A New Reformation (4)

New-Reformation-ComponentsSeven Components of a New Reformation (Part 3)

This post completes the summaries.

7. Transformed church governance

It appears that every form of church governance, from highly hierarchical (e.g., Catholic) to highly democratic (e.g., Congregational) and everything in-between has been corrupted by secular ideology.  Nor does it seem likely that any established denomination will agree to change their existing form of governance.

Obviously I’m in no position to comment on denominations beyond the PCUSA.  However, significant light can be shed by this experience to suggest some general conclusions.

The fundamental point about the demise of the PCUSA is that it was an act of “murder” as opposed to “suicide.”  By these (shocking I expect) metaphors I mean that the rank and file members resisted the apostasy of the leadership for decades.  In fact, it appears that it was only by subversion of the governance process that the leadership was able to gain the upper hand.  The “fingerprint” of this betrayal can be seen in the following figure.

Church-Membership-Loss

The 2006 Subversion

Note that from 1999 through 2006 the number of churches “dismissed” (i.e., exited the denomination) was negligible. Over this same time period we see a general increase in the number of members lost. However, in 2008 the number of dismissed churches and lost members became significantly worse than the general trend would lead one to expect.  Did anything happen in the PCUSA to cause this or was it simply random variation?  It was the former.

Here is the report of a pastor on the 2006 General Assembly that tells the tale (emphasis added).

A number of years ago our denomination’s constitution was amended to limit ordination to those who are faithful in marriage, which is between one man and one woman, or chaste in singleness. This wording was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time. At the time it was added it was not a new limitation, but made explicit an understanding that had historically been practiced within the denomination (and for that matter in nearly all Christian denominations).

What made the PUP Report unconscionable was that it amends the denominational constitution by an unconstitutional process. It by-passed the regional bodies whose approval is required by the constitution itself. It is as though the U. S. Constitution were to be amended by a simple majority vote of Congress, by-passing the states. Advocates of the ordination of ineligible people, unable to change the constitution, proposed to “interpret” it by altering the meaning of the phrase “shall not” so that it from now on it means “may.” A prohibition was changed by interpretation into permission, because the advocates of change could not muster the votes to pass an amendment.

If you think that this description is a partisan distortion, note that it was confirmed by a national news source.

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Presbyterians have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth, sexuality and other issues.

But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage.

Note that this subversion of church governance occurred after the “wording [on sexual requirements for leadership] was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time.”  The conclusion is unavoidable, that being the elite leadership chose to use corrupt means to get their way in direct contradiction of the denomination’s clear and legitimate will.

Illegitimate Victory

The loss of membership that followed the 2006 coup eventually allowed the Progressives to gain the upper hand.  Here’s how I have previously described this process.

But because they had jettisoned the Bible and Confessions, other means of achieving their ends had to be found.  Those means were abuse of the PCUSA’s rules, turning their democratic assumptions into cudgels by which to beat any opposition into submission.  This was accomplished by making life miserable for any majority that opposed their radical ends, and eventually, to drive them out of the church.

The result has been a PCUSA transformed from a Christian denomination to something completely foreign.

The elite Progressive strategic goal was always to deceive, discredit, demoralize and ultimately destroy any and all opposition from orthodox-minded Christians.

In this cruel goal they have succeeded.  Now they undisputedly control the PCUSA.  To accomplish this end they have made it into a theological laughing stock and a pathetic little appendage to the secular Progressive political machine.  And, having illegitimately achieved this position they now demand that those of us in opposition shut up or leave.

Lessons Learned

What lessons in church governance can we take from the appalling experience?  I suggest the following as a starting point for reform, once again with a focus on the PCUSA.

