King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (5)

David-W&PThe Spirit of the Lord Comes Upon David in Power (1 Samuel 16)

Background

David’s story begins with the Lord sending Samuel to a small village, Bethlehem, to visit an insignificant family, Jesse’s, to anoint a new King of Israel.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”  The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” (1 Samuel 16:1-3, RSV)

This passage immediately creates tension within the Christian reader.  For, to all intents and purposes, the Lord is here directing Samuel to engage in deception to obscure his actual mission.  The theological issues associated with this and numerous other instances of, apparently, God-approved dishonesty are subjects of hot debate.

Christian Perfectionism

What I will here address is the intersection between this issue and the concept of “Christian perfectionism,” which is currently defined in Wikipedia as:

Christian perfection is the name given to various teachings within Christianity that describe the process of achieving spiritual maturity or perfection. The ultimate goal of this process is union with God characterized by pure love of God and other people as well as personal holiness or sanctification. Various terms have been used to describe the concept, such as “Christian holiness”, “entire sanctification”, “perfect love”, the “baptism with the Holy Spirit“, and the “second blessing“.

Certain traditions and denominations teach the possibility of Christian perfection, including the Catholic Church, where it is closely associated with consecrated life. It is also taught in Methodist churches and the holiness movement, in which it is sometimes termed Wesleyan perfectionism. Other denominations, such as the Lutheran and Reformed churches, reject teachings associated with Christian perfection as contrary to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

As an orthodox Reformed Christian I reject this theological concept.  However, my personal decision in no way diminishes the powerful hold of perfectionistic thinking within Christian communities, most definitely including those that are theoretically based on Reformed theology.

My experience with this concept requires a more specific discussion.  That is, many Christians, regardless of their theological background, have an insatiable need for some clear “mark” of their saved status.  Thus, they are inexorably drawn towards ideas that promise to deliver such a distinctive mark to their lives.  In the circles within which I generally travel, these marks are sought and obtained through secular politics.  In other circles these marks may be dominated by personal prosperity or ecstatic experience (e.g., “speaking in tongues”).

In all cases though, since each and every living human is bound under the curse of sin, these marks of Christian perfection must allow their bearers to discount reality.  This result is generally obtained through use of one or a combination of the following strategies.

  1. Narrow down the scope of morality to such a small a sliver of life that it becomes manageable to presume perfection.
  2. Identify a source of presumed “moral perfection” and then slavishly adhere to that source’s guidance.
  3. Massively overestimate your own inherent wisdom and goodness, to the point that anyone who criticizes or even disagrees with you can only be motivated by stupidity and/or evil.

This need arises from two primary sources.  The first is a profound distrust of God.  That is, distrust that God’s promise of salvation by grace alone can be counted upon.  The second is human pride.  That is, the determination to take responsibility for, or at least contribute substantively to, your salvation.  Thus, Christian perfectionism is a salvation by works theology that simultaneously pulls down God and raises humans.

In all cases this error distorts and destroys Christian life.  One key means by which this destruction occurs is through moral competition.  That is, Christians seek to measure their progress towards (or actual achievement of) perfection by comparing themselves to others.  One description of this destructive dynamic is found in a recent post criticizing “The Benedict Option.”

That leads me to my critique. Many of the families who come together to form these communities believe they are being obedient to God or purer in faith. But what begins as a good desire turns into a measuring rod. Families begin comparing themselves to one another and to those outside the community. Who can be more rigorous, and hence more faithful?

R.C. Sproul well describes the disastrous consequences of this concept through two human encounters.  In the first, a nineteen year old who has been a professing Christian for one year claimed that his sanctification (to perfection) exceeded that of the Apostle Paul’s.  In the second, a woman has deluded herself to believe that, due to her state of Christian perfection, any sin that she might commit could be only “unwillful.”

Returning to the Story

What, you may well ask, does any of this have to do with the Biblical passage concerning Samuel?  Well, this.  The Lord God communicated a specific mission to Samuel that, while part of His eternal decree, would yet be accomplished within the constraints of this fallen world.  That is, the Lord would not miraculously intervene to protect Samuel from King Saul.  Thus Samuel, in order to remain alive to accomplish his mission, was directed to use deception to obscure his true purpose from the king.  Samuel could have argued that God’s own Ninth Commandment prohibited him from this action, and thereby avoid the obligation to pursue God’s chosen end.

