Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grace filled travels and a fun blog-A FreeForm Life

My granddaughter Melissa and her husband Spencer and daughters Molly and Adele are traveling again. They left for New York several years ago and although Spencer had a job and great dancing lessons waiting for him they could not find housing that they could afford. This is their mode of travel for their first trip.

 They came back home and we were glad. But they have traveled here and there since. This is their second trip which was just to visit farms and relatives. Above is Molly on a work horse at one of the farms.

And now they are on their way first to visit Minnesota and Spencer’s Mom and Dad.  But then it’s on to Maryland where they will be interning on a farm. That is something they have been dreaming about for quite a long time. And strangely enough it goes with the art, dancing and acting.  And the goodness and grace of  Jesus is in it all. Here is their mode of transportation now:

And here is their blog which tells all of their stories. I had trouble posting some of the pictures but there are a lot of pictures on the blog. The link, after this posting moves down and away, can be found at the end of my links.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gary Burge: Palestine and Israel

At the moment there is a confusing array of thoughts, issues and opinions about Israel and Palestine among evangelicals and they, the members of the evangelical community,  are topsy-turvy in their approach. And let’s be clear much of the reason for the topsy-turvy approach is because of the complexity of the issues. But there are some evangelical leaders both in the United States and Great Britain who are so pro Palestine that they fail to see all of the issues. One person, Stephen Sizer, in the UK, I have already written about, but there is a professor in the United States, Gary Burge of Wheaton College, who is getting extra press lately by people who don’t quite understand or are ignoring some issues.

For example, just recently Christianity Today in their five books recommendation series allowed Burge to recommend five books on the Israelis and Palestinians. His “My Top 5 Books on Israel & Palestine,” included I Am a Palestinian Christian by Mitri Raheb. Raheb, who is both a liberation theologian and a universalist, at the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, gave a speech in which he insisted that the Jews from Europe were not related to the ancient Israelites. In other words he is an anti-Semite taking the Jewish identity away from its rightful owners.

Burge might be excused on the grounds that he did not know this. However, both Burge and Raheb spoke at the same checkpoint conference—and surely they both read the painful account that the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave of the event. A Further problem with the list is that although it is suppose to be about both Israel and Palestine all of the book recommendations are pro Palestinian.

Another site where Burge has gotten some attention is a recent hard copy of The PresbyterianLayman, in which a review of Burge’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is offered. Professor Kenneth E Bailey, a respected and excellent scholar on the Scriptures, the  Middle East and its culture writes the review. While some are concerned with finding this in the Layman, I am not. My reasons are two: among the good books offered by the Layman is A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry by Thomas F. Torrance, James B. Torrance and David W. Torrance. One of the chapters, written by D. Torrance is “The Mission of Christians and Jews.”

D. Torrance’s chapter is aimed at the Christian community’s responsibility to the Jews. And he insists that God continues to confront the nations through the Jews even writing, “The continuing presence of the Jewish people today-particularly their presence back in the promised land – reminds us that we and the nations have to reckon with a living, personal God. He is a God who acts in space and time, a God of judgment as well as mercy.” D. Torrance also reminds the reader that despite Hitler’s attempt to obliterate the Jewish people—they instead, once again, gained their homeland proving that God is also the God of history.

My second reason for not being bothered by the good review Bailey gives of Burge’s book is that now and then a scholar who is mistaken sociologically or politically in such areas as anti-Semitism or is at least on the verge of being so, nonetheless produces good scholarly work. And we should not ignore the work. Perhaps the best, but saddest, example is Gerhard Kittel.  Most New Testament scholars make use of his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and yet Kittel became a National Socialist aligned with the Nazis. He even went to prison for a short time after WW II. He is condemned for his anti-Semitism not his scholarship.

Perhaps the driving force behind some evangelicals who slip into the grey world that upholds the needs and desires of Palestinians, but does not uphold the security needs of the Israelis, is a bit of arrogance connected to the idea of good works. Sometimes activism overreaches the meaning of peace or righteousness. We too often live sloppy lives in the midst of complexity. Burge has done this although he might not recognize his own failure.