  1. A semi-permeant denominational bureaucracy, centered in our Presbyteries and General Assembly, was allowed to grow too powerful over the past fifty years or so.  They became the core, unstoppable force that sustained unwanted movements over the decades of theological/political warfare necessary to grind down opposition.  This class of nomenklatura has virtually no allegiance to Christianity as a lived faith and total allegiance to the diktats  of secular Progressive ideology.  Therefore, any reformed form of denominational governance must dissolve this power base and prevent its regrowth.
  2. As much as I love our historic (i.e., pre-1968) Confessions it must be admitted that they have proved ineffective as defensible boundaries for orthodox theology.  One obvious issue is their age, thus rendering their language almost incomprehensible to contemporary minds.  But a second major issue is their scope, comprehensiveness and number.  That is, they are so all-encompassing and complex, so many in number, that the core doctrines of Christianity become difficult to discern.  Thus, though they must not be lost, we need a simpler, clearer definition of orthodox Christian doctrine upon which to build a reformed church.
  3. Financial accountability must be reestablished between our governing and educational institutions and the laity.  Therefore, financial support must move from the current “Per-Capita” involuntary tax to a voluntary system of local church support.  By this means our institutions would have to “earn their keep” by demonstrating their effectiveness and efficiency.

Clearly the above ideas are short on implementation detail.  However, unless we identify the top-level goals of reformed governance the whole process can be easily derailed.

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A New Reformation (3)

New-Reformation-ComponentsSeven Components of a New Reformation (Part 2)

This post continues the summaries began in the previous post.

4. Separation of theology and ideology

Over the past sixty years Christian theology has been fragmented into many ideology-driven paths.  For example we have feminist, liberation, queer, environmental, black, social gospel, pacifist, postmodern and many more.  These theologies explicitly embrace a human-derived ideology as their foundational organizing principle.

However, the invasion of ideology into Christian theology is far broader and deeper.  For, when we investigate the work of Mainline Protestant denominations we find an almost perfect correlation in time and focus area between theological output and secular Progressive ideology.  In fact it’s worse than that, because it is clearly secular Progressivism that sets the agenda for supposedly Christian denominational leaders.

This corruption of theology by human ideology has deeply undermined the credibility of Christianity, both for those inside and outside of the church.  Although there will always be different theologies, we must find our way back to arguing about what the Bible teaches rather than how to align theology with human ideological movements.

5. Social and cultural engagement

Some Christians have proposed social and cultural isolation as the model, the most prominent example being The Benedict Option.  While I too long for an ark into which to flee, the growth of the state in scope and power makes such a move impractical.  Yes, the secular barbarians may continue to leave the Amish alone.  But they will surely continue their assault on religious freedom with unabated vigor against the rest of the Church.

Our best hope is to reengage with the culture as unapologetic Christians.  We should not try to create our own ghettoized sub-culture, but rather invade the institutions of entertainment, ideas, information and education.  Yes, we will be hated and powerfully resisted.  However, we must hold fast to the promise that God has made through the Gospel.  I believe that throughout our institutions of cultural power there are people whose lives are empty of true hope and meaning.  With God’s providential power as our source of confidence we can unashamedly make our case for Christ in the most hostile of domains.  Even if we should fail in the near term, who can say what God will do in the long term with the fruits of this Christian cultural labor?

Through the Gospel we can offer true hope and renewal to a broken, darkened world.  Let’s go forth with that faith, hope and love as our shield and sword.

6. Christ centered ecumenicalism

There will always be theological and denominational differences among Christians.  However, if we can’t unite around a core set of beliefs we will continued to be divided and conquered by the secular world.  We will also continue to be undermined internally by false teachers who leverage the unavoidable fact of doctrinal disagreement into “anything goes” theologies that deny and contradict Christ’s Gospel.

Perhaps it is the two “ecumenical creeds,” those being the Apostles and Nicene around which we can attempt such a unification.  These creeds are already accepted by most denominations (I apologize to my Catholic and Orthodox friends for this generalized term).  The point here isn’t to limit Christianity to its lowest common denominator, but rather to agree on a common set of essential beliefs that sit at Christianity’s core.  By so doing we can find common ground upon which to fight back against the forces of secular tyranny and religious heresy that seeks to destroy Christianity.

A New Reformation (2)

New-Reformation-ComponentsSeven Components of a New Reformation (Part 1)

Were a “New Reformation” to occur, what would it seek to reform in Christianity?  Over the past four years I’ve explored in depth what appears to have gone wrong.  I could go on documenting the nature and causes of our crisis, but at some point a critic must turn to solutions.  In any case, I believe that enough has been disclosed, analyzed and discussed to enable a first cut at possible solutions.

