Friday, May 31, 2013

On the OGA's paper "Misrepresentations about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Recently the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released a paper in an attempt to answer and refute other papers being used by different churches that are in discernment concerning leaving the denomination. Entitled “Constitutional Musings: Misrepresentations about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” the paper begins:

The Office of the General Assembly has had an increase in the number of inquiries about printed materials from outside of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), being distributed within congregations, that ascribe to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) beliefs and standards which are meant to show that the church is no longer worthy of support.  Over the past years the list of these misrepresentations have varied little and most have been answered in detail in the religious press, study papers adopted by the church or by specific action of the General Assembly. i Whenever possible, the Office of the General Assembly directs those who inquire about specific conclusions drawn by these papers to resources which give a broader understanding of the issues.[1]

As someone who has seen one or two of my papers listed as resources for churches in discernment and more importantly because I believe the OGA has misunderstood the importance of the papers they are referring to, I will address what I think is the misunderstanding. But first I will note two important points.

1.Most of the papers, including mine, were not written with the intention of encouraging churches or church members to leave the PC (U.S.A.). Neither were they written to encourage members to stay. They were simply written to alert the church to various actions or statements by PC (U.S.A.) organizations and leaders which were harmful to God’s people. They, in many cases, were written as prophetic admonitions; most are attempts to speak truth to power from a biblical perspective.

2.The OGA and other leaders are failing to listen to their own churches. They could speak volumes concerning those who deny the deity of Christ, the atonement and the authority of Scripture. If they will not speak God will use others who do and will continue to speak!
The emphasis in the OGA’s paper is that the PC (U.S.A) already has in its constitution (The Book of Order & the Book of Confessions), as well as other study papers, the proper theological views concerning basic Christianity such as the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. They believe that all of this answers any questions churches may be asking. On the whole this is true although there are some sections in the new Book of Order that one must quibble about. And certainly the moderator and the 220th GA have clearly untied the denomination from the Book of Confessions.

 However, there is a larger problem that the OGA fails to understand. The beginning of the Theological Declaration of Barmen as well as its history addresses their apologia about correct theological views in the PC (U.S.A.)’s constitution and study papers.

 In the history of Barmen when the main denominations in Germany united, they also voted on a constitution.  The Confessing Churches did not dispute the constitution; they, in fact, based their right to confession on that constitution. And it was because many church leaders failed to abide by the church constitution that the Confessing Church arose. In the introduction to Barmen the author speaks of what is threatened:

This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of Church administration. (8.07b)

And that is the problem today in the PC (U.S.A.). Simply stating that our constitution is orthodox does not speak to or about those who are continually and systematically thwarting and rendering it ineffective. The Confessing Church leaders called for those who agreed to stand with them. In their view those, even though leaders and administers, who were ignoring and tramping on the confession of the church were no longer members of the German Evangelical Church.

 When pastors broadcast or write that the Bible is a myth and/or deny the deity of Christ as well as the existence of God they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective. When Presbyterian professors and pastors insist that the death of Jesus Christ was unnecessary they thwart and render the constitution ineffective.  When one past vice-moderator lowers the New Testament on to equal ground with gnostic texts, and another past vice-moderator insists others can come to God without Jesus, when the contemporary moderator unties the denomination from the confessions they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective.

 One can point forever to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s constitution and other study papers but if everyone including leadership does what is right in their own eyes there is good reason to see the denomination as withering on the vine that is Christ.


   [1] Here it should be noted that the PCUSA document gives this information in their footnote, “For example: the 1993 “Reimagining God” conference is often listed as proof of a move away from reformed standards.  Seldom do those making this accusation include the response of the following (1994) General Assembly which replied to critics of the church of this conference by, among other things, overwhelmingly adopting the following statements:
 We affirm the one triune God.
 We affirm the uniqueness of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ.
  We affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.
  We affirm that the Scriptures, by the Holy Spirit, are the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ.
  We affirm, again and again, the faith once delivered historically expressed in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, and the other historic confessions of our church.
        We reject teachings that deny the tenets of our faith. Let there be no doubt that theology matters, that our Reformed tradition is precious to us, and that we intend to hand it down to the next generation-our children and our grandchildren.”  [Minutes of the 206th General Assembly (1994) page 88] “

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Christ or Anti-Christ: the wrath of God, the love of God & the confusion of Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller’s words about God should break the heart of every Christian. Using Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and Kevin De Young’s review of Bell’s book, “God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins,” Miller attempts to make the case that the traditional God of Christianity is the anti-Christ while insisting that Bell’s God is the true one. He posits two different religions as does De Young whom Miller refers to as a young restless and reformed type.
In his article, “Christ or Anti-Christ?,” Miller opines that one God is “the sacrificial god,” who demands sacrifice because of sin. He writes:

The only way to escape this god’s wrath is to hide behind his Son, Jesus, the sole being capable of making the sacrifice necessary to appease this god’s wrath. Because with this god, forgiveness and reconciliation can only be achieved through sacrifice.

He also defines this God: “The primary attribute of this god is holiness or otherness.”
Miller goes on to name the other God as the self-sacrificial God, the God who is also holy but with a difference; the holiness comes from the attribute of love, especially love of enemies.  And of course with these two contrasts, which are caricatures of the real God, Miller is able to attribute different ways of seeing to the worshipers of the two different gods.

