The Death of Beauty (4)

Celebrating Past Beauty (2)

lincoln-2nd-inaug

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.

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The Death of Beauty (3)

BeautyCelebrating Past Beauty (1)

So, what specifically constitutes beauty in theological prose?  Throughout this blog I have identified and discussed works that have profoundly affected me.  Although I didn’t then use the term “beauty,” I realize now that its presence explains much of my reaction.

Some examples in which theological prose achieved beauty include President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, John Calvin’s exposition on Christ’s suffering and death, Wilbert F. Howard’s Interpreter’s Bible exposition on John 2:13-17, Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Christ’s simultaneous power and meekness, and R.C. Sproul’s The Pelagian Captivity of the Church.  Also, to show that beauty is not entirely dead, Wilfred M. McClay’s The Strange Persistence of Guilt is a wonderful contemporary example (although it isn’t primarily theological, it delves deeply enough into this domain to allow inclusion).

However the piece that initiated these thoughts about theological beauty was recently republished at the Providence web site.  The article, The Manger, The Cross and The Resurrection: A Christian Interpretation of Our Time written by Paul Ramsey was originally published in Christianity and Crisis on April 19, 1943.

Going forward I plan to comment on some of these examples of beauty in theological prose and then discuss the Paul Ramsey article in greater detail.

The Death of Beauty (2)

UglyUnderstanding the Ugliness

I will not wade back into specifics of the PCUSA theological  works identified in the previous post.  For anyone with the interest I have already expended tens of thousands of words critiquing them.  With regard to the same gender marriage Rationales, I have provided a separate page that contains all of the associated documents.  The reader is thus well positioned to assess my arguments regarding their deficiencies.

Rather, I will address the question of why, in my opinion, they are so ugly.  I suspect that the following discussion could be generalized to other domains given that the PCUSA’s elite are embedded in and utterly subservient to a larger social-political movement, that being secular Progressivism.

The first step towards understanding must be to define ugliness for the domain of Christian theological prose.  Here I met an immediate roadblock.  For, after considerable contemplation I have concluded that ugliness isn’t so much a definable thing as it is a negation.  That is, ugliness exists as the nullification of that which is beautiful.  Therefore, the way forward is to define the components of beauty in theological prose with the understanding that ugliness is their negation.

Beauty in Christian theological prose:

  • explores the implications of Christianity at the points of deepest human need;
  • maintains unity between the Bible’s testimony and our contemporary challenges;
  • honors and respects that great cloud of Christian witnesses that has come before us;
  • builds towards its conclusions by honestly addressing the primary necessary constituent issues;
  • treats readers as intellectualy and morally competent individuals whose agreement must be won through credible, compelling demonstration of truth;
  • seeks to define and discover truth;
  • utilizes language with a mastery of its capabilities to communicate profound meaning to the reader;
  • demonstrates mastery of the necessary subject matter;
  • elicits a sense of wonder in the reader;
  • draws the readers up towards truths that they may not have previously realized existed, but which are demonstrated to be testified to by Scripture;
  • honestly acknowledges the existence of competing perspectives and seeks to sufficiently address them.

Clearly, theological prose can be valuable and important without being beautiful.  In fact, there are many occasions where some aspects of beauty must be sacrificed in order to achieve the intended purpose.  A primary example of this is our Confessions.  In them the primary goals are comprehensiveness and accuracy in defining the doctrines taught by Scripture. Certainly, there are places in our Confessions where the majesty of the subject matter results in beauty.  However, this is not and cannot be the primary goal.

However, when a work of theological prose negates many or most of beauty’s components then ugliness is a likely outcome.  I claim that this is the case for many recent cases in the PCUSA’s theological prose.  Please feel free to compare the examples (and others) identified in the previous post with these components of beauty.  I contend that they are violated in profound ways, resulting in what can only be characterized as soul destroying ugliness.

Beauty is still sought and achieved throughout the PCUSA.  What a shame that it must swim against the tide of dishonesty, incompetence, bad faith and apostasy, that is the ugliness, that emanates from our supposedly elite leadership.

