Christian Hymns (2)

Hymn-Mighty-FortressA Mighty Fortress is Our God

… by Martin Luther, c. 1529.

The great Reformer Martin Luther didn’t write these lyrics as a theoretical exercise.  For Luther had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521.  The typical punishment for this offense was to be burned at the stake.  Luther thus lived under the most practical threat of death, which was only prevented by the protection of local rulers.

The lyrics are inspired by Psalm 46.  Additional background for the hymn can be found here, and a performance here by Chris Rice.

1

A mighty Fortress is our God,

A Bulwark never failing;

Our Helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

The “flood of mortal ills” rolls on and on.  Yes, in some places and times it appears to ebb, but it always returns with terrible force.  We are never free from the ills of this mortal life, be they physical, emotional, social or cultural.  Sin infests everything that we think, and do.

Yet, Luther sees that there is an evil power that exacerbates our fallen state.  It sees in our weaknesses an opportunity to achieve ends far worse than we could attain on our own.  This is also what the Apostle Paul saw when he spoke of “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12b).

2

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

No man can stand against this spiritual force of evil.  In our fallen state we are unable to recognize evil and unwilling to oppose it.  It is only because of Jesus Christ’s intervention on our behalf that the truth of our need can be seen.  And, it is only by the saving act of Christ that we can be redeemed and renewed so as to cooperate in the battle against the evil that lives within us and in the world around us.  Yes, we cooperate because we are “in Christ.”  But it is Christ and Christ alone who “must win the battle.”

3

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

If Christ is on our side then we need not fear anyone or anything.  For, it is not our own will but the will of God Himself that truth will triumph through us.

The people who see only worldly power are skilled and relentless about obtaining it.  They thus appear to hold all the levers of worldly power, and have no qualms about using them with “cruel hate.”  But they have utterly failed to reckon with the one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — Who yet reigns.  Although their evil is bent to serve His purposes, yet when His justice arrives they will be utterly devastated.  Their power is so insubstantial that “one little word” fells them.

4

That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

His Kingdom is forever.

That Word is The Word, Jesus Christ.  Yes, the powers of evil may successfully conspire to take our families, goods and even our very lives from us.  But any victory by evil is only a temporary way station on the road to God’s ultimate truth and justice.  The “Spirit and the gifts” from God provide all that we need to fight on until the end of this mortal life is attained.  But for the Christian that end is actually the beginning of life eternal, lived in God’s perfect truth and worshiping in His Kingdom forever.

Amen

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Christian Hymns (1)

Hymn-Fathers-World

This is My Father’s World

… by Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901.

“This is My Father’s World” has the honor of being the first hymn in this series.  I give it this honor not because it contains the greatest theological insight, nor because it packs the greatest emotional wallop.  Rather, it’s because of the pure simplicity of thought placed within a beautiful tune.  And, because of its surprising shift between verses two and three that suddenly contrasts the beauty of God’s creation with the fallen state of our existence within context of God’s providence.  It is the most emotionally encouraging hymn ever written.

Additional background on the hymn can be found here and a beautiful rendition here (by Fernando Ortega).

1

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–

His hand the wonders wrought.

We are called to “listen” for God’s good work in creation, a rather surprising perspective given that it is the sense of sight that is far more commonly associated with this topic.  By so doing we are called to experience the beauty of creation at a deeper spiritual level, in which the surface beauty becomes only a thin veil covering God’s purposes.

2

This is my Father’s world:

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

We continue to listen as God conveys His truth through creation’s song.  All there offers up worship and praise to the Creator.

Now, the profound and unexpected turn occurs.

3

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong

Seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done:

Jesus who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and Heav’n be one.

What began as a beauteous celebration of God’s character as revealed by creation concludes with a meditation on the nature of our fallen state.  Yes, superimposed upon creation is a terrible power that distorts and attempts to destroy God’s purposes.  It has been there since time immemorial, and appears to hold all the levers of worldly power.

But sin and death has no real power in God’s world.  Though we mere mortals must live in its shadow, we yet can know with certainty that it has been defeated in the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We therefore can fight the battle against evil with confidence that the victory has already been won.  And, that in the end, God will combine heaven and earth into that eternal perfection that we threw away in the fall.

It is this move from simple celebration of God’s creation to a contemplation on His response to our sin that raises this hymn from the realm of simple beauty to that of profound power to encourage and renew.