For instance those who worship a God whose holiness occurs because of his otherness have a “hostile religious identity.” They value propositional truth rather than experiential truth. They value conversion over compassion, the intellect over emotion.
But those who worship a God whose holiness is found in his love do not think in such binary terms. They see people moving along a line that moves them toward god. For instance from illness to wellness, and from destructive behavior to constructive behavior.

Miller does not mention the cross at all when writing of the self-sacrificial God in his anti-Christ article. But he does in his next article.
In a follow up article, “I am the blood drinking god,” Miller attempts to make both the orthodox believer and the progressive believer worship both of the gods at various times in their faith journey. That is because some have accused him of using binary concepts himself in his former posting.  But the new posting simply gives Miller an excuse to further disparage the orthodox. He believes that the God who seeks for sacrifice is a human projection:

The Sacrificial god is where all of humanity begins. It’s clearly an anthropological projection, the natural outgrowth of a “survival of the fittest” mentality where the threat of divine wrath serves to curb violence within the community and justify violence against those who threaten the group’s survival.
And Miller defines where self-sacrifice fits in when referring to Jesus:

If God is love, and love, by definition, requires self-sacrifice (i.e. Jesus on the cross), there’s no way God can turn around and demand a sacrifice, because that would make God just like us–a self-centered hypocrite.
Now obviously all of this needs to be sorted out. Miller has set up a God for orthodox Christians which would remind one of the Gnostic’s caricature of the Old Testament God. And he basically does so by ignoring the most basic Christian theology and the biblical text. The biblical God is holy. He is other. And he is love. God’s wrath is deeply connected to his love and he alone makes the unique and required sacrifice.

God commanded the people of Israel to make sacrifices and within their rituals was the promise of the great sacrifice that was a gift given by God. God taught the people of Israel the meaning of his holiness and otherness. And he taught them the meaning of obedience that through them we might all learn of the great and tender love of God which we know through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. (Hebrews 9)
To write as Miller has written is to deny both the Trinity and the redemptive purposes of God. He denies the Trinity because he does not understand that the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same essence and will. They willed, in love, with a unity that we do not understand, the death of Jesus and the salvation of those who belong to him.  If one wishes to see the wrath of God displayed alongside the ultimate love of God look at Calvary.

Going further, Miller muddies the water with his one attempt at exegesis. In Matthew chapter 6, the Pharisees complain because Jesus eats with sinners. Jesus tells them:

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means; “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Miller points out that verse 13, spoken by Jesus is from Hosea, which it is. “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (6:6) But all, including Miller and myself, need to learn what that means.

What God is saying is that burnt offerings will mean nothing if the people do not turn back to Him. He has already stated to Judah that their “loyalty is like the morning cloud and like dew which goes away early.” He further states that he has “hewn them in pieces by the prophets,” and “slain them by the words of his mouth.
This isn’t about the ultimate sacrifice given by Jesus on the cross that turns away the wrath of God, it is rather about making a sacrifice that is not made from love.  The Pharisees were only interested in the ritual—they cared little for the sins and needs of the sinner. The Pharisees were teachers, they should have, with great compassion, eaten with the sinners teaching them the ways of God.

In one thing Kevin Miller and Kevin De Young agree and they are right. Two differing faiths are emerging within the evangelical world. Jesus Christ came into the world to live and die for our sin. He was resurrected that we might have eternal life and belong within his kingdom, a kingdom which belongs to those who are united to him through repentance and faith.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Much more than then having now been justified by his blood we saved from the wrath of God through him. (Romans 5: 6-9)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More Light Presbyterians & holding marriage in honor

It’s helpful when LGBTQ organizations admit where they are really headed in their advocacy, as More Light Presbyterians has done with their recent article, “In-Laws and Out-Laws.” The article is written by Donna Riley who is an author for MLP. She is also bi-sexual, a Presbyterian deacon and a teacher of engineering at Smith College. She is advocating not only for same sex marriage but also for non-marriage relationships. As she puts it:

How do we fight for the freedom to marry and yet ensure that it remains a true freedom — freedom to marry balanced equally with the freedom not to marry? How can we as a movement resist heteronormativity within and without marriage, and build new ways of being in relationship?

Obviously Riley is not talking about relationships as in dating but as in fornication which is sex outside of marriage such as in Hebrews 13:4. And it makes sense. Those who see one kind of sexual sin as acceptable will certainly see another in the same way. And it surely leaves those who accept the biblical view of marriage being only between a man and a woman standing in a lonely place. But history and culture has left the church standing in lonely places many times.
Riley is advocating for singles in relationship to have the same rights as married couples including parental and citizenship rights as well as health care. She is actually asking for a total breakdown of society. We are all aware of those women whose parent had multiple live-in boy friends who molested them as children. Parental rights in such cases would be a travesty. And who is to sort out all of the problems?
But what is important when reacting to Riley’s article is to have a clear understanding that within the Church marriage is to be honored. Again see Hebrews 13:4. This honoring of marriage does not degrade the position of single persons at all but it does insist that marriage is a special calling, a special position that entails a difference between single life and married life.
I once took a class from Stanley Grenz on human sexuality. I carried away from that class an understanding that marriage offers a ministry that strengthens the family, teaches contentment in a continuing relationship and builds foundations of faithfulness. And singleness opens a door to many to minister in a missionary way. I have seen this happen; a group of single Christians choosing to live in the same apartment and minister to each other in all kinds of ways. They pulled in non-believers because of their witness of love toward one another.
Our first assignment in Grenz’s class was to watch the movie The Bridges of Madison County. The movie had just come out and everyone was talking about it. But for Christians it should have been a travesty—a romance between a married woman and a well-known photographer. Although they part and she does not divorce her husband, nonetheless she carries the affair hidden in her heart as some special event in her life. American movie goers, including some Christians, found the movie acceptable. In the same way we have allowed ourselves, as Christians, to accept the wider society’s approval of unmarried sexual relationships.
And now we must face the fact that those who advocate for same gender marriage are now beginning to advocate for unmarried sexual relationships. It really isn’t about marriage but about having the right to do whatever is the most convenient. Cheap grace feeds on conveniences. We now find we must be clear—sex is a gift meant for marriage and that between a man and a woman.  
A Christian, acknowledging that their only righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, paradoxically attempts to live a life of holiness because they have been called to a life of holiness.  The Church referred to as the Bride of Christ is, as a whole community, called to holiness. United in the glory of Christ the Church aims for faithfulness and purity.
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
The author of Hebrews places verse 4 in the midst of  commands to remember prisoners and those who are ill-treated, the necessity of not being greedy—not loving money—and a call to contentment. One cannot do away with one command without doing away with all.  The conclusion is a promise of God’s keeping care and this:
Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14)
 Picture is of my Grandpa and Grandma-John & Viola Trotter

