Let me see if I understand the more “moderate” view of abortion, setting aside for the time being the extremely rare case where the mother’s life truly hangs in the balance. I would like to consider the shibboleth of abortion should be illegal “except in cases of rape and incest.” I would like to analyze this from both the perspective of the moderate/centrist liberal and from the moderate/centrist leaning conservative and see if it makes sense from either direction.
Let me first see if I understand this from the more liberal position.
1. Liberals tend to want to protect the rights of the living even in cases of murderers (anti-death penalty).
2. Yet, they want to protect the so-called libertarian (pro-choice) right of a woman to choose to have an abortion.
3. So more moderates will give in on elective abortions, but still staunchly defend the woman’s right to choose in cases of rape and incest, believing that it is the “compassionate” way of minimizing those horrendous acts.
4. So the net effect is that the rapist and/or incest perpetrator gets a shortened more lenient sentence, while the innocent product of that rape/incest receives the death penalty.
From the perspective of the left this is absolute nonsense. Do they not want to “care” for the “least of these” in these cases? Yet, ultimately they are causing damage to both the unborn…who receives the ultimate penalty (DEATH), though they are the most innocent, and the mother…who suffers with emotional and physical trauma compounded by the death of her unborn child.
If they refuse to see the unborn child as a human being (which is often the justification from the Left) then there is still the issue that the mother continues to bear the marks of both the violent act of the incest and/or rape and the subsequent act of the abortion.
From the perspective of the Conservative leaning moderate:
1. Conservatives want to protect the life of the unborn child (sometimes without caring about the situation of the mother).
2. The “moderates” view this as a satisfactory compromise, thinking they will reduce the numbers of abortions.
3. Yet they effectively have affirmed the view that the unborn child conceived in a violent and/or immoral act is of “no value” and therefore does not need protecting, by agreeing to such legislation. They are therefore sacrificing and compromising on the truth that all human life is of immeasurable value and allowing this most innocent victim to receive the death penalty.
4. They also view this as “compassionate” to the plight of the woman victim, “easing her pain” in the short-term but causing greater distress in the long-term.
Conclusion: The compromise makes no sense from the more conservative perspective, for to minimize the value of the life of a human being in the case of rape/incest completely undermines the rationale for the pro-life position in the first place and opens wide the door complete unrestricted abortion on demand.
Here is a sobering story that truly addresses where this logic leads:
“She told me that she would have aborted me if it was legal”
Dennis Sewell has written an interesting and incisive article that presents the argument that Darwin’s ideas have lead to great atrocities and violence. Here is the article on Times online in the UK.
Here is an important section:
In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings. In April, 1,000 people gathered at sunset in Littleton, Colorado, to commemorate the victims of the Columbine high school massacre, 10 years on. Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was the first of the 13 children to be murdered, and whose son Craig narrowly escaped being shot, cannot understand why so little attention has been paid to the motivation of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their interest in Charles Darwin’s ideas. “Harris wore a ‘Natural Selection’ T-shirt on the day of the killings. They made remarks on video about helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak. They also professed that they had evolved to a higher level than their classmates. I was amazed at the frequent references to evolution, and that the press completely ignored that aspect of the tapes.”
Much of the evidence remains sealed under a court order issued to minimise the risk of copycat killings, but from those documents that are in the public domain, it is clear that Eric Harris fantasised about putting everyone into a violent computer game that only the fittest could survive. And, like Darwin himself, he noted how vaccination might be interfering with nature’s weeding process. In his rantings Harris said he wished there were no vaccines, or even warning labels on dangerous goods, “and let natural selection take its course. All the fat, ugly, retarded, crippled dumbass, stupid f***heads in the world would die… Maybe then the human race can actually be proud of itself”.
As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, the Denver lawyer Barry Arrington has come across more in a similar vein. “I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”
In 2007, detectives following up a tip-off about a planned school shooting in Pennsylvania discovered that their suspect often logged on to a social networking site called Natural Selection’s Army and a number of related chatrooms that were later tagged by the media as the “cyber school for killers”. These sites were quickly shut down by their service providers, but today “Natural Selection” is the name of a popular computer game in which competing teams attempt to annihilate one another — a sign that Darwin’s term is still associated by many teenagers with sudden and extreme violence.
“Natural Selection” T-shirts have proved a popular line through web-based outlets, and it seems that the Columbine killers have spawned a gruesome personality cult — there is even a computer game in which players adopt the roles of Harris and Klebold, which features original CCTV footage of the killings.