Joe and Gev, bloggers affiliated with the Messianic Jews of Israel, placed a posting about Stephen Sizer and Burge on their site, The Rosh Pina Project. They also placed a video of a supposed confrontation with the Israel Defense forces.  In part of the video, at 9:24, Burge leans in close to a young soldier attempting to prove to him that he is breaking his soul. As the author of the post puts it:

"At 9:24 Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College gets into the face of an Israeli soldier and tells him that he is destroying himself and it will break his soul… your heart is being crushed by this! The soldier is even willing to discuss with Burge who has been so patronising and pompous with him. Burge then boasts about his conversation with the soldier on film with Sizer the cameraman, unethically revealing the soldier’s name and where he lives having told him he needs to save his heart, but does not tell him how! The implication of Burge telling the solider that just following orders, was an echo of other times, was yet another attempt to make Israelis look like Nazis."

Who is the real maker of peace in this video? One might suspect it is the young man with a very large gun in his hand, who is passive in the midst of harassment.  This is a topsy-turvy world, a complex time for the reformed, evangelical and orthodox Christian. Paul writes of God’s love that it is kind, “does not brag and is not arrogant. Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own; is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 134-7)

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Christian cannot go where duplicity and sin live together without repentance

Jesus prayed for a unity among his followers sanctified by the truth of his Father’s word. (John 7:15-19; 22-24) He also warned his disciples that following him would bring a sword between them and others including their family. (Matt. 10: 34-36) While the Covenant Network of Presbyterians speaks and writes constantly about unity, they also make statements that show their intentions of pushing the orthodox from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Their sword is often poised to sever. In 2011, they published Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers  which insists that those candidates who are unable for conscience sake to ordain practicing LGBT persons cannot themselves be ordained.

Now they are insisting that teaching elders may officiate at same gender civil marriages. In other words, without a denominational court’s decision and without a yes vote of the General Assembly they are attempting to perpetrate their own laws and decrees. Board member, Timothy Cahn, has written in “Thoughts on Officiating at Same Gender Blessing Services” this statement:

Teaching elders may participate in a civil ceremony of marriage for a same-gender couple.  Nothing in the Constitution or polity prohibits a teaching elder from signing a legal certificate or license of marriage or acting as a witness to the civil marriage. (Bold the author’s)

They base this statement on the “Presbytery of Newark v. McNeill, (2012), Disc. Case 221-02,” which did not have to do with a teaching elder officiating at a same gender marriage. Rather the case was about a teaching elder being married in a same gender wedding. Although most of the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.) would disagree with the commission’s ruling in this case it is nonetheless different than a case against one who officiates at a same gender wedding.

If this were not true then there would have been no reason for Tara Spuhler McCabe to be censured by her presbytery for officiating at a same gender wedding. The Presbytery in that case in fact stated:

 Whereas you, Tara Spuhler McCabe, admit the offense of officiating at a same-sex marriage ceremony on or about April 28, 2012, and admit that by such offense you have acted contrary to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA); now, therefore, the Presbytery of National Capital, in the name and authority of the Presbyterian Church (USA), rebukes you. 

Furthermore, while giving advice about how teaching elders could somehow use a religious same gender blessing after a civil ceremony, Cahn suggests there likely would not be any consequences past a rebuke if one combined civil and religious ceremonies together. He ends with this:

Finally, for those who reject applying the fine distinctions suggested above, but who instead decide to provide the same service of marriage to same-gender couples, accusations and charges likely will come.  It is likely, however, the practical consequences from such a charge would not be severe.  Experience from other cases has been that Investigating Committees and Prosecuting Committees will apply only the mildest form of discipline, a Rebuke, to teaching elders who are found guilty of the offense of officiating at a disapproved same-gender wedding ceremony.