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Presbyterian News Service: news as heretical propaganda

If we find in some other book or books a being who is called Jesus but when he speaks it is not the voice of the good shepherd of the New Testament Gospels should we follow or flee?
The Presbyterian News Service placed an article on their site entitled, “The greatest story ever (re) told:  Fresh Approaches to e-Vangelism In the Digital Age.” Part of the story, which was written by Presbyterian Elder Jim Nedelka, concerns Sunday school curriculum, “A place for everyone placemat curriculum,” written by Patty Chapman. But the bigger issue is that part of the story is about past GA Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow and his membership in a group that has published and is promoting A New, New Testament.

A New, New Testament, contains not only the books of the New Testament but also Gnostic works that purport to be on the same level as the New Testament Canon. Those are:

The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene,) The Gospel of Truth (which leads the new volume), The Thunder: Perfect Mind, The Odes of Solomon I, II, III and IV, The Prayer of Thanksgiving, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, The Letter of Peter to Philip and The Secret Revelation of John.
And as the news report puts it:

Until the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest were codified as the New Testament’s canon some 300 years after His resurrection, people heard the story of Jesus told through additional eyes and voices. These Gnostic Gospels are attributed to, among others, Mary Magdalene, Thomas (he of “Doubting Thomas” fame) and even Judas.
Contrary to what is written above by Nedelka, The early church did not hear the gospel through any of the gnostic works. Only Thomas is close in time to the writing of the texts in the New Testament and then even that has gnostic material incorporated.

Most of the texts were written in the second or third century. For instance the “Letter of Peter to Philip” was written in the second century and the “Gospel of Mary” was written in the third century. The voice of the Jesus who speaks in these non-canonical works is not the true Shepherd’s voice. (See R.J. Bauckham in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels IVP.)

E.M. Yamauchi in the IVP Dictionary of New Testament Background gives a general idea of the worldview of Gnosticism, which although it was diverse did hold some similar concepts. Yamauchi writes:

Fundamental to clearly gnostic systems was dualism that opposed the transcendent God and an ignorant demiurge (often a caricature of the OT Jehovah). To some systems the creation of the world resulted from the presumption of Sophia (Wisdom). The material creation, including the body was regarded as evil.  
Yamauchi goes on to explain how supposedly a redeemer was sent to impart secret knowledge as a means of redemption. There was no reason to believe in a resurrection since bodies and the material world were evil. Such ideas have nothing to do with apostolic teaching—they belong in the lair of a wolf. The sad thing is that the PNS put up the article as though it was about factual news, but much of it is propaganda for the book and its heretical message. In fact the author of the news article writes:

The authors hope the 10 Gnostic works, along with the current canon, will pique the reader’s curiosity enough to come to Christ’s table …”
As it is written in the Gospel of John, Jesus, the Lord of the Church, said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd to the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10: 1-5)
I would suggest that those, disseminating, gnostic gospels as the word of God, to Christ’s Church, are certainly not shepherds of the flock. Perhaps hired hands?

 On the other hand, Jesus says that the hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming. But these, the ones who have put together the New, New Testament, and those who put it on the Presbyterian News as though it was a good thing and healthy for the Church have embraced and lifted up the wolf and encouraged the sheep to follow it. If the Church is blooded and torn by the wolf they do not care—it is new—so why not embrace the newness?
Jesus Christ has promised to protect his Church—to give his gifts of pastors and teachers who care and will proclaim his true word. Christ calls to those who are willing to suffer under the cross for the true gospel. Christ calls to those who love him, not the world and vain teaching.

