JUSTIFICATION BY BELIEF

The following is a post from Ron DiGiacomo, expressing some reflections on the recent discussion here on the nature of faith. Is it assent alone, or assent + trust?


It has recently been argued by some that we are justified by belief alone and that receiving and resting in Christ unpacks what it is to believe. In other words, receiving and resting in Christ is considered a figure of speech by which belief in Christ can be defined. Trusting in Christ does not complete justifying belief because trusting is synonymous with believing. Accordingly, to add receiving and resting in Christ to belief is either (i) redundant, (ii) strips belief of part of its meaning, needlessly placing it somewhere else, or (iii) to add something additional to the instrumental cause of justification. The first deviation would be a matter of muddled thinking, but the gospel would remain intact although jumbled. The second would be purely a matter of semantics. Whereas the third construct would undermine the grace by which we are saved, appropriated by belief alone.

Those who promote the belief alone view are sometimes met with tedious rejoinders such as the false dichotomy “we’re saved by Christ not propositional belief.” Notwithstanding, more serious objections have been raised by Teaching and Ruling Elders against the belief alone position because of the group’s insistence upon equating belief with assent. This is where things get a bit dicey. Most of the things we assent to, whether a priori or a posteriori, are not volitional. One does not will to believe that God exists any more than a child chooses to believe he is being fed by his mother. These are mental assents that are not discursive; they are immediate and without reflection. The will is bypassed. However, the gospel always engages the will as the unbeliever counts the cost and by grace abandons all hope in himself while looking to Christ alone, finding rest in Him. Accordingly, it is inadequate to reduce justifying faith to belief alone when belief is reduced to assent without remainder.

It is at this point someone will assert that assent is synonymous with resting in or relying upon Christ. In this context is it is opined that to assent to Christ dying on the cross for my sins is to trust the proposition is true. Albeit the premise is true, this observation turns on a subtle equivocation over the word trust. Indeed, to trust a proposition is true is no different than to assent to its truth. So, in that sense trust and assent are synonyms. However, to trust that something is true is not the same thing as to trust in that something. The latter idea of trust carries the meaning of reliance upon, whereas the former use of trust merely conveys an intellectual assent that might or might not be accompanied by the reliance sort of trust. Accordingly, to argue that trust and assent are synonyms in this way is to implicitly deny the need to willfully trust upon Christ alone for salvation!

As a last ditch effort some have argued that it is impossible to assent to the truth of the gospel without justification following. They draw a distinction between (i) assent in non-spiritual matters (allowing for assent to obtain without trust) and (ii) assent with respect to the gospel (suggesting that assent is inseparable to trust, even its equivalent). They reason that true assent to the gospel is only granted at conversion. Therefore, assent is trust because the two are inseparable where the gospel is concerned. Rather than debate the premise, it’s much easier to concede it for argument’s sake in order to save time in refuting the conclusion that assent is trust. Even if assent were a sufficient condition for pardon in Christ that would not mean that assent equates to trust any more than assent is regeneration. It would merely mean that when assent is present pardon obtains, just like when pardon obtains regeneration is present. Since when may a sufficient condition be equated with the relevant components that comprise the state of affairs within which the condition operates?!

In sum, assent pertains to accepting something as true, even possibly with no reflection, whereas trust (or non-trust) pertains to the degree of relevance a person might assign to the “assented to” proposition. Assent is a mental act that need not be accompanied by volition; whereas trust in Christ is always volitional in nature. Assent always pertains to accepting the truth of a proposition, whereas how one might respond in light of assent (e.g. trust, rest, exuberance, etc.) is commonly classified under the philosophical heading of disposition (which is not propositional assent). Whereas trust and other dispositions can evidence assent, dispositions need not accompany any given assent since assents can be mundane, occur without reflection and, also, be subjectively perceived as inconsequential. (This is why philosophers consider disposition to be a poor indicator of the presence of assent.)

If assent and trust were synonyms under the gospel, then either they both would mean cognitive conviction or else volitional reliance. Conviction of truth (assent) could never give way to reliance upon truth (trust).  If assent and trust mean the same thing, then either we cannot rely upon our convictions or else we can only rely upon things that don’t convince us. Conviction without reliance leaves no room for trusting in Christ; whereas reliance without conviction paves the way to trusting in Christ while not assenting to the gospel.

How Jesus Runs the Church

No More of Man’s Ideas,
Instead Only Christ’s Rule!

by Reed DePace

My completing seminary included a move to a new denomination, the PCA. Coming from a denomination whose tradition was rooted in German pietism and Dispensationalism my understanding of how God works through church government was decidedly uninformed. My advisor, Dr. Richard Gaffin, thought it a kindness to recommend to a man just finished with all the hard reading of his seminary classes, a relatively easy work on this subject, James Bannerman’s two volumes: The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church.