Among those reported to have frequented the original Natural Selection’s Army website was an 18-year-old Finnish student, Pekka-Eric Auvinen. On November 7, 2007, in Tuusula, Finland, Auvinen forced his head teacher to kneel down in front of him before he shot her with his pistol. He slaughtered a further seven victims before turning the gun on himself. Some of the Jokela high school students afterwards described the way Auvinen prowled through the building pointing his gun at people’s heads. Sometimes he would squeeze the trigger and kill them; sometimes, after looking long and hard through the sights, he would suddenly turn away and let his terrified target go free. One witness said he seemed to be choosing his victims at random, but in fact he was making a very deliberate selection. He was trying to weed out the “unfit”.
Before he embarked on his shooting spree, Auvinen posted a lengthy apologia on the internet. Styling himself a “social Darwinist”, he said that natural selection appeared not to be working any more — had maybe even gone into reverse. He had noticed that “stupid, weak-minded people reproduce faster than intelligent, strong-minded ones”. The gene pool was sure to deteriorate if society continued to guarantee the survival of the second-rate. He had pondered what to do about this problem. He understood that life was just a meaningless coincidence, the outcome of a long series of random mutations, so there might not be much point in doing anything at all. But eventually he had decided he would do his bit by becoming a natural selector, aping the pitiless indifference of nature.
Auvinen left a special plea for his motivation to be taken seriously and for the world not merely to write him off as a psychopath, or to blame cult movies, computer games, television or heavy metal music, before concluding: “No mercy for the scum of the Earth! Humanity is overrated. It’s time to put natural selection and survival of the fittest back on track.”
Darwin is often held up as a hero of the modern age, who releases us from many aspects of ethics and morality and in a postmodern way firmly establishes individual/community/cultural relativism. The freedom from authoritative ethics given by a divine creator also inevitably leads to a nihilistic lack of purpose and reason. Eugenics and Nazi Germany are the direct descendants of Darwin, yet little of the ethical implications of Darwinian evolution (one’s that Darwin himself reached) are taught to our students, but they are simply allowed to reach those conclusions on their own. Yet many churches in mainline denominations celebrate Darwin on an annual basis during evolution weekend. They think themselves enlightened, educated and progressive, yet the reality is that they are teaching a philosophy whose implications are eugenics, violence, and death. Thinking themselves wise, they have become foolish and exchanged the life-giving objectively true message of the gospel for a morally bankrupt, ethically depraved false philosophy leading their disciples down the wide road of destruction.
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?
This case will probably morph into an assault case…but it should make us all ask certain legal and moral questions.
Authorities say a 37-year-old Los Angeles man has been arrested on suspicion of murder for the death of an unborn child believed to be his….Police say the arrest came after an investigation on Monday revealed "suspicious circumstances of a miscarriage." Investigators estimate the fetus was in its 13th week.
Why should this suspect be arrested for suspicion of murder, when the mother could have legally aborted the child with the praise and adoration of many? Why is the “fetus” considered a child and therefore “able to be murdered” only in certain cases? Why would the method of the killing make an abortion legal, while in an assault situation it becomes murder?
We are clearly a very confused culture and society. We want to make excuses for our leniency and even in some cases taking pleasure in abortion/murder, while at the same time we want to be able to call the act murder when there is an assault involved the the mother wanted the baby. There is something twisted and perverse about all this.
Why would anyone accept the Margaret Sanger Award?
Many months back I received a request to complete a Presbyterian Church USA survey. Not being a person who likes doing surveys, I ignored it. But as I was hounded to complete the survey, I finally gave in and completed it. You can find the results of the survey here.
The results of one question is quite revealing, especially given the severe decline in the denomination.
The question asked if you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved”.
39% of members either agreed or strongly agreed.
45% of elders either agreed or strongly agreed.
35% of clergy agreed or strongly agreed.
22% of specialized clergy (clergy not working in a church) either strongly agreed or agreed.
Yet, in response to the severe decline, no one has connected these two statistics? Why? I would speculate that those who are in leadership on these issues are either in agreement with the majority or do not want to face the fact that most of the denomination has abandoned clear biblical revelation on this issue.
Slightly above one third of clergy agreed or strongly agreed (they do not make available a detailed breakdown on this statistic) that only followers of Jesus can be saved and less than one fourth of specialized clergy (who often have the strongest voice in national leadership) strongly agreed or agreed. Considering the strong possibility that those who only agree and did not strongly agree still hold out at least a strong possibility for salvation outside of Jesus Christ or hold a soft inclusivist position, this should be held up as the strongest evidence for severe decline. For what is the impetus for evangelism when you believe that salvation is available outside of Jesus Christ? For clergy and specialized clergy the strongest incentive for “church growth or maintenance of numbers” is job security. My hunch is that once you have discarded eternal destination, the incentive for conversion shifts to self-preservation.
