Clarity about What Divides Us: Biblical Authority

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The Authority of Scripture

Every once in a while I come across a book or article that provides substantial clarification regarding those things that divide us.  One of these is an article published in Theology Matters by Robert P. Mills titled “The Priority of Authority: Holy Scripture and Human Sexuality.”  Rev. Mills openes his article by paraphrasing a common claim made by Progressive Christians that:

“We all agree on the authority of Scripture. We just disagree about interpretation.”

Rev. Mills’ contention is that this claim is false.  My own paraphrase of his position is that “Because we fundamentally disagree on the authority of Scripture we therefore also fundamentally disagree on its interpretation.”

Rev. Mills develops his argument in three areas, those being:

Part 1, Authority and Humanity, will discuss the nature of authority, contexts in which authority is exercised, the human need for authority both individually and collectively, and the decline of authority in Western culture.

Part 2, Authority and Scripture, will start with the doctrine of revelation then look at what the Bible says about authority. It will then consider the nature of Scripture’s authority, giving special attention to the loss of authority that has come with liberalism’s denial of God as the Author of Scripture, and to the loss of Christian community that has resulted from this denial.

Part 3, Authority and Interpretation, will explain why and how evangelical Christians can and must uphold the historic Christian understanding of the nature and function of authority in general and the authority of Scripture in particular. It will conclude with a constructive proposal for reuniting the authority of Scripture with the interpretation of Scripture, with specific reference to current conversations in mainline Protestant denominations concerning human sexuality.

It should go without saying that “you should read the whole thing.”  However, if this isn’t possible here are the key clarifying passages.

With regard to “Part 1: Authority and Humanity,” this quote well summarizes our contemporary situation.

The prevailing understanding of many in the mainline seems to be that the individual is the ultimate authority in any and all matters of faith and practice, whether the issue is the interpretation of Scripture or the ordination of church leaders. This is the flight Jeffrey Stout describes as being from authority to autonomy.

Yes, this is precisely the claim of ultimate personal autonomy that underlies Progressive Christian arguments.

With regard to “Part 2: Authority and Scripture,”  the following excerpt is of critical importance.

Anyone who has been even tangentially involved in discussions of Scripture with liberals recognizes that there are those in our congregations and denominations who refuse to recognize the authority of Scripture precisely because they refuse to recognize God as its author. There are those in positions of leadership in our congregations, governing bodies, denominations, and seminaries who quite casually declare that the Bible is entirely of human origin; that the Bible is a record of human efforts to reach out and touch “the divine” and that the Bible may not, indeed must not, be considered God’s revelation of himself to his human creation.

Calvin reminds us that Scripture is our authority for Christian faith and life because God is the ultimate author of Scripture. Scripture derives its authority from its author—God.

This is to where the Confession of 1967 pointed.  And we have arrived at the intended destination where each individual human is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture:

Deconstructionists dogmatically declare that any written work—whether a student essay, the U.S. Constitution, or the Bible—means only what the reader, never what the writer, thinks it means. As a result, any written work may have as many meanings as it has readers, even if the meanings are contradictory. Similarly, a single reader may assign a different meaning to a text every time he reads it.

With regard to “Part 3: Authority and Interpretation,” the Rev. Mills connects the crisis of Scriptural interpretation to the Progressive demand for ultimate personal autonomy.

By rigidly separating interpretation from revelation, liberalism attempts to relocate authority from God as the author of Scripture to each individual who reads Scripture. Uncritically accepting the deconstructionist dogma that there is no such thing as “authorial intent,” that it is impossible to convey an intended meaning to a reader, liberalism insists that there is no authority higher than the individual, which is, of course, the definition of autonomy.

Near the article’s end the Rev. Mills states the ultimate point of conflict that divides the Progressive (liberal) and orthodox camps.

Liberals cannot accept the authority of Scripture because it would supersede their authority to impose their views … To put it bluntly, if God is the ultimate authority, liberals are not. And for liberals openly to acknowledge that reality would be to acknowledge that the beliefs and practices they propose constitute a counterfeit Christianity.