And yes, if you’ve had opportunity to consider Bannerman’s work, you know I am having a little fun. Sincerely though, I remain grateful for Dr. Gaffin’s recommendation. Working through Bannerman over the next two years was fundamental to my current understanding and security in my church government practices.

ImageYet, for many a reader, especially elders, Bannerman is just going to be a bit too much. So what to do? For a class I am taking this summer I just finished reading Guy Prentiss Waters’ How Jesus How to Runs the Church. This IS the book you should read. Dr. Waters covers all the ground of Bannerman, if not in as much detail then certainly as effectively in greater simplicity.

The greatest thing about this book is how clearly Waters roots the points he makes in the Scriptures themselves. Rather than a technical book on church government, this reads like a theology book, explaining, well, exactly what the title declares, how Jesus (actually) runs the (His) Church. This Scripture-rooting strength means that applying what Waters teaches easily becomes an expression of faith. And it is only through faith that Jesus is present to superintend a church.

This book is going in our church’s officer training course. I am urging our present elders to read it. I urge you as well.

by Reed DePace
[I receive no remuneration for this recommendation.]

An Irenic Conversation

by Reed DePace

Last year after GA I made a post expressing concern about the apparent unwillingness to discuss differences. Here is a post from TE James Hakim making the same point in a gentle and peaceful way:


An Irenic Conversation

Husband: as you know, I like to hear your concerns and address them.
Wife: I’m so glad, because I have this list of concerns, based on our current situation
Husband: I’ve reviewed your list, and note that we addressed some of these things 37 years ago and others 15 years ago. Since we said the correct things at those times, it would be out of order for me to reaffirm similar things again. Besides, if we talk about it again, I might get into trouble for saying the wrong thing this time.
Wife: Oh… well… I’d really still like to talk about
Husband: [interrupting] I’m sorry, that discussion is out of order at this time
Wife: Well… there’s this other issue that matters much to me. There is a wrong decision that we have made that threatens our marriage entirely. Here’s my report on that…
Husband: I see. Yes, that might have been the wrong decision, but we made it in the right way.
Wife: Well, can we revisit it?
Husband: No, the right way of making decisions like this is to never revisit them.
Wife: I’d like to change what we call “the right way” of making decisions. Here is my proposal…
Husband: Even though this is something totally new, it incorporates one element of the way we used to make decisions, which I didn’t like back then. Besides, this would be very inconvenient.
Wife: But if doing things rightly in a way that saves our marriage is inconvenient, isn’t it worth a little inconvenience?
Husband: If we talk about this more we’ll be late for lunch. This part of the discussion is over.
Wife: It is? Well, could we thank God and pray together?
Husband: If we do that, you might think that I was approving what we were thanking God and praying for.
Wife: Is that bad?
Husband: Well, if we approve things that God approves of, but the people that hate Him disapprove of them, we might offend those people, and then they wouldn’t like us enough to stop hating God.
Wife: But… isn’t it the point that we thank God and pray to Him because He is the One who makes people stop hating Him, not they themselves?
Husband: No. It makes it hard to get a hearing from them.
Wife: Are you really against thanking God and praying to Him?
Husband: uh… er… ok, let’s do it real quick
[short prayer]
Husband: I’m glad we could have such an irenic conversation. I feel great about how good our marriage is.

Disclaimer: any apparent resemblance to recent ecclesiastical events is intentional, but the author is grateful for any discrepancies between the analogy and the reality. In fact, the author hopes that there are many, many more of these discrepancies than he has so far been able to identify.

We are Salt & Light, Yes?

If the PCA says NO! to Child Sexual Abuse,
Why Not NO! to All Sexual Immorality?

by Reed DePace

The latest general assembly (GA) of my denomination, the PCA, passed an overture (no. 6) that: 1) resoundingly condemning child sexual abuse, and 2) urging member churches and denominational bodies to take this issue seriously and address it in their day to day practices. Given that this horrifying expression of the dominion of Satan is indeed sweeping our nation, I wholeheartedly support this condemnation and admonition.

Yet this same GA struggled to pass another overture, even more mildly worded, with less stringent condemnation and less sweeping advice. This overture, no. 43, addressed two additional satanic horrors capturing the hearts of our nation: abortion and same-sex marriage. It only offered one small and insignificant call to action: expressing prayerful thanks for those striving to bring the gospel to bear on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

The GA committee assigned to pre-review and advise on how to respond to overtures before GA, recommended that Overture 43 be declined (by a vote of 45-28). This is the same committee of men who recommended the GA approve the Overture no. 6 on child sexual abuse. It was only upon the significant efforts of a minority of this committee to bring an alternative recommendation (to affirm) that Overture 43 had opportunity for some consideration. (I’m pretty sure current assembly rules only allow for GA for an up or down vote, no debate, on the committee’s recommendation.) This substitute motion from the minority of the Overtures Committee reads:

“Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage;

“Be it further resolved that the General Assembly pause and offer prayer to the Lord on behalf of such ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians.”