That is, Samuel could have placed his own need for moral perfection above God’s direction to accomplish a mission.  Although Samuel may have felt self-justified, in reality he would have been disobedient.  Samuel rather chose to pursue God’s purpose within the constraints of this fallen world and without presuming to school the Lord on morality.

job stormThen the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:1,2, NIV)

These situations are anathema to Christian perfectionists.  For, if you have raised your own morality as an idol to which is tied your salvation, you simply cannot violate that belief without destroying the ground upon which you imagine your salvation to stand.  This logical contradiction can immobilize Christians, with disastrous results.

As we move through David’s story this tension between acting in pursuit of God’s will and maintaining the illusion of personal moral perfection will be seen many times.  Thus, there will be additional occasions to meditate upon this crucial issue.

“The Strange Persistence of Guilt”

38cb7cf1a3608458634fI recommend this profound meditation by Wilfred M. McClay on “The Strange Persistence of Guilt.”  Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to understand what appears to be ever increasing levels of troubling, even bizarre behavior within Western Civilization.  This article comes closer to providing a workable hypothesis than anything I’ve seen.
And yet, in the end, even this inspired meditation appears to fall short.  For, after making a powerful case that Western Civilization is failing due to rejection of its Judeo-Christian foundations, Dr. McClay ends by, apparently, recommending a “social utilitarian” perspective for rediscovery of religion’s value.
I argue that the PC(USA) and many other denominations have already pursued this path to utter failure.  That is, we have argued that the value of Christianity is its usefulness as a tool (only one among many others) by which to identify and then advance the social good.
What Dr. McClay may not understand, and many of our denominational leaders certainly do not understand, is that Christianity’s power for advancing the social good is a consequence of actual, real belief.  And, without that real belief as a first thing, Christianity can’t be anything more than a derivative, inefficient and unreliable vehicle for social change.
It is only through real belief in Christianity’s foundational truths made available to flesh and blood people that there is any hope for humane social change.  Neither you nor I can presume to know or control the paths of God’s providence working through a Christian community.  I attempted to explain this point in a recent blog post.

The ensuing events that built Western Civilization were filled with violence, cruelty and injustice, which is not surprising to a Reformed Christian.  But, somehow, by a Divine Providence that transcends human understanding, out of this chaos of sin there yet emerged a culture that began to affirm the value of each human being as an individual, unique creation of a Sovereign God.  And, from that affirmation grew a civil tradition that, incompletely and imperfectly, sought to advance those humane values.

And so, we come to the crux of our current predicament, that being the increasing inhumanity in our supposed pursuit of social good (as profoundly explained by Dr. McClay).

What makes the situation dangerous for us, as Fredriksen observes, is not only the fact that we have lost the ability to make conscious use of the concept of sin but that we have also lost any semblance of a “coherent idea of redemption,” the idea that has always been required to accompany the concept of sin in the past and tame its harsh and punitive potential. The presence of vast amounts of unacknowledged sin in a culture, a culture full to the brim with its own hubristic sense of world-conquering power and agency but lacking any effectual means of achieving redemption for all the unacknowledged sin that accompanies such power: This is surely a moral crisis in the making—a kind of moral-transactional analogue to the debt crisis that threatens the world’s fiscal and monetary health. The rituals of scapegoating, of public humiliation and shaming, of multiplying morally impermissible utterances and sentiments and punishing them with disproportionate severity, are visibly on the increase in our public life. They are not merely signs of intolerance or incivility, but of a deeper moral disorder, an Unbehagen that cannot be willed away by the psychoanalytic trick of pretending that it does not exist.

May God bless and empower us in these troubled times.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (3)

bible-bordersKey Scripture Passage

The passage to be assessed will be Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV) as it may well be one of the most frequently cited.