The authority of Scripture and the interpretation of those passages of Scripture that deal with human sexuality cannot be separated. That is because the rejection of the authority of Scripture and the embrace of sexual behaviors that Scripture calls sin share the same root causes: the desire of individuals for ultimate autonomy; the consequent rejection of God’s authority as a constructive good; the willful yielding to the serpent’s temptation, “You will be like God.”

Can there be any greater proof of interpretation of Scripture from the position of ultimate human autonomy than the recent PCUSA debate on the definition of Christian Marriage?  In the 24,000+ words written in Rationales supporting same-gender marriage I find only three direct references to Scripture (i.e., text with chapter and verse) and Jesus Christ is not quoted even once. If actual Scripture is so utterly ignored then what is the nature of Rationale text in which Scripture is discussed? It is the authors telling us what they believe Scripture teaches, often in the most general and/or selective terms, without the slightest attempt at demonstration.  So completely have they internalized the idea of interpretation from human autonomy that they don’t even pretend that Scripture has authority over their opinions or beliefs.

The issue that now confronts us is fundamental to our identity as Christians saved and beloved by a sovereign Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To reject this God as Scripture’s Author and thus to remove Scripture’s authority from this God will lead only to despair and destruction.  If we fail to stand on this ground there will be no end to the apostasy we will be demanded to embrace, and to which we will eventually succumb.

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iBooks Publish Announcement: A Denomination’s Debacle

I have published my fourth eBook on iBooks.  If you have an iOS device then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on my blog using this link.

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A Denomination’s Debacle

This book is an indictment of the leadership elite who have driven the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA, into an utter debacle.

The most visible aspect of this debacle is the unprecedented loss of membership and churches that occurred between 2011 and 2017. Over that time span the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches, which is almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches. But these numbers don’t capture the human cost in broken trust, lost faith and shattered relationships that has occurred behind the scenes.

What remains is a denomination dominated by a post-Christian elite who use their power to advance a social gospel that is virtually indistinguishable from the secular Progressive political project. To some readers this charge against the PCUSA leadership will seem to be not just extraordinary, but also unbelievable. This book contains the extraordinary evidence that justifies the charge.

Preface Excerpt

The reader may well ask why I feel compelled to tell this story. I do so for three reasons.

First, the elite denominational leadership has obtained this end under the cloak of purposeful deception. This deception is not found in their policy and theological positions. No, they have aggressively advanced their cause with general honesty. The deception is that they claim to have been doing so as a legitimate expression of orthodox Reformed Christianity. By so doing they have preyed with premeditation and malice upon the trust of the denomination’s parishioners. We will never recover from this spell unless the truth is exposed.

Second, there are still many faithful members and churches in the PCUSA. However, unless they fully understand the forces arrayed against them they will likely eventually succumb. Only if they understand that their presence in the denomination is as a light shining in the darkness can they be protected from the apostasy and heresy that surrounds them. That understanding is what sustained the Apostles and early Christians as they proclaimed the Gospel as isolated individuals and churches in the pagan Roman Empire. The challenge we face is far less extreme. Yet, if we prioritize the comfort and peace of our lives over our responsibilities as followers of Christ even the small courage required will elude us.

Finally, the forces that have corrupted the PCUSA act upon our general culture and thus are not unique to this denomination. Therefore, we can expect that other churches and denominations are struggling under the same theological onslaught as has laid the PCUSA low. Thus this book attempts to explain these forces and how a corrupt leadership can by deception and seduction smuggle false theology into an otherwise orthodox Christian fellowship.

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The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (4)

Blog Photo- Church Attendance

For at least twenty-one consecutive years fewer people joined the PCUSA than in the previous year.  Not a single church has joined the PCUSA since 2010.  And yet our leadership prattles on about “improvement” and “welcoming” and “inclusion.”  Can this be explained? 

Explaining Fewer New Members Each Year for at Least 21 Consecutive Years

Our current leadership openly admits that the reasons for the PCUSA’s devastating decline.

The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by … the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

Why haven’t gays and other Progressives flocked into the PCUSA? 

To begin, Progressives (or also called Liberals) are generally less religious than are Conservatives or Moderates.  The Pew Research Center has generated relevant data in support of this statement, as shown in the following figure.

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Note that as we move from Conservative through Moderate to Liberal political ideology the percentage who “Believe in God, absolutely certain” falls from 78% to 59% and 45%, respectively.  Note also that the group who “Don’t know” their political ideology are more religious (at 65% absolutely certain) than are Liberals and Moderates.

