The Pacification of the Christians (3)

The two greatest Christian Apostles clashed in strong disagreement over the nature of the Gospel.

Were it necessary to be always meek and mild to “follow Christ” then we would expect to see this characteristic prominently displayed in the Church being built by the Apostles.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, lists of Bible verses on the topic of “Church Discipline” include many dozens of examples.  It turns out that the Apostolic Christian church was riven by conflict, and by the exercise of discipline in many forms (some drastic).  And yet most of our contemporary pastors pretend that somehow this is all ignorable because there are other Biblical passages that do indeed teach peacefulness.

But they err greatly in presuming the right to pick and choose which aspects of God’s Word are worthy of inclusion and which are not.  In a Mainline denomination the institutional pressure is to do just that.  This pressure must be resisted and rejected by clergy and laity alike if we truly want to know and follow Christ.

So, let’s look into a few of these Biblical passages that are carefully ignored by our teachers of “meek and mild” Christianity.  I will limit myself to the New Testament, not because the Old Testament isn’t relevant, but rather because of the false assumption that the New Testament is the reason for the “meek and mild” uniform standard of conduct.

The Apostles

Galatians 2:11-14 (NIV)

The most important incident  of open conflict in the early church was between no other than the Apostles Paul and Peter!

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised.  But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore.  He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?  

In this incident the Apostle Paul openly confronted the Apostle Peter (The Rock upon whom Jesus Christ said His church would be built) for error and hypocrisy.  He did not meekly accept what was clearly an anti-Gospel act on Peter’s part.  And yet, we are taught to meekly accept anything taught by our Mainline leaders because that is “the Christian thing to do.”

This post could go on to thousands of words were we to document and discuss all of the other Bible passages that deal with conflict and discipline.  So, for brevity here are just a few selected passages for you to read and consider.

Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

The Apostles were clearly following this teaching by Jesus as they built the church.  Note that Jesus is expecting conflict in the church and therefore is describing how it should be handled, including the last step of excommunication.

1 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV)

You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

This is an example of utilizing extreme, harsh measures in the hope that a soul can be saved.  We allow souls to run unopposed towards perdition rather than cause any worldly discomfort.

Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

Ah yes, the smooth talker who convinces us that they are teaching the Gospel while they are actually pursuing godlessness, power and worldly position.  Remember, the Gospel is a scandalous insult to our human pride. 

1 Timothy 5:19-20 (ESV)

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

Obviously this is understood to cover extreme cases.  But make no mistake, there are far more extreme cases than there should be because of the false “meek and mild” piety taught and accepted in our congregations.

Acts 5:1-11 (ESV)

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

Peter didn’t hesitate to confront a church member who was deceitful.  

Titus 1:10,11,13b,14 (NIV)

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. …  Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.

My denomination (the PCUSA) is saturated with “rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception” who shamelessly distort and deceive.  I have written a 300+ page book documenting this scandal.


This all brings us back to J. I. Packer’s thesis that the “old gospel” has been supplanted by a “new gospel” that is so purposefully partial that it has become a fraudulent gospel.  And the entire purpose of this fraudulent gospel is nothing less than to replace God with humankind as the center of Christianity.

But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.”  

(J. I. Packer’s introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

This “gospel” may be more pleasing to our prideful sin, but it is a lie that must be confronted, not meekly accepted.

The Pacification of the Christians (1)

Christ the Savior by Andrea Previtali

Introduction

Were someone to demand the single most dominant tenet of Mainline Christianity, numerous credible responses come to mind.  One might be that Jesus Christ showed unconditional love and equality for all people.  Another could be that the Bible, though inspired by God, is “the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written” [Confession of 1967, PC(USA)].

However, the tenet that easily has similar credibility to these two is that Jesus Christ was uniformly gentle, meek and mild; and therefore a true Christian must adhere to this pattern at all times.  This idea is a generalization of Christian pacifism, which relates specifically to the use of force in human conflict.  That is, the pacifism when faced with physical aggression is generalized to passivity when faced with less extreme forms of aggression (e.g., verbal conflict).