And even then this rather mild expression passed only by a small majority.

If this leaves you scratching your head, I understand. Let me offer some explanation (informed by similar “decline” decisions of previous general assemblies).

The Overtures Committee (i.e., the majority) gave a list of four reasons for recommending to decline Overture 43. The first reason appears to be the most substantive:

“This overture is not needed. There is no lack of clarity regarding the PCA’s stand for the sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life, biblically or constitutionally (WFC 24.1). Furthermore, we do not need an overture such as this to pray for, or encourage, those who suffer unjustly.”

This reason applies to the subject of Overture 6 as well. In fact, remove the words “sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life” from the reason listed and substitute the words “child sexual abuse” and you can see what I mean. Indeed, the remaining three reasons given for declining Overture 43 could also be applied, with little tweaking, to Overture 6. So why was the latter easily passed and the former barely?

I expect the difference is to be seen in the application of a doctrine called the spirituality of the church to Overture 43 but not to Overture 6.  While a sound and wise doctrine, it can be easily co-opted for use in denying the Church’s responsibility to speak prophetically to the nations in her witness of the gospel. “We’re not supposed to get involved in politics,” ends up becoming an excuse (even unintentionally) to defend an unwillingness to obey God in speaking as:

A watchman to the Church:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. (Ezk 3:17 ESV)

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  (Col 1:28)

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.  (1Th 5:14)

And prophetically to a nation:

But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the LORD.” (Jer 12:17)

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jer 18:7-8)

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything excepx to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16)

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps 2:10-12)

I get not issuing political opinions. I agree completely that this is not only NOT the Church’s calling, to engage in it actually diminishes Her calling to proclaim the gospel.

Yet I fear we can become misguided in our efforts to apply this doctrine. I sincerely cannot quite fathom why the GA would speak clearly, “child sexual abuse is wrong!” and then hesitate to speak clearly, “abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong!” Neither is a statement of political policy. When intentionally connected to the gospel (something without which we should not speak), both are expressions consistent with the command that we love our neighbors as ourselves and warn them of judgment to come.

For the record, I’d be grateful to see some Presbytery propose an overture which simply:

  1. Identifies a laundry list of sexual immorality that is defining our national character,
  2. Affirms that the Scripxures are clear on the condemnation of these,
  3. Reminds that the only hope for the rescue from the deadliness of these soul honey-traps is the gospel,
  4. Acknowledges in repentance and faith that we ourselves are not without guilt save Christ in these sins,* and
  5. Admonishes our churches to prayerfully re-affirm our calling and commitment to go and rescue those trapped in sexual immorality through the ministry of the gospel.

For those who will admonish me, “but our standards ALREADY (in effect) say such things; there is no need to repeat ourselves,” my response will be a simple, “and where would you and I be if God did not repeatedly, page after page, remind and admonish us of our sin and need of Jesus Christ?” If God sees fit to repeat Himself, why should not His Church follow His example?

[*Edit: a friend in a comment below brought up the concern of the appearance of hypocrisy. Sexual sins are so potent in terms producing guilt and shame that speaking openly about them immediately provokes all in hearing to respond, in force. Unless one has a good grip on Jesus and His cleansing the tendency is to marshal one's own fleshly resources to a defense marked by attack (often all out). It helps them if the Christian identifies his own culpability. Then they have hope you are not just a hypocrite, but one who does indeed love them.]

by Reed DePace

Taking God at His Word

by Reed DePace

Others have said more and better about this new book from Kevin DeYoung, but I wanted to give it a brief plug as well.

Taking God at His Word

This is not a simplistic book, but it is simple. This is not a scholarly book, but it is studied. In short on this short book, this is one of the best books on the doctrine of Scripture available. Inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, perspicuity, authority and necessity, DeYoung covers all the essential components.

He does so in his relaxed apologetic style. He offers not simply an easy explanation of the Bible’s teaching on each of these topics. He does so with a gentle and persuasive expression of why we need these characteristics in the Bible.

