A sad update, but not an unexpected one.

June 30, 2008

My last post (which you can read below) was written on June 26.  In that article, I discussed the failure of several Christian denominations to deal Biblically with the issue of sexual immorality within its membership and clergy.  One day later, on June 27, the Presbyterian Church (USA) finally sealed its fate as an apostate church.  While they have been on the brink of this for many years, their General Assembly, meeting in California, voted to abolish what had been known as the “fidelity and chastity” language regarding standards of conduct for those seeking ordination as teaching elders, as related to matters of human sexuality. 

The church’s former standards included language that made it absolutely clear that all ministers must live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”  This language has been a festering sore within the liberal wing of the PCUSA, who, operating under the benevolent sounding banner of “justice” have sought to undo historic Christian and Biblical understandings of sexual immorality.  Homosexuality has always been their cause celebre, but I think a case could be made that under the liberals’ idea of “justice”, no boundaries can be drawn with respect to human sexuality.  Essentially, nothing can or should be considered immoral.  After all, if those things that are specifically labeled as immoral in scripture cannot be regarded as such, are there any limits that can be placed on human sexual behavior?  I am guessing that the liberals would argue “NO”.

The PCUSA has been dissolving gradually over the last several years.  The beneficiary of this has been the Evangelical Presbyterian Church which has not only gained individual members, but indeed entire congregations have defected from the impending, now present apostasy of the PCUSA, to join a denomination that still regards scripture as authoritative and reliable.  I suspect that this trend of defection will accelerate in the weeks and months ahead.

This development is a sad one.  My ordination as an elder in this church would have reached the 15 year milestone this December and a part of me still loves what that church once stood for.  However, what occurred last week was not completely unexpected.  Is spite of the lifetime duration of my ordination, I have not been a member of, or worshiped in a PCUSA church in probably 10 years.  As much as we would like to have seen a different outcome, the apostle Paul’s admonition has indeed come true.  What started out as a little leaven, has now leavened the whole lump. 

The irony of the location of the meeting of the General Assembly and the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court knocking down prohibitions against homosexual marriage is not lost on me.  I cannot think of a more fitting location for this former great church to effectively end its raison d’etre.

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“A little dab’ll do ya!”

June 26, 2008

Brylcreem (pronounced “brill-cream”) was a men’s hair grooming product that was huge in the early and mid 20th century.  The product produced a wet look (picture Elvis in the 1950’s) that was popular until the early 60’s when longer, shaggier, dry hair became popular.  Brylcreem was basically a combination of water, mineral oil and beeswax.  One of their product claims, in differentiating themselves from their competition, was that a man did not need to use much of the product to achieve the desired results.  Their marketing jingle that played on television and radio went like this:

“Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya.  Use more, but only if you dare.  But watch out, the gals will all pursue ya.  They’ll love to run their fingers through your hair.”

The apostle Paul tells us about “a little dab” doing much.  In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is teaching the young church in Corinth about a major issues they had failed to address, and needed to remedy.  Paul’s concern was that the issue at hand would spread throughout the church in an almost irreversible manner.  To make his point, he uses an analogy of leaven, or yeast, saying that a little bit of it will affect a whole lump of dough.

And what was the leaven that Paul was warning the Corinthian church about?  Sexual immorality.  But he was not warning about its presence in the culture around the church, he was specifically warning about its presence WITHIN the church.  And the particular sexual immorality Paul had been made aware of was of a kind and nature that even the pagans did not tolerate, specifically, a man in the church was sexually immoral with his father’s wife.  Even today, there is a disparaging profanity that describes this form of sexual immorality.

Sexual immorality is a term that, for me at least, encompasses a wide range of human sexual behavior.  Thankfully, the one identified by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 is probably a more uncommon one.  But my understanding of scripture suggests that ANY sexual contact that occurs outside the boundaries of a covenental marriage relationship between one man and one woman, would be properly classified as “sexually immoral.”  And sexual activity includes vaginal, anal and oral, in spite of the attempted redefinition of the latter by William Jefferson Clinton.  So, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, friends with benefits, incest, bestiality, and homosexuality all fit under the umbrella of “sexual immorality.”  And using that as the guide, I think it is fair to say that there is a presence of sexual immorality in our culture, and unfortunately, it is also present IN THE CHURCH!