Amen

The PCUSA Elite Today (7)

multicultural-jesus

The Progressive Jesus Created Out of Whole Cloth by Our PCUSA Leadership

How to Respond?

I have been researching the beliefs and actions of our PCUSA leadership for over three years now.  I have also had direct experience based on my three year term as a Presbytery Commissioner.  That’s a total of almost seven years, spanning 2011 through 2018.  What has occurred over that time and how should we respond?

Since 2011 the PCUSA lost well over one-million members (1,070,777) and gained far less than a half-million (469,739).  That amounts to a net loss of over 600,000 Christians.  Over the same time period over 1,200 churches have exited the denomination or ceased to exist.  These cold statistics point to the devastation of human relationships and to the destruction of a once vibrant community of Christian faith.  These are people and churches who have given up on the PCUSA as a Christian home.  Their tragic testimony is utterly ignored, but the consequences exist regardless.

And what of those of us that choose to remain in the PCUSA who worship our Savior Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and interpreted by our historic Confessions?  We are a shrinking minority who are expected to either bow down to the false progressive god or to silently suffer humiliation as supposed racists, homophobes, you name it or to get out already.

But there is another choice.  We need not bow to their false god or slink around in humiliating silence or get out.  No, regardless of our declining numbers or receding power we can yet trust that “if God is for us then who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).  The elite leaders of the PCUSA have not one-tenthousandth the power of the ancient Roman Empire or the current People’s Republic of China.  It thus should not require super-human faith or courage to stand up to them.  And yet we fail to do so.

PCUSA-I-Don't-Know-This-ManIts time to start confronting these self-presumed theological, intellectual and moral betters.  We should demand that they answer for their reign of denominational destruction.  Why do they ordain atheists and reward heretics?  How do they justify denying the Christian God?  How do they explain the virtually perfect correspondence between their Christian “social justice” positions and those of the secular Progressive political movement?  How do they explain the direct contradiction between Christ’s definition of marriage and their policy on Christian marriage?  Why do they continue to feign allegiance to our historic Confessions while utterly ignoring them?  Why do they exclude Scripture’s testimony? Why do they have a boutique ideologically-tainted “theology” for every identity group and progressive political position? How do they know that Jesus Christ would support each and every position of a godless secular political organization? Why do they reject Biblical truth but demand that we submit to their admitted arbitrary human “truths”? Why do they make a mockery of their ordination vows and teach others to do the same? Why do they deny Biblical sin but embrace the concept of secular ideological sin?  By what right do they pretend to a moral superiority that their actions show to be utterly unwarranted?

To sum up all of the above apostasy, dishonesty and destruction, why do they pretend to be pious, orthodox Christian leaders?  If this seems extreme then you are living in a state of denial.  For, if a PCUSA member can get through the above material (which only scratches the surface) and still trust that our leadership has the slightest loyalty to orthodox Reformed Christianity then the only option is denial.

The fact that the Rev. Kershner so openly rejected the Christian God suggests that she believes the denomination to now be comprised only of supporters or deniers.  Thus she brazenly made her statement in the sure knowledge that no one in Fourth Presbyterian, the Presbyrery, Synod or General Assembly would rise to object.  And, that silence would allow her to go on pretending to be a pious, orthodox Christian pastor doing her level best to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I single her out not because her’s is an extreme case, but rather because she is a contemporary and unmistakable representative of our denominational leadership.

Well, I object, and will not silently accept any of this.  I don’t care if no one or thousands join me.  My responsibility lies in being true to what Jesus Christ has done.

I understand that each of us has only so much time, energy, knowledge and skills.  I contribute in what I believe to be the best use of the gifts that God has given me.  Others will choose to contribute in their own ways.  But the point is that we are called to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as God has given us the specific gifts to so do.  If we, each in our own way and time, choose to stand on that holy ground then we can remain in the PCUSA without shame or fear.  And, by God’s providential power we will make a difference even if we don’t see it in our lifetimes.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 11:39 – 12:3 (NIV)

 

The PCUSA Elite Today (4)

Christian-GodThe Rev. Shannon Kershner Interview (3)

When I first came across the Sun Times article, Prominent Presbyterian pastor: ‘God’s not a Christian . . . We are’, I couldn’t initially digest the enormity of this statement.  In fact, I set it aside for months.  Only recently did the full force of the implications become apparent, thus leading to this series of posts.