Thus effect is magnified by the fact that while Liberals are shown by Pew to comprise only 24% of the U.S. population, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows are 36%, 33% and 7% respectively.  Thus, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows outnumber Liberals by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 (i.e., 76% to 24%).  If we use the “Believe in God, absotely certain” as the group most likely to join a church and then scale this data for each ideology by their percentage of the population we find that the Conservative plus Moderate plus Don’t Know population pool is 4.8 times larger than is the Liberal pool.

Thus, the PCUSA has chosen to tailor its theology and policies to the preferences of a very small cohort in the U.S. population.  The technical name for this strategy is “boutique,” or an organization that is by design small and fashionable.  This is a strange strategy for a denomination that claims to be pursuing maximum inclusiveness.

But, since the PCUSA has become so “inviting” to “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” why haven’t they flocked into the denomination?  While it may be true that this group will find a denomination like the PCUSA more inviting, it is also very likely they understand that Christianity as practiced by the vast majority in the U.S. and the world doesn’t affirm their lifestyle.

The following figure shows that only a tiny fraction of Christians in the United States belong to a denomination that allows same-gender marriage.  Thus, the fact that a few small and quickly declining denominations have been taken over by radical Progressives does little to offset the position of the vast majority of Christians.  Were the same analysis conducted on a worldwide basis the results would be even more lopsided.

Gay-Marriage-US-Denom

All U.S. denomination membership (left) compared to membership of denominations that support gay marriage (right).  Also note that membership of the denominations allowing gay marriage are declining relative to many of those which don’t.

Of course, were the PCUSA in the right on these issues then they should be pursued regardless of the impact on membership.  However, my research and analysis has shown that the PCUSA leadership has utterly failed to meet even the lowest standard of Biblical and Confessional justification.

Thus we have a leadership that has driven the denomination into a debacle in pursuit of a losing strategy that has no credible justification within the context of Christianity.  This situation constitutes one key ingredient of a debacle — the failure to draw in new members.

Taking Stock at the 500th Post

500posts

General Comments

So here I am writing the 500th post on this blog!  The first post is dated November 25, 2014 and titled “Opening Thoughts.”  My first paragraph is:

This blog will focus on my sense of sojourning through a foreign land as an orthodox, Reformed Christian.  This sense has been a longstanding one with regard to the popular culture here in the United States. I am by no means isolated from this country’s entertainment, political and business cultures.  In fact, I am an active participant in them all.  Though many aspects of these cultures are troubling, I am accustomed to dealing with the challenges and benefits that they provide.

Looking back 499 posts later I’m reasonably comfortable with my adherence to this framework.  That being the responses of an orthodox Reformed Christian to a wide variety of issues within the United States.

I am shocked by the speed that this “foreign land” has expanded over these mere four and a half years.  At the start my sense of alienation was clear but not central. Now I find myself fundamentally alienated from my Christian denomination, the culture and the political environment.  Therefore this blog has transformed from one  centered on exploration to one focused on identifying and exposing the myriad of insane ideas that are driving our civilization towards destruction.

Thus what began as an exploration focused on the PCUSA has expanded into areas such as environmentalism, philosophy, economic systems, politics, heresy, literature, abortion and anti-Semitism, among many others.  I have published three eBooks, all focused on topical issues addressed through Biblical exposition and meditation.  Most recently I have added satire as a means of communicating my concerns.

I have identified the prime driver of civilizational destruction to be Progressive ideology as practiced by both secular and religious institutions.  Therefore I have focused strongly on a critique of this ideology’s foundations, strategies and results.  Some of the major themes of this critique are:

I’ve also attempted to understand and then explain the philosophical underpinnings of the Progressive project (e.g., postmodernism, nihilism, Marxism, multiculturalism, intersectionality, pacifism, Gnosticism, identity, etc.).  My goal is to enhance our ability to counter their positions and to unmask the shocking evil that hides beneath that wafer-thin veneer of moral and intellectual posturing (many people who parrot the Progressive ideology have no idea what they are actually supporting).