In the figure heading this post I have listed the seven components that could guide the directions of a New Reformation.  They are only one man’s opinion.  I have surely left out important components.  Others may be found to be unnecessary or even counterproductive.  However, the point isn’t to get it absolutely right, but rather to get Christians thinking about the reforms necessary to address our current predicament.

I will provide short summaries to get the ball rolling.

1. Unity in Christ alone

The core issue that is driving our societal crisis is identity politics.  We have been shattered into warring factions along the lines of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, geography and culture by a political movement that benefits from the ensuing chaos.  The Church is internally roiled by this same dynamic.

Christianity offers the one alternative that unites believers — identity in Jesus Christ.  In Christ we all meet as sinners in need of His redemption.  In Christ we can be united by humility and thankfulness.  The newly reformed Church must openly and effectively offer this alternative in identity to our broken world.

2. Return to Biblical authority and theological orthodoxy

We have come to the point in the Mainline denominations at which our most highly credentialed theologians tell us that the Bible teaches things that are quite different than what the text actually says.  Nor do they stop at mere interpretive distortion, but boldly proceed on to atheism, heresy and apostasy.  In virtually all cases the motive appears to be the alignment of Biblical teaching with a secular Progressive political policy.

This situation has arisen in part due to an abuse of trust by our academics, clergy and theologians.  However, these abuses have become so common and obvious that we in the laity must accept responsibility for silently accepting what we know is false teaching.

There will never be total agreement on Biblical interpretation or theological doctrine.  However, unless a means can be found to more clearly delineate the boundary between credible and false Biblical interpretation / theology we will never extricate ourselves from the current chaotic, destructive environment.

3. Gospel focused preaching, education and evangelism

If we decide to place our identity within Christ then we must recommit ourselves to following Him.  Therefore, we must at the very least agree on what is at the core of His Gospel.  This by no means should restrict the work of understanding and applying the Gospel to our lives.  However, if we can’t even agree on what Christ’s Gospel is at its core then we will be condemned to unending chaos.

So, when I say “Gospel focused” I don’t mean to limit the scope of “preaching, education and evangelism” to the endless repetition of a rote statement.  I do hope that by agreeing on just what the core of Christ’s Gospel is we can more confidently and faithfully live out our calling as Christians.

A New Reformation (1)

New-Reformation-GlassWhy We Need One

The Original Reformation

Before I address a new Reformation, a summary of the religious and social context for the original Reformation is necessary.  Here is the Encyclopedia Britannica’s.

The world of the late medieval Roman Catholic Church from which the 16th-century reformers emerged was a complex one. Over the centuries the church, particularly in the office of the papacy, had become deeply involved in the political life of western Europe. The resulting intrigues and political manipulations, combined with the church’s increasing power and wealth, contributed to the bankrupting of the church as a spiritual force. Abuses such as the sale of indulgences (or spiritual privileges) by the clergy and other charges of corruption undermined the church’s spiritual authority.

The Current Church Crisis

When I survey the political-spiritual situation in the Western Church today similarities with the 16th century Reformation are obvious.  Although the current Church has nowhere near the practical political power as did the medieval Roman Catholic, its subservience to secular political power is undeniable.  Anyone who has been following this blog will have been exposed to many examples within context of the PCUSA.  However, were I a member of the Episodical, Congregational, Methodist, or Evangelical Lutheran Church (among other Mainline denominations) the evidence for secular politics’ dominance would be of similar weight.

In the age of Trump we see the more conservative Evangelical churches embracing a man who just a decade ago would almost certainly have been rejected.  While I make no defense of President Trump’s morals, it takes a mountain of chutzpah for progressive Christians to criticize the politicization of Christianity by Evangelical leaders.  Some progressive Christians, upon seeing their strategy turned back on themselves, are beginning to recognize the danger of a Christianity captured by human ideology.  However, their voices are drowned out in the maelstrom of SJW Tweets and mob action.

This crisis is certainly not limited to the Protestant churches.  The positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, poverty programs, human conflict, environmental policy and immigration are almost as inseparable from secular progressive cant as are those of the Mainline denominations.  However, they remain at odds with progressivism on abortion and religious freedom.  Thus the political situation is less certain.