The issue isn’t that this tenet is explicitly false, but rather that it is purposefully so incomplete and constrained that it leads to a false conclusion.  Over fifty years ago, J. I. Packer discussed this issue in the introductory essay to John Owen’s 1959 book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. 

If “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is only a “half-truth masquerading as the whole truth,” then we are bound to ask of what this “whole truth” consists.  The best summary that I have found was written by  Jonathan Edwards (“The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus,” 1736).

If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. … Though he is a Lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. 

None that Pastor Edwards describes Christ as both a Lamb and a Lion.  The Lion metaphor originates in Genesis 49 where Jacob speaks final words to all of his sons prior to death.

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:8-12)

It is generally agreed that this is a prophecy that Jesus Christ will arise from the House of Judah.  And He did through King David.

Christ is also referred to as a Lion in Revelation, where this tie of the eternal Messiah to the House of Judah is explicitly expressed.

“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’” (Revelation 5:5)

C. S. Lewis uses Christ the Lion as a pattern for Aslan in the Narnia series, where this striking description is rendered.

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Christ is indeed infinitely good, but He is certainly not safe, as explained by the Apostle Paul:

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)

Christ the Lion will return in glory to judge the quick and the dead.  For those not found to be In Christ that judgement will be terrible.  

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”   …

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”   (Matthew 24:21, 30, 31)

This is Christ the Lion who is ignored, hidden or explained away by most of our contemporary pastors.  This aspect of Christ is by no means limited to the End Times, but rather was displayed in His actions and words while here on earth.

So, the contentions to be explored are that:

  1. Many of our contemporary Christian pastors preach a “part of the biblical gospel … as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”
  2. The part of the gospel very often left out is the understanding of Christ the Lion who is good but not safe.
  3. These exclusions and evasions lead Christians into great error concerning their response to evil and injustice in this life.

I will not demand that you take my, J. I. Packer’s, Jonathan Edward’s or C. S. Lewis’ word  for these contentions, but will rather explore the Bible’s actual testimony as demonstration.

A Preview of Next Week’s Posts

I’d like to address an issue that has repeatedly come up recently, that being the concern that to be angry at the recent election events and people behind them is somehow less than Christian.  I’m going to begin publishing a series on my blog tomorrow titled “The Pacification of the Christians” that attempts to address this issue.  The specific belief under examination is that Jesus Christ was uniformly gentle, meek and mild; and therefore a true Christian must adhere to this pattern at all times.

What concerns me is the general idea that a “good Christian” shouldn’t get angry at or respond in anger to events that are clearly unjust if not downright evil.  I think it’s also the case that we Christians who are more politically conservative / libertarian have been singled out for special enforcement of this falsehood.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to lash out at family, friends, church members or strangers.  However, I am saying that there are occasions in which a strong, even angry response to destructive people and ideas is within Christian morality.  I will go even farther, and say that there are occasions in which to not respond strongly is itself unChristian.

If you are interested you can visit my blog throughout the week (currently there are four posts in development, but I may add one more).  For now, I have addressed this issue in my eBook Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism, with a few excerpts following.

Jesus Christ certainly taught that we should reach out in love to all people. After all, the Great Commission is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. However, careful study of Scripture’s testimony yields a far more complex picture. Jesus’ teaching and actions were indeed sometimes dominated by unconditional love and equality for all people. At other times they were dominated by a fierce judgment and anger against the stubborn sinfulness of people or situations.

***

Clearly the “meek and mild” characterization of Jesus Christ is incomplete.  Secular interests (supported by their religious fellow travelers) in our culture like the “meek and mild” idea because it simultaneously renders Jesus impotent and un-differentiable from the crowd of human “wise teachers.” Christians must face up to the truth that Jesus Christ is far more than a “meek and mild” enabler of the comfortable life. To truly follow Him we must know Him in completeness.

***

The reason that there is a Western Civilization at all is because Christians of earlier ages didn’t falsely turn God’s Word into an excuse for cowardice and defeatism.  This statement pertains to a time as recent as decades ago and extends back through centuries. If Western Civilization is destroyed and replaced by Political Islam or resurgent Communism, the resulting death and destruction across the planet will be far worse than if we had stood and fought.