Although I have expanded my scope far beyond the PCUSA, I still maintain a regular focus on this my denomination. The only way that I can maintain my Christian conscience is by a posture of opposition and rejection.  Yes, there remain many faithful pastors, elders, deacons and members in the denomination.  However, the theology and behavior of the dominant Progressive leadership has been so outrageously apostate and dishonorable that to remain silent is tantamount to support.  My voice is small, yet I will not choose silence.  So, as long as I’m in this denomination I will speak out as necessary.

I’m currently working on a new eBook provisionally titled A Denomination’s Debacle.  The book pulls together much of the PCUSA information and associated commentary from this blog with the addition of new material to fill-out the story.  It’s currently over 300 pages long, which is almost twice the length of my previous longest eBook.  It troubles me that through exclusive use of publicly available information such a substantial case for the PCUSA elite’s apostasy and corruption can be made.

the-truth-about-truth-a-nietzsche-feature-darwin-festival-version-3-638The “God is Dead” Christian Elite

Throughout this blog’s existence I have occasionally paused to discuss why our elite Christian leadership believes and behaves as it does.  Along these lines I have explored postmodern Christianity, the Social Gospel, Gnosticism and raw power politics, among others.  However, identification of a single unifying principle for this phenomena has to this point eluded me.

Perhaps the foundational principle is that these “Christian” elites agree with Nietzsche that belief in “God” as a reality upon which Western Civilization can base its religious/moral world view, “is dead.”  Let’s think through the consequences of this hypothesis.

Let’s say that you are a pastor or elder who has personally lost faith in the Christian God (or any god for that matter). And, you find that there are many others in the church who hold similar views.  So, you all find yourselves in an organization (i.e., the church) whose fundamental reason for existing has, in your opinion, vanished.  Yet the church has many remaining members and wields moral power in the civilization.  What then to do?

Well, you could work to dissolve the church by openly arguing that it has become obsolete and useless.  However, given that tens of millions still (foolishly in your opinion) believe in God’s existence you would likely fail and be expelled.  Therefore you would have to create a new organization to advance your philosophy.  That’s a very heavy lift with a small likelihood of success.  Far better to remain in the church but work for its transformation into an institution that does “social good.”

Of course, if “God is dead” and the Bible is thus null and void, how to find the social good to pursue?  The answer was found in the most aggressive, organized and presumptive human ideology supposedly pursuing the “social good,” that being what we now call Progressivism (which has its roots in Marxism, as contemporary Progressives are finally admitting).  Thus the elite Christian leadership of Mainline Denominations turned their churches from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “the gospel of social change and justice” as defined by the secular Progressive political project.

chasmFor decades this stealth-coup was hidden behind multiple complex theological smoke screens that orthodox Christians had great difficulty penetrating.  However, with the advent of gay ordination and marriage the chasm between orthodoxy and heterodoxy became so vast that no amount of smoke could obscure it.  Thus we have seen the parting of ways where so many orthodox members and churches have exited.

Yet some orthodox members and churches have so far decided to remain.  If they do so with the clear understanding that they are missionaries to a now pagan, post-Christian denomination then perhaps they can successfully maintain their orthodox Christian identity.

However, if they pretend that they remain part of a “Christian” denomination then they will almost certainly be eventually converted and then absorbed.  This will occur because they grant legitimacy to the denomination’s dominant post-Christian ideology and thus will increasingly fall prey to its influence.  If that be their end then they have no excuse, for they have been warned and their consciences will testify against them at the time of accounting.

Erasing the Old Testament (1)

torah-scrollIntroduction

I suspect most Christians would agree that there are portions of the Old Testament that are so culturally foreign, disturbing and/or confusing that they resist easy incorporation into our Christian worldview. And, any person or church that demands we ignore these issues either lacks the confidence or intellectual honesty necessary to pursue a robust, deep Christian faith.

However, once we admit the existence of these difficulties the nature of the next step is critical. In some cases that next step is to diminish or even disqualify the Old Testament as God’s Word. This error can be seen in some churches who designate themselves as “New Testament,” thus implicitly disassociating themselves from the Old Testament. We also see this error in churches where they make an erroneous distinction between the New Testament of “love and grace” and the Old Testament of “violence and judgement,” thereby diminishing the authority of the Old Testament.