I think everyone who cares to confront the resurging denial of the Bible as God’s own word needs to have multiple copies of this book on hand. This is not for their own reading necessarily (as most will care because they’ve already done some study on the doctrine of Scripture), but for giving out to others. This book is great for young converts and immature believers, for those who find a post-modern approach to life appealing or alarming, for those who never quite learned this subject, or who worry about some loved ones who appear to be jettisoning this essential subject to the ministry of the gospel.

Pick up a few copies and give them away. You will be glad you did.

by Reed DePace

Another son of God movie

Why I’m NOT Seeing the Movie Son Of God

by Reed DePace

Yeah, expect some will disagree with this. Follow this argument with me:

  • Is Jesus God?
  • If you say “yes”, does the 2nd Commandment (Ex 20:4) apply to Jesus?
  • If you say, “yes”, nuff said – you better not go see the movie.

If you say, ‘yeah but” … A common objection to my argument is the idea that the context of the 2nd commandment is about images of God for purposes of worship. I.e., as long as the image made is not for worship (e.g., teaching), its ok. Well, let’s follow that argument:

  • What is the only proper, biblical response to God?
  • Worship (Dt 10:12; Ps 99; Mt 22:37)
  • If Jesus is God (Joh 1:1-5),
  • Then what is the only proper, the biblical response to Him?
  • Uh, worship.

Think about the response on the Mt of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1, ff.) – worship. Think about John’s response on Patmos Island (Rev 1:17) – worship. Think about the response of Doubting Thomas (Jh 20:28) – worship. Think about what Paul says is the proper response to Jesus in light of His great salvation (Rom 12:1)– worship. It is only when folks DO NOT recognize Jesus as God that they give a wrong response (Mt 4:9; 11:31; Mk 6:51; Jh 12:37) – NOT worship.

Think about the response of the 24 elders in heaven, responding to Jesus (Rev 5:8-14) – they worship the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Who are they attempting to picture in the movie Son of God? The ascended, enthroned Jesus!

Even the producers of the movie hope for a worship response to their portrayal of Jesus:

Mark Burnett: “The disciples, they don’t know they’re in the Bible. They’re following their charismatic leader. They later realize it’s the son of God. It’s God on earth. So they fall in love.” (I.e., they worship!)

Roma Downey: [In seeing the movie] “And you get an opportunity to fall in love with him [Jesus], I think. You understand who he is and what he was doing and that he came and did that for us. I think it’s very humbling.” (I.e., worship!)

(http://www.aintitcool.com/node/66327)

Respectfully, I’d ask those who allow themselves this exception, “Images of Jesus for non-worship purposes are not violations of the 2nd Commandment” to re-think their understanding of their relationship with Jesus. Do you really think that even once in the New Heavens/New Earth you will ever respond to Jesus with something less than worship? “Yo! Jesus Dude, hey Baby, how’s it, er, oops, sorry God.”

Do you think there is some exception in the Already/Not-Yet of our present relationship with Jesus? When you preach, teach or witness to people, do you want them to think of Jesus as anything less than God to whom they owe all the love of their heart-soul-mind-strength? I.e., do you want them to not worship Him?

So, no, I’m not going to see this movie. But I don’t think this is not a matter of mere private conviction. I am very concerned that I live amidst a Church in America that thinks so little of the 2nd Commandment that the argument I just made is not even worthy of consideration. “Legalism!” and with a sweeping gesture, the issue is ignored.

In recent preparation for a sermon on Jeroboam II I ran across a comment (can’t find where now) in which the person observed that the reason this king, great in many ways, was still considered evil, was because he followed his namesake in violating the 2nd Commandment (2Ki 14:24). Why is that so bad? Why is it wrong to image God? Because if you get the image of God wrong, you get your understanding of God wrong. If you don’t understand God, who He is, His nature, there is no hope. Remember, true wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. (Pro 1:7) Getting God’s image right requires submission to His own self-description. Nothing is more foundational to this than His command – don’t image God!

I.O.W., blowing the 2nd Commandment results in worshiping God according to your own understanding. Need we be reminded that left to ourselves we worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator? (Rom 1:25, read the context!)

  • So, if Jesus’ self-description is that He is God (Joh 10:58-59), and
  • The only proper response to God is worship (Ps 99; Rom 12:1), and
  • God judges getting His image wrong as an evil worthy of His highest condemnation (Rom 1:18-32),

What might we expect to see in a Church that willy-nilly ignores Jesus at this point of command?

The Church in America is already experiencing the discipline of generations of getting the gospel wrong (the essence of Jesus’ self-description). Could it be that one factor in the Church’s failure is her eagerness to support portraying Jesus on film? Since the first movie went on the reel, one estimate is that there have been over 1,000 movies made about Jesus (IMDB listing, top 30). Over a dozen actors have portrayed Jesus. If putting Jesus on film is so valuable, such a great tool for the Church, why is the Church in America so sick?