***

My primary purpose in taking up David’s life as revealed in 1 and 2 Samuel was to reestablish the undeniable connection that exists between this king’s temporal reign and Christ’s eternal reign. Although this connection is utterly obvious and thus unavoidable, yet our contemporary theologians, pastors and parishioners all too often have attempted avoid it. Although they are motivated by numerous and sundry causes, one of the most prevalent is that David’s reign is related to Christ’s as a foreshadowing in time of what God has done in eternity. Thus, when it is found that David’s life was at utter variance from the “officially approved” contemporary Christian model, powerful and deeply disturbing questions are raised about the credibility and truthfulness of that model. So, rather than bringing their model into alignment with the testimony of Scripture, they all too often attempt to diminish if not outright discredit it.

***

The dominant Western culture has told us that, simply by being a citizen of the West we bear all of the sins of that civilization, and therefore have no right to oppose anything, including ideologies of monstrous evil. This is a monstrous lie in the service of a monstrous evil. Yes, we must continue to use our freedoms to think, speak, criticize, debate and, ultimately, improve and reform that which is wrong with Western Civilization. However, were we to succumb to the elite’s ultimate vision, there may be no speech, thought or action that falls outside the control of whatever inhumane, totalitarian ideology occupies the place once held by Western Civilization.

Noah (1)

Before the flood…

Opening Thoughts

The story of “Noah’s Ark” is too often overlooked as a source of serious theological sustenance due to its popularity as a children’s Bible story. This is a great shame. For in this story we find nothing less than the issue of humankind’s fate at issue as well as God’s decision concerning how to go forward in His relationship with these precious yet corrupted image bearers.

Exposition

Genesis 6:5-7

5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

In this verse we find a description of humankind’s moral state that falls well within the bounds of the doctrine of “total depravity.”  This point is important because we must have an accurate understanding of humankind’s state within the context of its relationship with God if we are to have any hope of understanding the larger issues.

We must face the fact that this is an unpopular doctrine, likely even within the denominations in which it is the normative theological position. This is the case because we would much rather think more highly of ourselves than this doctrine gives us leave to. Surely only the worst child molester, serial killer or genocidal maniac deserves to be tagged with the adjective “depraved.”

If we look at moral differentiation from the human point of view then this does indeed appear to be unarguable. However, if we take the point of view of the infinitely Holy LORD God, then that which looks like major differences from our point of view collapse to undifferentiated immorality from His. This is one of the points that I believe our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21,22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27,28)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Please tell me, dear reader, how these standards do not but place even the most moral in the company of the least?

6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

The LORD’s first response to our deepening moral corruption is profound grief. That is, He suffered because of our trespasses. So, the LORD decides to remove the source of His suffering – humankind – from the earth. Once again we see that the consequences of our sin go far beyond just ourselves, for all “animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air” will be wiped out along with us.

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (2)

Title-Image

Although this is much longer than a typical post, it’s important to put this commentary on the record.  Note that although there is significant overlap with the previous post of this title I have added substantial new material and edited for the intended audience.

Note to the Session on the Study of Same Sex Marriage at First Pres

Greetings,

Given the urgency and seriousness of the situation now facing First Pres a substantial comment is necessary, which follows.

Opening Thoughts

I’m sorry to see that the Session is now in the process of debating affirmation of same sex marriage as explained by this statement recently emailed to the congregation.

As a community of faith, it is important for us to continue to speak with one another and listen to one another, especially in areas of differing faithful convictions. The elders and pastors that comprise the session of First Pres have agreed to spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage. We ask for your prayers that we will be guided by God’s spirit in our sharing, listening, and considerations of the ministry of our body as we seek to follow Jesus together.

I note with deep concern that this statement excludes the Bible as a resource for this “study.”  Rather, it is only “God’s spirit” and “follow[ing] Jesus” that will guide this “study.”

This is an astonishing exclusion. After all, as teaching and ruling elders you have all solemnly sworn:

  1. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
  2. 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?
  3. Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation

I agree that the Holy Spirit’s leading is essential to the proper interpretation of Scripture. However, I trust the Session agrees that claims of the Holy Spirit’s guidance cannot be taken at face value. For example, were someone to claim that the Holy Spirit had guided them to an interpretative conclusion that contradicts Scripture’s clear teaching, we would be correct to reject their claim. That is, the Holy Spirit will not lead us to contradict Scripture.