The “leaven is already in the lump” in several of the major denominations of the Christian church in the United States.  And there is at least the appearance that little if anything is being done to comply with Paul’s instructions on what do do about it.  And what exactly are Paul’s instructions?  To not associate with anyone in the church who is sexually immoral, and to PURGE the evil (person) from among you.”  Harsh?  Yeah, I suppose it is.  But the health of the church, the body of Christ, depends on this sort of drastic action.  (Now, lest anyone think we are to abandon the sinner, that is not the case.  In Galatians 6, Paul teaches that those who are spiritual should seek to restore him/her.)

Yes, the leaven is in the lump.  The ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual man, to the office of Bishop has rendered the Episcopal Church, apostate.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) continues to wrestle with its own ordination standards year after year after year.  Thankfully, they have maintained a scriptural view of the qualifications for ministry, but the fact that they have not purged from their fellowship those who seek ordination (which by definition means they are members) and who do not cling to the so-called “fidelity and chastity” standards for the office of teaching elder found in their Book of Order, suggests that they too are apostate.  The United Methodist Church also continues to wrestle with matters of authority relative to the conduct of same-sex unions of its members, by its clergy.  The fact that this continues to be a topic of conversation suggests that this church too is falling away through its failure to comply with Paul’s clear instructions on how to deal with the matter of sexual immorality.

Just further reason why I am at peace with my self-description as being “anti-denominational.”


Okay, there it is again. Now I’m gonna deal with it.

June 25, 2008

I participate in a weekly Bible study here in our small Texas Hill Country town.  The group is an eclectic one to say the least, spanning a wide range of Christian denominations, traditions, and theology.  That said, I am relatively certain from our discussions that I am the only one who fully embraces Reformed theology.  As such, I am invariably the one who everyone glances at whenever discussions of such matters as election, predestination, eternal security and the doctrines of Grace come up.

This week was no exception as we were studying Matt. ch. 10 where Jesus instructs his disciples to leave any town that does not welcome them or listen to their words.  The fate of that town will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah according to Jesus.  As it prone to do, this caused the conversation to veer off into what I regard as a stock Arminian contention that goes something like this…”I just can’t believe that God would create people just to send them to hell!”  I’ve lost track of how many times I have heard this tired argument.  What I would like to tell them is “I don’t believe it either, so what’s the problem?”  But that is not the answer they want and more importantly, the answer they need. 

At any rate, with their statement made, the hook has been baited, thrown into the water and with beaming faces, everyone’s attention turns to me.  When this “baiting” seems purely tangential, I usually respond with something along the lines of “Who are we to argue with a sovereign God?”, which is exactly what I did this week, with the hope that we would get back on track.

However, their contention really does deserve a response.  And the reason why, is because it contains two presupposition, both of which are erroneous, either of which invalidates the whole.

First error:  God creates people.  My contention is that God no longer creates people; people create people.  Wait!  What did he say????  Now, before you declare me a heretic, please be patient and hear me out.  Did God create man?  YES.  I am a six-day creationist, so I am fully on board on that one.  Genesis chs. 1 and 2 make it clear that God created the heavens and the earth.  He literally spoke them into existence.  He separated light from darkness.  He separated earth from sky, dry ground from sea.  He gave us lights in the sky to define seasons and to govern night and day.  He filled the seas and skies and land with living creatures.  Then God took dust from the ground and formed it into a man, made in His own image, and breathed life into the man and he became a living being.  Finding that nothing else in His creation was suitable to be a helper for the man, God created a woman out of the man.  Then God blessed them and instructed them to be fruitful and multiply.  In so doing, God ordained that mankind should make more of itself and he gave the man and woman specific instructions to do just that.  So, I contend that here in Genesis ch. 2, God ended His creation of people, and here began the process of people creating people.

Hopefully I have not lost you and you are still reading.  If so, let me make myself clear. 

Do I believe God is  “engaged” in the human reproductive processes that He, Himself, ordained?  I believe He is.  He is “engaged” at the very least by means of knowledge, even foreknowledge (remember, I am a Calvinist).  

Do people, even though created by other people, still have supreme value to God?  Of course they do. Why send His son to redeem them if this were not the case?  Furthermore, a part of our nature is designed with an eternal quality.  Our soul is a gift from God and makes us distinct from all other creation and is a remnant of our original design in His image and His likeness.  

Does God sometimes intervene miraculously in the physical and gestational reproductive processes between people?  I believe he does, according to His will.  And scripture proves this with examples of old or barren wombs miraculously becoming fertile. 

Do people intervene in God’s ordained plans for the multiplication of human kind?  Yes, and sometimes those acts are outright sin. 