Denying the Christian God

The context for the Rev. Kershner’s statement is straightforward.  At time 34:20 the interviewer suddenly (as in out of the blue) asks the following question.

Interviewer: Is Christianity the only way to get to heaven, if heaven exists?

The Rev. Kershner’s initial response is immediate and forceful.

Rev. Kershner: No!  God’s not a Christian, I mean we are.

Then there is a bit of verbal fumbling as she attempts to formulate a theological rationale for her assertion.

Rev. Kershner: … For me, the Christian tradition is the way to understand God and my relationship with the world and other humans and it’s the way for me to move into that relationship but I’m not about to say what God can and can not do in other ways and with other spiritual experiences.

The simple fact is that there is no possible way for a Christian pastor to justify such an initial response.  Had she simply followed up by saying that she had misspoke; this and previous posts would have never been written.  However, by immediately justifying her statement Rev. Kershner makes it clear that this is indeed what she believes.

And, what she believes is an explicit and unmistakable denial of the Christian God.

I’m confident that, were an exhaustive analysis of Scriptural and Confessional norms conducted, the number of violations would be at least in the many dozens.  There is simply nothing in the New Testament or in the interpretation thereof from our Confessions that supports such an assertion.

The Christian God is the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as defined in the Nicene Creed.  There are no other gods in addition to the Trinitarian God.  There is no conception of God other than the Trinitarian God.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is simultaneously all human and all God.  He is the irreplaceable and eternally existing Second Person in the Trinity.  Thus to believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that God is Christian because Christ is God.  Although I had considered delivering an exhaustive Biblical and Confessional proof of these doctrines, I have concluded that so doing is a gross insult to the Christian faith.

However, I will comment on a couple additional aspects of her statement.

Visualizing the Non-Christian god

Another way to conceptualize the Rev. Kershner’s idea of a non-Christian god is to reduce it to concrete forms.  My consideration led to two (I’m sure there are more) distinct possibilities.  In the first, god becomes the summation of the gods of all cultures / civilizations.  Thus, each god or set of gods constitute a part of the total god.  The following figure shows this option (the numbers are estimates of the number of gods in a given set).

all-gods-2

The Non-Christian god as the Summation of all gods

Eagle-eyed readers may detect that in addition to the Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Pagan gods I have also included ancient idols and Satan.  Inclusion of the idols should be self-explanatory from a multiculturalist perspective.

However, many might consider the inclusion of Satan as going way too far.  It may or may not be comforting to know that I took this step based on guidance from “The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church.”  In a sermon preached on May 12, 2013 in Venezuela on Acts 16:16-24, The Most Reverend Jefferts Schori comments thusly on the Apostle Paul’s exorcism of a demon possessed girl:

But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

There you have it!  The concept of Christian inclusion means that a demon possessed girl’s spirituality is likely of a higher quality than that of the Apostle Paul’s.  It must be frustrating to our PCUSA elites to be behind the Episcopal Church in the inclusion sweepstakes.  However, they will surely redouble their efforts to catch up.

universal-god

The Universal Non-Christian god.  I have no idea where we are.

The other concrete instantiation of a non-Christian god is a universal god that transcends  cultures and civilizations.  In this case all human conceptions of god are partial and imperfect.  However, all in their own faltering way ultimately point to this same universal god.

If I had to choose which of these two conceptions is closer to the Rev. Kershner’s meaning it would be this second option.

Considering the “Christian Tradition” Explanation

The Rev. Kershner ties her concept of the non-Christian god to the “Christian tradition.”  Given that there is no Christian tradition as found in Scripture or our Confessions that supports her idea, one has to wonder to just what tradition she is pointing.

My best guess is it’s the “tradition” of post-modernist theological innovation that has occurred in the PCUSA since the Confession of 1967.  As foreseen by Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967:

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.

I would say that this is a fair description of the “Jesus Christ” that Rev. Kershner has demoted to barely demi-god status, if not a mere human, now long dead and dust.

only-traditionOne last bit of bitter irony.  During the Reformation the Catholic church argued for the combination of Scripture and tradition for the source of their doctrine.  The Reformers countered that doctrine must be based upon Scripture alone.  Now, our most elite progressive Christian leadership is reduced to arguing that doctrine must be based on tradition alone, and a tradition that is ever changing to keep up with the fads and fancies of post-modern secular progressive ideology.  So, out with the “Five Solas” and in with the one Sola (i.e., Sola Traditum) that rules them all!