However, it is in the area of sexual morality that the Catholic Church is experiencing an existential crisis.  As state Attorney Generals have become more aggressive in pursuing sexually deviant Catholic clergy it has become undeniable that there has been a longstanding, wide and deep coverup of pederasty.  This scandal directly involves Catholic leaders at the top of the hierarchy.  Potentially even Pope Francis has been credibly implicated in the protection of criminal clergy to advance the coverup.  Unless the Catholic Church fundamentally reforms we could be heading for a crisis on the order of the Protestant Reformation.

At the core of all these developments is a loss of spiritual authority that can be traced back to a substitution of human ideology for religious faith.  It appears that at some time in the last century many in the Christian clergy and laity concluded that, in effect, “God is indeed dead.”  However, they also realized that the institutional church yet wielded great moral power that could be put to “good” use.  When they looked around for a new moral compass they settled on secular progressive ideology.  This development is well summarized in An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America by Joseph Bottum.

Formed in the victory of civil rights activism, a new version of the social gospel movement became the default theology of church bureaucrats in the Mainline.  The churches “increasingly turned their attention to the drafting of social statements on a variety of contemporary problems,” as the religious historian Peter J. Thuesen has noted, and their statements “revealed a shared opinion among Mainline executives that the churches’ primary public role was social advocacy.”

As has been noted the Catholic Church is far down this path as well.  One can only guess as to where the more conservative Protestant churches are heading, though the polar opposite of the progressive denominations seems to be most likely.

As I recently wrote:

However, regardless of if we find ourselves in the Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox or Nondenominational branches we must seriously consider if our Christian testimony has been so corrupted by the poison of secular cults that it has been fundamentally compromised. My thought is that something akin to a new Reformation will be required for the Church to rise to this challenge. But, not my will be done, rather His.

I believe that only something on the order of a New Reformation has the power to extract the Western Christian Church from its current crisis.  Too many denominations and leaders have been corrupted by secular political power for anything less to do.

This isn’t a new idea.  But if my prayer can add to those of others seeking God’s intervention then let me not remain silent.

Renewing Our Culture’s Christian Foundation

370-lec28-1536x865I’ll begin by pointing out that Andrew Sullivan and I have little in common with regard to political orientation or life choices. In fact, I’d wager that he and I disagree fundamentally on a high percentage of current political and cultural issues. Thus, what follows is by no means an endorsement of all that he has written or believes.

However, the above can’t change the fact that he has written what I consider to be a profound meditation on our current societal state.  I hope you can find time to read the whole thing.

It’s not clear if Mr. Sullivan is writing as a Christian (one biographic source says that he is a practicing Catholic) or as someone who has come to appreciate the civilizing influence that Christianity has provided to Western Civilization. But when he writes that (emphasis added):

Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

he has delivered great wisdom.

By “tamed Christianity” Mr. Sullivan does not appear to be referring to a faith emptied of actual belief in Christ, but rather to the fact that Christianity “tames” us in ways that allow a humane civilization to emerge. Here is how he explains this idea in the paragraph immediately following that previously quoted (emphasis added).

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

Now, Mr. Sullivan appears to leave open the possibility that these new cults, were they “experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought,” might someday provide the civilizational ballast historically exerted by Christianity. If so, here he and I would part company. For, I believe that Christianity has had this humane impact because God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — has willed it from eternity.

Mr. Sullivan goes on to describe (and decry) the political cults (both of the Left and Right) that dominate current politics in the United States. In the end he asks the question that has been central to much of my work. What I have attempted to explain is far more clearly and compellingly stated by this man with whom I appear to have so little in common.

It is Christianity that came to champion the individual conscience against the collective, which paved the way for individual rights. It is in Christianity that the seeds of Western religious toleration were first sown. Christianity is the only monotheism that seeks no sway over Caesar, that is content with the ultimate truth over the immediate satisfaction of power. It was Christianity that gave us successive social movements, which enabled more people to be included in the liberal project, thus renewing it. It was on these foundations that liberalism was built, and it is by these foundations it has endured. The question we face in contemporary times is whether a political system built upon such a religion can endure when belief in that religion has become a shadow of its future self.