But what is clear to me is that God, while infinitely able, no longer acts in the role of creator of people.  For one thing, if He were still doing so, why is the outcome not more consistent with His perfect nature?  Every human being I am familiar with (yes, apart from Jesus) was and/or is seriously flawed.  Is it even possible for God to make something less than perfect?  I think not.  Instead, God uses His originally perfect, now corrupted creation to accomplish the task He gave it…to be fruitful and multiply.  People create people, and we do so imperfectly. 

While this first error may be an argument over semantics I think it nevertheless, points to an important distinction and error in the first part of this Arminian contention.  While we could quibble endlessly over this, the second error is not one of semantics.  Rather, it points to the very nature of God and nature of man. 

Second error:  God selects (elects) some people to go to hell.  This is the argument that Arminians use against predestination.  And it goes something like this:  “If God chooses some to go to heaven, then by default, He is choosing some to go to hell.”  On the surface, that seems like a reasonable contention.  However, it is a gross misrepresentation of what the Bible teaches us about the nature of man and the righteousness of God.  This Arminian contention is really the definition of “double predestination,” which I do not believe exists but is nonetheless an all too common mis-characterization of Reformed theology.

If we pick up where we left off in scripture, Genesis ch. 3 makes it clear that “the fall” of Adam and Eve had dire consequences.  Sin entered the world and caused what would eventually be physical death for those who committed it.  And apart from grace, this sin also caused a separation from God.  The very nature of our parents, Adam and Eve, changed because of their disobedience. 

In Genesis ch.5, we see the reproductive processes we discussed above, being played out, as Adam and Eve had other children after Cain and Abel.  Seth was the first, “made in his (Adam’s) own likeness, after his (Adam’s) image.”  Distinct from the perfect likeness and image of God that Adam bore before the fall, this new human likeness and human image were fallen, disobedient, sinful and separated from God.  These character flaws have not departed from mankind, and we pass them on from one generation to another.  And as egg and sperm come together and human life begins, sin is present in that new life by imputation from our first parents Adam and Eve, and every succeeding generation.  And this imputed sin alone is sufficient to separate us eternally from God.  But this inherited inclination for sin also leads us to engage in our own personal sin, which is also sufficient, alone, but especially when combined with our imputed/inherited sin, to separate us eternally from a righteous God.

So, mankind is destined for hell, based on its imputed/inherited sinful nature and its own personal sins.  Mankind from birth stands already condemned.  God does not have to select (or elect) anyone to go to hell.  That is our deserved destiny.

No, God does not create people to send them to hell.  People create people who are deserving of hell, and it is only by God’s mercy through grace, that some are spared this fate.


Bamm!

June 19, 2008

Some of you may have heard about the “revival” that has been taking place in Lakeland, Florida under the leadership of Todd Bentley.  Well, here you can see what is going on there. 

While I am absolutely convinced of God’s power to perform miracles, I am not convinced that this sort of spectacle is a representation of it.  This is disturbing stuff.  I’m not sure whether Bentley would be better suited to be starring on TLC’s Miami Ink or the Food Network as a stand-in for Emeril Lagasse. 

MAYBE I missed it in the 9+ excruciating minutes, but did he ever pray over someone in Jesus’ name, or was his preferred annointing something more like “Bamm!”


What’s in a name?

June 18, 2008

For many years, I worked for a division of The Coca-Cola Company.  It did not take me long after starting my career with the company to realize that its most priceless assets were its brands.  Specifically, the brand names that it uses to market its products.  The flagship brand of course is “Coca-Cola” or “Coke.”  Both of these names are literally known and understood world wide.  Studies consistently list them as among the top one or two brand names in the world in terms of recognition.

In addition to recognition, those brands are also understood to MEAN something.  They MEAN brown colored, sweet tasting, carbonated soft drink, with a particular and unique flavor that is consistent around the world.  [The slight variations that people claim are the result of variations in the taste of the water used to make the product and the type of sweetener that is used, which does vary from market to market.]

Because words, including words that are used as brand names, mean something, people tend to rely on them.  The meaning of the word “Coke” was so important to people that when The Coca-Cola Company temporarily changed the formulation of Coca-Cola in 1985, there was a near revolution among consumers.  The so-called “New Coke” fiasco has become legendary, and a classic example of a company asking the wrong questions, not listening clearly to their consumers, and relying too heavily on market research that is critically flawed in its methodology.

The names, or “brands” if you will, that represent the denominations also have meaning.  Actually, that’s not right.  I should say, they used to have meaning.  Fifty years ago you could say the word “Presbyterian,” or “Lutheran,” or “Methodist,” or “Baptist,” and someone familiar with them would have been able to say what those words meant.  And by meaning, I am suggesting an explanation could be given for what they believed and stood for.  And those explanations would likely have been pretty consistent across several responders.  I contend that is not the case anymore.