Leviticus 1When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

I have already confirmed both the relevance and authority of this passage as a guide for Christian understanding of immigration and refugee issues.  And yet, I intend to show that the application is not as perfectly tailored to support of the Progressive Leftist political current day positions as is assumed by far too many.

A first issue is use of unwarranted selectivity.  Sometimes pastors and laity are more than happy to cite Leviticus 19:33-34 to those with a differing perspective.  However, I can’t help but notice how verse 15 from the same chapter is not so commonly used.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

I’m well aware of the Bible’s overall teaching about the poor.  However, I wonder how some of our fellow Christians would react were someone to pluck verse 15 out of Leviticus and quote it every time the poor are considered?

The second issue that must be examined is what is meant by the word “sojourner.”  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains this word as follows.

A person living in mutually responsible association with a community, or in a place, not inherently his own. …  In the basic meaning of the term, a sojourner is a person who occupies a position between that of the native-born and the foreigner.  He has come among a people distinct from him and thus lacks the protection and benefits ordinarily provided by kin and birthplace.  His status and privileges derive from the bond of hospitality, in which the guest is inviolable.  … Placing himself under the protection of a particular clan or chieftain, or a person, the sojourner in turn assumes responsibilities.

Based on this information I conclude that a “sojourner” is something very different from the formulation of the Rev. Parsons, that being someone “who find themselves within our borders.”   That is, a sojourner is someone who has entered into an explicit and bi-directional relationship with a community “not inherently his own.”  Thus, someone who illegally sneaked into a community and attempted to reside without any mutual agreement on the nature of their relationship would not be considered to be a “sojourner,” but rather an interloper.

So too, the leader of a clan or community would have to agree to the creation and continuation of this relationship.  Were a sojourner to violate the terms of agreement, the community would no longer be bound by them either.  And, that community/clan leader would be expected to use their best judgment prior to entering into such an arrangement with foreigners.  For example, if a dozen military aged Philistines showed up on the border claiming to be “sojourners,” who but the most biblically/historically illiterate would imagine that an ancient Israeli leader would be predisposed to enter into such a relationship?

Finally let’s consider the issues associated with historic and social context.  The NIV Study Bible (© 1985) estimates that the Book of Leviticus was written by Moses between c. 1446 and c. 1406 B.C.  Taking the midpoint of this period, that is 3,443 years ago from 2017.  I point this out not to attenuate the Book’s authority as Holy Scripture, but rather to suggest that it may be quite a stretch to simply conclude that any verse can be directly and thoughtlessly applied to problems facing us today.  Yes, it most definitely does speak to us and our problems today, but a responsible interpreter will carefully identify differences between c. 1426 B.C. and 2017 A.D. that could result in misapplication of God’s Word.

Nathaniel Micklem in The Interpreter’s Bible makes this point with great wisdom in his exposition on Leviticus 19:9,10 (NIV).

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Are we to say in the light of vss. 9-10 that the storekeeper must always throw in a little extra when he is serving a poor customer, that the market gardener must be quite unconcerned if a poor man helps himself to a little pickings from his fields?  It is obviously impossible to apply the rules of a simple agricultural society to the complicated conditions of modern economic society.

Such rules as these must be translated into another idiom.  But the principle remains, I am the Lord your God.  Therefore, you shall not be grasping, you shall not make every cent you can for yourself and your family; you shall share with the needy that measure of prosperity which God in his mercy may have granted you.

We must therefore ask just what are the primary societal parameters that have changed since c. 1426 B.C.?  Is it that human beings are no longer capable of ill will and/or deceit?  Is it that leaders no longer have responsibility to provide protection to their communities?  Is it that human beings no longer bleed and die?  No, no and no.

The primary thing that has changed is that the immigration/refugee issue is today debated in the United States within context of a nation of 320 million people spread over almost four-million square miles.  Thus, whereas a community/clan member in ancient Israel would have to look into the eyes (living or dead) of the victims of their poor decisions, citizens of the United States who demand no vetting of immigrants/refugees and open borders can do so safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of this outcome is vanishingly small.

