God’s Acts of Providence (2)

The Chief End of Man (1)

Abraham and Sarah

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

(1 Corinthians 10:31)

AbrahamThe question of to what end mankind has been made resides at the very center of our existence. Only a relative few will explicitly ask and answer this question. However, all who live beyond childhood and have the required mental capacity will implicitly do so in how they choose to live their lives. Of course, these choices are constrained by circumstances: limitations of wisdom, information and energy, societal expectations, and many other factors. But even within these constraints the existence of radical differences in conclusions concerning mankind’s end lead to corresponding radical differences in choices made.

The constraint shared by all humanity is our material mortality. Every religion, philosophy and ideology must deal with this issue. Christianity begins to do so in the Old Testament of the Bible, in a passage from Genesis that even radical scientific materialists could affirm.

3 19”By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”

Christians have no problem affirming our mortality as does the above biblical verse and the following phrase from the Book of Common Prayer in “The Order for the Burial of the Dead.”

… earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;

However, a decisive, distinctive turn occurs as the prayer continues.

…in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

Thus, Christians hold that there is something associated with human life that can partake of the eternal, and that there is an eternal, all-powerful being who has given this gift to us, with whom we are in relationship and through whom it can be activated.

When the English and Scottish divines of the 1640’s sought to summarize this relationship within the context of the Westminster Shorter Catechism they chose it as the very first question / answer pair. This position implies that the issue of man’s right relationship to God is of principal importance. In an audacious nineteen words they dared to pose and resolve this fundamental issue of human existence.

Q1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,[1] and to enjoy him forever.[2]

When we look into this answer, two stunning implications come immediately to mind. Firstly, that God has created us for the express purpose of engaging in an eternal relationship with Him. Secondly, that the Almighty must place tremendous value upon humanity if He intends that we should spend eternity together.

But the next logical question is how are we to know how to glorify and enjoy this God as our chief end? The divines were nothing if not logical, for the answer is provided in the very next question / answer pair.

Q2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.[3]

We now have the clues that are required to begin our search for the chief end of man. Although we need not be limited by the Westminster divines with regard to man’s chief end, there is likely no better starting point that could be found. However, with regard to the resource to which we should entrust our examination, we can with full confidence affirm their conclusion that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us.”

Therefore we will seek out the mysteries of man’s chief end by careful examination of the relationships between humans and God as found in the Bible. In particular, we will follow the lives of Abraham and Sarah from beginning to end. This road will be long and at times exceedingly difficult. However, what could be more blessed than to trace this multicolored thread through Scripture. We are bound to make discoveries about ourselves as related to God that will open new vistas of understanding. And, looking back at journey’s end, we will have traveled across the holy ground of that great cloud of witnesses whose faith points to our hope and salvation.


 

[1] 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 11:36.

[2] Ps. 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24.

[3] Gal. 1:8,9; Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; II Tim. 3:15-17.

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Easter, 2016

Sunrise

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Good Friday, 2016

300px-Christ_of_Saint_John_of_the_CrossYou see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:6-8)

God’s Acts of Providence (1)

Reformers-StatueIntroduction

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.(Psalm 103:19)

In order to profitably investigate the nature of God’s providence we must first come to terms with His sovereignty. Sovereignty as related to God implies that His decisions and consequent actions are in no way limited by us. That is not to say that God is prevented from freely choosing to take into account our opinions and actions, as He is shown to have done at various points in Scripture. The point to understand is that God is utterly unconstrained by anything external; that His acts are directed only by His own nature.

But God’s sovereignty also relates to us, His creation. If God is indeed sovereign, then it is we who must submit to Him. If God is sovereign, then it is we who are judged by Him, not Him by us.

If God is sovereign (and He is), then were we to discover that His counsels are in deviation from our own, it is we who must give way. For, in a disagreement between humans and God, there is no possibility that we will prevail. We can opine and complain to our heart’s content, but God will continue unaltered.

Which brings us to the issue of God’s providence. The Westminster Catechism provides the following definition:

Q 18. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving, and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.

On the one hand, God’s providence is comforting; for it gives assurance that we are not abandoned to the cruel fates of chaos and meaninglessness. On the other hand, the idea is deeply disquieting, for it implies ultimate limitation on our own free wills.

We bridle at the thought that we are not in control. Thus, the issue of God’s providence has caused great controversy. This issue will be in the background as we consider Abraham and Sarah’s lives, the creation of Christ’s church and the transformation from Saul to the Apostle Paul. We will take it up directly as we meditate on the mystery of God’s providence.

