Happy Chained America, or “Celebrating Independence”?

Chain

Our country was founded to be a religiously free country. This was one of the primary goals, if not the primary goal, of the pilgrims in coming over from England. Later on, even the founding fathers who were not Christian still believed in religious freedom. For instance, Thomas Jefferson, hardly a Christian himself, did not believe that civic freedoms depended on one’s religious beliefs. He believed in a complete freedom of religion. Take a good look at the bill that Jefferson helped write and sponsor for the Virginia legislature. Are not the evils mentioned in it precisely those that we see today, and have every right to fear in the future?

Here are the words of the first amendment to our constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In today’s world of a “living and breathing Constitution,” this has become a complete wax nose. It means whatever the cultural majority decides it means.

Up until the SCOTUS ruling, there has been mostly freedom of religion (although that has eroded somewhat). There will no longer be a true freedom of religion, unless cooler heads prevail. Folks, if someone wants to be able to say “I hate homosexual people,” he ought to have the freedom to voice his opinion (this is something I would not say, by the way). I date the chaining of America to June 26, 2015. We are no longer a free country. People might very well respond by saying that they are just pursuing their rights, which have been denied them for a long time. This is an utter lie. Judging from the religious persecution that has already started against conservative Christians who refuse to engage in something that they cannot by their own conscience do, churches will most certainly be targeted.

If Satan’s minions were willing to listen, they might realize that they are using the wrong strategy, if they desire to eliminate the church’s influence from America. Up until now, Satan has been making the American church fat and lazy by giving them multitudinous opportunities to be comfortable. Churches fall away from Christ in droves when this happens. It has been happening. Now, however, all that dross is about to be purged away. The church is going to become lean, purer, and much more effective. It will start to look more and more like the house churches in China. There will be many positive things that will come out of this situation. In other words, I am not whining. Obviously, God knows that the church in America needs this in order to be purged. But my point is this: the left should not try to kid themselves or lie to the American public about their true goals. Welcome to the Chained States of America. Big brother is watching.

A Textual Variant That Makes a Difference

In Revelation 11:17, the Textus Receptus has added the phrase “and who is coming” to the end of the first clause of thanksgiving. No doubt, the scribes were used to seeing “who is, and who was, and who is coming.” The best manuscripts do not have the phrase “and who is coming.” The omission of the phrase is a fascinating glimpse into the theology of the text. The reason why the original did not have the phrase is because, from the perspective of the twenty-four elders, Christ had already come! If, as seems likely, the seventh trumpet is a description of the very end of the current world, then we are getting a glimpse at what post-consummation worship looks like. It is rather important, then, that the phrase “and is coming” is NOT present in the text. It is gloriously absent!

What Are You Willing to Give Up?

Today’s Supreme Court ruling federally legalizes same-sex “marriage.” It seems obvious to me that we need to prepare our people for persecution, while simultaneously preparing them to speak lovingly, yet truthfully, to the LGBT community. This will not be an easy road. What are we willing to give up? For this decision constitutes America’s attempt to re-define God’s own creation ordinance. This will have massive ramifications that we can only barely glimpse at the moment.

The somewhat provocative title of this post should not be seen as a call to emotional hysteria. All too often, the conversation is characterized by shrill voices on both sides of the debate, thus creating a climate where no one can listen. Evangelicals are rank with fear. Why? And what kind of fear is it? I think we fear to lose the comfortable liberty we have had for such a long time. We fear to lose what is in our bank account. We fear social ostracism. In other words, we fear man, not God. On the other side, we see the LGBT community using emotionally charged words to shout down the opposition. The words “bigot,” “hate-speech,” and “homophobic” are thrown at anyone who does not agree with their agenda. There is no communication going on, only a lot of shouting. The importance of books like Rosaria Butterfield’s masterpiece can hardly be underestimated at a time like this, because no one could possibly accuse such an ex-Lesbian of hate-speech, and yet she also speaks the truth. More books like this need to be written. The most thorough treatment of the exegetical issues is undoubtedly Gagnon’s book. For a smaller, more accessible book (although Gagnon is not too difficult to read), there is now Kevin Deyoung’s book. Butterfield’s book, though, is the most important of the three.

