Friday, June 27, 2008

If you can't beat'em, join'em

Well...it looks like it's time to join the Covenant Network. I think conservative Presbyterians should rush in droves to join the Covenant Network. Here's the link to the Covenant Network that discouraged PCUSA Presbyterians need to join.

Abortion and the Presbyterian Washington Office

Here's another one from the vaults, when I thought that I would be allowed to live out my calling in the PCUSA. I thought it appropriate in light of the recent pleas for fair representation of the diversity of PCUSA opinion on abortion. Originally written in August of 2007.
A commentator recently mused over the impartiality and even-handed representation that the Washington Office provides the PC(USA).

Somehow he missed the June 25th edition of Presbyterian Washington Weekly where the Washington Office urged members of the PCUSA to support HR 2596's unfettered access to abortifacient megadoses of hormones (otherwise known as Plan B).

A week prior to that (June 18th), I was asked to support the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. That would make me - a taxpayer - responsible for the destruction of human life for research purposes.

The April 23rd edition gave more sabre rattling and fearmongering over the SCOTUS decision declaring constitutionally allowable limits on partial birth abortions. Our GA has spoken quite clearly about the moral danger of this procedure (and our there is plenty of medical testimony against its necessity or safety). Nevertheless, anything that could infringe on a woman's "right" to force taxpayers to pay a malicious medico to deliver all but the head of the baby, jam scissors into its skull, and vacuum its brains out must be met with resistance according to the Washington Office.

It continues to amaze me that most of their advocacy is for causes aligned with the Democrats when over half of members and elders in the PCUSA identify as Republicans and less than 30% as Democrats! (PDF proof here) There's a lot of work that the Washington Office could focus on - things that Presbyterians across the spectrum agree on and would support - if they would give up their unmitigated support for limitless abortion access.

Follow the Money

The PCUSA tried to say that the impersonal force Allah and the Trinitarian God we know in Jesus Christ are one and the same. It was substantively changed (for the better). But let's be clear: this isn't about welcoming Muslim brothers. It was professional real-estate networking.

Demichristianity
for Dhimmitude!

Presbyterian Predicaments

Here's another one from the vaults, when I thought that I would be allowed to live out my calling in the PCUSA. Orignially written in August of 2007.
Jesus asked us to remember Lot's wife. We also remember Lot. Abraham and Lot were family. Lot was the younger, more cosmopolitan of the two. When the squabbles between the household of Lot and household of Abram stood a chance of damaging their sense of family, they separated. Whatever bad blood was there, they let it go. The more spiritually mature man let the younger one seek his life among the hipsters of the day, who had wealth and prestige (Sodom had a king!). Abram knew that it didn't matter where he was sat on earth - so long as he knew where he stood with God.

We've come to a time where gracious separation (in the PCUSA) may be the only peaceful way out. It will require the mature - those who claim to trust completely in God's provision - to risk being set out to the un-lush plains. We'll have to choose whether or not we really believe it when we say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is our treasure and the one thing we cannot do without.

I say this knowing that some have been fighting for a long time to be good stewards of the funds faithful Presbyterians have given over the years. I honor that work. I had planned as a minister to put at least some of my hope for financial security in the endowments given. But if it costs me the gospel - or I waste my life fighting with people that I should recognize as family (even if they are distant relations, and questionable in their covenant keeping) - then I will have been unfaithful to my calling to be a steward of the mysteries of God.

I count as friends several executives in the Foundation, and they are dashingly good at what they do. But I'm a steward of the mysteries, called to build the church as the pillar and ground of the truth. Anything less is a diminishing of my calling.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ecclesia Refermata

Okay - I admit it. I can't keep out of PCUSA GA business. So sue me. You'll have to do it in civil court, because I'm not under the jurisdiction of the PCUSA anymore. For real coverage from a real PCUSA pastor, go to Classical Presbyterian. Anyway....
Before the vote to change the Heidelberg Catechism, the usual predictable YAD stands to the mic and says that the church is a reforming church (instead of a REFORMED church). They take this to mean that the church is always changing her basic beliefs. As evidence, she cited the presence of multi-ethnic moderator / vice-moderators this year. (Big whoop. There were more black people and Near-East Asians at the Council of Nicea than there are at the PCUSA's GA!)
This tired statement (I refuse to call it an argument, which would require both logical construction and some sort of proof!) I've come to call the Ecclesia Refermata. You'll recall that a fermata is a musical sign indicating that a note should be sustained. This tired canard of an incomplete statement - the church is always changing (to accommodate our point of view) - just has to go away. And yet it comes up at EVERY SINGLE GA, and is trilled and sung into the minds of gullible YADs who don't have much catechesis in the Reformed tradition (and even less Latin training).