Deep and impenetrable is this mystery. For God’s providence is exerted within the chaos and complexity of human acts. Its driving power on events is masked by the noise of our own wills. In the end, it is a matter of trust – trust in God’s love and justice.

As we travel this road together, let’s keep these words of Saint Augustine in mind.

Manifestly these things are ruled and governed by the one God according as He pleases; and if His motives are hid, are they therefore unjust?

A New Direction

new-directionSince the beginning of this Blog my primary focus had been on the PCUSA and how/why it is being destroyed by its elite leadership.  By now I have discussed many dimensions of this destruction, starting with the corruption wrought by postmodern theology and most recently with the falsehood of Christ’s supposed pacifism.  In-between we have covered Christian marriage, overt Gnosticism, the assault on the nation of Israel, multiculturalism, and, social / political cruelty, among many others.  Clearly I am at complete odds with the direction that our leadership is taking the denomination, so chances are that virtually anything they do will be a source of contention.

The question at hand is what to do about this situation.  I could go on indefinitely criticizing the denomination and its leadership, and I suspect that some new outrage will eventually compel me to do so again.  However, my readers have certainly gotten the point that something has been going terribly wrong in the PCUSA for decades, and, that this corruption of our faith is if anything accelerating.

I have concluded that one central cause for this destruction is the collapse of orthodox Reformed theology as a meaningful contributor to practical Christian life.  That is, it has become irrelevant, and, therefore is generally unknown.  It is also a theological tradition lost in a blizzard of theologies.  For example, here is a partial list of current “Christian” theologies from Wikipedia.

  • Black theology
  • Anarchism
  • Christian fundamentalism
  • Covenant Theology
  • Dispensationalism
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Emerging church
  • Evangelicalism
  • Feminist theology
  • Fundamentalism
  • Holocaust theology
  • Liberal theology
  • Liberation theology
  • Narrative theology
  • Neo-orthodoxy
  • New Church
  • New Covenant Theology
  • Paleo-Orthodoxy
  • Pentecostalism
  • Personalism
  • Postliberal theology
  • Postmodern theology
  • Process theology
  • Progressive theology
  • Prosperity theology
  • Queer Theology
  • Quakerism
  • Restoration Movement
  • Revisionist theology
  • Thomism
  • Transcendental theology

While there are many reasons for this situation, surely one is the failure of Reformed theology to address the practical issues of the Christian life.  I fear that it has become only one more trinket in a vast store of theological trinkets, and a dull, un-engaging one at that.

So, one great challenge is for orthodox Reformed theologians to reestablish the link between their theology and the practical lives of Christians.  However, not being a theologian, there is precious little for me to do other than point out this glaring issue.

What I can do, as a simple Christian, is to engage with the foundational source for all true and orthodox Christian theology, that being the Bible.  In what follows I will do so for the issue of God’s acts of providence (i.e., the protective care of God) in the world.  My goal is to build a (surely rickety) bridge between God’s Word and a central issue of mortal human life.  It may not be much, but in God’s providential economy even the simple is used for His greater glory.

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31, RSV)

Christians Could Support a War Against Islamic Terrorism

Answering the Question

isis-egypt_nfblThe pacifism of the PCUSA (and other) elites is indeed peculiar in that it simultaneously excuses / justifies violence by Islamic terrorists (among others) while demanding that our society do nothing to defend itself.  It’s not so much that they oppose all violence as they oppose any violence in defense of Western Civilization.  They operate from an ideology that blames Western Civilization for every defect in the entire world and that thus absolves anyone or anything else of moral agency and responsibility.

211_964x643That is, since we (Western Civilization) are responsible (so they imagine) for all that’s gone wrong, we have no moral justification to oppose anything.  The non-Western perpetrators of vile evil, on the other hand, are only responding to the evil that has been done to them by the West.  Therefore, even their extreme acts of violent evil are excused.  Thus, their position amounts to standing idly by while vile evil is done in order to preserve their false pretense of moral superiority.

Protest-for-Christians-in-IraqWhile I’m certain that most Christian pacifists are motivated by an honorable, valid revulsion from violence and its larger consequences, there are sometimes less worthy motivations at work as well.  For example, some pacifists appear willing to allow thousands of people to be murdered rather than soil their own presumed moral perfection.  That is, the very lives of the victims of evil are deemed to be of less value than their own feelings of moral superiority.  Other pacifists appear to implicitly accept the safety provided by armed police and the military while railing indignant over every act of protection that involves violence.  That is, they happily benefit from armed protection as long as no actual act can be explicitly tied to them.  As my previous posts have demonstrated, this is not the exercise of sound Christian morality.