Many, many people who follow the Progressive Leftist line on immigration and refugee policy do so without having carefully thought through all of the issues and implications.  However, there are the most serious of moral issues at play.  Were some of these well intentioned people to stop and really focus on these issues they might modify their words and actions.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy (2)

bible-bordersThe Reverend Gradye Parsons’ Letter

I’ll begin the careful scrutiny of this issue by discussing the PC(USA) “Stated Clerk issues letter to Trump on refugees, immigrants” (dated October 2, 2015) that was introduced in my previous post.  The value is that a high officer is here explaining the denomination’s policy positions in an official capacity.  Thus, what is said, implied and unsaid is of great significance.  The Biblical interpretative, philosophical and communication strategies utilized are also important aspects of the analysis.  All text from the letter is included in order as quotes, with my commentary inserted as regular text.

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Mr. Trump,

I am the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination of the congregation in Queens, New York, where you were baptized. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) develops its policies through councils of teaching elders and ruling elders. At the national level it does that through the General Assembly. I would like to share with you the Presbyterian policies on refugees and immigrants.

There was a time in my living memory when such a preamble would have elicited an expectation of Christian profundity.  I detect a sense of chastisement here, as Rev. Parsons deigns to educate Mr. Trump on the refugee and immigration positions of his own denomination.  I must say that on this point we are in agreement.  However, whereas the issue at hand elicited this response, for me it began when Mr. Trump said “I’m Presbyterian.  Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness.”

Presbyterians profess a faith in Christ, whose parents were forced to flee with him to Egypt when he was an infant to save him from King Herod. Knowing our Lord was once a refugee, faithful Presbyterians have been writing church policy urging the welcome of refugees and demanding higher annual admissions into the United States since the refugee crisis of World War II.

Here we find the one and only Biblical reference, summarizing Matthew 2:13-20.  What startles is the unexplained logical leap from our Lord’s specific experience to an apparently general application.  Does the fact that Jesus Christ was once a refugee mean that any and all who claim that status have been automatically bestowed with His sinlessness?  Is it possible in Rev. Parsons’ ideology for someone who claims refugee status to yet harbor evil intent?  And, if this is a realistic possibility, would a sovereign nation be obliged to welcome that person into their population?  Note that these real and pressing issues don’t even warrant acknowledgment let alone serious consideration in this authoritative statement of the PC(USA)’s positions.

Presbyterians have a mission presence in many refugee-sending countries, including Syria and Lebanon, where we have been present since 1823. Our relationship with people of faith and communities in these countries gives us knowledge of the root causes of the flight of refugees and further cements a commitment to welcome.

1983-beirut-bombing-by-hezbollah-iran-e1404967583363

1983 Hezbollah Bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut Lebanon

These two sentences manage to encompass the decadence and irresponsibility that defines our national denominational leadership.  Here we have mentioned two countries, one having experienced and the other currently embroiled in bloody, brutal civil war, held up as places from which blameless refugees are guaranteed to originate.  Who, I wonder, has been doing all of the killing in Syria resulting in almost 500,000 dead?  Weren’t upwards of 150,000 killed in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) by someone?  Isn’t Syria the home of ISIS and Lebanon of Hezbollah, both vicious, genocidal Islamic terrorist groups who target the United States?  Is it not possible that someone complicit in or directly responsible for this mass murder might seek to enter the United States as a refugee?

isis-san-bernardino-terrorists

2015 San Bernardino ISIS Terrorist Murderers

And yet, in the face of this absolutely obvious set of circumstances, the Rev. Parsons bestows blanket innocence upon all refugees from these troubled countries because of the PC(USA)’s supposed “knowledge.”  What can possibly account for the existence of this level of moral blindness?  The Rev. Parsons, speaking for the PC(USA) General Assembly, is more than happy to signal their supposed superior virtue while ignoring the real and present danger to their fellow citizens from uncontrolled entry of refugees.  That is, they will happily claim all of the virtue points for their “compassionate” stance on refugees but deny any culpability for associated crime and terrorism because “their intentions were good.”  This is not virtue, it is its opposite, and, it’s long past time that we ceased allowing our national leaders to have it both ways.

Presbyterians through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalities and faiths who find themselves within our borders.