The Scots Confession provides clear guidance on this key issue. Substitution of “church” for “Kirk” in the following excerpt will minimize confusion.

The interpretation of Scripture we confess, does not belong to any private or public person, nor yet to an Kirk for pre-eminence or precedence, personal or local, which it has above others, but pertains to the Spirit of God by whom the Scriptures were written.  When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded.  For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.  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. (3.19-.20)

Note that the test for accepting any Scriptural interpretation is “what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded” because “the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.”

John Calvin also addressed this issue in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

But in promising it, of what sort did he declare his Spirit would be?  One that would speak not from himself but would suggest to and instill into their minds what he had handed on through the Word [John 16:13].  Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.

So, by claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance for this “study” the authors have not exempted themselves from careful, comprehensive Scriptural review.  Nor does their intention to be guided by “God’s spirit” free them to invent “new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine.”

The Bible’s Testimony about the Definition and Nature of Christian Marriage

If the Bible’s testimony about the definition of marriage is included there can be no doubt as to the meaning.  In particular, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ Himself on marriage’s definition (Matthew 19: 4-6). Christ is here not just reaffirming the Genesis definition of marriage, but is adding stress on the genders of the two parties involved – a man and a woman – as well as the settled, God ordained meaning of this union.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. 

Genesis 2:24

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

And yet, the authors of this announcement claim to be seeking “to follow Jesus together.”  This stunning disconnect forces us to confront the question of who they believe Jesus Christ to be and how they come to knowledge of His teaching.

They claim that our church leaders should “spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage.”  And yet, we find that this same Jesus Christ has directly and clearly defined marriage to be between one man and one woman, without the slightest hint of flexibility.

This situation is at the core of my opposition to this proposed initiative.  For, to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage is “Christian” would explicitly contradict the absolutely clear teaching of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture.  Thus, by even proposing this debate they are legitimizing an outcome that explicitly ignores and subverts Christ’s actual teaching.

False and Frivolous Counter-Arguments

Supporters of change will throw up many other Biblical passages that they claim somehow open the door to same sex marriage. And yet, what is the standard for Biblical interpretation? It is this from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“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.” (6.009)

Same sex marriage is the ultimate test case for this central interpretative principle. Yes, with clever argumentation certain Scriptural passages may be claimed to indirectly allow same sex marriage (though I strongly argue the opposite). But we have the ultimate “speak more clearly” passage in Matthew 19:4-6.  And yet, in spite of this, proponents insist that it is a legitimate “Christian” position to support this innovation.

Proponents will also claim that we must interpret Christ’s teachings within the context of our current situation. Thus, surely words spoken by Christ in the context of an ancient, primitive culture must be updated to our contemporary, (supposedly) advanced situation. It turns out that John Calvin had to deal with this very same idea five centuries ago, and he replied  as follows (Institutes of the Christian Religion).

“…What devilish madness is it to pretend that the use of Scripture, which leads the children of God even to the final goal, is fleeting or temporal?”

You will likely be told that the actions of Jesus, passed down in Scripture, showed unconditional love and equality for all people, as if this is the final, comprehensive summation of His life and teaching.  I agree that Jesus Christ taught we should reach out in love to all people. After all, the Great Commission is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. However, careful study of Scripture’s testimony does not yield the above portrait of Jesus’ teaching and actions.  They were indeed sometimes dominated by “unconditional love and equality for all people.” At other times they were dominated by a fierce judgment and anger against the stubborn sinfulness of people or situations. This complexity was well analyzed by Arthur Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible exposition on the Gospel of John (2:13-17), in which Jesus clears the temple of moneychangers. He uses this occasion of Christ’s wrath to discuss how Christ’s true nature can be utterly distorted by a selective, partisan interpretation of Scripture’s teaching.