 Jesus, Lord, have mercy on your Church.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Katherine Cunningham and Jewish loyalties at

Katherine Cunningham, Moderator of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), writes the 4th article on the Kairos Document for Her focus is on a letter written to members of the United States Congress and signed by 15 mainline denominational leaders. As Cunningham puts it “The letter addressed the American legislators who approve all economic and military aid to Israel and are charged with the responsibility of oversight for how that 3.1 billion dollar annual aid package is implemented.” The letter suggested that the military aid to Israel is unconditional and that it was helping to continue Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Cunningham’s introduction to this subject, like most material coming from IPMN, is offensive. Her beginning remark on the subject of the letter is, “On October 5, 2012, fifteen Christian leaders in the United States issued a letter to members of Congress that rocked American Christian-Jewish relationships.” She further states:

No one saw this coming.  The statement stunned the Jewish community used to the unquestioned support of the State of Israel as a preferential ally of the United States.  The 2012 denominational national meetings, with their heated debates on divestment from American corporations benefiting from supporting the Palestinian occupation, concluded with votes among the Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians “to invest” in Palestine rather than divest church funds from U.S. corporations profiting from Israel’s military occupation. Those votes were influenced by threats from Jewish organizations that pro-divestment actions would cause a rupture in the decades of Christian-Jewish interfaith partnerships. (Underline mine)

Four questions here:

1.       Is Cunningham linking the failure of the motions to divest from companies doing business with Israel to the writing of the letter by denominational leaders? That would imply that at best the letter was a means of correcting commissioner’s votes.

2.      Is Cunningham suggesting that the simple truth that most of the Jewish community would be alienated by the action of divestment on the part of Presbyterians and other denominations is a threat? Why is she using that word?

3.       Is Cunningham aware that her organization is guilty of perpetrating horrific  slander against the Jewish community during the 2010 General Assembly when they placed a comment within an attachment on a motion, implying that the Jewish community had used threats and intimidation which included sending a bomb to Presbyterian headquarters and burning down a church? They have never apologized for that and now they are using the word ‘threat’ again. (To see attachment click additional resource in the blue box here.)
   4.     Does Cunningham, and denominational leaders, truly believe that the United States Congress gives military aid to Israel unconditionally without any forethought for either the security of the people of the United States or of Israel the only democracy in the Middle East?

 That is extreme simplistic thinking. One may disagree with the amount or even some of the conditions but to insist that the money is given unconditionally borrows from those who would underline the unconditional with some vague reference to covert conspiratorial influence.  

And indeed, Cunningham aggravates the honest reader with these words, “The intense reaction from Jewish organizations reveals a significant divide in nationalistic loyalties, focused on Christian U.S. citizens calling Congress to an honest examination of military aid under United States law against the actions of the country that so many Americans regard as the rightful Jewish homeland.” Only those who have forgotten the accusations of Nazi leaders in Germany against the loyalty of its Jewish citizens would even think of making such accusations.

One need go no further in reading after that remark about loyalty—who could hear above the awful drum beat of anti-Semitism.

"Call to Action" Mark Braverman and a bad theology of land

In the continuing articles on, Mark Braverman is the author of “Kairos Time: A U.S. Call to Action.”    It is partly about the organization, Kairos U.S.A., and also about their document, Call to Action: U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine document.”
While there are some items that can be commended in the Kairos U.S.A. document, for instance the confession of Christian anti-Semitism, there are several items which make the document unacceptable.

There is the suggestion that the problems in Israel and Palestine have to do, not with any hostility between the people nor with past hostilities, but with the overwhelming imbalance of power.  The authors are of course thinking of Israel. But this denies the complexities of the region and the several Arab States, as well as Iran and various radical Islamic organizations, who deny Israel’s right to exist.
Another is the usual attempt to avoid the bad theology of Christian Zionism by creating a similar theology of land that includes a land with “a universal mission,” which ends up fulfilling some redemptive purpose minus the cross. Instead I believe Alan Wisdom writing in Theology Matters about Israel and the land puts it just right when he states:

Even today, there remains a residue of unfulfilled prophecy. The great hope of the church is that all will be set right with the return of Christ. “Come Lord Jesus!” we pray with John (Revelation 22:20). But we do not know exactly how Israel will fit into that scenario. As Jesus said, “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).[1]

There are still other problems such as insisting that individuals, organizations and denominations must join the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement which is not a help toward peace, but instead will only irritate the situation. But the dominant problem with the “Call to Action,” document is the usual refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. And this is both subtle and blatant. It is subtle because it is not spoken, but instead there is this which is blatant in its intent:

We believe that a role for the Jewish people will include their participation with all peoples in a new order of justice, equality and universal peace that Jesus calls the realm of God. In embracing this vision, we are not taking the land away from the Jews or in any way denying to the Jewish people their fundamental right to live in peace and security and to express themselves as a people and a culture. Nor are we challenging the Jewish people’s special tie to the land in their own experience and in the view of many Jewish and Christian theologians. Rather, we believe, in the words of the Kairos Document, that the land “has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land.”

That is a long quote, but I have placed it here to emphasize that the authors nowhere in the document acknowledge Israel as a Jewish State but rather a culture with some land shared by all peoples in the area. They also, although representing several denominations, ignore Jesus Christ who by his death gathers in those who will receive him. Both the election of Israel and the election of the Church are replaced by land. The authority that the authors give for this is a theological viewpoint which gives the land a divine and universal mission. This is utterly dismal. It is a combination of liberation theology and universalism working side by side to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel.  But it also denies the cross.
A better way, as Alan Wisdom suggests, is to look beyond the theological or biblical reasons for being pro-Israel; neither Christian Zionism nor liberation theology is helpful.  

While Wisdom does point out that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is “a standing contradiction to Israel’s democratic values,” he notes that Israel is one of the rare multicultural states in the region. Israel offers freedom of religion. Very few nations in the area allow such freedom. People, including Arab citizens are allowed to criticize the Israeli government. “Israeli society leads the region in educational attainment, cultural creativity, technological innovation, and balanced economic development.” The list goes on.[2]
Most of those who are offering articles on concerning the Kairos Document or any of the organizations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network are not working for a two state solution—their documents all point away from such a solution. Either one works out of love for both peoples and a two state solution or one kicks dust in the face of peace while drumming for war.