Numerous “leading” pastors are actively supporting this movie, seeing it as a great tool for the support of the Jesus they preach and teach (bit.ly/Pastors4SofGmovie). Among them is a man who denies the Trinity. Another teaches the prosperity-gospel heresy. Others are hardly stalwarts in proclaiming the Jesus imaged in the Bible.

Seriously, this is going to be another Passion of the Christ (2004). That movie was so great that a wave of remorse and repentance swept our land; abortion was ended, no fault divorce was reversed, and sexual immorality was reigned in. Oh, wait, um …

God is not mocked. We are reaping what we’ve sown. Even if this movie followed the gospel accounts word for word, it would still violate the 2nd Commandment. Yes, God can draw lines with crooked sticks. But He does that in mercy. He certainly does not use crooked sticks who celebrate their crookedness, and flaunt it as a strength to be used to achieve God’s will.

Think about what Jesus said to Thomas, who would not believe and worship until he saw with his own eyes, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed.” (Joh 20:29)

Don’t put Jesus to the test on this one. Don’t go see this movie. You’ll find He more than strengthens your faith!

by Reed DePace

Persecution in America? Chicken Little vs. the Ostrich

by Reed DePace

In the wake of the two same sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court I wrote to a group of ministerial friends and acquaintances asking for copies of their church’s marriage policies. I did so because I expect churches and pastors will be facing, in just a few years, at least civil assaults via this issue.

Some reaction to my concern was that I was being an alarmist. Another labeled my concern absurd (def.: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life).

O.k., maybe like Chicken Little I don’t know an acorn from persecution. Yet, before going gaily on your way, I’d ask you to at least consider the discussion a bit more fully. Maybe the following articles will help:

I do not believe the goal is mere legitimization. No, I think that which is pushing homosexuality across our culture is a greater moral goal, one with two components. This goal is to secure the acknowledgement, in all parts of our culture:

  1. Of the moral superiority of homosexuality, and
  2. Of the moral depravity of any who deny this (and so, must be treated as the worst bigots in history, e.g., KKK, Nazis, etc.).

Think I’m Chicken Little? Stanley Hauerwas, “America’s Best Theologian” (Time Magazine, 2001) began to make just such an argument back in 1993. The Bible is already well on its way to being labeled morally degenerate in terms of its moral condemnation of homosexuality. Already opponents of same sex marriage are shying away from making a moral-based argument.

Whether I’m Chicken Little or not, at the very least the homosexual juggernaut (as another friend labels it) is on the move. Where it stops, and what it crushes along the way may be debatable. It should hardly be a debatable point that it is on an (humanly) unstoppable roll.

Will pastors face persecution via the same sex marriage issue? Christian laymen already are:

Oh, and a church has experienced persecution over this issue.

So what should we do in response? I think there are at least three faith-responses we can offer that we can say are both our Father’s marching orders and carry His promise of blessing in response:

  1. Make reasonable preparations (Matthew 10:16; Colossians 4:5; Philippians 2:15). Investigate whether or not you or church has unnecessary legal exposure in the ways in which you offer services to non-members. Take appropriate measures to remove or mitigate this exposure.
  2. Pray for God to send us into these fields that are ripe for the Harvest (John 4:35; Matthew 9:36-38). The truth is that those in homosexuality are destroying themselves. They, their family and friends are suffering the worst of the effects of the fall, just short of what a Christ-less eternity brings.
  3. Love those who consider us their enemies by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28): God will surely do in our generation what He has done in the past (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Imagine the joy you, saved from your depravity, will experience standing beside your brother or sister who was once your enemy trapped in homosexuality’s depravity.

I do hope I am just warning about acorns. But I don’t think this is the case. So I’ll see the charge that I’m being absurd and raise a “don’t be naïve!” Or maybe I can put it this way: I’d rather be Chicken Little than an ostrich.

by Reed DePace

GA Debate Squashing– a PCUS Déjà Vu?

by Reed DePace

Reflecting on how this GA went, one friend observed that in the PCA we use procedure to squash discussion. Whether that was the intention or not, from what I saw at this GA, his observation is right on the money.

I understand we need procedures to effectively function. I realize that the sheer number of commissioners at GA presents a challenge to having reasonable discussion on matters. I understand that the Rules of Assembly Operation have been compiled to make things both fair and effective for all voices. I appreciate that Roberts Rules of Order provide a means for even the strongest of opponents to disagree with one another and remain civil and committed to one another in Christian love.