Finally, you will certainly be told that, since the secular world has embraced same sex marriage, it is therefore incumbent on the church to follow suit. This is a falsehood. The Christian Church does not exist to selectively affirm any secular, partisan political position. We are free to practice the secular politics that seems most aligned with our Christian faith out in the world (be it Progressive or Conservative or Independent or Libertarian, etc.). But, inside Christ’s Church the fight is not “secular politics by other means” but rather for the purity and truth of the Gospel.

Closing Thoughts

I’m deeply concerned that Jesus has become to many Christians just “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our understanding of the Christian faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

This note is only one of many opposing statements by church members that are sustained by prayer and trust that:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 

Hebrews 13:8

To those who understand the great, destructive error of rejecting Christ’s explicit definition of Christian marriage, take courage and speak up.  There is no failure when we remain faithful to Him who has saved us unto eternal life!

In Christ,

Mark Birchler

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (1)

Hebrews-13-8

I’m sorry to report that my home church’s Session is now in the process of debating affirmation of same sex marriage.  Here’s the statement emailed to the congregation yesterday.

As a community of faith, it is important for us to continue to speak with one another and listen to one another, especially in areas of differing faithful convictions. The elders and pastors that comprise the session of First Pres have agreed to spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage. We ask for your prayers that we will be guided by God’s spirit in our sharing, listening, and considerations of the ministry of our body as we seek to follow Jesus together.

I note with explicit purpose that this statement excludes mention of the Bible as a resource for this “study.”  Rather, it is only “God’s spirit” and “follow[ing] Jesus” that will guide this “study.”

You may think that this is a small thing, but it in fact is quite possibly purposeful and strategic.  For if the Bible’s testimony about the definition of marriage is included there can be no doubt as to the meaning.  In particular, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ Himself on marriage’s definition (Matthew 19: 4-6). Christ is here not just reaffirming the Genesis definition of marriage, but is adding stress on the genders of the two parties involved – a man and a woman – as well as the settled, God ordained meaning of this union.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, RSV)

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, RSV)

And yet, the authors of this announcement claim to be seeking “to follow Jesus together.”  This stunning disconnect forces us to confront the question of who they believe Jesus Christ to be and how they come to knowledge of His teaching.

They claim that our church leaders should “spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage.”  And yet, we find that this same Jesus Christ has directly and clearly defined marriage to be between one man and one woman, without the slightest hint of flexibility.

This situation is at the core of my opposition to this proposed initiative.  For, to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage is “Christian” would explicitly contradict the absolutely clear teaching of Jesus Christ.  Thus, by even proposing this debate they are legitimizing an outcome that explicitly ignores and subverts Christ’s actual teaching.

Supporters of change will throw up many other Biblical passages that they claim somehow open the door to same sex marriage. And yet, what is the standard for Biblical interpretation? It is this from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“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.” (6.009)

Same sex marriage is the ultimate test case for this central interpretative principle. Yes, with clever argumentation certain Scriptural passages may be claimed to indirectly allow same sex marriage (though I strongly argue the opposite). But we have the ultimate “speak more clearly” passage in Matthew 19:4-6.  And yet, in spite of this, proponents insist that it is a legitimate “Christian” position to support this innovation.

Proponents will also claim that we must interpret Christ’s teachings within the context of our current situation. Thus, surely words spoken by Christ in the context of an ancient, primitive culture must be updated to our contemporary, (supposedly) advanced situation. It turns out that John Calvin had to deal with this very same idea five centuries ago, and he replied  as follows (Institutes of the Christian Religion).

“…What devilish madness is it to pretend that the use of Scripture, which leads the children of God even to the final goal, is fleeting or temporal?”

I’m deeply concerned that Jesus has become to many Christians “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our understanding of the Christian faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

In the PCUSA you can be sure that all of the denomination’s and Presbytery’s power will be brought to bear in support of allowing same sex marriage at my home church.  Our church leadership, by choosing to remain in the PCUSA, has ensured that this issue will fester until we fall into line with the denomination’s Christ-denying policy.

The only thing that can stop this freight train is the active, vocal opposition of church members sustained by prayer, fellowship, Bible study and trust that:

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

Take courage and speak up.  There is no failure when we remain faithful to Him who has saved us unto eternal life!