The accelerated pace of the sea-change going on now in America requires some comment. I am constantly hearing of people who think that “such and such thing cannot possibly happen in America.” I am not sure that anything is off the table anymore. The changes are easily fast enough now to make us dizzy. I am preaching this Sunday on Revelation 11. A more timely text could hardly be imagined. The two witnesses I take to be the church defined as a legally valid testimony on Old Testament Deuteronomic terms. The persecution rises against them until the church appears dead. The world rejoices. God will then vindicate those witnesses by raising them from the dead. I know that every era of church history has had people saying that the end is upon us. As a good Amillenial, I believe that they are all correct. The end-times are upon us. As Hebrews 1 says, we are in the last days now (“in these last days God has spoken to us in (or by) His Son”). The American church is about to be seriously pruned. We are about to look a lot more like the house churches in China. Anyone got some nice spacious basements?

What are we willing to give up? We are going to have to be willing to give up forever the idea of being “relevant,” at least in the way that many people mean the term. We cannot adopt the world’s way of doing things. Our way of being truly relevant is to speak the truth to people who do not want to hear what we have to say. We need to be willing to give up prestige, money, land, freedom, and life itself. They will be gone in a very short period of time. Our families will be torn apart. The government will take away everything we value. Welcome to the brave new world.

For the latter half of the twentieth century, Satan has been using the carrot to lure people away from the true church, and away from the means of grace. Satan is changing tools. He will now use the stick. Probably very few of us would have recognized ahead of time that the homosexual marriage issue would be the issue by which this change would take place.

As I was talking with one of my elders this morning about these things, it struck me forcefully that we need to pray for our dispensational Pre-millenial brothers. What is going to happen will knock their theology for a loop. They believe that they are going to escape the tribulation by means of the Rapture. Revelation 11 says otherwise. Even if verse 12 is talking about a Rapture, it clearly does NOT occur until after the death and resurrection experience of verses 7-11. At that time, those brothers will be wondering if God is incorrect in what He said, and what else God might be wrong about. They might very well forget to ask the question about whether they understand the text correctly or not. We need to pray for them that their faith will hold firm.

Do not fear what is about to happen. Above all, do not get hysterical, as if God’s grip on the world has somehow slipped. Instead, rejoice that the end is near. Count it pure joy when you experience trials of various kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance. Know that the poor, dead-looking church over which the world will gloat will one day rise up again, in spite of the world. The world will then gape in dread and awe of the church as God resurrects it. SCOTUS may think itself the supreme court of the land. Boy, are they in for a shock!

Charleston Has Some Amazing Theology

Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church appears to my mind to have their theology amazingly right, at the very least, where it most counts. Knowing how much they have been forgiven by God enabled the nine families of those shot by Dylann Roof to offer forgiveness to the perpetrator. Folks, Christianity doesn’t get any more glorious than this. What other religion would direct people to react in this way? What other god can offer the grace our God can offer to enable people to do something that shut the mouths of the mainstream media? My heart bleeds for the families of those who were lost, but I also rejoice in the glory of God that is being broadcast all over the world.

There is only one point at which I would disagree with what at least one person said down in Charleston. “You took something very precious away from me,” a family representative for Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old grandmother who died in Wednesday’s massacre, told Roof on behalf of Lance’s loved ones. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.” Ah, this person is gloriously wrong! For what about the resurrection?

Satan is trying very hard to blunt the effectiveness of the witness of these godly people in Charleston. I do not think it is an accident that Tullian Tchividjian’s case broke at the time that it did. We need to pray that we can show the world that Charleston is what the gospel looks like in action, whereas Tullian’s case demonstrates what happens when the whole gospel is not taught.

Tullian Tchividjian and the Contemporary Grace Movement

Tullian Tchividjian has had to step down as senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as a result of an affair that he had in reaction to an affair that his wife Kim had. This is tragic on a number of levels. This is a very high profile PCA church. D. James Kennedy was the founding pastor of the church, and Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian also brought limelight to the church. But it is always Satan’s delight to get ministers to fall in just such a manner. He can bring the church into disrepute. He can provide fodder for unbelievers to laugh at the church and say, “You aren’t any different from us. Why should we join you?” He can shake the faith of many saints in that church as well as other churches.

This affair, I believe, is not unconnected with his theology of sanctification. It would be overly facile to claim that his theology of sanctification is the sole reason for the affair. There can be many factors involved, of which I know none except what he told the Washington Post. However, the contemporary grace movement does not have a proper view of sanctification, however right they may be on justification. I have read Tullian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. The problem with the book is that it does not encourage people very much to exert effort (which must, of course, always be Spirit-empowered, grace-driven). Tullian was reacting to a performance-based religion. The problem was that he over-reacted to performance-based religion. As a result, he almost certainly did not cultivate sanctification as well as he should have done. Doctrine always has consequences in one’s life.