The duplicity of both statements, one on the legality of officiating at civil ceremonies and one on proceeding to break vows because you won’t suffer any grave consequences, cancels out any real concerns for a unity sanctified by truth. The theology is not sound, the polity maneuvers are dishonest. Those within the PC (U.S.A.) who are still here in obedience to Christ’s call are continually placed under the sword of division. Jesus used the word “enemies.” “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

If members of the Covenant Network be they professors, teaching elders or ruling elders, persist and officials in the PC (U.S.A) continue to stand behind them it will be enough to split the denomination far beyond what they now see or might imagine. There are some places that faithful Christians cannot go. In my lifetime I have seen prostitutes, witches, drug dealers, and the self-righteous church member who did not know Jesus Christ confess their sins and come to him. I have watched faithful Christians enter into the sinner’s lives to lead them toward Christ. But a Christian cannot go where duplicity and sin live together without repentance.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"What are we being saved from?" an answer

Yes, there is heaven, and there is hell-but the question “What are we being saved from?” posted by teaching elder John Vest is surely facing the wrong direction. He wants to go around the answer he believes orthodox Christians give, which he sees as this:

American pop Christianity has a pretty straightforward answer: we’re being saved from hell. The narrative of this common understanding of Christianity is simple. Every human being will one day be judged by God, with the righteous going to heaven and the wicked going to hell. But as sinners, we are all by nature worthy of eternal punishment in hell. This is where Jesus steps in, through his bloody death (and maybe something about his resurrection), to somehow save us from the wrathful hands of our angry God.

Like a growing number of people, I just don’t find this story very compelling anymore.

But perhaps there is more to the answer—Jesus saves us from ‘death- forever death.’ And of course the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, looms big in the answer. It isn’t just something about the resurrection. The gospel in a nutshell is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But God in his holy word goes much further so that we might understand. Jesus’ words:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me; I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6: 37-40)

So the will of the Father is that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life. And that life is the life of the Son. Beautiful words. Words that will not fail us. Many want to move away from a bloody cross, but a life that dies with the dying Christ, and rises with him, united forever to the risen Son of God, bearing his righteousness alone, will live this earthly life with grace shining toward and for the world’s brokenness and live forever in the eternal shelter of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"My soul is crushed by longing for your demands at all times"

This is a quote taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Meditations on Psalm 119.” It was written 1939-40-after the time of the closure of Finkenwalde and during the time of the “illegal underground pastorates.” [1]

 This section is from verse 20, “My soul is crushed by longing for your demands at all times.”

“Because the yearning for God’s word is not born of the soul, it does not pass like trembling or a frenzy of the soul in an hour or day. It cannot be compared to the longing of the soul for a beloved person, because this only lasts for a while, whereas the longing for God, which crushes the soul, is “at all times.” It cannot be otherwise, when it comes over us from God himself. It must be everlasting. It has nothing to do with a sudden surge, with a one-time dedication of the heart to God’s word. The “at all times” is decisive. The longing for God’s word is distinguished, not by the heat of piety, but by the perseverance to the Word until the end.

This is precisely why it would be wrong to mistake religious euphoria for this longing. On the contrary, what is being spoken of here is precisely the experience of being crushed under the burden of this longing. The longing is less likely to consist in the bliss of religious exuberance than in seeing the triumph of the presumed rights of human beings, yet hoping for God’s right and relying on it; of living in a foreign land and yet being unable to forget the homeland; in misery, need, and guilt of being unable to come free of God; of having to seek God where intellect and experience reject him; of having to call to God when all strength sinks in death; of experiencing God’s word as the power over our life that does not release us, even for a moment. Thus, the “at all times” is not an exaggeration but can be understood as a reality.” (Italics mine) [2]

[1]Bonhoeffer, “Meditations on Psalm 119,” in,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Theological Education Underground 1937-1940, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 15, Editor Dirk Schulz, (Minneapolis Fortress Press 2012).
[2] Ibid, 525.

Monday, February 11, 2013

About Heresy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

My daughter who is in graduate school wrote about the difference between humanism and modernism. When it comes to such words and definitions, conversations can be interesting, even stimulating.  But when such words shape lives, attitudes and eternal destinies, conversations can be pitiful and meaningless. Some grieve over the atheists in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and we all should. Although the atheists will not grieve for themselves we should grieve with fervent prayer for them and for the destructive force they bring to our denomination.