This sentence is a masterpiece of obfuscation.  On the surface it appears to be undeniable.  Yes, absolutely, we in the United States should treat all within our borders humanely.  And yet, what if someone finds “themselves within our borders” because they have entered illegally?  Is it inhumane to deny them social services, welfare, work?  Is it inhumane to deport them?  If they commit a felonious crime, is it still inhumane to deport them?  All of this is left unaddressed.  One has to dig a little to uncover the true position of the PC(USA).

We have challenged our government when it neglects to acknowledge the refugee status of those fleeing persecution.

Has the PC(USA) ever supported laws or policies that ensure careful vetting of refugees?  Unless information to the contrary can be presented, their position on vetting refugees from lawless, violent nations appears to be that it shouldn’t be done at all.

We have pushed for due process at the border and we continue to petition for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented persons.

I believe that “due process” likely means that a non-citizen of the United States should be given all of the Constitutional rights as has a citizen even when outside of the country.  Were this position to be accepted then the ability of the United States to control entry of non-citizens would be at the very least severely damaged.

As a Presbyterian I acknowledge my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenship that shapes my views on those who seek a place here.

This is an excellent example of the Jonathan Gruber school of political discourse: “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”  For, obscured behind all of the virtue signaling is effectively the demand for “open borders.”  Yes, the Rev. Parsons doesn’t explicitly say this.  However, since he admits guilt for his ancestors coming “uninvited to a land already occupied by people,” the most reasonable conclusion is that anyone who seeks “a place here” should be allowed in.  Of course to say so outright would create yet another reason for members to exit the denomination.  So, the position is only tacitly communicated.  However, I have little doubt that “open borders” is both what is meant and what is being pursued by the PC(USA) leadership.

I hope you will find this helpful. I especially hope it will inform you on your policies going forward.

In Christ,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

It certainly was helpful, but not necessarily in the way intended.  This letter helps by exposing the unsupported logical leaps, lack of theological seriousness, irresponsible virtue signaling, disdain for the safety of our citizens, obfuscation and purposeful ambiguity of the PC(USA)’s national leadership.  Only a leadership clique hermetically sealed inside an alternative-reality ideology could be capable of generating, approving and releasing such a defective statement.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 2)

Jesus-Pacifist-20%

I ended the first blog on this topic with three statements regarding evaluation of the conclusion that Jesus is a pacifist, those being:

  • The entire Bible, which includes the Old Testament as a co-eaual part, describes Gods nature and action in our world.
  • Even (incorrectly) limiting ourselves to the New Testament, Jesus Christ did and said many other things that relate to the question at hand, and, that call into question the conclusion that He is a pacifist.
  • There are well established orthodox Reformed theological conclusions regarding God’s nature that also call such a conclusion into question.

These statements demand a broader, deeper examination of the Biblical record in our consideration of Christian Pacifism. In addition, their logical consequences must be explored carefully within the context of God’s character as revealed in Scripture.

When we explore the Old Testament we don’t find a God for Whom “any form of violence is incompatible.” In fact, we find God both doling out violence directly and commanding His people to do violence. A few selected examples should make the point.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (Exodus 14:26-28, NIV)

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.” (Joshua 8:1,2, NIV)

Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. (Psalm 144:1,2, NIV)

But the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire. Then Israel will drive out those who drove her out,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 49:2, NIV)

This is the point at which settled theological consequences come into play. For if the above statements are indeed true, then the exact same God as revealed in the Gospels has used violence in His dealings with humans.  In particular:

God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Many Biblical passages confirm this theological conclusion, including but certainly not limited to:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  (James 1:17, ESV)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8 ESV)

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

Thus, to posit a pacifist Jesus Christ creates unreconcilable conflict with both the doctrines of God’s identity / nature and the Holy Scriptures.  At this point some might conclude that my work is done, and the issue is settled.  It should be with regard to the nature of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

However, there is still the possibility that although God is not a pacifist He in Christ has decreed that we follow this path. I believe such a position is not necessarily in conflict with fundamental Christian doctrine. Therefore, this will be the hypothesis examined going forward.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 1)

Application of General Rules to a Specific Case
PacifistJesus

The only sensible place to start is with a definition of “Christian pacifism.” Although not from a traditionally published source, this Wikipedia definition has the ring of sufficiency and accuracy.

“Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Christian pacifists state that Jesus himself was a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise.”

There is no doubt Jesus taught that the nonviolent resolution of conflict is the best possible policy – for individuals as well as for governments.  Christ’s statements on these matters are clear. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” these Christian principles were laid out in uncompromising language.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12, RSV)

Further in, the point becomes more personal and focused:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48, RSV)

There is also the undeniable fact that Christ responded to the violent assaults of Good Friday with absolutely no resistance. And, that the ultimate power of the Cross is based on Christ’s choice to sacrifice Himself for the sake of others rather than to defend His own rights.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. (Matthew 26:52-56, RSV)

Were we to draw conclusions based only on these passages (and there are numerous others that add support) the result would be unavoidable – Jesus Christ is a pacifist.  This is the conclusion that our PCUSA elite (and those who follow them as well as many other Christians) have made.  In fact, the Biblical evidence in support of Jesus Christ’s presumed pacifism is far stronger than that for His support of same-gender marriage (this is a very low standard, for, as demonstrated in this blog, the actual Scriptural support for same-gender marriage is virtually zero).

However, there is additional Biblical evidence that must be evaluated prior to drawing such a premature conclusion, including:

  • The entire Bible, which includes the Old Testament as a co-eaual part, describes Gods nature and action in our world.
  • Even (incorrectly) limiting ourselves to the New Testament, Jesus Christ did and said many other things that relate to the question at hand, and, that call into question the conclusion that He is a pacifist.
  • There are well established orthodox Reformed theological conclusions regarding God’s nature that also call such a conclusion into question.

In short, we must apply the general rules of Biblical interpretation to this specific case.  The following posts will do just that.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 6)

The Confession of 1967 (2 of 2)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 was, by the admission of its primary authors, intended to directly contradict the Westminster Confession on numerous central doctrinal points.  The consequences for a denomination that purports to be “confessional” have been nothing short of disastrous.  Before proceeding further, allow me to quote from the authors themselves regarding their purpose (see here and here for expanded information).

This section is an intended revision of the Westminster doctrine, which rested primarily on a view of inspiration and equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God. By contrast, the preeminent and primary meaning of the word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate. The function of the Bible is to be the instrument of the revelation of the Word in the living church. It is not a witness among others but the witness without parallel, the norm of all other witness. At the same time questions of antiquated cosmology, diverse cultural influences, and the like, may be dealt with by careful scholarship uninhibited by the doctrine of inerrancy which placed the older Reformed theology at odds with advances in historical and scientific studies. (“The Proposal to Revise the Confessional Position of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” p. 29)

The clearly described intent of these authors is transformed into the following two sentences in the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written.

The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.

As is so often the case, the radical break with previous doctrinal understanding is obscured behind subtle, confusing language that appears to be perfectly acceptable on the surface, but actually smuggles in a monumental theological change of perspective.  In this case, the crucial point of departure is clearly identified as follows.

According to the Confession, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, in distinction from Scripture; Scripture, the words of men, merely bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

As I have discussed in detail, the practical consequence of this distinction is to completely decouple the person and purpose of Jesus Christ from the Words of Scripture.  That is, in practice, the Confession of 1967 frees pastors, elders and deacons to substitute who they believe Jesus Christ should be, based upon their own beliefs, for who the Scriptures actually describe Him to be.  They are so freed because in their ordination vow:

c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

they are in effect committing to a nullity.  That is, since “the confessions of our church” simultaneously teach two diametrically opposed views of Scripture, they essentially cancel each other out, leaving nothing but a gaping doctrinal void.

The Confession of 1967 is a foundational component of the PCUSA’s demise.  It is the source from which the evasions, deceptions and outright heresies perpetrated by our ruling elite are justified.  For, as the most recent full “confession of faith,” the Confession of 1967 has negated huge areas of Reformed doctrine.  These areas have been replaced by whatever our PCUSA elite decide should be true on any particular issue at any particular time.