Augustine once wrote that,”…God provides the means and arranges circumstances that will lead the elect to convert to Christ.” Conversion is an absolute foundational aspect of a basic Christian faith. Since we are born with a sinful nature and deserve eternal judgment we must receive a new spiritual nature (we must be born again) and be united with Christ to receive eternal life. We must be born again, repenting and receiving by faith, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, trusting in his saving work on the cross and in the historical reality of the physical resurrection. Paul clearly and firmly proclaims to the church at Rome, that our justification (being proclaimed righteous in God’s eyes) is only possible if we have an inner belief in Christ’s resurrection (Rom 10:9-10; 3:23-25). This basic understanding of the scriptures has been severely undermined by the entrance of pluralism and inclusivism, which have no scriptural basis whatsoever. Without a recovery of the gospel of salvation, whatever “growth” occurs will in reality be no growth at all.
We live in a very confused and intolerant world today. Civility in our postmodern so-called tolerant world has become non-existent, but not necessarily where we might expect to find it.
It has recently been reported that MSNBC and others have made a big show of pointing out a particular man at a protest who was carrying weapons linking him to racism. What they did not tell people, and was clearly avoided by the video camera was the fact that this man was black. Not only does this show media bias bordering on negligence and malpractice, but it also highlights the modern views of tolerance. It has not only become acceptable, but even fashionable to attack and demean individuals for not holding the same views as the attacker. We require tolerance of all ideas, which gives license to be intolerant toward people. This is an entire reversal of the traditional view of tolerance.
Gregory Koukl has written an incisive and important article on the topic of tolerance, available online here.
Here is a portion of that article:
Escaping the Trap. “Would you like to know how to get out of this dilemma?” I asked. They nodded. “You must reject this modern distortion of tolerance and return to the classic view.” Then I wrote these two principles on the board:
Be egalitarian regarding persons.
Be elitist regarding ideas.1
“Egalitarian” was a new word for them. “Think equal,” I said. “Treat others as having equal standing in value or worth.” They knew what an elitist was, though, someone who thought he or she was better than others. “Right,” I said. “When you are elitist regarding ideas, you are acknowledging that some ideas are better than others; and they are. We don’t treat all ideas as if they have the same merit, lest we run into contradiction. Some ideas are good. Some are bad. Some are true. Some are false. Some are brilliant. Others are just plain foolish.”
The first principle, what might be called “civility,” is at the heart of the classical view of tolerance. It can be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.
These two categories are frequently conflated in the muddled thinking created by the myth of tolerance. The view that one person’s ideas are no better or truer than another’s is simply absurd and inescapably self-contradictory. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful definition or standard of tolerance.
Topsy-Turvy. The modern definition of tolerance turns the classical formula for tolerance on its head:
Be egalitarian regarding ideas.
Be elitist regarding persons.
If you reject another’s ideas, you’re automatically accused of disrespecting the person (as the coed did with me). In this new view of tolerance, no idea or behavior can be opposed — even if done graciously — without inviting the charge of incivility.
To say I’m intolerant of the person because I disagree with his or her ideas is confused; ironically, it results in elitism regarding persons. If I think my ideas are better than another’s, I can be ill-treated as a person, publicly marginalized, and verbally abused as bigoted, disrespectful, ignorant, indecent, and (can you believe it?) intolerant. Sometimes I can even be sued, punished by law, or forced to attend re-education programs.2
In this way, tolerance has gone topsy-turvy: Tolerate most beliefs, but don’t tolerate (show respect for) those who take exception with those beliefs. Contrary opinions are labeled as “imposing your view on others” and quickly silenced.
This is nonsense and should be abandoned. The myth of tolerance forces everyone into an inevitable “Catch-22,” because each person in any debate has a point of view he or she thinks is correct.
Catch-22. Classical tolerance involves three elements: (1) permitting or allowing (2) a conduct or point of view one disagrees with (3) while respecting the person in the process. Notice that we can’t truly tolerate someone unless we disagree with him or her. This is critical. We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. They’re on our side. There’s nothing with which we need to put up. Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong, yet we still choose to treat decently and with respect.
This essential element of classical tolerance — disagreement (elitism regarding ideas) — has been completely lost in the modern distortion of the concept. Nowadays if you think someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant no matter how you treat the person.
This presents a curious problem. In order to exercise true tolerance, one must first think another is wrong, yet saying so brings the accusation of intolerance. It’s a “Catch-22.” According to this approach, true tolerance becomes impossible.
Intellectual Cowardice. Most of what passes for tolerance today is little more than intellectual cowardice — a fear of intelligent engagement. Those who brandish the word “intolerant” are unwilling to be challenged by other views or grapple with contrary opinions, or even to consider them. It’s easier to hurl an insult — “you intolerant bigot” — than to confront an idea and either refute it or be changed by it. In the modern era, “tolerance” has become intolerance.
As ambassadors for Christ, we choose the more courageous path, “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5; NASB). Whenever you’re charged with intolerance, always ask for a definition. When tolerance means neutrality, that all views are equally valid and true, then no one is ever tolerant because no one is ever neutral about his or her own views. Point out the contradiction built into the new definition. Point out that this kind of tolerance is a myth.