But on a more contemporary level, and because the news is fresh, I will “pick on” the Baptists to make a point.  If I say the word “baptist” to describe a church, tell me what its theology will be?  Can you do it?  I will save you the time and effort.  The answer is there is no way to tell.  By simply describing a church as “Baptist” you could be exposed to teaching that is on either end of the theological continuum characterized on one end as Arminian and on the other as Calvinist.  The differences between these two theological models are NOT insignificant.  In fact, the differences are huge, speaking directly to what one believes about the nature and “abilities” of man, and the character and sovereignty of God.

Want proof of this contradiction?  The flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY is organized, staffed and teaches a theology that is decidedly Reformed.  They are Calvinistic from top to bottom administratively and academically.  While not all of its graduates will fully embrace Reformed theology in their ministries, I dare say many and perhaps MOST will.  And incoming students are making decisions to attend Southern based on the seminary’s clearly stated doctrinal position. 

Standing in stark contradiction to this reality, the Southern Baptist Convention elected with a huge majority, a pastor named Johnny Hunt as its president earlier this month.  Hunt is strongly Arminian.  In fact, he is hosting a conference in his church in Georgia in November of this year, to refute Calvinism.  The outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, wrote a book critical of Calvinism entitled Trouble With The Tulip, referring to the acronym used to describe the so-called 5 Points of Calvinism. 

With this tension in mind, if someone were to tell you they are Baptist, or that they worship in a Baptist church, what do they believe about the sovereignty of God, or what teaching influence are they under theologically?  The short answer is: you can’t tell by virtue of the “brand”.  In fact, it seems that the only thing that is consistent in Baptist churches is an adherence to credo-baptism, or believer’s baptism by immersion.  However, as a denomination, they are not unique in this particular dogma.  So aside from this not-unique distinction, what do the Baptists stand for that differentiates them from other denominations, or for that matter from “non” or “inter” donominational Christian fellowships who express a preference for credo-baptism?  I don’t ask that rhetorically.  I would love to know.

Similarly confusing contradictions between the historic and contemporary understandings of other denominations can also be identified.  The issues at the root of these contradictions will likely be the subject of future posts as I explain my recently articulated bias toward “anti-denominationalism.”  But for now, the bottom line of this post is that I contend that denominational identities and meanings have become, at best, unreliable.  At their worst, they could be regarded as downright deceptive.  Thus, in losing their meaning, they have lost their utility and their purpose.  This in turn makes them largely meaningless, and on some important levels, irrelevant.

As a final thought, is it only me, or has anyone else noticed how many new churches are sprouting up, that are NOT using denominational names as a part of their identity?  Are these all “non” or “inter” denominational churches?  Or, is it just in vogue to use some amorphous name?  Or, are new church planters intentionally avoiding being identified with a particular denomination?  I know for an absolute fact, that in at least some cases, avoidance is a delibrate strategy!


Mancation

June 17, 2008

For many years, my wife has taken short trips with her sorority pledge class sisters to fun destinations around the U.S.  It has been a wonderful way for these ladies to stay connected.  A core group of 5 or 6 have been consistent in making these get-aways happen for probably 25 plus years, on an almost annual basis.

I had my chance to take just such a trip over the Memorial Day weekend.  I am just now posting about it, as pictures are just now coming to life.  What a trip it was.  Five of us, all college fraternity brothers, with other common linkages such as former roommates, and former swim team members, took off on an exciting white water rafting adventure on the Rio Grande River in northern New Mexico.          

Our first night was spent in Taos, which is where we connected with our river guide.  Early Saturday morning, be headed about 30 miles north of Taos to begin our trip on the river.  We hiked down a steep canyon for about 40 minutes, through wind and a brief snow shower.  Our rafts and other equipment were taken down on the backs of mules.  Donning wetsuits and rain gear, we set off on a hair raising white water extravaganza. 

                Kit, Chuck, Henry, Mark and Mark

We hit our first rapids within about 10 minutes of our launch.  And the rest of day one was both exhilarating and exhausting as we fought the incredible power of the river to keep ourselves in the raft and the raft right side up.  On this first day, one of our brothers was pitched from the raft in the midst of a horrific set of rapids known as Dead Texan Hole.  Fortunately, the one to get thrown out was both a former collegiate swimmer and, perhaps more importantly, is from Oklahoma, while the rest of us ARE from Texas.  Obviously, a catastrophe was narrowly avoided by this fortunate selection of who wound up in the water.