[1] Alan F. H. Wisdom, “Lands of Promise and Conflict: The Middle East in Biblical Context,” Theology Matters Vol.  19 no. 2 Mar/April 2013.  This edition is not yet on their web site but hopefully it will soon appear.
[2] Wisdom, “Arguing From Evidence: Why Support Israel?, Ibid.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Revisiting the Kairos Document as answer to & Kairos U.S.A.

The web site is offering essays from Kairos U.S.A. The writers are responding to the document “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, hope and Love, from the heart of Palestinian Suffering.” The posts will, of course, be one sided as is the document. I wrote about this document in 2010, because it was part of a package put together by the Presbyterian Middle East Study Team. That was for the 2010 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)'s General Assembly. As answer to the articles that are being placed on the site I am reposting my article minus my introduction.

The Kairos Palestine Document:

The document is entitled “A Moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestine suffering.” It is partly written as a confession, partly as a political declaration with practical recommendations. It also has its own missional viewpoint for the Church. Each of these particulars, confession, political declaration, recommendations, and missional outlook are flawed.

The political viewpoint is intertwined with Palestinian suffering. The suffering is very real; there can be no denying that point. When writing about this the authors of the document list such problems as the separation wall, the military checkpoints, military actions of Israel and settlements. It would be foolish to write that this is not real. But the real cause for all of this is not addressed truthfully.

As is the usual case the document insists that the Israelis ‘own statements are lies. The authors insist that the wall and the check points as well as the military actions are not intended for self-defense. They write:
“Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.” (2)
It must be said, Israel has never known security, justice and peace from her neighbors, not in 1948, 1967 or recently. As long as some radical Muslim States, groups and individuals insist that Israel does not have the right to exist the State of Israel will experience insecurity and lack of peace. And due to this lack, all in the area, both Israelis and Palestinians, will experience, no matter how hard anyone tries, injustice.

The main flaw in this area of the paper is that the whole truth is not being told and guilt is not shared. Nowhere in the document is Israel’s right to exist stated. Nowhere in the paper is there any sense of guilt on the part of Palestinian Christians for the death of innocent civilians from either suicide bombers, rockets or other forms of maiming by radical Muslim groups or individuals.
Only confession for failing to resist is offered at the end of the document. This is in grave contrast to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s confession of both his and the German Church’s guilt offered in his book Ethics. There is also Daniel’s confession of guilt before God on behalf of himself and all Israel.

The Confessional section’s Christology is incomplete; its view of scripture faulty. The authors surprisingly use the idea of land in just the same manner as the harbingers of Nazi Germany; only hidden under a biblical cloak.

Under a “Word of Faith” the author’s give an orthodox view of Jesus Christ. “We also believe in God’s eternal Word, His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent as the Savior of the world.” (3) They also write, “Jesus Christ came in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and in his light and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we read the Holy Scriptures.” But too much is left out and too much extra added.

There is no cross, no redemptive reference in the statement except to call Jesus Savior. No cross, minus no confession of guilt has deep implications for where this document ends. Rather than turning toward the redemptive actions of Jesus Christ the document heads toward an understanding of the kingdom of God as revolution. “He [Jesus] provoked a revolution of faith in the life and faith of all humanity.”

The revolution supposedly rests on a new teaching by Jesus. Using Mk 1:27 the authors see Jesus giving new light to reinterpret such themes as “the promises, the election, the people of God and the land.” I will list and explain each error of their continuing thoughts. The author's of the Kairos document are in italics.

1. “The Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now.” (3) “Casting a particular light on each period of history,” is the huge mistake here. God’s word gives light to all periods of history. But it is always the same light. He and his words do not change. What God speaks to one era through his word he speaks to another.

2. “For this reason, [see above] it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and his providence in the life of both peoples and individuals.” While the authors go on to castigate what I would suppose is Christian Zionism referring to “fundamentalist Biblical interpretation” which deprives the Palestinians of the rights to their land, the authors misunderstand proper biblical exegesis. What is written is God’s word, this is not separate from Jesus who is the living word; he is both fully human and fully God. And his word cannot be changed.

The Jewish content is always true. It is the story of the Jewish people, of God’s dealings and care for his people. But it also carries within it God’s plan of redemption that is before God’s creation. Neither can be changed. Because the redemptive cross is missing from their document and thoughts, the authors have invented a different theme that is not biblical.

3. “We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the preclude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (4)

The authors go on to write of how it is God that makes the land holy. And in that work they include three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But notice the land has become a substitute for the cross. The land becomes the focus for a universal plan that wipes out even secular reasons for the Jewish people to have a land of their own. The authors write, “Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other-people to the land it lives in.” (4) Here the writers turn on the West accusing them for moving the Jewish people into the land that belongs to the Palestinians.

So the final outcome for this theological quest is their understanding that Israel as a Jewish state does not have a right to exist. And this is made clear later in the document when the authors write:
“Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.” (Emphasis mine) (11)

A Jewish state is not by necessity a religious state, and notice the term “numerical majority” has been slipped into this equation. All of this is to say that the Kairos Palestine Document is asking that there no longer be a Jewish State in the Middle East and its authors are basing their thoughts on a poorly constructed theology of sacred land. They may be using universal terms and speaking of God but in their substitution of sacred land for a redemptive Lord they have turned toward a nineteenth century view of romantic theology which was badly used by later Nazi ideologists.