The Death of Beauty (1)

Death-of-Beauty

Introduction

I recently came across a fascinating article titled The Persistence of Beauty.  Although the primary topic is classical music, the author (Andrew Balio) also touches on beauty as related to architecture, poetry and worship.  His thesis is that, somehow, the concept of beauty has not been killed in the world of classical music.  This situation is notable because beauty has been effectively murdered in many other areas, including art, architecture and poetry/prose.

Unless you are a recent graduate of an “institution of higher education” or are deeply involved in the elite Progressive world of philosophy or the arts, it may come as a surprise that the concept of beauty is dead.  Apparently, the reason that beauty must be killed is that it is a value judgment that places one thing above another.  Of course, Progressives continually place their ideological positions above those of others and then use those determinations to destroy the lives of those others.  But, you see, this is just the application of “truth” (as delivered to us daily by the pagan gods of contemporary America) as opposed to that of individual human “judgement.”

A cynic might well conclude that the murder of “beauty” in the arts is primarily in the interest of talentless con-artists who wish to make a financial killing.  The problem unique to classical music is that the listening public has rejected this con-game, thus forcing orchestras to continue offering up “beautiful” classical music.  Here’s how the author describes the situation.

The ugly and the ridiculous in musical composition have been largely defeated in our concert halls because they have been rejected unequivocally by the human ear. When they do appear in a concert program today they are not-quite-ingeniously sandwiched in the middle of the evening, because programmers know that audiences will arrive late or leave early to avoid them. And it’s no good scorning the audience for its “philistine” appreciation of Beauty. They’ll just elect not to show up for the scorn or for anything else, either. In fact, not surprisingly, that is exactly what has happened as naturally conservative audiences abandoned their symphony orchestras.

It is with reference to the author’s brief comment on the relationship between beauty and worship that I will develop my own ideas on the current sorry state of Progressive Christianity’s theological prose.  Mr. Balio quotes Roger Scruton and then adds his own thoughts.

You entered both the church and the concert hall from the world of business, laying aside your everyday concerns and preparing to be addressed by the silence. You came in an attitude of readiness, not to do something, but to receive something. In both places you were confronted with a mystery, something that happened without a real explanation, and which must be contemplated for the thing that it is. The silence is received as a preparation, a lustration, in which the audience prepares itself for an act of spiritual refreshment.

The music, like the religious mystery, draws us into it and holds us in its enchantment. It opens for us a door into a space that exists beyond our physical world, and what we hear moving in the music through that space is us. The symphony takes us on a journey through the secretive shadows and the uncertain vistas of our human condition. It touches those things of value within us, and it invites them to witness the miracle of transubstantiation wherein the dross of our daily existence, however trivial or tragic, is changed into the possibility of our salvation. “Your feelings at the end of a great classical symphony,” Scruton confirms, “have been won from you by a process which involves your deepest being.”

My point of departure is the observation that when I read theological writings by people from fifty or more years ago I regularly experience what can be called beauty.  By “beauty” I don’t necessarily mean “agreement.”  Rather, I mean that the author is exploring a theological issue by application of humane argumentation through which they seek to win agreement “by a process which involves your deepest being.”

The same cannot be said of more recent theological writings.  I have had the misfortune to read every rationale document produced by the theologians of the PCUSA in support of same-gender marriage.  I have also read numerous other examples of their writing, including immigration policy, blog posts, the state of Israel, sermons, conference talks, overtures and Confessions (among others).  The last word I would use to describe these efforts is beautiful.  Rather, words like turgid, derivative, bureaucratic, soulless and boring come to mind. If I had to sum it up in a single word it would be ugly.

I thus will argue that what the con-men have done to the arts is analogous to what Progressive theologians have done to theological writing.  That being, turned it from an endeavor requiring the greatest effort of human striving for truth to a bureaucratic production line of pathetic ideological conformity.