Yet … it looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics. This GA had all the appearances of two parties, both with their positions mapped out ahead of time, trying to use the process to achieve their own ends. And, at least from my perspective, it didn’t look an awful lot like one side wanted to actually consider what the other side had to say. In fact, I got the distinct impression that one side came with one grand agenda item in view: squash the other side’s dissent.

As I have no first hand evidence of the plans of either side, I’ll leave my speculations at the level of appearances. Still, even at this level, things were not good at GA. I’m not imputing motives to anyone. And at the same time, I was offered little by way of explanation of motives. I’m not the most informed guy, believe it or not. And it would have helped immensely if men from the one side would have respected men like me enough to give us a clearer presentation of their reasons for proposing actions that effectively squashed the debate from the other side.

One egregious example was over a recommendation from the Nominations Committee regarding what to do in the event that a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder from the same Presbytery were each nominated for the same committee. The rules won’t allow both to be elected to the same committee (i.e., an effort to make sure a presbytery does not have too much influence on a committee?). The practice (precedent) of previous GA’s is to take up the election of the TE first. If he gets elected, this automatically disqualifies the RE. A recommendation (purportedly) came from the Nominating Committee to swap this order, to take up the election of the RE first.

My question is why? Why change the current practice of taking up the TE election first? I’ve gone over the Nominating Committee Minutes and I cannot find anything on this recommendation (I did not see anything in the floor minutes either). It was not a motion from this Committee, for sure.

So why the recommendation? Was the recommendation from the whole committee? If so, why did they not simply present it as an actual motion? If it was just a recommendation from some on the committee, why did they propose it? What were they thinking? Understanding their reasons for the recommendation sure would have made it easier for me to make an informed conscientious decision with my vote; something I am accountable before God to do!

Was the reason because of some appearance of unfairness to Ruling Elders? If so, then why wasn’t that voiced? More importantly, if this was the motive, then TE David Coffin’s motion (a coin toss each time) would actually have positively addressed that, securing a visible fairness. I really appreciated one brother’s perfection of Coffin’s motion, adding biblical reasoning to it. If this was the reason, then why didn’t the other side support the motion? (It was obvious from the jumbotron that they did not support his motion.)

Why the numerous “points of order,” parliamentary procedural objections from those who supported the recommendation? We spent at least an hour on this subject, mostly on parliamentary maneuvering. Would that one of them, any single one of them, had spoken to why he wanted to change the precedent, I might very well have agreed with him. But, crickets chirping …

One opinion from some was that the reason for the recommendation was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver to stop TE Dominic Aquila from being reelected to the Standing Judicial Commission. A RE from his presbytery (Rocky Mountain) was also nominated for the SJC. Others better informed than me believe that this RE’s nomination was part of an intentional process by one side to run candidates opposed to the other side. If this precedent of voting on TE nominations first was reversed (taking the RE nomination first) and this RE was elected to the SJC, that would have effectively eliminated TE Aquila from even being able to stand for election.

In others words, the appearance is that one side wanted to change the procedure here for nothing more than a political power purpose. I’m not saying that WAS the motive. I am only saying that this is the appearance, and that the lack of explanation why IS NOT encouraging. No lecturing me on assuming the best about my brothers. I am. And I’m troubled as to why they seemed unwilling to behave in a manner that was transparent, leaving no judicious reason to question him (cf., 1Ti 3:2, Tit 1:6-7, and the qualification to be above reproach; Php 2:15, 2Pe 3:14).

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not debating the relative merit of one side’s positions vs. the other’s. I am questioning the use of what appears to be rank political manipulation to achieve one’s ends. Any explanation as to why the desire to change the procedure would have been better than what was (not) offered. And if the appearance was reality there would have been more integrity in a frank acknowledgment that at least one reason for the change in process was to attempt to stop confessional men like TE Aquila from getting back on the SJC. At least such transparency would encourage biblically-based trust in my brothers.

As it is, I watched men push and push, for about an hour, trying all the tricks possible to secure a change in this procedure. In the end I voted for Coffin’s perfected motion, as I could see the possibility of at least the appearance of unfairness to REs (i.e., even though this was never voiced, I was willing to act on an assumption of the best). When that motion was defeated I then had no good reason to vote to change the current practice. And a majority of Commissioners saw likewise on this one. Still, an hour or so of what appeared to be nothing more than rank political maneuvering, without one offering of justification for the change, left me with the distinct impression that I was being manipulated by one side.

Two final thoughts here. First, my wife graciously joined me at this GA. She joined me for one the business sessions. She spent about an hour trying to follow what was going on with one motion. After a plethora (a mass, an overabundance, a superfluity, a whole gobbling throat-choking mouthful!) of “point of order” procedural challenges, she got hopelessly lost. To her, it looked like nothing more than political manipulation, like the worst seen in the halls of any secular governing body. I found it hard to offer a defense of my fathers and brothers for what looked like ungodly behavior.

