Racism, Guilt – Other People’s, and Our Repentance

by Reed DePace

“How am I guilty of sins committed by others, sins I had nothing to do with since I was not even there?!”

Regarding the issue of our denomination’s repentance for sins in the Civil Rights era, this is the most common objection raised by those who sincerely disagree with actions taken at the PCA 2016 General Assembly (last week, in Mobile, AL). It is not that they don’t agree that such sins should not be repented from. It is that they do not agree with what we might call corporate-historic repentance.

I am beginning work on a D-Min dissertation devoted to this topic, and hope to study this subject a bit more fully. Here I am not able to delve into it as deeply as it needs. Instead, for the sake of our congregation (and maybe others as God chooses), I want to do two things:

  1. Provide background on this issue in terms of its application to our local church and our denomination.
  2. Provide an outline of the reasons why I believe corporate-historic repentance is biblically valid, and so does apply in these kinds of situations.

My prayer is that the Spirit will see fit to use this pastor’s reflections to lead our congregation to the freedom in Christ from this history, and equip them for greater service in the gospel in our community. And, since we are covenantally connected to the Church outside our local church, I also pray God will use it to honor the gospel’s advance amongst brothers and sisters not a part of First Presbyterian Montgomery.

OldeFirst02

Historic First Presbyterian, downtown Montgomery

Our church is prayerfully moving toward the next step in the fruits of repentance (cf., Luke 3:8) for our history of racism in the Civil Rights era and since. Neither the majority of the members of our church nor myself were present during any of the occurrence of the sins documented in our church records (session, diaconate, and congregational minutes). And those records also show that those few members who were part of the church during these events did actively try to address these sins. Here are a series of links giving background on this topic, both from a local and a denominational perspective.

I urge you to read all the links in these posts. For our denomination, the PCA, particularly read the referenced overture (full statement and the amendment.) For our local church, particularly look at the powerpoint at our church’s website.
As noted above, a problem for some is the inference that someone is personally guilty for sins which that person never participated in. “How am I guilty for sins of racism committed by others in the past?” As understandably difficult and frustrating is this question, a beginning answer is not that hard to find. The issue is not personal guilt for the sins of others, but the corporate experience of that guilt. Maybe asking this question differently can help show this:

How am I guilty for sins of racism  committed by others Adam in the past beginning?

The answer is that we are not. That does not mean that the guilt of Adam’s sin do not effect us. The doctrine of sin in Scripture makes it abundantly clear that while each Christian is not personally responsible for Adam’s sin nevertheless the guilt of Adam’s sins have effected their lives, and disastrously so. Just consider Paragraph 3, Chapter 6, from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

[Biblical references for the italicized phrase: Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:10, 17; Acts 17:26; Romans ROM 5:12, 15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45, 49. See WCF 6, beginning on page 26.]

Here we see what we might call the original corporate imputation of guilt. We are not guilty of Adam’s sin, but the guilt and its results are imputed to us. In principle then, we already recognize that the guilt of one generation’s sin effects a subsequent generation who had no participation with the original sin. Even more, we depend on this principle, if Jesus’ obedience and its results (something we also did not participate in) are likewise going to be imputed to us (cf., Romans 5).

Corporate-historic repentance is simply an application of covenantal principles that are the foundation of our faith. Yes, we individually are not guilty for each other’s sins (cf., Ezekiel 18). And yet, we are covenantally connected to one another. In some manner, the guilt of our forefathers, material and spiritual, has an effect on us. This is nothing more than the necessary continuing application of the warning in the second Commandment, Exodus 2:5 (4-6):

…”visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” … (iniquity: sin, with its guilt).

This is a warning repeated so frequently that we don’t need to make extended arguments about the fact and nature of the ongoing consistent application of ALL God’s law to every generation:

Exodus 34:7; Leviticus, 20:5; 26:29, 39, 40; Numbers 14:18, 33; Deuteronomy 5:9; 7: Joshua 7:24, ff.; 1 Samuel 15:2-3; 2 Samuel 21:1-6; 24:10-17; 1 Kings 14:9-10; 16:1, ff.; 21:21, 29; 2 Kings 23:26; Job 5:4; 21:19; Psalm 79:8; 1106:6,7; 09:14; Isaiah 14:20-21; 65:677; Jeremiah 2:9; 32:18; Daniel 9:8; Matthew 23:31-32; 27:25.