 

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (18)

DC-Gospel?Contemporary Contemplations (2)

Although the Gospel as testified by Romans is still preached from thousands of pulpits across the United States, I contend that the contemporary hostility to its message may well be similar to that of pagan Rome.  It’s not just that our secular institutions have become “paganized,” but much of what calls itself the Christian Church has followed suit.  For, having lost all faith in the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ, the leadership of some Christian denominations has cast its lot with the secular Progressive political movement in order to remain “relevant.”

This intertwining of “Christianity” and Progressivism has resulted in a general retreat from orthodox Christian theology and to a multicultural, identity-based, socialist and bureaucratic/elitist ideology that is virtually undifferentiated from that of god-less Progressivism.

I contend that, to the extent that Christian leaders have accepted this ideology, they have become willing members of the pagan priestly class described in the previous post.  That is, although they may be in the leadership of organizations that were founded as Christian, their actual purpose is to twist “Christianity” into whatever contorted form necessary to support the Progressive political goals of the day.  Their utility derives from the ability to hoodwink their parishioners into believing that “Christianity” and secular Progressivism are perfectly and always aligned.  Therefore, it is imperative that they maintain the pretense of orthodox Christianity so as to not lose their power base.

Thus, even much of what we call “Christian” in the contemporary United States is simply an extension of the secular, or pagan, power elite that despises actual Christianity.  If you have been reading this blog then you understand the reasons that I make this statement. If you have not or are not paying attention to what some denominational leadership is doing and saying, then this statement may well appear to be ridiculous.  Regardless, please understand that I have not lightly come to this sad conclusion.

As a consequence of this situation the overt and subversive hostility to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as testified to by Romans (and other Bible Books) is massive.  The simple fact is that God’s merciful saving of sinners is of no practical use for partisan Progressives.  In the first place, they are utterly unwilling to acknowledge a source of truth and power that is independent of human will.  For to do so would be an admission that human beings are not capable of organizing themselves to create an ever more perfect world.

Secondly, they absolutely reject the idea of Biblical sin as an unavoidable and uniform human condition.  They demand the right to define “sin” based on their own political positions and practical needs.  They also insist that “sin” is something that they stand above due to their carefully maintained political correctness.  Thus, it is only their political opponents who are “sinners.” And, “sin” must not be tied to anything independent of their thought and needs, like the Bible.  For, in order to manipulate other human beings into accepting their current political “talking points,” “sin” must be an ever changing concept that is under their control.

Thirdly, they absolutely despise the idea of human life based on thankfulness and joy.  For their power is based on the continual accumulation of anger, resentment and jealousy.  The misery that they cultivate is a weapon that can be easily directed at their opponents by painting them as the reason for all the world’s ills.

Finally, they reject the idea that they are answerable to God.  For they refuse to be limited by anything beyond their own wills to power.  Thus they are freed to utilize any argument, no natter how defective or dishonest; any available power, no matter how corrupt or any emotion, no matter how destructive to achieve their chosen ends.

It is into this putrid, hostile cultural environment that the Book of Romans makes its case for Christ.  Two-thousand years ago God chose for this Gospel to transform the Roman Empire from paganism to Christianity.  We simply do not know today if it is God’s providential purpose to save and redeem the West.  One-thousand years hence will we be seen as a source of hope or a warning?  Ours is not to know.  Rather, it is to be faithful to the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ here where we have been placed by God.

Amen.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (17)

Contemporary Contemplations (1)

It is so easy to presume that Imperisl Rome was a primitive place that is unrelated to our advanced contemporary state.  But is this true?  On the one hand, we err seriously by underestimating the level of political, military and organizational sophistication necessary to acquire and then rule a vast empire for centuries.  On the other hand we tend to vastly overestimate changes to human nature over millennia.  Thus, if we look with open minds, the differences between Imperial Rome of A.D. 56 and imperial Washington D.C. of 2018 are less than might be initially assumed.

