More Reformed?

Reformation WallReformed and always reforming, according to the Word of God is one of the mantras that emerged from the Reformation in the 1500’s. However, in the last 30 years, the Reformation slogan has been truncated by some who embrace the “always reforming” idea–without actually holding to either the Reformed theology nor the binding of how those reforms might come, the “according to the Word of God” foundation.

The subject then is discernment. Discerning the perfect and pleasing will of God. Discerning the mind of Christ. Discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the spirit of the world.

The case in point is marriage. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, the church (Roman Catholic) taught that marriage was one of the seven sacraments.  The Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, could find no Biblical evidence to support the continuance of five of the seven sacraments, so they pared them down to two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That is part of what it means to be Reformed: we look to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments for direction and guidance on issues of faith and practice.

So, when considering the current question of redefining marriage, the Scriptures must be our first source of counsel. And as the Church, we are then obliged to follow God’s Word no matter how much we might like to do something else.

More reformed?
Based on what the Reformers meant by being Reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God, being “more reformed” would be to be more fully aligned with God’s will as revealed in the Bible.

But Brian Ellison, Executive Director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (CovNet) argues that the recent push to redefine marriage in the PC(USA) is “more reformed” because it provides greater clarity on the relationship between the church and state.  He says, “Couples marry each other by exchanging promises, not by being awarded a special sacred status that only the church can grant.”

His claim that this is more reformed twists the very definition of the term.  To be more reformed means that it is now closer to Scripture’s clear teaching.  In both the Old and New Testaments, marriage is always and everywhere defined as a union between a man and a woman.  There are lots of pictures of marriage in Scripture that are not monogamous (polygamy is most commonly brought up) but nowhere does God bless this. Instead, all marriage related departures from one man and one woman are attributed to the fall of humanity, that means they are categorically a part of sin. If we read the texts closely we see this. Case in point: according to Jesus, divorce is allowed because of the hardness of heart not because God blesses divorce

Jesus’ AI on marriage
Jesus’ authoritative interpretation of Genesis 2:24-25 is found in Mark 10:6-9. Here Jesus affirms the teachings of the Old Testament and lays out God’s clear design for marriage.  Notably Jesus affirms that it is God who designed and blesses marriage. Jesus does not say that marriage is primarily a function of the State, nor does He say that marriage is simply a human institution. Jesus affirms that marriage is instituted by God and then He affirms the one man, one woman design. Jesus offers no alternatives to that design.

The effort to be more reformed requires an interpretation closer to the Scriptures not further from them. Which means that to be more reformed cannot lead where Ellison suggests: a redefinition of marriage that includes expressions that Scripture uniformly condemns.

What do the Confessions say?
The Reformed heritage is not without its own witnesses.  The Book of Confessions, which all ordained officers of the PCUSA vow to be instructed and led by, uniformly define marriage as an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman.  This is not on the basis of a society’s historical or cultural perspective, but because it is what the Word of God has laid out from Genesis to Revelation. What the Confessions say about marriage is clear.

When Ellison declares that “by honoring the marriages of all people, we lift up the value of covenant commitment, which reflects qualities of the relationship between Christ and the church…. It is time for our constitutional documents to acknowledge the lives and faith of all families, including the many families formed around same-gender couples in our churches.”

I could not agree more.  But to be more reformed we would first start with our covenantal relationship with God and be conformed to the promises we made to Him in our baptism:

  • to turn from sin to Jesus Christ as our Lord and to be His faithful disciple,
  • obeying His Word and showing His love.

Starting at the font we can begin to talk about the realities of sin and grace, the power of the Cross of Christ to free us both from sin’s penalty (death) and sin’s power (proclivities and practices that are contrary to God’s revealed will). To suggest that God would overlook sexual sin and instead bless it as sacred is to completely pervert the message of the cross and strips Christ’s sacrifice of its atoning power.

Here then we see the connection between the contemporary debates about sexual practice and the interpretation of the Bible, Christology, atonement theology and beliefs about salvation itself.