Lastly, wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

So, given how this all went down, given the rather across the board effectiveness of one side squashing the debate from the other side, how is this any different than the political manipulation used in the PCUS? And if the rank political manipulation used there lacked any integrity, then why should we not be concerned about the sense of déjà vu now?

by Reed DePace

Of Tzitzits, Tallits and Traditions

by Reed DePace

Those involved in the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) take great pains to note that they are only calling Christians to a greater consistency with God’s word. To give them all the benefit of the doubt possible, we can even say that they are arguing for these things as expressions of faith, not that gets one saved, but will determine the quality of their experience of salvation. Their argument to other Christians is simple, “but you’re not obeying ALL God’s word.”

Lay aside for the sake of discussion the issue of whether or not the Law of Moses is rightly divided into the moral, ceremonial and civil components. Leave aside also the issue of whether or not the NT amends the practice (but not the principles) of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law.

Look simply at the issue of traditions. Jesus admonished the Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mk 7:6-8)

I maintain that the whole of the HRM (and large parts of the Messianic Christianity Movement) are doing exactly what Jesus condemned here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is not a single practice the HRM maintains, as an application of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law, that is not in some essential manner NOT tainted by this tradition-over-commandment sin that Jesus condemns.

TNT002-30

Yes, I know, sweeping statements are dangerous. But I’ll risk the potential brashness at this point. In support of my contention look at just one simple practice common among Messianic Christians, that of using a prayer shawl with tassels on the four corners.

In anglicized Hebrew the prayer shawl is called a tallit, the tassels are called tzitzits. Sit down with any Messianic Christian who uses a tallit with tzitzits and ask them to explain the practice. Very quickly they will be offering you arguments based on men’s traditions – NOT the Scriptures.

KariateSeph

Yes they will offer some Scriptures. But like the Pharisees, they will twist those Scriptures to support their traditions. In the case of tallits and tzitzits this is rather easy to see. While tzitzits are found in Scripture (Nb 15:38-39), it is a plain and simple fact that the tallit IS NOT! The practice of using tallits (prayer shawls) is expressly a tradition of men. Further, it is a tradition that comes from unbelieving Judaism!

It is hard to understand how this practice of the Mosaic Law is nothing more than a tradition of man. Therefore, to insist that in any manner its practice is even advisable for Christians, is to teach as holy what Jesus condemned as wicked.

A similar case can even be made for tzitzits, tassels. The Mosaic Law calls for them to be placed on the ends of ALL the exterior garments men wear, not merely a non-commanded tallit, prayer shawl. Again, man’s tradition usurps and yokes God’s word to the task of enslaving God’s children!

Ask about any other “Messianic,” “Hebrew” practice that practitioners of Messianic Christianity insist still applies to the Christian’s belief and practice today. Call me foolish and brash. But I expect I will be proven right to observe that you will see the same exact pattern: man’s tradition, yoking God’s word, to enslave Christians.

It gives me no joy to be proven right. Would that God would free them from their slavery and turn their joy in their traditions into moans of repentance.

by Reed DePace

Gentle-Hardness with the Hebrew Roots Movement

by Reed DePace

O.k., I’ve been admonished twice now that I may be speaking too harshly, without proper biblical gentleness, in some of my comments on the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM). O.k., acknowledging that possibility, let me instead simply lay out from Scripture why I believer strong, even severe words are biblically called for when responding to the HRM.

Let me say up front that the more I hear from proponents of the HRM the more I am persuaded it is a modern form of the Pharisaical-Judaizing heresy condemned in Scripture. More broadly I think these criticisms also apply to a large part of the Messianic Christianity movement (MCM). This follows because the HRM is both a child of the MCM and is the deep doctrinal well which waters the growth of the MCM. I recognize that there exist Messianic Jews who shun with horror the errors of the HRM and more broadly those in the MCM. My criticisms do not apply to them.

In my own pastoral calling I’ve have had to help families affected by the HRM/MCM. It was this need that first prompted my study of this subject a couple of years back. In part I sympathize with those attracted to the HRM/MCM. I acknowledge and affirm their desire for a better relationship with God.

One of the greatest sadnesses in my community is the problem of gospel-presumptive Christians. These are not nominal Christians, folks who are nothing more than culturally Christian. No, these are folks for whom Christianity is a regular part of their everyday life. They have a rudimentary grasp of the basics of the gospel. Yet they have little practical understanding of how to live by the gospel (Rom 1:16-17, Gal 2:20, Col 2:6-7, etc.). As a result they are left to trying to live the Christian life through the use of their own resources (i.e., living by sight, not by faith; 2Co 5:7). So when such folks run across a new (old) teaching that promises a whole new experience of God’s power; that offers out the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the abundant life (John 10:10), it is understandable how the HRM can be attractive to them.