I will here, perhaps surprisingly, focus on the topic of paganism.  How, you might ask, can I presume to compare what truly was a pagan civilization with what is now a civilization founded on Christianity?  I am not arguing that the United States was not founded upon and continues to be strongly influenced by Christianity.  However, I do contend that the elite governmental, business, educational, legal, media and other institutions in the United States have become “paganized” to the point that it must be considered to be their dominant spiritual position.  Perhaps a definition will help.  Following is the first response when “define paganism” is searched in Google.

pa·gan·ism
ˈpāɡəˌnizəm/
noun

a religion other than one of the main world religions, specifically a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion.  “converts from paganism to Christianity”

a modern religious movement incorporating beliefs or practices from outside the main world religions, especially nature worship.  “modern paganism includes a respect for mother earth”

Can there truly be any doubt that our progressive elite institutions and the people who inhabit them have come to view orthodox Christianity as a reactionary, if not wholly evil force (see also here)?  By “orthodox” I mean any  Christian organization that intentionally remains connected to the Bible as the unique authoritative source for belief and practice.  Yes, there are many practicing Christians in the United States, but they are few and far in-between (and generally very quiet) among our ruling elite.

But you might say, where are the pagan gods?  Certainly no-one in contemporary America believes in entities like those of ancient Greek and Roman religion.  Romangods-banner

On that narrow point we can agree.  However, I contend that there are entities in the contemporary United States that fill the role of pagan gods, but in an updated form.  The following summary of ancient Roman religion will assist this discussion.

The Romans, according to the orator and politician Cicero, excelled all other peoples in the unique wisdom that made them realize that everything is subordinate to the rule and direction of the gods. Yet Roman religion was based not on divine grace but instead on mutual trust (fides) between god and man. The object of Roman religion was to secure the cooperation, benevolence, and “peace” of the gods (pax deorum). The Romans believed that this divine help would make it possible for them to master the unknown forces around them that inspired awe and anxiety (religio), and thus they would be able to live successfully. Consequently, there arose a body of rules, the jus divinum (“divine law”), ordaining what had to be done or avoided.

These modern “godly” entities are the progressive institutions that have come to dominate our political, commercial, educational and media lives.

Modern-gods

Although these institutions are not personified they are made up by people who consider themselves to be elite.  The institutions appear to have a permanence that transcends the scope of individual human lives.  They also have the power to smite those who have earned their displeasure with a power that can rarely be resisted.  They operate as arbitrary and capricious sources of what is true (jus divinum) and therefore must be carefully appeased.  Only by so doing can there be peace in our society (pax deorum).  This network of progressive institutions operates within a common social and ideological framework that creates the mutual trust (fides) necessary for godly action.

The people who inhabit these institutions fill the role of priests who communicate the god’s wishes to the unwashed multitudes and who are able to influence the gods so as to ensure their cooperation and benevolence.  Thus their inclusion in these god-like institutions places them in an exalted cultural position.  And, they jealously guard their supposed superior status.

Look at what has happened when the citizens of the United States dared to elect an individual outside of the elite Progressive pagan priestly class to the Presidency.  Their religious fervor has verged on hysteria and sometimes has become overtly violent.  The pagan gods of contemporary America have been insulted!  Only by returning to fealty can peace be restored, so Resist or be outcast to eternal darkness!

Pagan-DC

Imperial Washington D.C. and its Gods

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (16)

faith1Righteousness through Faith (3:27-31)

The Great Apostle has delivered the Gospel with clarity and completeness.  However, so persistent and powerful is the human will to pride that he once again explains our human helplessness with regard to salvation in the most specific possible manner.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. 28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. 

It is a testament to the awesome, terrible consequence of sin that throughout the Christian Church works-based theology dominates (either explicitly or implicitly) in spite of the Bible’s absolutely clear testimony to the contrary.  Let there be no doubt, many professing Christians demand their “rightful share” of the glory for their salvation.  How dare God horde all of the glory?  How dare God presume to decide whom to save?  How dare God declare us all to be dead in our sins, thus denying those of us “better persons” our higher moral status?  It is an outrage that cannot be allowed to stand!