Perhaps the way forward for the Church is to be that beacon of Christian faith, hope and love that shines the brightest when all else has fallen into terrible darkness. However, regardless of if we find ourselves in the Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox or Nondenominational branches we must seriously consider if our Christian testimony has been so corrupted by the poison of secular cults that it has been fundamentally compromised. My thought is that something akin to a new Reformation will be required for the Church to rise to this challenge. But, not my will be done, rather His.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (8)

sorrow-humilityWhat is the Church to Do?

As I have noted the Christian Church cannot exist above the fray of secular politics.  However, neither can it allow itself to become a captive of any human ideology or political movement.  Tremendous damage has been done by supposed Christian leaders who have come to see the church as a vehicle through which favored secular policies can be pursued.  This danger cuts all ways, from Progressive to Conservative and all other ideological categories.

And yet there will be occasions in which a particular secular group’s position is superior to another’s from the Biblical Christian perspective.  However, it will never be the case that a secular political group’s policy prescriptions will always be the closest to Biblical Christianity.  Since I am currently in a denomination dominated by Progressive politics I have previously explained the absurdity of such an outcome as follows.

What is the likelihood that two organizations, the first driven by the passions and practicalities of contemporary human ideology / politics, and, the second built on Scriptures written by dozens of authors from approximately 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. concerning the eternal, loving and just God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — would uniformly arrive at virtually identical moral conclusions and policy prescriptions?

The natural answer for most people would likely be “pretty much zero.”  That is, the differences in both the sources and deliberative processes are so vast that it would be absurdly unlikely.  And yet, this is the very absurdity upon which most mainline Protestant denominations are built.

That is, we are supposed to accept that the uniform agreement between a human political movement (i.e., Progressive Leftism) and mainline Christian denominations is a natural and credible outcome.  But, it is actually an incredible outcome, and one that any committed Christian, regardless of their personal political beliefs should find troubling.  Note well that it would be equally incredible and troubling if a Christian denomination uniformly agreed with Conservatism, Libertarianism, or any other secular human movement.

So, what then is the Church to do?  My recommendation is to focus first and foremost on the mission that Jesus Christ gave it — that being to preach the Gospel of grace and repentance to a fallen world.  The Church is in the primary business of seeking out and saving the lost.

A key component of that mission is to preach and teach the Gospel truth as revealed in the entire Bible.  That preaching and teaching should be based on the authority of Scripture, not under the authority of a preselected human ideology.   Sometimes one ideological position may appear closer to the Bible than another.  In other cases no human ideology will be anywhere close to what God’s Word teaches.

pride-v-humility-e-t-bensonThe Church must prayerfully seek to teach the Biblical truth and then let the chips fall where they may.  You can count on the church members to discuss and debate how, if at all, this teaching aligns with a given political position.  Different members will draw different conclusions.

The point is to equip all members to deliberate on their secular political responsibilities through the application of sound Christian theology and morality.  This should not be seen as a means of delivering a uniform political outcome.  However, neither can it be acceptable to remain silent when an influential political position clearly violates Christian morality.

In the end we must place our trust in God’s providential action.  We will each reason and draw conclusions.  Those conclusions will differ in scope, content and force across individuals.  If we seek to maintain a Republic consisting of free citizens then our only option is to create a space in which people of very different perspectives can discuss and debate in a humane manner.

If we understand ourselves to all be subject to the power of sin, all to be capable of error, all to be in need of a Savior, then it will be easier to find the humility to seek together towards Truth that lies only within the Mind of our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Amen.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (7)

jesus_before_pilateJesus Christ on Politics (3)

Another indisputable political incident occurs when Jesus is brought before the Roman governor, Pilate.  The politics played between the Jewish leaders and Pilate is overt.  The Jewish leaders need Pilate’s authority to execute Jesus, so they seek to  influence Pilate to achieve this end.