This thesis, which gets bandied around even by people who should know better, is based on a rather widespread and longstanding misunderstanding of the Latin motto, Ecclesia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. This has even been addressed by the GA in 2006. The Latin reformanda is not a passive participle; it is a “gerundive,” which can be defined as a “verbal adjective used to indicate that a specified noun needs to, deserves to, ought to, or must be the object of the action indicated in the gerundive.”

The classic example is the Roman Senator Cato’s repeated cry, Cartago delenda est! He was not saying, “Carthage is being destroyed.” He was saying, “Carthage needs to be destroyed!” or “Carthage must be destroyed!” Similarly, Legibus parendum est, does not mean, “The laws are being obeyed.” It means, “The laws must be obeyed!”
By the same token, “Ecclesia Reformata at Semper Reformanda” does not mean, “The Church Reformed and Always Reforming.” It means “The Church Reformed and Always Needing to be Reformed.”

Second, the YADs (and the commissioners and advisors who coach them) leave off the most important aspect of that reforming work: it's done secundum verbum dei. The exegetical maneuver that the Reformers came up with was grammatico-historical interpretation. When the text says something, once you understand the context and the content, you understand God's will and are bound to obey it. The church is thus further conformed to the image of the Son (the living Word) by the Scriptures (the written Word).

The Heidelberg issue that was brought before the GA - which, despite protests to the contrary, was just a tired repeat of previous attempts to legitimize homosex (search on Heidelberg) - is not about restoring the church's confessional integrity or increasing her faithfulness to the standards of Scripture. (That's actually what the translators of the current PCUSA version were doing.) It's about making the Scriptures and creeds a quieter place when it comes to speaking about homosex. And of course the irony of the situation is lost on people who have forgotten that the slogan was born out of Dutch pietism (the so-called Nadere Reformatie) - an earnest desire to apply the glorious doctrinal and ecclesial insights of the Reformation to the everyday task of living a holy life.

As long as they keep bringing it up without definitive silencing based on confidence that God's word does not err in condemning homosex (as well as ANY non-marital sex), then you're going to see them hold this out again and again. REFERMATA.

0.000121587

Mom told me I was special. She said I was "one in a million." I appreciate her sentiment, but the math geek in me says that I'm not even that special.

I may not be one in a million, but I am one in 57,572. As a family, we're 7 in 57,572 (thus the decimal title). My former cult lost record numbers of members this past year, and I added to the numbers. I'm not proud to have gotten to that point, and it hurt me to do it. I poured more than a decade of my life into working for the PCUSA, including 5 years of full-time study. However, I couldn't stay when the very act of wrestling with the demonic forces at work kept me from advancing as a minister in the church and in carrying out the ministry Christ has given me.

However, as a candidate for ministry who has left, who knows what the opportunity cost is going to be? The number goes far beyond my paltry seven. As of 1998, 33% of churches didn't have a pastor. The number is pushing ever closer to 50%, now. Yet churches without pastors rarely grow.

Denominations without pastors don't grow, either. Even if they have all the ministers they need....

Want to lose that vonneGUT?

Eat a breakfast of champions! A study released at the recent meeting of the Endocrine Society suggests that eating a big breakfast (no...not this Big Breakfast®) can have a long-term positive impact on weight loss.

When I was in London last summer, we generally only ate one real meal: the classic English Full Breakfast. (In fact, my last breakfast there was at Lord Moon of the Mall: Wetherspoon, just down the street from one of the car bombs found just hours after we left!) We could eat that thing and then walk, walk, walk all day - only feeling slightly peckish after the end of a hard day of touring.

So, I told my wife that I was on a weight-loss kick and from now on, I expected an Ulster Fry every morning...

Yeah...that's what she said.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are you spiritual?

I'm not.

I'm sure this is going to tick some fine people off, but that's never stopped me before.

I have no desire to be "spiritual" in the sense which is commonly used today. That doesn't mean I wish to be a dead doctrinalist or rigid moralist or anything else which people call me. Instead, it means I want to be mature in Christ - not in any sense of myself.

I think there's a lot of hubbub about the topic, but I side with Sinclair Ferguson on the topic.
"This first thing to remember, of course, is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual ... but from the New Testament's point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ."

h/t: Monergism

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Please Stand for the Processional

I had no idea that the Imperial March could be so worship-inspiring. I don't know how I'll cope. Was anyone else aware that Chad Vader was now in orders?

BTW, these are some sort of Scandinavian Lutherans. They're the only ones who wear the chasuble with a surplice, and that distinctive neck ruffle.

It's like...you know...and stuff

Unfortunately, this is what most of the sidelined legacy denominations do every (other) summer.