But atheism is not the only destructive force pushing its way into the PC (U.S.A.). I am not talking about immorality. Immorality has a solution: the cross, the blood of Christ, the resurrection. But what if there is teaching within the denomination, which still has to do with religion, yet at every turn it cancels out the work of Christ on the cross? And we keep calling it Christianity. We keep refusing to call it heresy.

It is true, atheism is growing even in the church, but there is still a creeping movement which resembles both the human potential movement as well as the new age movement pushing in the doors. One should point out that there are similarities between atheism and the other religious movements that are changing the way we think about God and ourselves. 

For instance atheism is materialism. Everything is explained by science—there is nothing supernatural. But on the other hand there is the idea that everything is one and that we are a part of that one or that we, our true selves, are the one. This has been called, by some, supernatural naturalism. Both of these belief systems remove a transcendent being that is both other and personal.

Both kinds of heresy inhabit the PC (U.S.A). For instance John Shuck writes about the after life, "that human consciousness is the result of natural selection. Human beings do not have immortal souls nor will consciousness survive death. Thus there is no afterlife. There is no heaven, no hell, and no need for salvation from one realm to another." And among other thoughts, he adds, “I give my heart to that reality.” That is a closed system and one that is held by Shuck with fervent faith.

And then there are the statements offered for a class on the Enneagram by teaching elder Jud Hendrix. He holds a rather esoteric Buddhist-like view of humanity. One of his statements is a quote from the book From Fixation to Freedom - The Enneagram of Liberation by Eli Jaxon-Bear:

True Self "If souls are like sparks flying out into the infinite night, then true Self is not only the sparks, but also the night, the universe, and the field that the universe arises in. (Pure awareness) The cosmic joke is that the soul is made of that which the soul is searching for: immortal consciousness." Enlightenment is to realize that who you are essentially is the same immortal consciousness. God, soul and unvierse (sic) are realized as One.[1]

This second view of reality is also a closed box. One never connects with anything transcendent and personal. The ending also holds no relationships, no community, since it is non-dualistic. One is as destructive to the Christian faith as the other. Both are void of the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ.

And one of the problems with heresy in the denomination is the way such thoughts spread and corrupt.  The extremely bold heresy taught by Hendrix, has a soft, pliable and useful counterpart when it is turned into a popular kind of pluralistic spirituality —we almost miss the point. For example Tara Spuhler McCabe in her article about marrying a same sex couple and being disciplined for it writes of discipline in faith:

Discipline in faith is, for me, the practice of navigating and relishing the mystery of it all. It is daily acknowledging that I am a part of others within the embrace of the Sacred. For me, faith has always been. Faith is not nothing and never just something. It is a cultivated awareness of how the intricacies of creation are connected to one another. Disciplined faith is not unlike the way I have taught kids to be with the ocean while at the beach: Always be in awe of its beauty and power. You get to be a part of this and enjoy it, but you are never more powerful than it. Know your place within the beauty and power of it all.

This is a statement about faith that has nothing to do with Christianity. It is the way heresy becomes diluted in the denomination while at the same time being strong enough to carry the weight of antinomianism. It is a weak panentheism which prevents the sinner from reaching the cross and finding forgiveness.

There are other heresies floating through our denomination—not differences of opinion on minor issues—but true heresies. Anything that cancels out a personal God, bypasses the Trinity, changes the identity of Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, declares that the cross is unnecessary, and belittles the word of God is heresy in full bloom. 

Most of the New Testament epistles are concerned with the heresies that arose in the first churches. And Paul in the first history of the church, Acts, declares to the Ephesians that some will appear like wolves ready to tear the church in pieces:

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock; and from your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)"

The essentials are important. Jesus the risen Lord, giving instructions through the apostle John, in the book of Revelation upholds the faithful. He promises the faithful in the church of Thyatira who have not held the false teachings promoted by the woman called Jezebel that he, among other things, will give them the morning star.