The Confession of 1967’s teaching on Scripture, and, on many other doctrinal issues as well, is diametrically opposed to the doctrines of our historic (i.e., pre-1967) confessions.  As an elder, I will not accept that I have vowed to follow Jesus Christ based on the leadership of a nullity.  Rather I will choose which of the two diametrically opposed confessional standards that I will follow.  I choose the historic confessions.

This post completes discussion of our confessional basis for general Biblical interpretation.  I will now apply these concepts to the specific question: Is Jesus Christ a pacifist and how can we know?

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.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 4)

WHOHowJCThe Westminster Confession of Faith

This Confession was developed by an assembly of 151 members from 1640’s.  In 1647 the Scottish General Assembly adopted the Westminster Standards.  They have served as foundational Presbyterian theology for centuries.  The Book of Confessions summarizes them as follows.

The Westminster Standards represent the fruits of a Protestant scholasticism that refined and systematized the teachings of the Reformation. The standards lift up the truth and authority of the Scriptures, as immediately inspired in Hebrew and Greek, kept pure in all ages, and known through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures

The stunning situation with regard to the Westminster Confession is the extent to which I have already documented the PCUSA elite’s utter abandonment of these standards.  The following brief comments contain links to some of the posts in which these betrayals are discussed.  This subversion is made all the more appalling due to the historic central place of the Westminster Confessions in Presbyterian theology.

6. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

I have argued elsewhere that the PCUSA elite are destroying the denomination through claims of “new revelations of the spirit,” and adherence to the ” traditions of men.”

9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

They have also completely rejected any responsibility to search out and find in Scripture “places that speak more clearly” regarding Biblical interpretation.

10. The Supreme Judge, by whichg all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

Note that it is NOT the “Holy Sprit” speaking OUTSIDE of Scripture that is the source of correct Biblical interpretation, but rather “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is? (Part 3)

WHOHowJCThe Second Helvetic Confession

The second Confession from which we will seek guidance on Biblical interpretation is the Second Helvetic, which was written in 1561 by Heinrich Bullinger.

The following excerpt from the Book of Confessions provides background.

The word “Helvetic” is Latin for “Swiss.” The setting of the Second Helvetic Confession is Swiss-German Reformed Protestantism.  …

Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms the authority of the Scriptures for the church’s government and reformation. By including an article on predestination, the confession asks the church to trust in God’s free and gracious election of its membership in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the confession addresses the practical life of the gathered community, detailing matters of worship, church order and conflict, ministry, the sacraments, and marriage.

As in the previous post, indented text indicated commentary on the previous Confessional text.  I will do my best to avoid unnecessary repetition, but some points are so important that they bear repeating.

Chapter I:  Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men.

For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.  And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

Note that neither of the two Testaments is given precedence.  It was by the Old Testament that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to the Jewish and Pagan populations in the Roman Empire.  The New Testament as we know it today didn’t come into existence until centuries later.  Thus, at a time in which the Christian Church was at it’s smallest the Old Testament was more than sufficient to bring many thousands into saving faith.  Jesus Christ Himself  clearly considered the Old Testament to be God’s Word, and treated it as such (as did the Apostles). So, when a Christian claims spiritual superiority because they follow only the New Testament they are turning their back on Christ’s actual teaching.  What a sad commentary on the state of Biblical knowledge.

Chapter II: Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of Fathers, Councils, and Traditions

Emphasis added.

THE TRUE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE. The apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (II Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations. … But we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of God and man’s salvation.

The first bolded phrase is in direct contradiction to the post-modern understanding of Scriptural interpretation, where each individual is free to conclude whatever they wish.

The second bolded passage makes clear that Scripture is interpreted by Scripture itself.  That is, we must search for answers within the bounds of Scripture while taking into account contextual issues.

The third bolded phrase means that, prior to stating an opinion on the meaning of Scripture, we must search out all of the related passages, compare them and only then attempt to derive an answer.  Thus, were many relevant passages of Scripture ignored in order to reach a conclusion then the credibility of the interpretative process must be rejected.