The problem is that what is attracting them is not a better understanding of the gospel at all but something straight from the pit of Hell.

Yes, hard words, but gently offered. Even more importantly, I am not offering a poetic effort at hyperbole to drive home a point. Rather, it is a boiled down, rather basic and unvarnished summary of what the Bible itself teaches about the HRM. Consider this (dates approximate):

AD 39-40: The Church in Jerusalem concluded that God has rescinded the Mosaic Law’s Jew-Gentile separation provisions (Acts 10-11).

AD 49-50 (the exact order of the following series is immaterial to the points being made):

  • Paul confronts Peter and Barnabas for their hypocrisy in separating themselves from Gentile believers in the Church in Galatia.
  • Later, Paul writes to the Galatians to warn them in the strongest terms against (supposed) Christians who were teaching them that Gentile believers needed to keep the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws in order to be right with God.
  • The Church concluded that Gentile believers ARE NOT to be subjected to the ceremonial/worship provisions of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15).

AD 62-68 (again, the exact dates for writing each of these is immaterial to the points made):

  • Paul writes (First) Timothy, offering him instruction for his pastoral duties (Ephesian Church).
  • Paul writes to Titus, giving him counsel on his pastoral duties (Cretan Church).
  • Paul writes further instruction to (Second) Timothy in the discharge of his pastoral duties.
  • In all three letters one of the critical issues Paul addressed was the heresy of the Judaizers, those who would require Gentile Christians to practice the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws.

Did you follow the progression of these things? From eliminating Jew-Gentile separation, to removal of Mosaic law provisions on Gentiles, to fighting against those who would place Christians back under slavery to the Mosaic Law. This is as serious as it gets. This is a matter of life and death. Accordingly, the Scriptures speak of these things in the hardest terms. You can see this in the Scriptures themselves:

And he [Peter] said to them [the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household], “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” (Act 10:28-29 ESV)

[Peter speaking to the Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem Church] “If then God gave the same gift to them [Gentile Christians] as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Act 11:17-18)

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in– who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:4-5)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15-16)

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal 3:10)

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:4)

I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Gal 5:10-12)

But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them [Gentile believers] and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them,

Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Act 15:5-10)

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1Ti 1:3-4)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:5-7)

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1Ti 4:7-8)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Ti 6:3-5)

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” (1Ti 6:20)

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Tit 1:13-14)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Tit 3:9-11)

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2Ti 2:23-26)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Ti 3:1-5)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2Ti 4:3-4)

Consider the severity with which Scripture speaks about the teaching that ceremonial/worship aspects of the Mosaic Law still apply to Christians. Emasculation! Devoted to myths! Foolish controversies! Depraved minds! Puffed up with conceit! Unhealthy cravings! Warped, sinful, self-condemned! In the very same passage where Paul teaches us to correct with gentleness he observes that those who buy into the HRM are trapped in the snare of the Devil! Clearly gentleness does not preclude hard words.

If you think I’m missing something here, just stop for a moment a contemplate Paul’s imprecatory warning in Galatians towards those who teach the HRM. Emasculate themselves! What a horrible thing to say against anyone– unless their error is so horribly more dangerous. And that’s just it. The errors taught by the HRM are so egregious that the hardest terms are needed. To be sure they must be spoken without animosity or rancor. Yet in order to be truth spoken in love the severity of the words must match the severity of the danger of the errors!

Or, at least that’s the pattern of Scripture on this subject.

Those who in any way teach that the ceremonial/worship aspects of the Mosaic Law in any practical manner still apply, who teach that the Christian’s relationship with God in any way is affected by his practicing or not practicing these Mosaic Law provisions, are teaching something that the NT says is from Satan himself (i.e., a snare of the devil). We must therefore, for the sake of the souls of both the speakers and the hearers, warn them of the seriousness of their danger. We must with Paul ask God to emasculate their wickedness, to stop up their teaching that they might no longer seek to return God’s people to a slavery that will only destroy them and thereby rob God of the fullness of glory due to him.

The Hebrew Roots Movement, according to the teaching of the NT, is deadly. Accordingly it calls for just as hard an imprecatory warning as found in the Scriptures.

I pray for the souls of the men commenting here in support of the HRM. May God indeed be merciful and grant them repentance. I do not hate them; I hold them no ill will. With Scripture I do offer them the gentle-hardness that Scripture uses to condemn their error. May we all see our errors, and rejoice at the throne of Jesus together.

by Reed DePace

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