Lest any should think I am trying to sound like I’m better than him, I will be the first to admit that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Not only that, but I take his example as a negative warning example to look to my sanctification, and look to my marriage, not to mention praying for him, and being as compassionate towards him as I can. He is a fellow minister in the PCA, and therefore my brother. This should drive us to our knees, folks. It is tragic that his theology did not provide the safeguards necessary in his sanctification to prevent this. It is tragic for his family. It is tragic for his church, and his presbytery. It is tragic for the PCA. Nevertheless, we must believe that God will use this for His glory, in ways that we don’t know about yet.

What Is Racism?

Racism is a very serious thing these days. We hear of race riots in America, just when some people thought we had moved past all that. There are blatant forms of racism, and more subtle forms of it. But before we get into that, we need to ask an important question: why is a white guy like me talking about this subject, and what right do I have to do so? There are two ways of answering that question. The first is that racism can be just as much against white people (theoretically) as against any other race. We haven’t seen much of that in America. But it does exist, especially in more subtle forms of racism, which we can get into below. The second part of the answer is that a white person can and should care about what happens to other parts of the human race. Just because I have not been a victim of racism doesn’t mean I can’t say anything about it. I haven’t been a victim of mugging either, but I presume that would not preclude me from saying something about it. I do have an imagination, and I hope all my readers do, too.

The biblical truth is that all humans come from Adam, and all humans come from Noah. As C.S. Lewis might say, that is grand enough to exalt any person, and humble enough to remind anyone that we are but dust. One of the most important features of racism, then, is either a partial or full denial of this fundamental truth. This goes a long way towards a definition. If we are not all from the same origin, then we have room to claim that one race is superior to another. This is one of the biggest problems with the theory of multiple origins of the human race. Evolution and the denial of the historical Adam will have racism as its intended or unintended consequence. Ben Stein showed this quite eloquently in his movie “Expelled,” which you should see if you haven’t yet. Since we are all from one origin, then no one part of the human race can lift itself above any other part of the human race. We are all one human race. The image of God is stamped on every human being. That image of God commands respect and dignity. To denigrate an image bearer, making the person somehow less than human, is therefore a direct attack on God.

There are, however, more subtle forms of racism, and here I am going to get very politically incorrect (as if my statements on evolution were not!). I believe that affirmative action is racist. When it comes to college scholarship and such things, I believe that those who hand them out should be color-blind. However, making a certain quota of African-Americans, or any other minority, is basically saying to them, “You can’t make it without our help.” I know very well the counter-argument: African-Americans have not had access to the kind of schooling that white children have had. But I would remind people of the arguments of Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams (especially the first named): anyone working hard can overcome any obstacles. They have all argued, in one way or another, that affirmative action and the welfare state have wreaked havoc on the black community. The disintegration of the family is another serious factor. These things are harming African-Americans today more than other factors, I believe. The Japanese faced incredible prejudice after World War II. So did the Germans and Italians. They didn’t have access to the best schools either. What did they do? They worked hard and overcame the obstacles. Many African-Americans have done the same. But not all of them have. Many believe that they are owed something for what they or their ancestors suffered. What do I owe them? I owe them the respect and dignity that is owed to all human beings. I do not owe them for what my ancestors may or may not have done. Ezekiel 18 is very important here (I will be writing a post on the relationship of Daniel 9 and Ezekiel 18 at some point in the near future, Lord-willing). The fathers are not responsible for the guilt of the son, nor is the son responsible for the guilt of the father. Acknowledging the sin that someone else has done is one thing, and is very understandable (and can certainly help in the case of race relations today). But that does not mean the same thing as what some seem to be claiming: that there is actual ontological transference of guilt. I have had it said to me that I am guilty of racism simply because I am white. Folks, that is just as much the sin of racism as saying that an African-American is not human because he is black.

What difference does the amount of melanin in the skin make? This is simply micro-evolution. The African-American has more melanin in the skin. Over many generations in the incredibly hot climates of Africa, the people developed darker and darker skin in order to adapt to their surroundings. This is the beauty of the adaptive characteristics of humans. The flip side of this adaptive characteristic is the very pale complexion of Norwegians. They adapted to their frigid climate in the opposite way. If lots of Africans migrated to Norway, over a period of a few hundred years, their skin would lighten quite noticeably. Similarly, if the Norwegian migrated to Africa, his skin would darken quite a bit just in his own lifetime. It is quite silly to make skin color determinative of worth.