It is only the Lord Jesus Christ and his redemption bought on the cross that universalizes the Kingdom of God. And in reality this has nothing at all to do with the secular state of Israel or the religious states and movements of Islam. Good-will and kindness are a part of Christ’s coming Kingdom, but since he himself stated that his kingdom is not of this world (A verse the authors have noted) it does not include any sacred land.
The facts are that God has not withheld his goodness from the Jews because he is faithful. The other fact is that Israel is a Jewish nation. She must remain so in order to insure that there will always be a place of safety in a world that has always been hostile to the Jewish people.

Practical Recommendations and the missional Church, in this document are tied together. The authors insist that the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God which entails standing with the oppressed against the oppressor. But in this case the documents view of the oppressor is tainted by ignoring the complexities of the situation. The authors see only one oppressor, Israel. And therein lies the fault of making the gospel or the good news of the kingdom about fighting oppression rather than the good news that Jesus Christ has lived, died on a cross and is alive for our salvation.

While love is called for as resistance is used, this is not a pacifist paper. While advocating for a logic of love the authors write “We respect and have a high esteem for all those who have given their life for our nation. And we affirm that every citizen must be ready to defend his or her life, freedom and land.” Since the acts of terrorism against Israel have, in this document, been blamed on Israel it must be concluded that with the above words the terrorist are condoned by the authors.

Following these words are sections which plead with the churches of the world to denounce any theology that would cause Palestinian oppression. Another plea is for the different Palestinian sides to come together. (This is the only near admission that something or someone besides Israel is in the wrong here.) And at the end there is also a call for “individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation.” This is of course a boycott against the whole nation of Israel. It is, in fact, a boycott against the Jewish people.

Conclusion: As I have stated in the first part of this paper, the Kairos Palestine Document fails in so many ways. The author’s many assertions and recommendations are anything but biblical. The document pretends to be a confession filled with love and a practical but hard solution to the problems of the Middle East. It is neither. Instead it is a declaration of war against a Jewish homeland.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost: The Holy Spirit pointing to Jesus our Lord

After the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, Peter’s sermon to those questioning the event in Jerusalem gives a clear understanding of what the Holy Spirit’s message was then and is now. First Peter quoted a prophecy of the Old Testament book Joel about the coming of the Holy Spirit and then he proclaimed the good news which is the news of salvation in Jesus Christ. “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And the promise is to all of those to come.

And then Peter preaches Jesus Christ; crucified according to God’s plan but by godless humanity. Next, the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that Jesus is Lord. Finally Peter tells his listeners that they must repent, be baptized and that in the name of Jesus is the forgiveness of their sins. And that is the foundational teaching and message of the Holy Spirit. Not some new truth but Jesus Christ Lord and Savior.
The Holy Spirit guides, comforts and gifts the church with his power as he points to Jesus. He calls the church to holiness, faithfulness and obedience while at the same time confronting the world concerning “sin, righteousness and judgment.” (John 16: 8-11)

The Holy Spirit discloses that which belongs to Jesus. As Jesus states in John’s gospel. “He will glorify me for he will take of mine and will disclose it to you.” This includes all that belongs to the Father, as Jesus also states, “All things that the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he [the Holy Spirit] takes of mine and will disclose it to you.”
As Dale Bruner puts it:

The work of the Holy Spirit is the honoring of Jesus Christ. The work of other spirits is the honoring of themselves or other realities. … wherever a church or a person centers thoughtfully (That is, biblically and evangelically) on honoring the person, teaching and work of Jesus Christ, there we may be quite sure, we are in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit’s work is the thoughtful honoring of Christ. (The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity)

I watched today the interview of two Iranian women who were terribly persecuted by the Iranian government because of their faith in Jesus. When asked why they did not give in and reject Christianity, one of the women said because they loved Jesus. That is truly the work of the Holy Spirit.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The second coming of Christ: is there a question? Update

Know this first of all that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following their own lusts. And saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
“They [The New Testament writers] spoke in urgent and immediate terms about what they believed to be impending apocalyptic events. Nearly two thousand years later, it is clear that what they believed would take place never did.

Does this call into question the truth or relevancy of these early Christian writings? I don’t think so, though it does demonstrate the fallible human elements of our sacred scriptures.” (John Vest, Be Ready)

No, the Lord has not come yet—but he will—for those who love his appearing. Does that mean Christians are to set lazily by waiting in case he comes in our generation? Absolutely not.  Paul at one point even commanded that those who would not work should not eat.
But Vest has promoted two unacceptable teachings here. One is that Jesus will not return and the other is that the New Testament writers didn’t know what they were writing about. They were in error about the return of Christ.

Vest promotes the idea that humanity will bring in the Kingdom of God and that by the help of Christ whose presence with us is his second coming:

I tend to think that what Jesus talked about as God’s kingdom has been emerging slowly over time. The “return of Christ” that the early Christians anticipated and that many subsequent Christians have waited for seems to me to be a metaphorical concept. As Easter people, we speak as if the risen Christ is present with us already, and I believe that to be true.
There have been those in the past and even today who teach that the body of Christ will bring in the Kingdom. But they have not denied that Jesus will return, just that he will return after the Kingdom is here.  That is called post-millennialism. But the belief that Jesus will never return, that he only gives us his presence, has often been part of the teaching of aberrant Christian groups.  