One of my first inklings of what Christianity was really about came through the preaching of a Free Methodist preacher. When I was eleven I visited the church with a friend. The pastor preached on Jesus as the morning star. He explained that sometimes when we are sick in the night it seems so dark and so lonely. And then we see the morning star shining brightly, and we know that night is almost over. I was often sick as a child and I experienced the pastor’s analogy.

The faithful in Thyatira were encouraged to hold fast to the faith and they were promised that they would carry no other burden, but the burden of standing faithful in the midst of the false teaching that other members kept promoting. And they were promised, besides a minor issue of ruling the nations, the morning star, hope fulfilled, Jesus Christ.

[1]Hendrix references this to a web site, http://www.enneagraminstitute.com online test but it does come from Jaxon-Bear’s book. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A pastoral emergency or failure to care biblically?

In the continuing series on same sex marriage promoted by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and placed on the ecclesio.com site, Tricia Dykers Koenig, national organizer of the Covenant Network has written “A Pastoral Emergency: the polity crisis that engulfs teaching elders, sessions and couples around same sex marriage.”

Koenig writes with a focus on polity and pastoral care as seen, not from the biblical text or the faith of the church, but as they relate to equality. But biblical equality can only be defined as the use of equal Christian care for those who belong to Christ—which means Christian faith is strengthened by the word, sacraments and proper discipline.

Koenig attempts to make a case for teaching elders having to choose between keeping the vow of “being governed by our church’s policy” or their vow to “seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world,” to “pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” and to “car[e] for people… and try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ.”

But a Christian and a pastor do not need to choose between these two vows. The denomination’s polity is biblical and caring. When one follows Jesus Christ as a pastor the word is proclaimed which includes the admonition to be holy as God is holy. The sinner is corrected, disciplined, loved and forgiven. To insist on marrying same sex couples is neither loving nor does it honor Christ. In these cases the choice is really between keeping one’s ordination vows and going the way of a decadent culture.

Koenig writes her brief history of the church’s struggle by looking at the cases involving same gender marriage since the Authoritative Interpretation of 1991 which allowed for the blessing of same sex couples. She insists that the GAPJC, in the case of (Spahr v. Redwoods, Disciplinary Case 218-12) is what actually ruled against teaching elders marrying same gender couples. The Directory of Worship consequently has no real authority.

Quoting part of the dissent to the ruling from (Spahr v. Redwoods,(Disciplinary Case 220-08), Koenig also insists that the Directory of Worship has no real legal authority. Reading the quote one finds that the dissent is based on the changing of public morals. They write, “it reflects conventions of a time when same-sex unions presented little, if any, cultural concern or attention…” and also on the fact that that section of the Directory of Worship is simply biblical instruction. As those who dissent state:

 W-4.9001 is an introductory narrative for a distinctive, introductory section on marriage, outlining its biblical and theological characteristics as background to provisions of pastoral practice and nurture…  As a fourfold theological outline of Christian marriage in narrative form, in no way is it clear or obvious that it proposes regulatory imperative or legal intention.

Two glaring issues arise out of this. For the Christian, what the Scripture text calls sin is always sin and is not about “conventions” but about walking faithfully in union with Christ. Because the issue of same sex marriage has arisen in this our time what is written in the Directory of Worship, is now more important than when originally written. Secondly, the idea that the biblical and theological characteristics of marriage when placed in a Book of Order have no binding affect on the Church is illogical. Is the Christian community only to be ruled by legal terms and not by God’s word?

Koenig goes further, insisting that a change in the Directory of Worship would not affect those who for conscience sake could not marry same sex couples, writing, “Both civil law and the Book of Order have always granted ministers discretion to refuse to perform a marriage against their better judgment or convictions; there is no danger that Presbyterians who disapprove of same-gender marriage will be forced to participate in such a service contrary to their conscience.” Koenig is being disingenuous. There are two probabilities if the Directory of Worship is changed.

If same sex marriage becomes a national civil right, it is possible that pastors who refuse to perform such marriages while they are (hypothetically) members of a denomination which allows such marriages could be sued for discrimination.