The Death of Beauty (9)

quote-gentle-jesus-meek-and-mild-look-upon-a-little-child-pity-my-simplicity-suffer-me-to-charles-wesley-110-22-04

Yes, indeed…and so much more.

Celebrating Past Beauty (7)

Arthur John Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible Exposition on John 2:13-17 (2)

If you seek to draw your readers into a new discovery about the nature of Jesus Christ, one that many of them would prefer to avoid, how to begin?

But there are other aspects of him no less deniable; and it is fatal to ignore them, or to pretend that they are not there.

The chosen path is to directly identify the issue, face it and then state its moral import.

“And he looked around at them with anger.” (Mark 3:5), so we read. Those who knew him best remembered that his eyes could be as a flame of fire, and spoke with bated breath of something awesome in him which they tried to describe in the strange phrase “the wrath of the Lamb.” There was nothing gentle in that fierce message that he sent to Herod, “Go and tell that fox.” (Luke 13:32). Nor was there any trace of mildness in him at that tremendous moment when he turned upon his best friend, who had meant only kindness, with the terrific rebuke, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matt. 16:23).

This accounting of the instances where our Lord and Savior demonstrated anger and condemnation is meant to startle the comfortable Christian into a state of recognition that things may not be as simple as they had previously seemed.

If it is true, as it is true, that nothing does he underline more heavily than the duty of forgiveness–and this not once but over and over, declaring bluntly that salvation offered in the gospel is not unconditional, but that, as he says, if you forgive men not their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you (Matt. 16:15)–nonetheless, he himself did not always forgive. The Pharisees did not find him gentle or meek or mild when he pursued them, ruthlessly and remorselessly, with those blistering denunciations as scorching as anything in literature. “You whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27); “you serpents” (Matt. 23:33); “You make him [your proselyte] twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). Rather than make peace with such men acting so, he chose to go to his death. And when the traders would not cease from polluting the temple of God with their unseemliness and noise and chaffering, there came a time when he said that if they would not go then he would drive them out. And he rose up and did it.

Here the Rev. Gossip addresses the core of the Christian pacifist creed.  For though forgiveness is an unalterable foundation of Christianity, it is demonstrated by Christ’s own words and deeds that forgiveness is not an excuse to accommodate evil.

Desperate attempts have been made by some who feel uncomfortable over it to tone down and edge out this incident. … And this was a wild scene, with cowering figures clutching desperately at their tables, as these were flung here and there; or running after their spilled coins, as these rolled hither and thither; or shrinking at the lash that had no mercy till the holy place was cleansed. For though it is possible to read this account as if only the cattle were actually struck, that seems very unlikely; and in the reports as given in the other Gospels, quite impossible. If this incident had been recorded of anyone else in history, it would universally have been accepted as the scene of violence it was. And those who try to explain it away do so because they feel unhappily that it will not fit into their preconceived idea of what Christ should do or be; that here somehow he acted for once out of character, and fell inexplicably below himself, forgot his own law of life, lost his head and his temper. All of which is painful and regrettable. And the best thing to do is to say as little about it as one can, and look the other way, and rub this unfortunate episode out of our minds, and think of him only at the great moments when he was his real self.

This is the crux of the issue.  Too many of we Christians want to “control the narrative” on the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.  We want all the benefits of comfort and forgiveness without any of the responsibilities or complexities.  Jesus Christ must be who we wish Him to be rather than who the Bible actually says that He is.   The good Reverend places his arm around our trembling shoulders and gently walks with us towards the precipice of our failure.

But that is foolishness. Surely our understanding of what Christlikeness is must be gathered, not from such incidents that we choose to select and to regard as typically Christlike, but from the whole of his life and character and conduct. For not only now and then, but always and in every situation, Christ did the perfect thing to do. He was as Christlike here in the temple as when dying for us on the Cross. Here to he was revealing God as truly as on Calvary. For, declares Paul with assurance, in God there is kindness–and severity (Rom. 11:22). And the one is as divine and glorious as the other.

Now that we have been shown the error of our ways, the process of recovery can begin.  And that recovery can only be effective if we begin to understand that God’s Word is not something from which we can pick and choose.  Rather, it is something before which we must bow and offer up our preconceptions and corrupted desires.