The much more difficult question is that of different cultures. It is here, for instance, that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X differed. King was in the south and argued for racial integration and desegregation. The south was segregated (and still is in some ways, though not in transportation and education, the issues that were uppermost in the Civil Rights era). Racism showed itself in exclusion. In the north, however, where Malcolm X mostly lived and spoke, there was no segregation. More subtle attitudes were the problem. This is why (so argues James Cone) King argues for desegregation while Malcolm X argues for segregation. They had different contexts. Which of them is correct? This is not an easy question to answer. There is nothing wrong with desiring to keep a particular culture stable (anyone seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?). Any minority group that comes to America usually desires to keep its traditions alive and well, and those traditions can come into jeopardy when full integration is encouraged. On the other hand, segregation can result in exclusion, which is not healthy. The influence of other cultures is usually salutary, if for no other reason than that one knows one’s own culture better and values it more when compared to other cultures. This comparison itself has pitfalls, of course, because non-moral cultural issues can become a subtle basis for racism quite easily when non-moral issues become “better” or “worse” than what other cultures have.

To conclude, racism as usually understood means a person believes his race is better than another race. This can be blatant, or it can be subtle. We need to be very careful about how we think through these issues, and we need to do a lot of listening. I learned a lot, for instance, about ministering in an African-American context this year at General Assembly by listening to my African-American brothers. Avoiding racism is actually pretty simple: treat each person you meet as an image-bearer of God. That person deserves dignity and respect.

General Assembly Roundup

My thoughts on this year’s GA are not going to be comprehensive, as I was in Overtures Committee, which met for quite a long while simultaneous to the floor of GA itself. I missed the entirety of the Review of Presbytery Records report, for example. However, many of the most important things happened in Overtures this year.

The Overtures Committee (hereafter OC) recommended that GA answer Overture 1 (concerning setting up a mini-SJC for presbyteries) in the negative. There was quite a lot of discussion about this, but the problems with it were just too much. I am against the principle of having any commission being unaccountable to the presbytery that commissions it. I do not regard complaints as constituting full accountability, since complaints have to work against quite a lot of inertia in order to gain traction. The GA went with the OC’s recommendation.

Overtures 2 and 9, concerning the recreation clause, also got quite a lot of discussion, which got a bit heated in the OC. The OC decided, in the end, that our system was not broken, and thus recommended a negative response, which the GA adopted.

Overture 3 (concerning the baptismal vows) also foundered upon the recognition that the language of “dedication” was already covenantal in nature, when one considers the context in which it comes (do you know any Baptist who would be comfortable with BCO 56?). GA followed the committee’s recommendation.

Overtures 4-6 (presbytery boundary overtures) came through other committees besides OC, and they were approved (which means that my presbytery will be multiplying into three presbyteries as of January of 2016).

Overture 7 (concerning compelling a TE to testify) generated a lot of discussion both in the OC and on the floor of GA. The Kuyperian influence seemed rather strong, as quite a few people rather whole-sale imported civil judicial categories into the church (including fifth amendment rights). The vote in the committee was fairly strong on the amended version (which would have narrowed the cases in view to doctrinal cases). However, on the floor, the amended version was narrowly defeated (by about 22 votes, if I remember rightly). This despite the fact that TE David Coffin was the originator of the motion, and argued quite eloquently in favor of it. I think the overture should have passed. We have to be open anyway about what we believe.

In RPR, we won some and lost some. The most important one was won. Philadelphia Presbytery was cited for an exception of substance on their ordaining a man who wasn’t sure that the NT fully excluded women from the church offices. As I understand it, both the man and his church have left for a more liberal denomination. This exception was passed by a rather wide margin.

We lost the Westminster Presbytery vote, and they will have to answer next year’s GA for including language in their standing rules excluding theistic evolution from being an acceptable view.

Eastern Pennsylvania was also lost, concerning the man who had a very FV-sounding exception on paedocommunion (he first stated his difference in such a way as to include all the benefits of salvation to the baptized; on further reflection, he revised his views to state that some of the benefits of the Lord’s Supper accrue to all the members of the visible church, which is not a significant improvement).