I believe that the “Scripture plus tradition” doctrine of the Medieval Catholic Church was far closer to the truth about Jesus Christ than is our contemporary elite’s “Tradition Alone” doctrine.  What a sad, pathetic situation.

The PCUSA Elite Today (3)

99%-Black

This is technically a shade of grey

The Rev. Shannon Kershner Interview (2)

The interview under discussion was wide ranging in scope.  Therefore, there are numerous topics with which I must disagree with corresponding levels of concern.  I will here cover one of those topics that rise to the level of great concern.

Biblical Authority

At around 15:50 into the interview the Rev. Kershner makes the following statement regarding the authority of Scripture in the PCUSA.

… because there’s a lot of grey in our denomination and you can have differing understanding of Scripture’s authority and still be a good Presbyterian.

On its face this statement isn’t alarming.  I would wager that in any Christian group outside of a cult there are differing understandings of Scripture’s authority.

However, if you happen to know the actual range of acceptable understanding for Scripture’s authority in the PCUSA this seemingly bland statement becomes disturbing.  It is so because you are forced to choose between two unpleasant conclusions.  One is that the Rev. Kershner is utterly ignorant about the true range of acceptable Scriptural authority understandings in the PCUSA.  The other is that, although she knows this actual range, she nevertheless obscures the truth by use of language that will be misinterpreted by the vast majority of listeners.

You may have noticed that in both previous posts I have referenced the PCUSA’s ordination of an atheist and approval of an ordained heretic.  My intent was to focus the reader’s mind on the true nature of our denomination’s position on Scriptural authority.  That being, there are no limits on the acceptable differences in this area.  If you yet doubt me, here are the publicly available statements of our PCUSA atheist ordained pastor, John Shuck, on Scriptural authority.

  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend …
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being

Or, consider what the article published by the official PCUSA News Service had to say about proposals to delete Books from Scripture and add Gnostic books (emphasis added).

Until the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest were codified as the New Testament’s canon some 300 years after His resurrection, people heard the story of Jesus told through additional eyes and voices. These Gnostic Gospels are attributed to, among others, Mary Magdalene, Thomas (he of “Doubting Thomas” fame) and even Judas.

The discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in Egypt rekindled debate among theologians and religious scholars about what a “proper” New Testament should contain. One think tank that emerged was the 150-member Jesus Seminar founded by Robert Funk. During his lifetime, Funk advocated for a volume along the lines of what was produced by Taussig’s council; Funk also lobbied strongly for the extraction of some books in the New Testament, among them the Gospel of John. …

… Along this line, Reyes-Chow was quick to point out that, with the Gnostic Gospels and other “new texts” heavily favoring the strong role women played in the early church, he didn’t pick up any sense of the New Orleans council attempting to be “politically correct” or compensating for the “male-dominated” approach of the current canon.

Note that here a past Moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, is advocating for the incorporation of Gnostic Gospels into the Canon of Scripture.  And, the PCUSA article clearly is supportive of this proposal.

I am extremely doubtful that the Rev. Kershner is ignorant of this situation.  Therefore, the following figure provides a summary of what is the most likely intention of her comment.

Scripture-Grey-Space

Using tortured misapplication of logic and rhetoric it’s possible that a case for 1% (or 0.1%, or 0.01% …) orthodoxy in the views of an avowed atheist and Gnostic heretic could be made.  Thus the Rev. Kershner might argue that she is technically telling the truth in the abstract sense that if even an infinitesimal  part is white in an otherwise black color the result is “grey.”  However, it strains credulity that the the Revs. Shuck’s or Reyes-Chow’s (apparently both “good Presbyterians”) views of Scripture’s authority fall within any reasonable interpretation of the ordination questions relating to this issue, to which they apparently answered in the affirmative.

W-4.0404: Constitutional Questions

a. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

b. 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?

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?

d. Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

In addition, here are the standards from the current PCUSA Book of Order that must be met for a person to be ordained as a minister (emphasis added).