In both cases the apparent goal is to sever the connection between Old and New Testaments, leaving only the teaching of the New as authoritatively Christian. However, it is only by Biblical ignorance and/or theological dishonesty that these strategies prosper.

When Jesus mentioned the Scriptures He was talking about the Old Testament that had existed as God’s written Word for centuries within the Jewish community. He treated Scripture (Old Testament) as God’s authoritative Word. He quoted and accepted as true Old Testament books from Genesis to the Minor Prophets. Yes in some cases He corrected the contemporary interpretation of the Old Testament, but there is no doubt that He accepted it to be Scripture.

Although the above argument may be affirmed, there is sometimes the lingering assumption that by focusing only on Jesus’ teaching we can avoid the difficulties found in the Old Testament. In particular, it is assumed that “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” has preserved only the Old Testament’s parts that conform to the contemporary virtues of inclusiveness, non-violence and non-judgement. For starters  two examples may suffice to make the point.

  1. Jesus affirmed Old Testament passages that teach exclusiveness (e.g., marriage is between a man and a woman, see Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6).
  2. Jesus used Old Testament stories about God’s past violent judgement (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:1-29; Matthew 10:15, Luke 10:12; 17:29) to illuminate His future judgement.

So, yes we can affirm that there are parts of the Old (and New) Testament that are confusing and/or disturbing. These passages must not be “written out” of the Bible nor used to discredit the Testament. In most cases we can attain reliable resolution of these issues. For those cases where explanations elude us we must yet trust that God has placed them in His Word for our good.

The PCUSA Elite Today (1)

PCUSA-deny-80%I’m going to circle back to a comment that I made in an earlier post regarding PCUSA Rationales in support of same gender marriage.  My analysis showed that across all 30 Rationales the name “Jesus” and/or “Christ” was used in barely over half (53%).

Think about that.  In 14 of the 30 Rationales supporting the fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage the authors (pastors and elders all) didn’t even bother to mention “Jesus” and/or “Christ.”  Thus my above cited closing comment:

The implications of these results are staggering. What we have in the PCUSA are whole Presbyteries, composed of dozens if not hundreds of ordained pastors and elders, for whom the most central concepts in orthodox Christian thought simply don’t come to mind when discussing the fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage.

That post went up on December 18, 2014.  Over the ensuing three and a half years I have reported on many shocking aspects of our denominational leadership’s beliefs and actions.  In some cases the assumption could be reasonably made that we were observing an aberration as opposed to a normal situation.  For example, the Presbytery of the Cascades allowing an open, aggressive atheist to be a pastor for one of its churches.

Yet, there are other cases in which our denominational leadership has normalized open heresy.  For example, there is the bizarre case of the embrace of Gnosticism by an ex-moderador of the PCUSA General Assembly (the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow).  One might reasonably assume that this development would lead to severe criticism if not outright condemnation by the PCUSA leadership.  In point of fact, it earned the Rev. Reyes-Chow a fawning article by the official PCUSA news service.

Thus the question of just where our denominational leadership stands today on the concepts of orthodox Christian thought is highly relevant.  It turns out that new information is available that illuminates this question.

Comments on the 222nd General Assembly (3 of 3)

apostasy-definitionThe Consequence of Apostasy

While it appears that the progressive elite who dominate the PCUSA want to drive out all opposition to their ongoing project, the reasons why are less clear.  Why not, for example, pursue a policy of reconciliation that encourages members and churches to remain?  By so doing they would benefit in numerous dimensions, including financial, diversity and credibility, among others.

And yet, even with these indisputable advantages, the 222nd GA has chosen as co-moderators individuals who have led the charge to demean and discourage what remains of non-progressive Christians in the denomination.  Personnel is policy, and thus they have chosen a policy of continued decline.  Why?

To begin answering this question we must first answer another, apparently unrelated one, that being:

Why, in over 24,000 words of Overture Rationale argumentation in support of same-gender marriage did its proponents not once quote their supposed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

The answer is obvious.  They didn’t quote Jesus Christ even once because the overwhelmingly relevant statement about Christian marriage by our Savior is:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

They had no intention of allowing the teaching of their supposed Lord and Savior to prevent the obtaining of a goal that they had received from (in their minds) a higher source of authority.  And so, they proceeded to render Holy Scripture irrelevant in order to create a false “Jesus Christ” who supports their goal.