Living in redemptive reality
In redemptive reality (where the very real sin of the very real sinner is atoned for by the very real sacrificial death of the very real Messiah of the very real personal, infinite, Trinitarian God) marriage is not primarily about us.  Human joy, human fulfillment, and human desires are not the axis around which the redemptive world turns. That cornerstone, that moral compass, that point of integration is the Cross of Jesus Christ.

So, from that perspective, the redeeming value of marriage is spiritual. God chooses the image of marriage between Jesus, the bridegroom, in union with the Church, His bride, to open a window of understanding into heaven.  The Bride of Christ will be presented to Him pure, undefiled and Holy.  The exclusively feminine representation of the Bride and the equally exclusive presentation of Christ as masculine is inescapable. If God had wanted to introduce other options He certainly could have done so. But the witness of Scripture is not divided on this subject and the Bible is the final authority for our faith and life as Christians.

Our denominational decisions ought not be guided by our desire for everyone to be happy but instead, God’s holiness and glory. Likewise, our constitutional documents ought not be conformed to our sinful nature, but to the life of obedience into which Jesus leads and calls. The PC(USA) as an expression of the Church of Jesus Christ, is to be reformed and always reforming- in all ways and always according to the Word of God who promises to conform us to Christ’s nature.

Christ made clear the Church’s calling and commission when He sent His disciples into the world “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything” Christ commanded. That “everything” includes what Jesus commands about marriage. He was not silent on the matter. By His presence at the wedding at Cana He demonstrates His blessing of that marriage between a man and a woman. In His answer about divorce He affirms the Genesis text and blesses again male/female design. In His description of the Church as the Bride being prepared for Him, Jesus affirms again God’s perspective on the nature of marriage.  For the church to now teach otherwise is to be conformed to the world, not to be transformed or more reformed, according to the Word of God.

“If any persons are joined together, than as God’s Word allows, their union is not blessed by him” (Book of Common Worship, PCUSA, 1948, p. 184).

LaBergeCarmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

Is PCUSA decline just a ‘rummage sale?’

churchwide srummage sale2The Rev. John Buchanan, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the editor and publisher of Christian Century has said in an interview that the decline of Protestant denominations does not suggest that they are doing something wrong, but that the church is going through a major shift. ““I think we’re in the middle of a rummage sale. We’re trying to figure out what comes next,” he said.

His comments in the Tulsa World article include:Buchanan’s ideas are not new.

According to one sociologist, Buchanan said, about every 500 years the church undergoes the equivalent of a rummage sale.

“Things that are old and worn out get sold to make room for new things,” he said. “Every 500 years there’s a major shift.”

The Protestant Reformation was 500 years ago, and 500 years before that was the split between the Roman Catholic Church in the West and Orthodox Church in the East.

“So we’re due. … There’s a great shake-up going on among all Protestant denominations,” he said.

“Lots of congregations that have served wonderfully for 100 years, 200 years, are seemingly in dire straits. Their membership is down. Their membership is aging.”

He said the reasons for the decline are complex, including changing demographics.

“I think we’re in the middle of a rummage sale. We’re trying to figure out what comes next.

“And I think something new is going to emerge out of this. We don’t know what it is yet.”

 

Buchanan’s ideas are not new. He is repeating the thesis of Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.  Tickle argues that every 500 years the Church makes a transition and something essentially new emerges. Buchanan is characterizing that as a rummage sale.

The question then is what’s up for sale in American old-line Protestantism?

One answer would be buildings. According to LoopNet.Com, there are more than 1300 churches for sale nationwide. The five states with the largest number of churches for sale are also large geographically and demographically. The sites lists 146 in Texas, 135 in Florida, 129 in California, 110 in Georgia and 76 churches on the market in New York. But church facilities are just part of what Buchanan sees as a national religious rummage sale, also up for grabs are the historic doctrines of the faith.