We spent Saturday night on the banks of the Rio Grande.  After a wonderful dinner prepared by our guides, it was off to our tents and sleeping bags.  It was a delightful night, but very cold.  The only sounds piecing the still night were the faint sound of the last set of rapids we floated before eddying out for the night, and the gentle purring of at least two of my fraternity brothers whose snoring sounded a bit like an idling chain saw.  Frost covered everything Sunday morning, but we warmed quickly under a spotless blue sky. 

Day Two of these overnight raft trips is normally a quiet day, with many fewer rapids and a day to relax and enjoy the scenery.  Not so this year, as the Rio Grande is running at levels not seen in many years.  A bunch of river guides who usually head to the Grand Canyon this time of year for more water are staying put in New Mexico.  Rapids that are usually rated 2’s and 3’s, are now 4+, with 5 being the highest rating that commercial river runners can legally navigate, according to New Mexico law.  So, with this in mind, we approached our second day with lots of excitement but some apprehension.

As we neared the end of our trip, the most extreme set of rapids awaited us.  You could hear the roar of the water several hundred yards up stream and you could see the churning waters and mist swirling above the tempest ahead.  As we approached we could see an oar boat in front of us trying to figure out how to navigate what lay ahead.  They obviously picked the wrong line, as they capsized right in the middle of Souse Hole.  We were next!  We hit it hard and wet, but a good line.  Nevertheless, a deep hole followed by a sudden unexpected shift to the left as we emerged tossed yours truly from the raft, where I had an opportunity to demonstrate my collegiate swimming skills, albeit for a very brief time before being yanked back into the raft by my brothers.  Here are just a few shots that do not even begin to approximate the sheer exhilaration of the 40 some-odd miles of Rio Grande that we floated.

               Approaching Souse Hole

               In the hole!

               Yours truly, beginning my exit from the raft

Sunday evening, we enjoyed a relaxing dinner on the old plaza in downtown Taos.  It was a great opportunity to debrief and to ponder our next adventure.  Lord willing, there WILL be another!

              


Some explanations, before the explanation.

June 16, 2008

A few days ago, I posted an article where I said that I would identify myself as “anti-denominational.”  This was in response to the question “what are you?” with respect to my church affiliation.  As I begin to explain my thinking, it is important that I make a few things clear on the front end.

First, I am by no means angry.  I have been blessed richly by the various churches that I have been associated with as a congregant and as a leader. 

Second, neither I, nor my family have ever been “injured” in any way whatsoever by any individual church leader, congregation, or denomination.

Third, I am not suggesting that anyone should abandon their affiliation with any particular church or denomination.  Perceiving myself to be “anti-denominational” is a personal matter and not a cause that I am teaching, aside from explaining myself here.

Fourth, I am in no way suggesting that an effort ought to be put forth to seek the demise of the denominations.  My self-description as “anti-denominational” is not a personal call-to-action to bring about this end, and I am certainly not suggesting anyone else should either.  Furthermore, I am not sure any particular deconstruction effort needs to be put forth, as the denominations are doing a remarkably fine job of moving themselves toward extinction.

Fifth, while I don’t expect everyone (or more realistically, anyone) to agree with my views, they do not come without being informed by personal experience.  I am not just a spectator on the sidelines throwing rocks.  Our family has moved geographically several times.  These moves have afforded us the opportunity to become associated with a variety of churches.  I currently worship in a church in a small rural town that is a part of a large mainline denomination.  We love the people that make up this church and we have been made to feel welcome to a greater degree than we might have originally expected.  I do not agree with all of the theology that represents the doctrinal underpinnings of the denomination, but I have a wonderful relationship with the pastor, and we challenge each other in our differences with a mutual respect and affection for one another.  

Before we moved to the country, we were members of a church in a large city that described itself as inter-denominational.  However, it had decided leanings toward the particular denomination that was the basis of the pastor’s seminary education and original ordination.  For several years prior to that, our family worshiped in a church that was a member of a large denomination, different from the one we currently fellowship with.  And in yet another city, I was ordained as an elder of a large mainline protestant denomination different from the two mentioned above. 

While these transitions might appear to be the product of some sort of theological indecisiveness, or “shopping,” I can assure you that was not the case.  The theology that I profess and which can be found stated elsewhere on this site, is not a new formation by any stretch of the imagination.  We were very intentional about each church decision we have made, have not regretted any of them, and have benefited from each.  And those benefits have not been limited to discipleship.  Being a part of these various denominations have also provided an inside look at the way a variety of denominations operate.  They have helped to form my denominational worldview.

More another time.