 G-2.0503 Categories of Membership

A minister of the Word and Sacrament is a member of a presbytery and shall be engaged in a ministry validated by that presbytery, a member-at-large as determined by the presbytery, or honorably retired.

a.  Engaged in a Validated Ministry

A validated ministry shall: (1) demonstrate conformity with the mission of God’s people in the world as set forth in Holy Scripture,  The Book of Confessions, and the  Book of Order of this church; (2) serve and aid others, and enable the ministry of others; (3) give evidence of theologically informed fidelity to God’s Word; …

In what possible sense have the Revs. Shuck or Reyes-Chow demonstrated conformity or fidelity to God’s Word?  I contend not in any meaningful way within a denomination that calls itself Christian.

Why would our elite leaders want to obscure the truth about the PCUSA in this area?  Well, because were the truth generally known their moral credibility as Christian leaders would profoundly suffer.

 

The Death of Beauty (7)

Celebrating Past Beauty (5)

ww2-146-lPaul Ramsey Article (2)

Make no mistake, Mr. Ramsey had a partisan position with regard to participation in World War II — he was for it.  However, the means by which he pressed his point of view could hardly be more different than those used by today’s Progressive Christians.  For, nowhere in Mr. Ramsey’s article will you find accusations of mental illness in his opponents manifested as a “phobia.”  Nor will you find dark intimations of evil motives due to some sort of “ism.”  Finally, you will not find all of the talking points for his secular political position cobbled together with a throwaway reference to Jesus in order to claim that the piece is Christian.

What you will find is a profound meditation on the nature of the human condition in general and sin in particular.  Along the way he will acknowledge truth and error on both sides of the debate.  But the essential fact here is that Mr. Ramsey seeks to convince those in disagreement or on the fence by the quality of his arguments.  That is, he treats those not or not yet on his side as moral and intellectual equals.

By his own words Mr. Ramsey is in disagreement with “Liberal Protestantism”  on the issue at hand.  His opponents apparently were scandalized by the fact that prosecution of the war required people to engage in unrighteous acts.  Of this there can be no dispute, and Mr. Ramsey does not attempt to do so.  Rather, he points out that by so completely focusing on sin as “unrepentant unrighteousness” they fall prey to the less obvious but far more dangerous and destructive sin of “unrepentant righteousness.”

34+Then+Jesus+said,+Father,+forgive+them,+for+they+do+not+know+what+they+do.+Luke+23-34+(NKJV)The departure point for this argument is Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).  For, this greatest sin (perhaps excepting the “unforgivable sin”) was done entirely by people who believed that their motives were righteous.  For the Jewish leaders they were stopping a false Messiah.  For the Romans they were maintaining peace.  Mr. Ramsey’s point is that Christ’s words were not only applicable to that specific case, but are true in general.  Here is the key excerpt.

Do we not here recog­nize that sin and responsibility may vary inversely, rather than directly, with consciousness, so that greater sincerity actually means greater sin? Our own responsible and sinful implication in social institu­tions must already extend far out beyond the range of our conscious participation, else on what grounds do we make ourselves more consciously sinful by making ourselves more sensitive to the grinding, impersonal results of our common life? And when we are stabbed sharply awake to evil results that have followed from one of our actions, which we certainly did not “intend that way,” should this not give us pause, and bring the reflection that it is not just in this case that we sin not knowing what we do.

Mr. Ramsey’s point is not that, because sin consists of “unrepentant righteousness” then there is no need to be concerned about “unrepentant unrighteousness.”  Rather, it is to argue that by making an idol of our righteousness we can end up participating in greater sinfulness.

Before God, unrepentant unrighteousness and unrepentant righteousness come to the same thing; and an indication that they are judged alike by God is the fact that in history they come in time to the same thing, namely, cruelty. This is the Cross in History from which also, in the light of the Cross of Christ, we learn that man’s deepest sin lies in an unrepentant righteousness that knows not the sin for which it is responsible.

How then, if we must admit that we sin both in our unrighteousness and righteousness, can we avoid becoming incapable of any act or thought lest we thereby sin?  Mr. Ramsey’s answers are:

More fundamental than sorrow for our past sins is a repentant faith which in acting nevertheless waits for the Lord to complete by His Divine Provi­dence the goodness of our finite actions, and which still trusts Him when in His Divine Judgment our action is thwarted and rejected. If we are to be truly forgiven, truly the Father must forgive us.

and:

By the action of God in history, the sinfulness of human actions is judged and corrected, and the goodness of human action saved and incorporated in the Divine Will. Since our judgment about what is good is always infected by our sinful righteous­ness, the act of God in history always has, in rela­tion even to the best of us, an aspect of “otherness,” of being beyond the good and evil of our own mixed, self-defensive human judgments. When we do think we know the will of God for our time, our wills are strengthened, either to do or not to do, by a course of events utterly beyond our control. After each event we must always confess that we have been acted upon more than we have acted, that we have been changed more than we have changed anything, and that the ideals with which we began have not been realized in reality so much as they have been transformed to accord more with reality. By grace are we saved!