And so, we Christians prance around pretending to have achieved a higher moral and spiritual status because of our works.  We treat God Almighty like an embarrassment.  We presume to be His judge.  And, we mock Him by imagining that His Gospel requires our modification for it to be relevant in our contemporary world.

29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Chapter 3 ends with this statement of the Gospel’s universal scope — for the Jews and the Gentiles encompasses all of humanity.  In the next thirteen chapters Paul will expand and elaborate on the themes introduced up to this point.  However, the Gospel — God’s response to human sinfulness — has been delivered to Imperial Rome.  And, in spite of its apparent pagan power, Rome will eventually bow down to Christ because God willed that it would be so.

The Apostle Paul could not have known that, almost three centuries later, this would happen.  However, he did know Christ crucified and risen.  And, on that faith he staked his life, which was likely ended by an executioner’s sword near Rome.

Rome-Christ-90%

 

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (15)

Christ-Rome-50%

The Gospel of Jesus Christ’s Light Breaks Over the City of Rome

Righteousness through Faith (3:21-26)

Verses 21 through 25a summarize the Gospel with both brevity and comprehensiveness.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

The Apostle makes the following points:

  1. The Gospel’s power derives only from God’s righteous act,
  2. The Gospel’s power derives absolutely nothing from human obedience to the law,
  3. The Gospel is a seamless continuance of God’s purposes as revealed in what we now call the Old Testament,
  4. The Gospel’s presence in a human life is made known by the the realization of faith in Jesus Christ,
  5. That faith itself is a gift from God, not a human work,
  6. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross provides the only source of atonement for all sins of those who are saved.

This is the Gospel that transformed tens, then hundreds, then thousands then hundreds of thousands of human lives within the Roman Empire.  Christians gladly gave up family, friends, social status, economic opportunity and sometimes their lives in order to follow Christ.  They created a new culture driven by Christ’s love that transformed Roman religion and morality.  Eventually, centuries later, the Roman Empire set aside its pagan God’s and embraced Christianity.

Outside the bounds of faith in Jesus Christ this sequence of events could not have been anticipated when Paul wrote Romans .  Why would the greatest Empire in the world abandon the religion upon which it was founded?  Why would an Empire founded on the acquisition and use of raw human power be converted to a religious philosophy based on sacrificial love?

And yet, Paul, writing this Epistle under the Holy Spirit’s power makes not the slightest concession to the pagan powers that be.  He boldly preaches Christ crucified as the only source of hope for all of us lost sinners.  Yes, he will accept (just as did Jesus) that the Roman government has worldly authority.  But he rejects the pagan foundation for that authority, replacing it with God’s (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) providential purposes.

It is this Gospel that made the world new one redeemed life at a time.  This is the same Gospel that will always make the world new to those who receive it by faith.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

Here I will lean on the Interpreter’s Bible exegesis.

This must mean then that God’s apparent ignoring of man’s previous sinning would have been impossible (because morally inadmissible) if it had not been for the fact that all the time the death of Christ, which was a “sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (past, present, future), was present in the purpose and foreknowledge of God.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (14)

Romans 3-10 There Is None Righteous No Not One brownNone is Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

As was covered in the previous post, the Apostle Paul’s review of human sinfulness as the necessary prerequisite for understanding the Gospel is aligned with the Prophets, Angels, Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself.  However, it is this Apostle’s calling to deliver the blow to our pride with a power and finality that infuriates the arrogant.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands, no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is a description of our natural state apart from the grace of God.  When people tell you that “being true to yourself” is the sure source of morality it is the above state of being to which they condemn you.  The fact that even in communities calling themselves Christian this statement is common shows the extent of our disobedience.  Make no mistake, this lie is extremely useful to those who wish to destroy Christianity and replace it with something called “Christianity” that is its utter negation.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Apostle has destroyed all hope that we of our own works can be found to be righteous in God’s sight.  We are rather found to be “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  That is, you are as unable to do anything about your state of sin as is a dead person about their state of being — nothing.