So...like...does anybody want to, you know, talk about it?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Letting them down...the other ED

A recent article in the Washington Post reports on the work of Douglas LaBier, PhD - a clinical psychologist with the Center for Adult Development. He, along with a growing number of clinicians, are noting that modernists are increasingly unable to empathize with others. This is even true of people whom we would expect to have a high degree of empathy (like physicians).

Anybody that knows me would never call me the touchy-feely type. My psychological profile showed that I have a high ability to understand where people are coming from, contextualize their responses, help them articulate it and map out a plan of action for dealing with it, etc. But I don't normally "feel" their hurt with them. I leave it to others to determine if that's an impediment to ministry.

But I will say this - it's just a prelude. We've been teaching people that they have no intrinsic worth as creatures in God's own image. We abort our future (setting us up for a collapse of our entitlement system). We export the care of our elderly.

Jesus said that in the end times the love of many would "wax cold" (AV - though I prefer the ESV). It would be recognized by:
1) A great falling away from the faith. This is apostasy, as well as run-of-the-mill indifference.
2) Loyalty will disappear. (Hey BHO - how's it going with your mentors and staff?)
3) Indifference would give way to hatred. (Think Ann Coulter and Huffington Posters)
4) False prophets. I think I've blogged plenty about the false prophets on the left, but the right is full of them, too.
5) Lawlessness, iniquity, whatever.... We make ourselves the standard by which all else is measured, and thus can do as we please. Covenants and laws mean nothing except as temporary cease fires before yet another salvo of self-will.
It seems like every morning, we wake up to a world where violence and perversion and callousness had done it's best to double overnight. Americans (British, too) have a sense that morality is on the decline.

Is the picture grim? Yes. The horizon of western civilization seems to promise increasing irrelevance as our narcissistic entertainment culture becomes so self-absorbed that it can't see beyond its own glandular discharges.

Is it something we're to despair about? Not really - after all, Christians have faced as much in the past. In fact, we found it a fertile ground for growth. The recent atmosphere of carelessness and apathy provide a genuine open space for Christians to live out our vocation. It won't be done by large movements, protests, position papers, or any other means. What will make the difference is individual Christians (and Christian communities) living out their faith towards others.

Here's a secret that evangelicalism and emergentism have forgotten. When Christians stick out because of their counter-cultural values, the world takes notice.

For instance, consider the love and sacrifice Christians displayed in Roman times when devastating plagues arrived. At the onset of a plague, the wealthy patricians fled to their country estates. But Christians - convinced that each human being was made in the image of God - stayed behind to minister among plague victims. Tending to the sick increased the survival rate of plague victims by as much as two-thirds, and this witness attracted many new converts (it more than replaced the loss of Christians to the plague). By acting on the teachings of Christ, without regard to their own welfare, these Christians progressed from being a small sect to the dominant cultural group.

The teachings of Christianity give people a reason to care for the sick, the desperate, and destitute. Only Jesus taught that His followers could find Him in their neighbor. Our witness in the midst of adversity, pain, and sacrifice can be the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to break through the hardened heart of a stubborn unbeliever.

Let's get to work.

How to waste three years

I found myself having made many of the mistakes on this excellent list of seminary pitfalls. Here's a sampling of the list:
1. Cultivate pride by writing only to impress your professors instead of writing to better understand and more clearly communicate truth.
3. Mistake the amount of education you receive with the actual knowledge you obtain. Keep telling yourself, “I’ll really start learning this stuff when I do my Th.M or my Ph.D.”
5. Regularly question the wisdom and competency of your professors. Find ways to disrespect your professors by questioning them publicly in class and by trying to make them look foolish.
6. Neglect personal worship, Bible reading and prayer.
9. Give your opinion as often as possible - especially in class. Ask questions that show off your knowledge instead of questions that demonstrate a genuine inquiry.
10. Speak of heretical movements, teachers, and doctrine with an air of disdain and levity.
12. Fill your life with questionable movies, television, internet, and music.
16. Don’t read to learn; read only to refute what you believe is wrong.
17. Convince yourself that you already know all this stuff.
19. Save major papers for the last possible moment so that you can ensure that you don’t really learn anything by writing them.
23. Day dream about future opportunities to the point that you get nothing out of your current opportunity to learn God’s Word.
30. Forget that your primary responsibility is care for your family through provision, shepherding, and leadership.
31. Master Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, but not the Law, Prophets, and Apostles.
32. Gain knowledge in order to merely teach others. Don’t expend the effort it takes to deal with your own heart.
34. Protect yourself from real fellowship by only talking about theology and never about your personal spiritual issues, sin, and struggles.
41. Love books and theology and ministry more than the Lord Jesus Christ.
42. Let your passion for the gospel be replaced by passion for complex doctrinal speculation.
Read the list (repeatedly - if you are in seminary).

Pastors - did he miss anything?