Orwell-People-sleep-peaceablySo, my answer to the question “Can Christians support a war against Islamic terrorism?” is yes, under the right set of circumstances a Christian can.  However, to say that a given position is possible does not mean that it is a necessity.  Determining if we have reached the point of necessity is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Although there is much more that could be said, the time has come to move on.

If Jesus Isn’t a Pacifist Then Why do so Many Christians Think He Is? (Part 2)

Jesus-100%In the previous post I referred to the “not-so-subtle pressure to fall into line with the socially dominant position” with regard to the persistence of incorrect Christian belief.  In this particular case, too many proponents of Christian pacifism resort to overt social pressure to promote their opinions.

If You Don’t Move Towards Pacifism then You Must be a Defective Christian

The following excerpt from the official PCUSA web site is a classic example of utilizing social pressure to intimidate Christians into silence or acceptance of the pacifist perspective.

The Rev. Mark Davidson, pastor of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, N.C., and chair of ACSWP’s Peace Discernment Team, reviewed the team’s draft report, “Risking Peace in a Broken and Fearful World.”

The report has grown out of a churchwide peace discernment process launched by the 2010 General Assembly on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the seminal document “Peacemaking: the Believers’ Calling.” The Assembly expressed its hope that the process would “seek clarity on God’s call to the church concerning violence and to develop policy directions on terrorism and war.”

Davidson said the 49 congregations and 19 presbyteries to date have submitted responses to the team’s study materials.

“Risking Peace” is built on five “declarations”:

  • “Celebrate our identity as a church committed to peacemaking”
  • “Claim the nonviolent witness of Jesus Christ and the early church as a neglected resource that can breathe new life into the ministry and public witness of the PC(USA)”
  • “Confess our complicity in an unjust and violent world”
  • “Commit to reducing violence and injustice of all kinds by learning and practicing the things that make for peace”
  • “Challenge the idolatrous reliance on military supremacy as the chief attribute of U.S. identity in the world.”

“We didn’t come to these randomly,” Davidson told the committee. “They rose to the surface again and again in our deliberations and the church’s process.”

Noting that some Presbyterians have wondered whether the PC(USA) should join the ranks of the “peace churches” ― such as the Quakers and Mennonites, who are openly pacifist ― the Rev. Ray Roberts, an ACSWP member from Westfield, N.J., said, “Peacemaking is not in conflict with ‘just war’ principles. We are not pacifists, but we are peacemakers.”

ACSWP Coordinator Christian Iosso noted that Just War Theory ― a set of principles by which war can be considered morally acceptable ― “is not mentioned in ‘Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling.’ We still don’t want to set up an either/or choice between pacifism and just war.”

The five declarations in “Risking Peace,” he added, “seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.”

If we strip away all the flowery feints and confusing jargon, the crude social pressure message of this text is:

“If you are ignorant of Christ’s and the early church’s witness to nonviolence, unrepentant for injustice and violence, refuse to take responsibility for reducing violence and insist on practicing idolatry, then, by all means, continue to oppose our pacifist beliefs!”

But, of course, no exercise in social control through intimidation by our PCUSA elite betters would be complete without the closing list of disclaimers that “prove” how open minded and loving they really are.  That is, after having framed the issue in terms that denigrate and shame any opposition, they, with saintly lovingkindness say that their intention is “seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.”

In order to convey the deception, cruelty and deceit inherent in this utterly common PCUSA elite mode of argument, I offer up the following statements that utilizes the same strategy but in the opposite direction.

“Risking Peace through Strength” is built on five “declarations”:

  • “Celebrate our identity as a church committed to peace through strength”
  • “Claim the comprehensive witness of Jesus Christ as contained in the Holy Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and the historic church as a neglected resource that can breathe new life into the ministry and public witness of the PC(USA)”
  • “Confess our complicity in appeasement of injustice and violence throughout the world”
  • “Commit to reducing violence and injustice of all kinds by learning and practicing the things that make for peace through strength”
  • “Challenge the idolatrous reliance on fellow traveling with genocidal Socialist and Islamist regimes as the chief attribute of PC(USA) peacemaking.”

It is noted that Pacifist Theory ― a set of principles by which war can never be considered morally acceptable ― is not mentioned in the “Risking Peace through Strength” declarations, as we don’t want to set up an either/or choice between pacifism and just war.  The five declarations in “Risking Peace through Strength,” seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.

You have no right to be outraged by this set of “declarations” if you are not by the original set from the PCUSA official site.

Finally, it must be pointed out that these “party line” positions disseminated by the PCUSA elite are often enthusiastically used as weapons of social pressure by others throughout the denomination.  How many members who disagree have the confidence to openly stand up against these “party lines” when the starting point is an assumption of defective Christianity for so doing?