Of course, this is just a description of the darkness that has been shattered by the light of God’s amazing grace.

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (13)

what-is-sinNone is Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

The Great Apostle began this discussion about sin in 1:18.  So, at its end in 3:20 he has expended 64 verses (of course there were no “verses” when he wrote) on this topic.  Given that Romans’ systematic theology is a corner stone of Christian thought, we must ask ourselves why sin was the first component of Paul’s explanation of the Gospel, and, why he focused on it at such length and depth.

Perhaps the beginning of an answer can be found in John the Baptist’s proclamation preparing the way for Christ’s ministry (Luke 3:2b,3).

the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Thus, the first statement specifically about Christ’s Gospel was about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

When Joseph was informed about the virgin pregnancy of his betrothed, Mary, the angel said of Jesus: “For it is he that shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Near the end of His worldly life at the Last Supper Jesus said: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  And, very near the end, while dying on the cross He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The Apostle Peter speaks of our sin’s place in Christ’s Gospel: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  And, the Apostle John also:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

It is here that I return to the Progressive Christian belief regarding sin, though now at greater length.

There are some who say that liberal/progressive churches don’t believe in sin.  That we never talk about it—or call people to confess.  I would agree that we seldom talk about it.  When I first came here I soon learned that was the “s” word that was never mentioned.  But I don’t believe for a minute it’s because we feel no guilt or shame or remorse.  In fact I observe that many people here at Southminster, take on guilt way beyond their need.  But I think we are confused about how to describe, define, talk about sin.  We know it is not as narrow as sexual behavior (as some Christians try to make it); we know it is not as simple as breaking 10 commandments, as we probably learned in Sunday School…if we went to Sunday School; because we know it has something to do with context.  We many of us, don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God. We don’t really know what to teach children because we don’t want them bogged down in shame and guilt—yet we also want them to grow into adults are moral and ethical and compassionate.

This is an important and remarkable statement.  It is honest about Progressive Christianity’s rejection of sin to the point of refusal to even use the word.  It admits utter confusion about how to define and therefore think about sin.  It is only confident about what sin isn’t (i.e., not “narrow sexual behavior” or “breaking 10 commandments”).

But, eventually, the truth is blurted out.  That being we: “don’t believe that Jesus had to come and die for our particular sins to atone a vengeful God.”  The bottom line is that acknowledging the concept of sin is verboten because it relates to something terribly wrong with God Himself.  Ultimately, sin speaks to God’s sinfulness, that being His vengefulness.  Therefore these Progressive Christians will not expose their children to this awful concept so that they won’t become “bogged down in shame and guilt.”  For, there are no “particular sins” for which they or their children need God’s atonement.

And yet these Progressives call themselves Christian while openly, defiantly contradicting the teaching of Holy Scripture about sin and its place in Christ’s Gospel.  I wonder when was the last time that anyone in the Christian Church confronted them with this fact?  In all probability for many the answer is never.  For, when candidates for ministry in the PCUSA stood before the Presbytery of Chicago Assembly and denied their belief in sin they were overwhelming accepted and sent forth to “preach the gospel.”

Over ninety years ago in Mainline Denominations (including Presbyterian) the “Modernist” defeated the “Fundamentalist” camp in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy.  The “Modernists” claimed victory as Christians who were more accurately, more completely teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The membership of these denominations therefore placed their trust in the “Modernists” to lead their churches.

These “Modernists” who now call themselves “Progressives” have been leading for over ninety years.  It is long past time to ask what fruit they have generated.

It has been my misfortune to look deeply into that which the Progressive Christian leadership of the PCUSA is saying, thinking and doing.  I strongly suspect that similar results would be obtained for most other Mainline Protestant denominations.  I will not here rehearse my charges against them (though they can be easily found in this blog’s posts).  What I will say is that it is time for a true reckoning concerning their stewardship.