The United Church of Christ (UCC), The Episcopal Church (TEC), Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), and the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) have placed on the curb many of the doctrinal distinctives of the Protestant Reformation faiths in which they were forged. The ELCA is not recognizably Lutheran if what you mean by that is attached to theology espoused by Martin Luther. Nor is the PCUSA recognizable as a body that upholds the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster standards. Buchanan is right in his observation that there’s “a great shake up” in all Protestant denominations. But what he sees as positive progressive emergence others see as loss.

Isn’t that often the way with rummage sales? What one person sees as well-worn, worthy of preserving, and integral to the life of the household another sees as worn out, in need of replacing and utterly dispensable.

So it would seem, taking Buchanan’s analogy, that even in theology the adage holds true: one man’s treasure is another’s man trash.

Your thoughts? Is American Protestantism in the midst of a rummage sale? And if so, what’s being jettisoned in your local church to make room for the new?

LaBergeCarmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Also visit Carmen at her website, CarmenFowlerLaBerge.com.

You stink. Get used to it.

you_stinkI find myself in more circular conversations these days than I’d like to admit. I’m still waiting for even one exchange that spirals up and not down. Just yesterday one such conversation ended with a person calling me names and then adding with physically animated angry flourish, “You literally stink! I can’t stand it!”

To be clear, I have no hope that everyone will like me. In fact, I know that most people don’t and likely won’t. I stopped worrying about it long ago when I realized one crucial truth: I stink.

There is no doubt that human pheromones are powerful. The scent or smell of another person can actually affect the behavior of others. Some may be drawn in but others may be repulsed and repelled.

Consider for a moment what makes you salivate when you catch a whiff of it …

Now consider what makes you gag when it wafts your way.

What is a fragrant aroma to the one is the very smell of death to another. But that is no surprise to those who have read II Corinthians 2:14-16a. I like the J.B. Phillips translation:

14-16a Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on His own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of Him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable “scent” of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself.

So, the accusation of stinking is unavoidable for the Christian. If you are in Christ and Christ is in you; if you are indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit and God is making His appeal to the world through you, then — face it — you stink.

It’s time evangelical Christians wake up to the reality that to be like Jesus is to be rejected by the world. For the most part, people hated Jesus. Herod had dozens of young boys slaughtered trying to rid the world of the infant Christ. The people in His home town of Nazareth tried to stone Him after He preached in their synagogue. One of His best friends sold Him out for a handful of silver. And the crowds who on one day hailed Him as “Hosanna,” four or five days later called for Jesus to be crucified.  Most people thought that Jesus stank. He didn’t give them what they wanted: liberation from Roman occupation, tyranny and suffering. What He gave was Light and Life and Salvation, but people loved darkness and hated Jesus.

For too long we have hoped that we could have it both ways: With Jesus on the one hand and yet popular with the world and its ways.  But the only way that’s ever going to be true is when the world is aligned with God’s will, which is not the world we now inhabit.

G.K. Chesterton put it poetically in “The Song of the Quoodle,”

They haven’t got no noses,
The fallen sons of Eve;
Even the smell of roses
Is not what they supposes;
But more than mind discloses
And more than men believe.

In case you need a decoder ring for that: People are not going to find you fragrant because since the Fall, they think God stinks.

Embrace it Christian, you stink.

 

Government sets a price on life while others march for it

18-20The two headlines reveal the variant values placed on human life by Americans.

March for Life 2015 forty-two years after Roe v Wade we still march on” and

CBO: Saving unborn babies from abortion will increase the budget deficit

Those who march for life today in cities across the nation recognize the intrinsic value and worth of every human life.  Those seeking to estimate the burden to society of protecting children whose mothers wait for more than five months of pregnancy before deciding to terminate them, see things differently. How then do we count the cost of a human life? Is a person a blessing or a burden?

Fifty-six million American babies have been terminated in the past 42 years. What might their value have been to society? What might they have added to our common life? What might they have discovered, achieved, learned and taught us? To suggest, as the CBO financial analysis assumes, that many or most of those people would have been a burden on the rest of us is not only an economically derogatory assessment of the women who have late term abortions, it is pessimistic about the children whose lives are in the balance. Who knows that one of them wouldn’t be the next Bill Gates?