As we will see, though the charges against Jesus are secular (i.e., treason), He refuses this frame of reference.  Regardless, Pilate had to make his decision within the constraints of power politics as they existed at that time and place.  It’s impossible to know if Pilate sensed the enormous spiritual forces at play within this event.  Other Gospel accounts appear to suggest that he did (see Luke 23:13-25).  In any case, it wasn’t Pilate who was in control, but rather the inexorable, omnipotent providential acts of God.  Following is the encounter as described in John 18:28-40 (NIV).

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

This is an odd reply.  It’s as if they don’t want to state their charge against Jesus.

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Clearly the charge against Christ was the treasonous claim to be the king of the Jews, which was a direct rejection of Roman rule.

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question.

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Note that throughout the entire discussion Jesus hasn’t directly answered Pilate’s question.  The reason why has to do with the issue of “Truth.”  Jesus was accused of claiming to be the “king of the Jews.”  He was not.  Rather, He was claiming to be (and in reality is) the savior of all mankind — Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.  Thus He could not in truth accept the charge.

However, Jesus also refused to explicitly reject the charge, because this was the worldly means by which the spiritual end of atoning for our sins would be achieved.  Jesus didn’t want to be acquitted.  After all, Jesus Christ is the Second Person in the Trinitarian Godhead, and, God had determined this event before the creation of the world.

So, by refusing to explicitly accept or reject the charge against Him Jesus was upholding the Truth while ensuring that His plan for salvation would proceed.

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

WhatIsTruth885x339

Here we may see in this sophisticated Roman politician a sort of proto-postmodernism.  There is no way to know if Pilate asked this question honestly, ironically or contemptuously.  Regardless, Pilate was taking the position that the “Truth” is something uncertain, and therefore, up for grabs  in this world.

there-is-no-truth-there-is-only-perception-6Almost two-thousand years later the real postmodernists would take the logical next step.  When postmodern Christians confront Christ today, their response has to do with truth, but it is not in the form of a question.

With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

That which had been predestined to come to pass had no option other than to occur.

The “politics” in which Jesus Christ engaged were infinite, eternal and providential in nature.  But this fact doesn’t disconnect our Christian lives from secular, political responsibilities.  Rather, it enlightens, informs and guides our deliberations as we navigate the challenges of this fallen world.  But this guidance can only be Christian if we acknowledge that there is an ultimate, unchangeable Truth and that it exists only in the Triune Christian God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This statement in no way denies that wisdom can be found outside of Christian sources. Nor does it denigrate the individual worth of any human being.  All it does is to acknowledge that we are Christians because Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and Savior.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (6)

fra_angelico_arrest659x666

Detail of Fra Angelico, “Arrest of Christ”

Jesus Christ on Politics (2)

There is no doubt that during the Passion Week Christ was immersed in a highly charged political situation.  From the moment He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey secular political fervor played a key role in the unfolding of events.  However, we mustn’t loose sight of the deeper truth that God was using these secular forces to achieve the ultimate spiritual end.

When the Disciple Judas arrives at the Garden of Gethsemane with the crowd to arrest Jesus the secular and spiritual domains intersected at a fiery point of great danger.  An angry, heavily armed mob has a high potential for violence.  But note how Christ takes sure control of the situation, ensuring that it is God’s providential purposes and not mankind’s passions that carry the day.  Read Matthew 26:47-56.

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

This is the point of greatest danger.  A member of Jesus’ group physically attacks a man who is acting under authority of the Jewish leadership.  The action would have been interpreted as removing all doubt that Christ is leading an overt rebellion.  Thus the likelihood that this specific situation would careen into open, indiscriminate violence had been maximized.  And, the likelihood that God’s purposes for showing mankind the extent of His mercy would have been utterly obscured.

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Jesus first deals with His own follower (likely Peter).  He ensures deescalation by telling him to sheathe the sword.  He then calmly explains that He has no need for mortal intervention, as God the Father could protect His Son with infinite power were that His purpose.

55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

In Luke 22:51 a detail is added: But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Jesus has deescalated His own followers so now turns His attention to the arresting mob. He first explicitly rejects the idea that He is leading a rebellion.  He does so by pointing out the open, public nature of His ministry and the lack of response to it by the authorities.  By restoring the injured man’s ear He removes any immediate casus belli.  Finally, He communicates to everyone present that these events are not under control of mortals, but rather are directly and unalterably controlled by God’s providential purposes.