Secondly, since the Covenant Network, of which Koenig is a leader, is working toward a time when candidates for ministry would be refused ordination because they could not for, conscience sake, ordain LGBT persons, and that refusal is based on the idea that they could not, in every respect, fulfill their duties as a minister of word and sacrament, the same will undoubtedly be true on the issue of same sex marriage.[1] (Please see Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers: Covenant Network of Presbyterians .) Surely since the CN is looking toward that time when all must ordain LGBT persons they would also insist that all teaching elders must perform same sex weddings.

picture by Ethan McHenry

Monday, February 4, 2013

Brian Ellison: conforming the Church to the State

Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, an advocacy group for LGBT ordination and same gender marriage, begins a series of postings by various writers on same gender marriage.  The series is found at Ecclesio.com.

Ellison’s posting is entitled “SameSex Marriage: The Church’s Next Big Thing.” While I could quibble with even the title, after all the Church is more than the PC (U.S.A.) and same sex marriage might better be described as the denomination’s next ‘Big’ aberrant undertaking,  I want to focus on one paragraph. After quoting from President Obama’s inaugural address, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Ellison wrote:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), however, has not spoken such a clear gospel word. The Book of Order, in passages reaffirmed at the 1983 reunion and rooted in language adopted much earlier, when gay marriage was hardly on anyone’s radar, stubbornly maintains that “Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman,” even though the statement is flatly inaccurate in nine states and the District of Columbia. It proceeds to limit its definition of covenantal love to a woman and a man, without articulating why it must be exclusively so. The widely used liturgy for a “Service of Christian Marriage” in the Book of Common Worship likewise reflects its 1993 publication date, waxing poetic about the purpose and blessing of marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms.

To begin with Ellison has chosen his adjectives carefully, stubborn rather than biblically faithful! So those who insist on marriage between a man and woman have tenacity or firmness of purpose. I sometimes tease my husband that his tenacity (which is great) has gotten him into trouble. But praise God for the tenacity of the saints—they were troubled also—it often meant their blood was (and is) shed—but the Church is watered by that blood and grows.

Next, words about equality, such as the president spoke, are not the gospel. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus, fully human, fully God, lived, died and was resurrected for our salvation which includes forgiveness of our sins, an abundant life and eternal fellowship with the Creator of the universe, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the understanding that “marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman,” can easily be changed without giving way to cultural decadence even when it is embedded in state law. Try “Although in several states marriage is now a civil contract between two persons, for the Church it will always be a civil contract between a man and a woman.” Or the denomination might simply remove the statement all together, knowing that a time may have arrived when, for the Church, true marriage, that which joins a man to a woman, must be referred to as Christian marriage, and as the Roman Catholics insist, performed only in a Church.

Finally Ellison comes to the crux of the matter when he writes, “It [the Book of Order] proceeds to limit its definition of covenantal love to a woman and a man, without articulating why it must be exclusively so.” So support the wall that some are attacking with the words of Christ:

"Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. (Matthew 19:4b-6)"

Ellison fails to deal with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s Book of Confessions which in both Reformation confessions and a modern confession speak of marriage between a man and a woman. And he is oblivious to the words of the Theological Declaration of Barmen which insists that, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.” It matters not what either the political views of the President or the ideological views of the culture, the Church is called to stand, in love, “joined and knit together” with the lord.

And Barmen warns those, such as Ellison and the Covenant Network, who wish, in place of the clear admonitions of Bible and Confession, to join with the State in their sinful behavior:

“The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament. (8.26)

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans. (8.27)”

Ellison’s posting is deeply troubling; writing as a Reformed Christian he turns his posting into a political tract which aligns the Church with the State in matters of faith. As Hans Asmussen stated in his address before the Barmen Synod on the two above points from the Declaration, “we have to stress we know no earthly law by which God’s law could lawfully be broken.”[1] We must not give to the state the right to define the meaning of Christian marriage. God makes the covenant with a man and a woman.