For what if he were not: were only flabbily good-natured, ready to make no fuss about our sins and to pretend that they do not matter greatly, and so push us through! “Ah, God,” cried Luther, “punish us we pray Thee … but be not silent … toward us.” A fearsome prayer! For what if he hears and answers it? But what if he does not, and lets us sin on undisturbed! For nothing do we owe Christ more than for the magnificence of his hopes for us, and his refusal to compromise with us, and the severity that pulls us up with sharpness.

The presented alternative is a world in which Christ has become a false idol to whom we sacrifice our children, fellows and selves to obtain license to sin.

And as for ourselves, if Christ is always to be followed, it is clear that while our usual rule of conduct is a frank, free, patient forgiveness, there are times when we must not forgive; when, as Hugh Mackintosh says bluntly, “Lack of indignation at wickedness is a sign, not of a poor nature only, but of positive unlikeness to Jesus Christ.” We must not so misread Christ that he becomes an ugly idol, blinding our understanding, and hiding the true God from us. The wrath of God is never thought of in scripture as opposed to his holiness. It is a necessary part of it. Christ would have lost my soul if he had not refused to compromise with me.

When Christ in His fullness is apprehended the soil is made ready to nurture a mature Christian conscience.

I look at this beautiful passage as a bookend to that of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Christ’s gentleness of heart towards us poor lost sinners.  Edwards stresses Christ’s gentleness while acknowledging His wrath.  Gossip stresses Christ’s wrath while acknowledging His gentleness.  Between these two beautiful meditations on our Lord and Savior we begin to discern His full glory!

The Death of Beauty (8)

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Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple Valentin de Boulogne

Celebrating Past Beauty (6)

Arthur John Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible Exposition on John 2:13-17 (1)

The beauty found in this extensive passage  has to do with the courage to stand against a powerful prevailing falsehood with compassion, conviction and power.  The Reverend Gossip is likely unknown to the vast majority of  my readers, so here is a short biography.

Arthur John Gossip

Arthur John Gossip

Arthur John Gossip (1873-1954) was Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University from 1939 until 1945.

Born in Glasgow, Gossip graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh and was licensed as a Free Church of Scotland minister in 1898. He was minister of a number of churches before coming to St Matthew’s United Free Church in Glasgow in 1910; he served as a chaplain in Belgium and France during the First World War, and he returned to Scotland as minister of Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen.

In 1928, Gossip was appointed Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Training in the United Free Church’s Divinity school in Glasgow (known as Trinity College after the reunion of the United Free and Church of Scotland in 1929, and the amalgamation of the Divinity schools at the College and the University). The University’s Chair of Ethics and Practical Theology was suppressed after Gossip’s retirement in 1945.

The expository passage is long, but must be discussed in its entirety for the full impact to be felt.  Therefore, this is part one of a two part discussion.

The First Epistle of John ends thus: “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20-21). As if to say: Here has been revealed to you God as he really is. Hold it firmly in your mind and do not let yourself be wiled away from it. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ, and you will think rightly about God.

The Rev. Gossip opens with a Scripture passage that sets the context for and the parameters of what follows.  The theme is that Christians must hold firm to seeking in Scripture “God as he really is” by keeping their “eyes on Jesus Christ.”

But the mind of men is ingenious in fashioning difficulties for himself and finding ways of thwarting God’s gracious purposes towards him. And what if we so misread Christ that the portrait of him in our minds is not authentic, but a caricature? What if our misconception of him makes Christ himself an idol that hides the true God from us; because we accept only such facts about him that happen to appeal to us, and blandly overlook, or stubbornly refuse to see, others no less evidently there, but which we choose to think less worthy of him, and which will not fit into the conception to which we have come, less by diligent and humble study of the Scriptures than by excogitating for ourselves an idea and an ideal of what the Christ should be?

We are now drawn into the core of the dispute.  The reader is not browbeat as dull or dishonest.  Rather, by a series of pointed questions we are led to the idea that well meaning, good faith Christians can yet fail to perceive Jesus Christ in His fullness.  This failure is tied directly to our fallen state, thus asking us to look more deeply into our own motivations and preconceptions.  In effect the Rev. Gossip is gently asking us to consider a possibility that we would rather avoid, but that is of the greatest importance to our Christian lives.  Surely some will turn away at this point.  But, due to the gentleness of the approach and the demonstrated weightiness of the issue, many will travel further down this path.