Nazi-Capture-Jews-WW2Although Mr. Ramsey’s prose does not achieve the heights of beauty discovered by Mr. Lincoln and Rev. Edwards, it yet is beautiful.  Its beauty lives in the lovely, humble and trusting manner in which he connects our fallen lives on this earth with the judgement and grace found only in God.  And, he meets a great human need by helping those brave but conflicted souls who found themselves called to oppose great evil to bear that terrible responsibility within the context of their Christian faith.


 

The Death of Beauty (5)

Celebrating Past Beauty (3)

Jonathan_Edwards_engraving

Engraving of Edwards by R Babson & J Andrews

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) Sermon

Jonathan Edwards (a strong supporter of Calvinist theology) is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  But he nonetheless has written words about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that beautifully capture the simultaneous majesty and humility of His Person.

I have attempted to address this aspect of our Savior’s character in Chapter 4 of my recently published eBook Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism (also available in PDF on this blog’s Documents Repository page).  Compared to this sermon excerpt my work looks clumsy and unconvincing.

And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. 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. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.

Can anyone point to theological prose that more beautifully calls us poor sinners to repentance?  Here is the work of a soul utterly captivated by Christ’s love.  The Reverend Edwards here intermingles two apparently opposite and irreconcilable aspects of our Savior’s character in a passage that unifies them with grace and power.  What non-Biblical words could more beautifully invite repentance and convince us that Christ has the power to save and protect?


It is a shameful fact that the name of Jesus Christ, let alone truthful meditation on His Person and purposes are so rarely found in contemporary PCUSA theological prose.  I certainly don’t demand beauty (otherwise I’d need to stop writing myself).  However, just to see that, regardless of the execution, hearts burn with thankfulness for and love of Christ Himself would be a wonderful relief.

The Death of Beauty (4)

Celebrating Past Beauty (2)

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Abraham Lincoln delivering the Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)

It is astounding that what I consider to be the most beautiful non-Scriptural theological prose ever written was composed by a politician rather than a theologian.  This Second Inaugural Address may have been delivered on a political occasion, but it utterly transcends the dross of politics.  Rather, at its core, this is a profound theological meditation on the causes and meaning of a truly cataclysmic event in the life of our Nation — the Civil War in which well over 600,000 lives were sacrificed to settle the question of slavery once and for all.

The speech itself is exceedingly short, consisting of only 698 words.  The first 359 words serve as a preamble for the theological meditation of only 339 words.  For the sake of brevity I excerpt only the theological meditation.

… Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Thinking back to the components of beauty for theological prose, what could be a deeper point of human need than that of the millions of lives that had been (and that were still being while the speech was given) scared by this most terrible war in U.S. history?  And, from whom were words of explanation and purpose more needed than that man whose election as President had set into motion that very war?  By bowing humbly to that terrible need Abraham Lincoln was able to compose a theological meditation of terrible beauty.

Although the Civil War still raged at the time of this speech the outcome was no longer in doubt.  In fact, only 36 days later General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.  So, Lincoln’s primary purpose was to begin the process of healing for a nation that had suffered a grievous, perhaps even mortal wound.  But how could such a goal be pursued given the disunity and hatred of total war?

While living in Washington D.C. Lincoln and his family attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  It is certain that there he would have experienced teaching aligned with the Westminster Confessions.  Thus, as the reelected President pondered his impossible task the theological framework upon which he would draw stressed God’s sovereignty and providential purposes in history.

How though could Lincoln invoke the Christian God Whom both citizens of the Union and Confederacy worshiped?  Lincoln courageously raised this conundrum as the starting point of his meditation.  But, although he included a powerful argument in support of the Union, he yet refused to claim that God was on the Union’s side.  For here the Reformed doctrine of sin’s universality allowed him to see that the sources of this terrible conflict encompassed the entire nation.  Thus, although the specific position on slavery had been decided in the Union’s favor, citizens of both sides were reminded that they shared a common responsibility for the existence of the sinful institution of chattel slavery.  Upon this ground the rightness of the Union’s cause might be maintained but without inciting an attitude of destructive moral superiority.