When the New Testament writers were writing of the last days they were writing of that time which existed between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus. The church though out her long history has anticipated the soon coming of Christ. It is not false teaching, but faith in the promise of God.

In another posting that I wrote in 2008, I quoted John Henry Newman:

'Though time intervene between Christ's first and second coming, it is not recognized (as I may say) in the Gospel scheme, but is, as it were, an accident. For so it was, that up to Christ's coming in the flesh, the course of things ran straight towards the end, nearing it by every step; but now, under the Gospel, that course has (if I may so speak) altered its direction, as regards His second coming, and runs, not toward the end, but along it, and on the brink of it; and is at all times near that great event, which did it run towards it, it would at once run into. Christ, then, is ever at the doors.'[1]

Something I want to add here is about the simplicity of the good news, and yet the depth that one finds in its every corner and cranny. To take the word that God has given us as believers and attempt to explain every portion and teaching with post-modern suspicion leaves nothing but empty grain husks which in reality are filled with meatiness and goodness.

We have a hope! Maranatha!  
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wanting any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Update: A friend just pointed me to a video-which I must put with this--just skip the ad, please:

[1] John Henry Newman, “Waiting for Christ, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vi (London, 1896) 241, in F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1970) 65.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

“The little ship of Christ’s church is sailing in a storm.” Lessons from the book, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald

Several years ago I wrote a post about Paul Schneider, a pastor in the Confessing Church of Germany who was martyred in a concentration camp. Over a long extended period he was beaten, isolated and finally poisoned to death. Since 2008 a German biography of Schneider, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald, written by Rudolf Wentorf and translated by Daniel Bloesch, has been available for the English reader.

The book is filled with documents, sermons and, various kinds of correspondence such as Reformed church session minutes and letters, correspondence from the Gestapo to German Christian Church leaders and even a church lady’s aid group pleading in a letter for the release of their pastor from detention.

Rather than writing the standard book review I have decided, using the book as reference, I will look at the various reasons Schneider was harassed by the leaders of the German Christians, the Gestapo and even the Nazi government.   Contemporary orthodox Christians will relate to most of the controversies that plagued Schneider, although rather than dealing with a dictator and extreme nationalism they deal with a culture increasingly intolerant of Christianity. A culture whose prejudices toward morality and faith feed into too many organizations and governmental bodies.

Reading Wentorf’s information and documentation, it is clear that the issues for Schneider revolved around morality, ministry to youth, church discipline, and false revelation. All of these issues needed faithful believers to affirm biblical teaching and lift up Jesus Christ as the head of the church.

According to Wentorf, Schneider became a pastor in 1926. He was installed in the churches of Hochelheim and Dornholzhausen after the death of his father, the churches’ former pastor. He still pastored those two churches when Hitler came to power in 1933.

The Nazi’s began programs that would interest youth and they held most meetings on Sundays. A motion with a statement was made by Schneider and his church session. It was to have the district synod send a message to be read in all churches and also to send it to “the youth clubs, sport clubs and gymnastic associations, including the Hitler Youth and SA [Storm Troopers] and SS-units[protection Squad] . For Protestant Christians our Sunday worship must be our top priority and will continue to be our main concern.”(68)

As the Nazi groups continued to take over most of the youth work in Germany the church fought a continuing battle to keep its young people.

The beginning of real hostilities had to do with a newspaper article which began with the statement that “Chief of staff of the SA Röhm is campaigning against sanctimoniousness.” The article was supposedly aimed at the “leaders and troops of the SA and SS.” But not really. According to Wentorf, it was aimed at denominational youth associations outside of the Nazi Youth groups. (84) And Schneider reacts. He places a protest in a glass case notice board in his congregation which includes this:

“If chief of staff Röhm thinks that the development of our people have nothing to do with morality and chastity and when he speaks of these things as being done by “eccentric moralists” he is mistaken and has not done our nation any favor by issuing this appeal. (84)

Letters go back and forth over Schneider’s protest. He is threatened with “preventive detention” if he does not renounce the statements. It is finally resolved but letters sent by the ruling consistory (made up of mostly German Christians) to higher church authorities suggest that there is hope to transfer Schneider to a different church. So for clarity, the first issue that Schneider dealt with was morality and the continuing need to protect the faith of the young people.

That argument continued in a different way when Schneider decided that those youths who came for a special celebratory communion and yet did not attend any other service or Bible class could not take communion. But they could attend a service of confession which would end in communion.  Even Schneider’s session disagreed with his plan. But always Schneider was seeking to place the church on its true foundation, Jesus Christ.  His heart was set on guiding the young people in the faith.

Once again the issue of morality was raised. Schneider attacked an essay written by Nazi Propagandist Goebbels, “More Morality, but less Moral Hypocrisy.” As author Wentorf points out the essay came as Nazi leadership not only pushed young Jewish and Polish women into brothels, killed those people who they considered unworthy to live because of disabilities and “so-called hereditary diseases,” and also encouraged sex outside of marriage in order to produce more, supposedly, Aryan children. That was a campaign called, “Give the Führer a Child!” (128)

Schneider was also incensed, as were other pastors, by a partially pagan rally held by the German Christians, “the Sports Palace Rally.”  Speakers at the rally threatened those Christians and pastors who refused German Christian ideology.