We here have a startling example of men being driven by their own wills in relationship with God willing His ultimate purposes within mortal action.  Yes, the passions of both sides drove words and actions.  The source of these human passions was the will of each participant.  However, God at every turn maintained perfect control of the situation.  Christ always said and did exactly the right thing to herd these unruly, dangerous humans onto the path of God’s ultimate purposes.

Had it been Jesus’ purpose to lead a secular political movement this encounter would have ended in violence and death.  But, as He showed repeatedly, Christ’s primary mission was spiritual — the saving and redemption of humankind’s souls.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (4)

dv1492005How can the Church be in the world but not of it?

The Christian Church is comprised of individual humans who all to one extent or another adopt specific ideologies, act on personal preferences and make partisan decisions.  Thus it is not possible for the Church to operate in a domain that is isolated from human opinion.  In fact, by attempting to do so it abrogates its responsibility to provide spiritual guidance in this current life.

The problem is that the Church can become so caught up in the exercise of politics that it becomes virtually indistinguishable from any other partisan interest group.  This is the case for Mainline denominations with respect to Progressivism and also for some Evangelical churches with respect to Populism / Conservatism.  How then can the Christian Church provide spiritual guidance to its members on things political without becoming captive to secular political movements?

One of my greatest frustrations with Mainline Protestant leadership is the way that they have politicized every aspect of the Bible’s teaching.  In their view almost everything that the Prophets, Apostles and Christ Himself did or said had a secular political motivation.  Thus, Christ is reduced to not much more than a particularly influential Progressive, pacifist, socialist community organizer.

However, it would be equally false to contend that nothing done by the Prophets, Apostles and Christ Himself intersected with secular politics.  In fact, there are cases where it is virtually certain that human worldly politics provided the framework for the Biblical text.  How then can the Christian Church fulfilled its duty to deliver spiritual and moral teaching that informs its member’s political deliberations without becoming captive to secular political ideologies and movements?  Answering this question will be the focus of following posts.

TheChristian Church in Revolutionary Times (3)

basis-for-giving

The Biblical Foundation

Although revolutionary times share common attributes, each instance is driven by its own set of issues.  As was discussed in the previous post this potential revolution is driven by the segregation of our population into waring identity groups.

Given this situation, what are the most relevant Bible verses upon which to base the Christian Church’s response?  My initial thought is a verse that may seem to cut in the opposite direction, given that it calls Christians to identify completely with Christ.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6 NIV)

We cannot credibly respond to the world as Christians if we in practice reject Christ.  Much of this blog’s content has been dealing with just that issue within context of the PCUSA’s leadership.  One of my key points has been that our leadership has so completely conformed to Progressive ideology that all credibility as a Christian voice has been lost.

I am not saying that Christians should segregate themselves from the world or presume some sort of automatic moral authority.  Rather, my point is that unless we demonstrate that we are addressing events from a sincere, consistent and distinctive Christian perspective we will be written off as just another interest group.

With this said, there are two Scriptural passages that I believe most directly and effectively address the foundations of identity politics.  The first is Romans 3:9-20 (NIV).

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
     ruin and misery mark their ways,
 and the way of peace they do not know.”
     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

This passages reminds us that we all share in the fallenness of sin, be we Conservative, Progressive, Independent, Libertarian, Liberal, Moderate or anything else.  We all are tainted morally, and we all are capable of corruption, hypocrisy, deceit, greed and lust.  This is not to say that therefore all political positions are equally moral from a Christian perspective.  It does say that to presume one group of humans to be inherently morally superior to another violates a central truth of Christianity.  That being our universal fallenness and universal need for a Savior.  Were our society to hear this message consistently and compellingly from the Christian Church some of the divisiveness at free play might just be attenuated.

While the Romans passage stresses our human unity under sin, the following verse from Galatians proclaims our common identity in Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

When the Apostle Paul wrote these words (under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration) in the first century A.D. within the Roman Empire they covered the three most divisive identity issues of that time and place.  Thus, this was a radical and controversial position.  Were the Christian Church to put this teaching into today’s context it would go far toward closing the rift that currently exists between identity groups.