But it is when Lincoln addresses God’s place in the tragedy that beauty reaches its zenith.  How could there but be the most powerful temptation to blame God for this monstrous war?  That is, how could a kind and loving God have allowed so much terror and death to occur?  Here the humility of the created creature finds voice in Lincoln’s use of Psalm 19:9, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Rather than demanding that God answer at the dock of human pride, Lincoln humbly submits to the reality that God’s purposes are just even if the consequences are dreadful.  That is, “shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”  The answer is a resounding no.  Thus, Lincoln rejects the spiritually destructive temptation to blame God for sin while calling all humanity to repentance for their sin.

It is upon these theological foundations that Lincoln calls to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and to pursue “a just and lasting peace.”  It is therefore on our universal need for a Savior that Abraham Lincoln sought to rebuild the United States.  The miraculous fact is that the nation was indeed rebuilt in spite of Lincoln’s assassination by a Confederate sympathizer on April 15, 1865.

Can there be any doubt that Lincoln’s speech, particularly after his sudden death, encouraged the “better angels” of their natures in both the North and South?  These words, so humbly, so humanely, so worshiply composed and delivered set in motion the events by which a nation riven by hatred could yet be reconciled.  Had God not taught Lincoln utter humility in the crucible war and the school of Reformed theology this speech would have been very different, and a great nation may have been destroyed rather than reborn.


We once again find ourselves riven by seemingly irreconcilable political differences.  It is a sad commentary on the Christian Church that it no longer seems capable of providing the theological resources necessary for healing and renewal.  Were the Church just another human institution there would be no hope.  But it actually is the Body of Jesus Christ, so we wait with expectant hope for resurrection.

iBooks Publish Announcement

For those of you living in the Windows and/or Android worlds, you can download the PDF version from my blog site here.

Christ and CorneliusChrist and Cornelius

I have published an eBook on iBooks.

Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism

Is Jesus Christ a pacifist?  Many Christians believe this to be the case.  However, unless this position can withstand careful Biblical scrutiny it cannot be considered true.  I have subjected this claim to that very standard in this book, and, have found it to be unsupported.  Along the way important issues regarding Biblical interpretation, the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the application of King David’s life to our own times, the first Gentile convert to Christianity and Western Civilization’s crisis, among others, are discussed.

Occasional Confirmations (1)

greenAs I’ve blogged about many and sundry topics I, by necessity, have stated opinions and drawn conclusions.  Certainly there have been cases in which I wasn’t correct.  Being a fallen man, I’m far more sensitive to those occasions in which new evidence appears to confirm rather than contradict past ideas.  Three of these confirmations come to mind that rise to the level of sharing.

Jesus Christ as a Progressive Avatar

Early in this blog’s life I focused on the theological issues that appeared to be the primary sources of the PC(USA)’s movement into open apostasy.  One of the primary conclusions of this study was that Progressive Christianity had replaced Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture with one of their own making.  I discussed this idea in a February 2, 2015 blog titled “Jesus Christ Avatar.”  At that time I was using the term “postmodern Christian,” which I have come to consider as a subset of the larger group of Progressive Christians.  My statement of the issue was:

I contend that through the incessant repetition of these misleading statements postmodern Christians have emptied Jesus Christ of who He is and refilled him with who they would like him to be. They have turned him into an avatar whose purpose is to act as an embodiment of their philosophy. He has been turned into “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 Christian understanding of faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

The fascinating aspect of the associated confirmation experience was that what I had imagined to be a relatively recent development was actually at the very least decades old.  For, in a May 16, 2016 post titled “A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy” I reported on the words of Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

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. …

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 not this text, written fifty years ago, describing Jesus Christ the Avatar, but in more precise and theologically sound terms?  I say yes.

I have no wounded pride that my supposed “insight” was predated by at least fifty years. No, I’m simply thankful that someone of greater wisdom than myself was able to see where the PC(USA) was heading.  You might rather say that I confirmed Dr. Van Til’s brilliant foresight.  I’m certain that, were he still with us, this would be a matter of sorrow as opposed to pride.