[1] Hans Asmussen, “An Address on the Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation in the German Evangelical Church,” Found in The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, Arthur C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1961) appendix VIII 248.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A review of, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

A Review of
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into Christian faith
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into Christian faith allows the Church to see the unfolding of Christ’s redemptive purposes in an individual’s life. Yet, one sees that his work was within and through the presence of the Church. Butterfield was a progressive lesbian; she was an associate professor in the English department of Syracuse University and her ideological grounding was in Freud, Marx and Darwin. Butterfield held a “joint teaching appointment in the Center for Women’s Studies,” and was the “faculty advisor to all the gay and lesbian and feminist groups on campus.” Butterfield’s book hold’s several unspoken gems for the Church universal. I will list them.

(1) Butterfield began her journey toward Christ by reading the Bible. She read it as a researcher who perceived the Bible to be a harmful text causing destructive actions by those who believed its message. Pastors and Christian friends, as well as an ex-Presbyterian minister who was transgender, added to her understanding of the word—but it was always the word.  My point here is that in the midst of all of our searching and planning to be missional we must not forget that it is God and his word that brings the sinner to Jesus Christ. As the word is read and proclaimed the Father through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit begins a work which leads the sinner to the Son.

(2)The pastors and church families of a very conservative denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which only sings the Psalms and that acapella, was used by God to bring Butterfield to Christ. The word preached, friendship, good conversations over food, honest questions and honest answers, faithfulness: these are God’s tools. As Butterfield writes:
God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn and thrive. The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry “specializing” in “gay people.” He and the session knew that the church is competent to counsel …. I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamour that has captured the soul of modern Evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girl friend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives. (24)

(3) Butterfield’s search for the answer to the question 'why is homosexuality sinful' led her to some answers that speak about the root of all sin. And this is particularly interesting to me because of Butterfield's feminist background. Most feminist who identify themselves as Christian will insist that while men’s sinfulness is rooted in pride (to be like God) that women’s sin is rooted in passiveness. However, Butterfield, without denying that the citizen’s of Sodom practiced homosexuality, uses Ezek. 16:48-50 and goes through each of the sins of Sodom beginning with pride, which as she reminds the reader is the root of all sin.

Butterfield asks “Why pride?” She answers, “Pride is the root of all sin. Pride puffs one up with a false sense of independence. Proud people feel they can live independently from God and from other people. Proud people feel entitled to do what they want when they want.” And then she goes on to look at the rest of the sins cataloged in that verse: wealth (materialism), lack of mercy, lack of discretion and lack of modesty. Butterfield notes that none of these sins are sexual. As the author puts it, “Sexuality is more a symptom of our life’s condition than a cause, more a consequence than an origin. (30-31) Butterfield writes:

Importantly, we don’t see God making fun of homosexuality or regarding it as different, unusual, or exotic sin. What we see instead is God’s warning: if you indulge the sins of pride, wealth, entertainment-lust, lack of mercy, and lack of discretion, you will find yourself deep in sin—and the type of sin may surprise you. That sin may attach itself to a pattern of life closely or loosely linked to the list. while sin is not contained by logical categories of progression, nonetheless, sin is progressive. (31)

The chapters which follow Butterfield’s conversion experience and her biblical and theological explanations of God’s sovereign work in the sinner’s life are really about the working out of his purposes in her life.  From a broken relationship to marriage, from a professorship to homeschooling, from hospitality In the LGBT community to hospitality to young people and children, the rest of the book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is filled with those good works that God prepared beforehand for all Christians (Eph. 2:10)

Although I told my husband, the last chapter, “Homeschooling and Middle Age” did not strike me as something that would hold my interest; I found it to be the brightest section of the book. It is not only filled with fun, worms wiggling on the writing desk, frozen birds in the refrigerator to be used as a specimen, and two young children that instantly recognize a replica of the Magna Carta of 1215, but also the redemptive work of God in the lives of some severely broken children. 

(4)And this is a final gem for the Church, perhaps unintended. Redeemed lives are like the above, filled with wiggling worms, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dogs with muddy paws, as well as broken people and days, all enclosed in the purposes of our Lord. Butterfield has written a small book—a blessing for the Church at this time in this post-modern culture.