Spies were always in Schneider’s services taking notes. They reported on him and sent their notes to the leadership of the National Socialist Worker’s Party, (NSDAP), who then sent reports to the Protestant Consistory who were generally German Christians. After being called to a meeting with the Consistory Schneider naively sent his sermon to them.

The sermon is meant as a wakeup call to the congregations. He suggests that some in the church think the church should “organize its life from a political standpoint as the “German Christians” do. And then he compares the differences in the two worldviews:

Of course, they [the German Christians] must underpin the practice with the false teaching that the message of the church is not the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners and the Kingdom of God alone, but our national character and traditions plus the gospel. They are in fact breaking with the living God and his Christ by placing blood and race and the history of the nation as sources of revelation alongside God’s Word, alongside God’s will revealed to us in the Word of Scripture alone, alongside Jesus as the only mediator between God and man. The struggle in our church has erupted over this issue [the false revelation] and there can be no peace until the traitors of pure doctrine and those who have forced their way into the sheep pen as wolves have vacated bishop’s chairs and representative seats or until the confessing Christians have left this false church. (139)

After explaining all of the attempts of the German Christians, backed by the government, to stop the members of the confessing church from confessing that Jesus is the only Lord, Schneider states, “The little ship of Christ’s church is sailing in a storm.” And he uses this theme throughout the rest of his sermon showing that the storm is batting hard against the church and yet proclaiming that Christ was with the “little ship” in all storms. (139-145)

For instance:

We tolerated the teaching of Balaam, of liberalism among us, which praised the goodness and freedom of man, reduced the redemptive work of the Savior and God’s glory and dissolved the seriousness of eternity into a foggy notion … We do not hate the works of the Nicolaitians enough! The letters of Revelation warn us about the works of those who are morally lax, greedy, disreputable, and despise the Lord’s Day. We have had communion with obvious and unrepentant sinners. … And now the storm tide has swept over our church, and its little ship is swamped by ruinous and corrupting waves, and we need to scoop them out.


Do we not want to rejoice that this ship is given to us? See, it is not just a story of old, our gospel is a story of today, of the living Lord and his church, just as you have been singing this song in the village from earlier times: “O church of Christ, noble ship, how glorious your course, many a reef surely threatens you in the storm, many a wave surges up. But God is with you, so be confident, the Lord is leading you to your destination. However much the sea surges and rages, when he gives the command, it is still! (143)

Schneider did mention Goebbels in his sermon and later apologized for doing so, but still he was suspended and sent to a different church. It was during this time of ministry that he began the bigger battles that would lead to prison and death. One issue was paganism. The final issue was church discipline.  

After having moved to the parishes Dickenschied and Womrath, Schneider conducted a funeral for a young man, Karl Moog. Schneider in a letter to the superintendent complains that the district leader of the NSDAP had spoken and stated that Moog “had crossed over into the storm of Horst Wessel.”[1] Schneider would have nothing to do with such anti-Christian words at a Christian funeral. As he stated in his letter he had spoken up saying he protested and “This is a Church ceremony and as a Protestant pastor I am responsible for the pure teaching of the Holy Scriptures.” (153)

Schneider also wrote to the district leader about the occasion. He was arrested and held in what was called preventive detention. (153-155) Schneider would later be released but his final trial begun when he and his session, using the their Book of Order, backed by the Heidelberg Catechism and certainly by the Bible, attempted to discipline two farmers who among other problems, were spreading vicious slanders against the pastor.

 They were national socialist and wanted a German Christian pastor. One of them, Ernst Scherer, who wanted his son taught in a German Christian church, writes to the “Highest Administrative office of the Protestant Church” in Berlin and to the Consistory. Part of his letter to the consistory states, “In his opinion [Schneider’s] only those who have a green membership card of the Brotherhood Council Church [The Confessing Church]  are considered to be “genuine Christians” … Moreover, after having become familiar with his quite eccentric medieval goals with a fanatical zeal …”(206)

Schneider is eventually rearrested and with an agreement by the consistory. But the Gestapo steps into the final argument and makes the final arrest. All of the groups, Nazis and German Christians have their files full of his “misdeeds” and they all seek to end his influence on the church and the community. Because Schneider refuses deportation away from his church he eventually ends up in Buchenwald where he continues to preach to his fellow inmates. When his wife goes to pick up his body, as she looks at his face, she states, “Dead, but not defeated.” (384)

There is a great deal more to learn in Wentorf’s book. He has written about a culture completely given over to the Nazi ideology.  There is far too much material to cover in a blog posting. The Confessing Church continues to teach the western church about standing for Christ in a time of cultural madness. The Confessing Church continued on in East Germany during the Communist rule and withstood the contrary ideology of Marxism.

But the issues that Schneider and the other confessing pastors faced are not that different than those contemporary western Christians face. Only the context is different.  Issues of false revelation, immorality, a battle for the faith of youth, the need for church discipline, failure to uphold the Holy Scriptures and most of all faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Truly the little ship, the church, needs to face the future in the strength of Christ.   


picture by Viola Larson

[1] There is an article on Wikipedia about the German Horst Wessel who was glorified by the Nazis “Nazi propaganda glorified his life. The bimonthly Der Brunnen - Für deutsche Lebensart (Frithjof Fischer ed.) in its issue of 2 Jan 1934 declared: "How high Horst Wessel towers over that Jesus of Nazareth - that Jesus who pleaded that the bitter cup be taken from him. How unattainably high all Horst Wessels stand above Jesus!"[