So, what’s a life worth?

From God’s perspective, who the Bible says “knit you together in your mother’s womb,” and describes your pre-born form as “fearfully and wonderfully made,” you are precious.  And from God’s perspective the orphan who never amounts to anything in the world is as precious in His sight as the billionaire Nobel Peace Prize winner.  You may remember Mother Theresa … this is the truth that she embraced and the value she expended her life seeking to teach the rest of us.

If people are just well-organized accidents of the intersection of time and chance and matter, as some would have us believe, then the CBO’s assessment makes rational sense. If the Bible is right and every human being has intrinsic value then we all better head out now to join the March for Life.

Related articles:

Abortion and the gospel, by Russell Moore, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Christians declare solidarity with unborn at March for Life, by Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion and Democracy

Cardinal: No pro-life victory without reaching the marginalized, by Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency

March for Life: 42 years after Roe v. Wade, half of Americans say abortion is morally wrong, by Melissa Barnhart, the Christian Post

When no experience is necessary, by John Knight, DesigingGod.com

Related video:

Lost in translation? Why language matters to genuine communication

greek to meLike all those in Presbyterian Church (USA) ordination track, I took courses in Biblical Greek and Hebrew in seminary. The rationale is that teaching elders should be able to translate the extant texts of the Bible from the languages in which they were originally penned. I readily admit that I did not “keep” much of my Greek nor Hebrew, but I have a profound appreciation for the importance of the intellectual pursuit of the original languages. Studying Biblical languages helps a pastor read and understand critical commentaries as well as the cultural context in which the Biblical writers lived. There is much to be gained from understanding what was actually said in order to discern what was meant by those who said it. Thankfully there are many astute students of the original languages and the Middle Eastern culture who help us translate the text accurately and faithfully into today’s language and context. The same principle holds true in conversations across a pluralistic world. If I want to genuinely understand what a person who speaks a different language and lives in a different cultural reality means, translation is required. But whom do you trust to do that translation? This concern has been highlighted recently over controversial translations of Pope Francis. Did he really say some of the things being attributed to him? How can you be sure? Do you speak Italian and do you read Spanish? If you are not in a position to do your own translation, whose translations are you to trust? Joe Garcia lives in Florida and has been working on how own translations of the Pope’s messages.

Garcia thinks its likely that people in the Vatican whose sympathies lean left have been massaging the English translations where possible to both soften the pope’s moral imperatives and sharpen his social-justice concerns.

“Massaging the English translations,” Hmmmmm. So many things are lost in translation today. The entire culture war that took place just prior to Christmas sparked by selective comments to a G.Q. writer by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame is just one example. Whether or not you “agree” with Robertson is not the point. The point is did you accurately “hear” what he said? Did you go to the Bible to verify his translation and application of the text? Did Robertson at any point misrepresent what the Bible says on the matters he was asked by the interviewer to address? I tried to keep count of the number of times that secular media people made reference to “the passage from Corinthians” on December 19th. Between CNN, Fox, POTUS, the AP and MSNBC the referenced peaked 1000. When was the last time you recall secular media directly referencing, and in many cases reading, a passage from the Bible on the air? Many times they added that it was “Mr. Robertson’s interpretation of the passage.” Really? Did they do their own translation from the original Greek or were they relying on a translation provided to them? Did they even look it up? My guess is, if they had looked it up, they would have made more accurate reference to the passage as being from First Corinthians as there is no “Corinthians” in the Bible. A point that was lost on most of those reporting and commenting on the matter. Does this conversation have your ears or at least your interest piqued? Many people would like for the Bible to not say what it says about a number of issues. But God has said what He has said. In order to accurately understand what God has said we need to be able to translate not only the words but the culture – all of which is Middle Eastern and ancient. Sadly, much of that is lost in translation to a post-modern Westerners whose ears have become so itchy that they will only listen to that which already aligns with a particular political and cultural agenda. That leaves many not only unteachable but virtually unreachable with the message of the Good News of the God who came to seek and save the lost. Hear what I’m saying?

