark 8:31-32) and later he said, “45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Myth: It has been stated by many progressives that the theme of substitutionary atonement was minor or even non-existent until St. Anselm (A.D. 1000), but this is a misrepresentation of the truth. The substitutionary atonement can be seen throughout the writings of the early church. Here is a tiny sampling: Clement of Rome wrote, “Because of the love which he felt for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God, his body for our bodies, and his soul for our souls.” Ignatius wrote, “All these sufferings, assuredly, he underwent for our sake, that we might be saved.” In the Epistle to Diognetus we read, “God gave up his own Son as a ransom for us—the holy one for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else could cover our sins except his righteousness? …O sweet exchange!” Augustine later wrote, “Christ bore for our sakes sin in the sense of death as brought on human nature by sin. This is what hung on the tree… Thus was death condemned that its reign might cease, and accursed that it might be destroyed…When the Father was angry with us, he looked upon the death of his Son for us and was propitiated toward us.” In much of the writings of the early centuries of the church the substitutionary atonement is often assumed as a foundational identifier for believers.
The substitutionary atonement of Christ is clearly and deeply foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, and was at the heart of God’s covenant with his people. I will look at that in my next posting.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
As St. Augustine put it 1500 years ago, “when regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.”
I was fascinated to read the Moderator of the PCUSA, Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow’s comments today posted on Presbyweb, following the vote of the Presbyteries not to ratify the changes pushed forward by the General Assembly, which would have made it even easier for this once great, soon to be obscure denomination, to ignore clear unambiguous biblical ethics and ordain openly unrepentant homosexuals to the offices of elders and deacons. Instead of affirming the decision of the Presbyteries and appealing to progressive congregations not to continuously put forth divisive, unbiblical and clearly heretical overtures, he instead makes this statement:
I think about our hopes for humanity – for those close to us, those who oppose us, those we love, those we call stranger, and those we may never meet face-to-face. Do we really want them to grow into who God intends, or do we want them to grow into who we think they should be? Too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on Earth.
Sometimes, to allow others to grow into whom God intends, we have to allow room for them to discover God on their own – even at the risk of them making choices we would not make. As a parent and pastor, I find this difficult because I want to guide my children and the community I serve in a particular direction.
His statement has a certain pious sound. But what precisely might be meant by, “…too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on earth”? So let me see if I understand things. The Presbyteries have once again affirmed as essential that those ordained to ministry must abide by the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. In response to this, the moderator calls for us not to “define & control God for the other”. In essence he is affirming that fidelity in marriage as defined between one man and one woman or chastity in singleness is not an essential, and by defining it as such, we are defining and controlling God for the other.
There are few ethical positions in scripture that are more clear than these basic truths on marriage. Yet, moderator Reyes-Chow reveals his bias on the issue by dishonoring the re-affirmation of the Presbyteries. His statement is even more troubling than this. What other essential of the faith might Rev. Reyes-Chow view as strictly defining and controlling God for the other? By definition an essential of the faith is strictly defining what we believe to be true about God and reality. To say that we believe that Jesus rose physically and bodily from the dead and that the tomb was empty is an essential of the faith and is strictly defining what we believe to be an absolute historically verifiable objective fact. I know that even this is much too narrow for many ordained leaders in this denomination, but to deny this is to deny the faith and to deny Jesus Christ. The moderators statement, which is made with no caveats, clearly indicates that to state something as essential is to strictly define and control God for others. It might be best to think of the PCUSA now as the church of the non-essential middle-way.