So, what does all of this have to do with the original question?  I do not pretend to be a mind reader, so I can only posit a theory that can be checked by past information and compared to future events.  But, given all that I have learned about these post-modern PCUSA elites, my best theory is that they wish to eject non-progressive Christians in order to create a “safe space” for their apostasy.

Therefore, all of the financial and credibility gains are far more than canceled out by the possibility of theological diversity that forces them to face that Jesus Christ, as revealed in Holy Scripture, said:

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The progressive elites are happy to make room in the PCUSA for openly Gnostic heretics and aggressive atheists.  However, it appears that there is no longer room for Bible trusting Christians who might blurt out in polite progressive Christian community that Jesus said:

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

I believe that this is the most likely motive force for their compulsion to drive us out or bend us to their wills.  If you or your church doesn’t have the Christian stability and courage to repulse the coming onslaught, then you are likely best off fleeing now.  If you and/or your church do, then stay and shine the light of the Gospel into this dark and demented denomination.  Their 24,000  empty words are conclusive testimony to the fact that they have no answer to the fact that our Lord and Savior,  Jesus Christ said in Holy Scripture:

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Amen.

A Continued Excursion into PCUSA Heresy

The PCUSA 222 General Assembly (2016)

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.36.03 AMThe 222nd General Assembly (GA) of the PCUSA will occur from June 18–25 in Portland, Oregon.  It turns out that the official hosting Presbytery is the one that approved the Rev. John Shuck as a pastor.  By so doing, the Presbytery of the Cascades welcomed an open, aggressive atheist into its membership.

You can learn more about this Presbytery’s contribution to the same-gender marriage debacle here and here.  I’m certain that their prominent role in falsifying what Jesus Christ teaches about the institution of Christian marriage significantly contributed to earning them this honor.Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.37.25 AM

Certainly the fact that they accepted an aggressive atheist as a pastor for one of their churches didn’t count against them.  It was probably a plus, given the PCUSA’s love of inclusiveness for heretics.

I will have more to say about the 222nd General Assembly in the near future.  We have already established that heretics are fine as pastors in the PCUSA.  It’s possible that by this GA’s end, Bible trusting Christians will be under denominational condemnation.

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!  (Isaiah 5:20, RSV)

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 5)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 (1 of 2)

The following is the first paragraph from the Book of Confessions introduction to the Confession of 1967.

In approving the Confession of 1967, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America adopted its first new confession of faith in three centuries. The turbulent decade of the 1960s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith. While the Second Vatican Council was reformulating Roman Catholic thought and practice, Presbyterians were developing the Confession of 1967.

I have read this Confession numerous times over the years.  However, this is the first time that I have done so since beginning the journey documented in this blog.  Given the theological debacle that has occurred in the case of same gender marriage (among other issues), I can’t help but be wary of the “first new confession of faith in three centuries.”

That is, this Confession was written well after the The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy which occurred in the 1920s and ’30s (the Theological Declaration of Barman was written in the mid-1930’s, but addressed the specific issues associated with National Socialism’s attempt in Germany to conform Christianity to its totalitarian ideology).  While a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that by the mid-1930’s the Mainline Presbyterian denomination (from which the PCUSA emerged) was securely in the modernist, liberal camp (the move from “modernist” to “post-modernist” theology has been one of bad to worse).

Therefore, the Confession of 1967 was written and approved by a denomination dominated by liberal Christians.  Surely then we should carefully scrutinize it for theological discrepancies between this and the other Confessions that were written centuries prior to the ascendency of liberal Christianity.

Significant discrepancies were identified as the Confession of 1967 progressed towards passage.  However, it appears that the “people in the pews” were satisfied at the time that this divergence from previous Confessions was evolutionary and of limited consequence to the overall doctrinal position of the denomination.  However, events of the past 50 years have shown that these discrepancies were revolutionary and momentous.  The full rancid fruit of these doctrinal deviations has been on display (see here, here, here and here) in the same-gender marriage debate.

If there’s only one thing that I’ve learned in this recent work, it’s this:

Don’t take what is said by the PCUSA elite at face value.  Rather, look for the inconsistencies and omissions that can, over time, be leveraged to smuggle false, foreign ideas into Christianity.