Redefining Marriage

Here is a clip of a longer video I recently did as part of a discussion on the redefining of marriage.

God works in mysterious ways, and over time

Question_Mark_1

Have you ever wondered “why?” “Why me?” “Why not me?” “Why this?” “Why now?” “Why would God allow ______?” If so, read on….

This is an excerpt from Aggie Hurst, Aggie: The Inspiring Story of A Girl Without A Country [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1986]. Get the tissues… In 1921, a missionary couple named David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son David, from Sweden to the heart of Africa—to what was then called the Belgian Congo. They met up with another young Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons, and the four of them sought God for direction. In those days of much tenderness and devotion and sacrifice, they felt led of the Lord to go out from the main mission station and take the gospel to a remote area.

This was a huge step of faith. At the remote village of N’dolera they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his village for fear of alienating the local gods. The two couples opted to go half a mile up the slope and build their own mud huts.

They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none. Their only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood — a tiny woman missionary only four feet, eight inches tall, decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus. And in fact, after many weeks of loving and witnessing to him, he trusted Christ as his Savior.

But there were no other encouragements. Meanwhile, malaria continued to strike one member of the little band after another. In time the Ericksons decided they had had enough suffering and left to return to the central mission station. David and Svea Flood remained near N’dolera to go on alone.

Then, of all things, Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness. When the time came for her to give birth (1923), the village chief softened enough to allow a midwife to help her. A little girl was born, whom they named Aina (A-ee-nah).

The delivery, however, was exhausting, and Svea Flood was already weak from bouts of malaria. The birth process was a heavy blow to her stamina. After seventeen desperate days of prayer and struggle, she died.

Hearing God’s Voice in a Noisy World

If you missed it, watch the archived #I4JLIVE show I did yesterday on hearing God, slowing down, and discerning

truth on @Innovate4Jesus.

Ministry of presence

bonnell-baptismTen years ago (in an email dated January 29, 2004) I was asked by a close friend how to deal with a loved one who was in hospice and dying of cancer. As you consider how to find “rest for your soul” in the midst of circumstances that we cannot control, I invite to consider a ministry of presence. No amount of casserole caravans or talk therapy could offer what the Spirit can deliver by His presence in and through you. Don’t worry about what you can “do,” just “be” who God calls you to be.

She asked me to post this for more to see and I share it with you today.

From: Carmen Fowler Sent: Thursday, January 29, 2004 8:38 AM To: Subject: Ministry of presence

Dearest friend,
The truth is that this is one of those times when there’s just not much to say. Your presence, your faith in the face of ridiculous circumstances, your love…these are the opportunity that God has given you to be Christ’s ambassador to your friend.

Even when He walked the earth, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Only God knows why. Its not our responsibility to make God’s case – or even defend His will. Its our job to walk with our friends through the valley of the shadow of death, confident that the light of Jesus of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

Let Mendy have whatever feelings she’s having – if she’s doubting God or hating God or questioning God, He can handle it. You don’t have to defend Him, this is territory God knows far better than we.

Pray for endurance, pray that Mendy’s faith will endure. Read Romans 8. Read Psalm 23 and 139. Read Revelation 21. Read John 15 and 17. Let the Word of God wash over you and minister to you.

God wants to be present for you as you are present for Him in Mendy’s life. That’s the way it works. You are a conduit of His grace and mercy and love. And mostly that means that you never leave her nor forsake her. No matter how bad things get, your love and your presence remain steadfast. God never lets us go – in life nor in death – that’s the testimony your friendship needs and the witness replique montre replique de montre you are uniquely positioned to bear to her now.

I am praying for you as you are present for her -
I am here for you always and in every way -
I love you my friend,
Carmen