That is precisely what too many have done, with disastrous consequences, not for themselves alone, but for the world. The “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” idea has been so overworked that many preach and follow a Christ who has small resemblance to the Christ of the N.T.; a Christ who is not loving, but unkindly indulgent; weakly good-natured, immorally so; whose great aim seems to be to get us off. Undoubtedly he himself claimed to be “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). And that he was and is so, incredibly so, stares at us from a dozen passages in the Gospels; and is proved daily in our experiences of his unbelievable patience and lack of exasperation with impossible people, imprudent and inexcusable.

Note that the Rev. Gossip doesn’t deny the gentle, forgiving aspects of our Savior’s character.  No, he affirms them as first things to both accept and be eternally thankful for.  So the purpose is not to deny that which the reader may already believe true (because it is gladly embraced as true).  The issue is that it is at this truth that so many Christians have stopped.  This truth is so appealing, so comforting that we are tempted to wish that it encompasses the whole truth about Jesus Christ.  But this is simply not the case, which necessitates what follows.

Theology as Fashion

fashion4relief1

You’re wearing Gnostic, I’m wearing atheist…no biggie…kumbaya!

It’s obviously true that there exists within the PCUSA an extremely wide range of theologies.  I’ve focused in this blog on the overtly heretical and orthodox Reformed poles.  But there are many other dimensions of variability including feminist, pacifist, Marxist, etc.  My purpose here isn’t to extend the identification of variant theologies but rather to address the question of how we attempt to manage this overwhelming variability while maintaining some semblance of peace.

Imagine that you are Pastor of a PCUSA church.  In that role you will need to work with members who hold this extremely wide range of theologies.  While you may have strong personal theological commitments, you also know that there is virtually nothing in the PCUSA that encourages, let alone enforces, theological consistency.  Yes, there are The Confessions, but they are dead letters and have been for generations.

Or, imagine that you are a PCUSA member who is exposed to the disorienting kaleidoscope of theological perspectives.  Each theological position is held by strong outward conviction and yet these positions often directly contradict one another.  So, while you want your Christian profession to contain some sort of meaning, in practice you are forced to accept unresolvable contradictory understandings of “Christianity” as valid.

While this dilemma can be addressed by many possible strategies, I’d like to focus on the one that I see with regularity.  It is the strategy of considering theology as fashion.

Most of us have opinions on fashion.  There are clothing styles that we like to see ourselves and others in and styles that we don’t.  In many cases these preferences are strongly held.  That is, we have strong positive and negative reactions to the various styles of clothing.

However, we also explicitly or implicitly admit that these preferences are highly personal and arbitrary.  So, while we allow ourselves to hold strong opinions and even have strong reactions to fashion choices, the underlying assumption is that these are not serious, fundamental beliefs.  In other words, our dislike of another person’s choices in clothing has nothing to say about deeper issues.

I believe that this strategy is widespread in the PCUSA.  It allows pastors and members to hold and voice opinions on theology without necessarily insulting someone who holds a irreconcilably contradictory position.  After all, although we hold strong opinions they are only about surface, not fundamental issues.

For example, the fact that one pastor considers Jesus Christ to be the Second Person in the Trinitarian Christian Godhead and another pastor denys that god is Christian at all is only a style choice.  Thus there’s nothing fundamental at stake, so they can go on as untroubled colleagues.

But the entire point of my work on this blog and in my books is that there is a fundamental issue at stake.  If keeping a particular denomination together is your highest priority then theology as fashion makes great sense.  However, if the Gospel of our Lord and Savior as revealed in God’s Word is your highest priority then theology as fashion can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from the appeasement of heresy.

Random Theological Thoughts (1)

Hypocrite-Romans 7-14-25

Christian Hypocrisy

When we Christians behave as hypocrites (and we all do) it is not because we are taught to by God’s Word. Rather, it is an expression of our fallen, prideful refusal to trust completely in God’s merciful grace.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:14-25a (NIV)