This statement will likely cause discomfort in some readers.  However, given the PCUSA’s recent record, how can we possibly avoid such a conclusion?

The only real alternative is to go on pretending that all of the theological, social and spiritual destruction that has occurred in the PCUSA over the past 50 years mysteriously occurred in spite of a solid, true doctrinal foundation.  I simply can’t say this because my conscience would rightly accuse me of telling a purposeful lie were I to do so.

It is indeed a humbling experience as I conduct the research associated with this blog.  In particular, I regularly uncover analysis from generations past by people who clearly saw the approaching storm and had the courage to describe it clearly.  What they foresaw I have only recently stumbled and bumbled into, after wasted years of inattention and cowardice.  The most recent occurrence is a booklet on The Confession of 1967 by Dr. Van Til.  What he wrote in 1967 better identifies and explains postmodern Christianity and its consequences than could I ever, even with my advantage of hindsight.

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man.

Such is the case, we believe, with the new theology: It is an essentially humanistic theology which disguises itself as an up-to-date Christian theology. Of course, we are told that the new Confession is contemporary in its view of truth. We are also told that the Westminster Standards are outdated, being written in an age of absolutism. By contrast, today’s theological thinkers know that truth is relative to man and the human situation. Has not Immanuel Kant taught us that man can know nothing of God and of Christ in so far as Christ is said to be God as well as man? From Kant recent philosophers and theologians have learned that man’s conceptual knowledge is limited to the impersonal world of science and does not apply to the religious dimension.

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

Is this not “postmodern Christianity” foreseen?  Should we not seriously consider past analysis that accurately predicted the theological and spiritual chaos that The Confession of 1967 precipitated?  If you honestly believe that all is well in the PCUSA since 1967, then feel free to ignore all that follows (though I beg you to reconsider your belief).  If you are concerned that something has gone terribly wrong, then perhaps there is reason to continue.

Finally, I’m well aware  that for some Presbyterians this severe criticism of The Confession of 1967 is shocking.  After all, it was approved by the denomination almost 50 years ago, and, it is now a settled part of our Book of Confessions.  My responses are:

  1. I am only following to where the evidence appears to lead
  2. We are not bound to continue adherence to any human sourced statement if it is shown to be counter to Holy Scripture.  As stated in the Scots Confession: “So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. We dare not receive or admit any interpretation which is contrary to any principal point of our faith, or to any other plain text of Scripture, or to the rule of love.”

In Part 2 I will address the Confession of 1967 as it relates to the Bible and interpretation thereof.

Who is Jesus Christ and How do We Know?

WHOHowJC

The admonition to “follow Jesus Christ” is an unsurprising staple in Christian writing.  However, the extent to which many Christians assume that any current culturally popular belief must be aligned with our Savior’s character and teaching is surprising.  The underlying assumption in most cases appears to be that if the writer believes something is good, then surely Christ must agree.  Unfortunately, in other cases, people who should know better nevertheless attribute beliefs to Christ that are easily demonstrated to be at a minimum misleading, and, even false.

My point is that we too often project our own beliefs onto Jesus without actually doing the hard work of seeking and following Scripture’s actual testimony.  Or, we allow someone who appears to have “moral authority” to lead us into conclusions that we never validate through our own study.  The consequence isn’t necessarily that the things we have been told about Jesus are outright falsehoods.  Rather, what we have been told is so incomplete that we are led into false conclusions.  This happened in spades in the PCUSA discussion on same-gender marriage.

Regardless of the sources or reasons, many Bible believing Christians approach Scripture with preconceived ideas imprinted upon their minds.  These imprints are firmly established and powerfully persistent.  This situation often leads to a result called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

So, allow me to ask you a pointed question.

If it turned out that something you have believed about Jesus Christ is shown by Scripture to be untrue, will you change your view so as to become conformed to Scripture, or, will you ignore Scripture’s testimony in order to go on believing that which you prefer to be the truth?

It is upon this question that the future of the PCUSA depends.  On ordination of practicing homosexuals and  same-gender marriage, hundreds of thousands have already exited the denomination over this issue.  The next instance of this discontinuity between elite leadership and parishioners could be over the issue of Christian pacifism.