— Gregory Koukl
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?
“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.
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.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:17-25
Once we have acknowledged the veracity, reliability and infallibility of scripture and spent time breathing in, what God has breathed out, we must further acknowledge the utter falleness and sinfulness of our condition. This is done not only individually but corporately as well. I have always been amazed by the book of Jonah and the repentant attitude of the Ninevites. It is one of the most stunning sections in all of scripture. A stubborn and disobedient prophet runs from God, because he knew that God was a gracious and forgiving God and did not want to communicate a message of repentance to his enemies. He finally does so, and the entire capital city of his enemies repents, and receives mercy. The clear major message of the passage is about loving our enemies (though still calling on them to repent). But a more minor message is the remarkable change of heart of an entire city, in response to a holy God. I often wonder if a denomination that has fallen so far from God’s holiness and truth, such as my own (the PCUSA) might repent in sackcloth and ashes? If not, will a remnant do so? I believe I have seen evidence of this in the New Wineskins.
“The Hebrew word for ‘repentance’ is derived from conversion or return; the Greek word, from change of mind or of intention… departing from ourselves, we turn to God, and having taken off our former mind, we put on a new. On this account, in my judgment, repentance can thus be well defined: it is the turning of our life to God…When we call it a ‘turning of life to God,’ we require a transformation, not only in outward works, but in the soul itself. Only when it puts off its old nature does it bring forth the fruits of works in harmony with its renewal…Outward uprightness of life is not the chief point of repentance, for God looks into men’s hearts. Whoever is moderately versed in Scripture will understand by himself…that when we have to deal with God nothing is achieved unless we begin from the inner disposition of the heart.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Volume XIX, Book III.3. 5-6, 16, pp. 597-598, 609-610.
The repentance that God calls forth, for the purpose of renewal and reformation must be sincere, with full knowledge of the holiness that God requires. Instead of repentance my denomination is busy shifting the chairs on the Titanic. We are busy talking about postmodern/emerging church forms, more modern music, modern dress and more seeker-sensitive marketing methods. As they do so, the church takes on the form of the progressive culture more and more each day. Thinking they are being prophetic, they instead mimic the very worldliness that they profess to repudiate. Rather than turning to God with sincerely repentant hearts, we instead turn to the world and apologize that we have not looked more like them. Rather than look into the mirror of the perfect law that brings freedom and turn with hearts full of mourning for our sinfulness, we instead embrace a culture of death and immorality, twisting the infallible Word of God to accommodate for our cultural conversion. Both John the baptizer and Jesus preached repentance, because of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. We, on the other hand, tend to preach a cheap grace based on cultural accommodation.
By repentance we are to mean, not merely sorrow for and hatred of sin, but also the inward turning away from it to God, with full purpose of new obedience. By original sin we are to mean not merely adherent but also inherent sin, not merely the sinful act of Adam imputed to us, but also the sinful state of our own souls conveyed to us by the just judgment of God. When so understood, it would seem sufficiently clear that we must ‘repent of original sin.’ The corruption that is derived by us from our first parents comes to us, indeed, as penalty; but it abides in us as sin, and must be looked upon as sin both by God and by enlightened conscience itself…And thus it appears, that so far from its being impossible to repent of original sin, repentance, considered in its normative sense—not as an act of turning away from this sin or that sin, but of turning from sin as such to God—is fundamentally just repentance of ‘original sin.’ Until we repent of original sin, we have not, properly speaking, repented in the Christian sense at all. For it is characteristic of heathen thought to look upon sin atomistically as only so many acts of sin, and at repentance also, therefore, atomistically as only so many acts of turning away from sinning; the Christian conception probes deeper and finds behind the acts of sin the sinful nature and behind the specific acts of repentance for sins the great normative act of repentance for this sinful nature. He only, then, has really repented who has perceived and felt the filthiness and odiousness of his depraved nature and has turned from it to God with a full purpose of being hereafter more conformed to his image as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. (B.B. Warfield Selected Shorter Writings – 1 (Nutley: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970), pp. 279-280)
Will we once again turn to God? Will God be sending us a Jonah, and if so, how will we respond? Will we be too busy re-upholstering the chairs on the Titanic, making them more appealing to a post-modern culture, to hear the call of repentance? Will we be too busy accommodating ourselves to whatever the worldly culture has in store for us next, to hear the call to turn once again to a holy God, shedding all the sin that so entangles us? Will we be too busy being inclusive of sinfulness to hear the call of an exclusive gospel? Are we willing to face the truth of our depraved natures, or are we too busy preaching a “feel-good” gospel of self-improvement, and self-esteem? Without hearts full of repentance there is no true reformation.