The most exhausting thing about GA was the personal resolution offered by TE Sean Lucas and TE Ligon Duncan III on racial reconciliation (the OC spent at least 6 grueling hours on it!). There can be no doubt that this is a timely issue, and a very serious one, given the recent riots in various places in the US. The main issue in the debate hinged on whether the PCA ought to repent now of its racial sins in a less-than-perfect manner, or wait a year and perfect the language and accuracy of the language (and put some wheels on it, so that practical steps might be taken). The African-American Presbyterian Fellowship was not entirely in unison on this issue, thought it seemed that the majority who spoke favored waiting a year, primarily for the practical reasons. Another issue was how the personal resolution came to the floor (skipping the local session and presbytery levels). A more considered and thorough document could be forthcoming if various presbyteries get in the act for next year. Almost the last thing in the GA was a season of prayer for racial reconciliation that lasted well over an hour.

My thoughts on this are a bit mixed. On the one hand, I hate racism with a passion. All people are made in God’s image, and there is no such thing as a second-class citizen among God’s elect. On the other hand, I wonder if we are reacting too strongly to many impulses in the culture that would make white people feel guilty simply for being of the same color as people who have oppressed African-Americans in the past. The personal resolution called on the PCA to confess its sins in its complicity with those who opposed the Civil Rights movement. This was a bit strange to me, since the PCA was not in existence at the time. There are undoubtedly some churches and men in the PCA who were around then who have something of which they must repent. And I have no problem acknowledging that there are such churches and such men in the PCA, and that they need to repent. However, the fact that I am in the same denomination as some of them does not automatically make me guilty of the same sins, any more than I am guilty of teaching theistic evolution, simply because some in the PCA are doing so. I will write more about Daniel 9 in relationship to Ezekiel 18 later, as it really deserves its own post.

On a more personal note, my family came with me this time (7 people in a small hotel room makes our home seem absolutely humongous now!), and I was shocked to discover that I had more energy every day, not less. It was terrific family time that we had, especially in the pool.

Overtures 2 and 9 Answered in the Negative

The PCA will not be erecting a study committee on the Sabbath. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of answering these in the negative. 

Overture 3 to the PCA GA

Overture 3 has to do with the wording of one of the vows made by the parents at a baptism of a child. The overture wants to change the language of “dedication” to that of “acknowledging” the covenantal context of the child.

I am opposed to this overture. As various people have pointed out, the questions for the parents are quite covenantal already (see in particular question 2 of BCO 56-5). The entire context, in fact, of that section of the BCO has covenantal language pervading it, whether it is the highly covenantal language of BCO 56-4, or the command for baptism not to be unduly delayed (hardly things a Baptist would be comfortable with!).

The language itself comes from the PCUS documents of 1894, from a time and place where Baptistic culture was alive and well. This language didn’t seem to bother them at the time!

Furthermore, as has also been pointed out by several people, dedication in itself is not unbiblical. Hannah did so with Samuel. It can be argued that John the Baptist was dedicated to the Lord. Maybe the language is not always there, but the idea seems to be present. The fact of the matter is that dedicating babies is something we agree with Baptists on. The difference is that while dedication is the only thing Baptists do for their babies, we (or, rather, God!) do(es) something more. God places a covenant sign and seal on that child.

In other words, it does not seem to me that we should reject something in our standards simply because the Baptists use similar language. I can’t imagine any self-respecting Baptist agreeing to the theology of BCO 56. I am perfectly content with the language as it is. The overture does not offer any biblical argumentation as to why the current language is insufficient. It argues primarily from the “Baptist” cultural background, which, as I have said, I find insufficient.

Overture 1 to the PCA GA

Overture 1 of this year’s overtures has to do with how presbyteries handle judicial cases by means of a commission. According to the rationale, the amendments give the presbyteries three options: 1. hear the case as a whole presbytery; 2. appoint a judicial commission to bring a recommendation (maybe this should be called a judicial committee?); or 3. appoint a judicial commission to render the presbytery’s final verdict. According to the rationale, this could still allow for complaints to be filed against the decision.

However, one problem remains: the commission that is given full power to render the final verdict would still not be under a final approval or disapproval by the presbytery. It is far more difficult to get a decision overturned by means of a complaint (when, by the time the complaint is heard, most of the presbyters are not really willing to deal with something that they feel is over and done with) than it is simply to overturn the commission’s verdict at the presbytery meeting without using the complaint. There is less inertia, if you will. For these reasons, unless a fix to the full accountability problem can be found, I will probably vote against it.

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