[For extended arguments of the ongoing application of ALL God’s law, see the Westminster Larger Catechism question 99, with its biblical references, beginning at page 234.]

At the very least, there are covenantal applications with reference to the guilt of sin. These covenantal applications cross both space (trans-spatial) and time (trans-temporal). This does not mean personal culpability, responsibility for the sin. It does mean personal experience of the consequences of such guilt. Yes, the parameters and details of this need to be worked out, but it can hardly be argued that the Bible does not teach this principle.

Now ask this question of Scripture: would God who in Christ frees us from all sins and its effects not particularly provide an application of the gospel to address this covenantal aspect of the guilt of sin?
goolgestreet04b

First Presbyterian Montgomery, the Church @ Chantilly

Corporate-historic repentance, what the PCA and First Presbyterian Montgomery are applying to these circumstances, is an application of the Covenant of Grace, the gospel promises fulfilled  by Jesus our Christ. Here is a partial list of factors involved:
  • Corporate-historic repentance is exemplified in the circumstances of Jeremiah (14:20), Daniel (9:6-8), Ezra (9:6-7), Nehemiah (9:2), and the Apostolic Church (Acts 7:51-52, 58, 60; 8:1; 9:176-20).
  • Corporate-historic repentance does not say I am personally guilty for the sins of my forefathers.
  • Corporate-historic repentance instead acknowledges the truth of God’s word that my forefather’s iniquities (sin with its guilt) are a burden that only the gospel can remove.
  • More, corporate-historic repentance declares to the ones offended by my fore-fathers’ sins that I recognize they were sinned against.
  • Finally, corporate-historic repentance declares that Jesus Christ will cover and remove these sins and their offense.

Whether you find yourself quibbling with the details of these things, at the very least I pray you will find yourself agreeing that corporate-historic repentance does have a biblical mooring and that it is the means God gives us in Jesus to remove the effect of the guilt of corporate-historic sins.

May He so bless us, to our joy (John 15:11) in His glory (John 15:8).

by Reed DePace

An Overture to Racial Reconciliation

Review and Comparison of PCA 2016 GA Racial Repentance Overtures

by Reed DePace

UPDATE#2: Overture 43 has passed. Read about it here.

UPDATE #1: The Overtures Committees has overwhelmingly passed a resolution regarding these overtures. 85-3, they are recommending to the General Assembly that Overture 43, as amended, be approved.  See here for details: OC Recommendation.

It appears that the amending includes three parts:

  1. Adding a list of sins (copied from the Whereas section).
  2. Referencing Overture 55’s “presbytery letter” as advice on how presbyteries can help local congregations involved with these sins.
  3. Referencing the local level action overtures’ (#50, 53) direction toward the use of BCO provisions (31-2, 38-1) for the procedure for handling repentance from these sins.

As with any combination overture, I do not expect this will satisfy all. Indeed, I am a bit concerned about the charge that this will all turn into nothing more than another meaningless expression of (empty) words. If passed by GA, it will be up to Presbyteries and local churches to implement this Overture.

I’ll listen to the floor debate that is sure to follow, and will most likely learn some things of value from the fathers and brothers gathered. At this point, my initial reaction is that maybe there is some sound wisdom at play in the Overture Committee’s recommendation.

As a pastor who has no personal racial sins to repent from, and who is shepherding a congregation whose history is full of some of the most heinous of these sins, I am grateful for the advice and direction. I pray God will lead us all to see His wisdom and find His blessing in these things.

==================

I’m getting ready to head to General Assembly (my denomination’s annual meeting where all our churches discuss/decide on issues relevant to our denomination). In preparation, I reviewed the overtures (requests for action) that will come before us. The big topic this year is repentance for racial sins in our denomination going back to the Civil Rights era. This is not a discussion about the civil (secular) matters of this subject (although they are related). Instead it is a discussion about how to repent of these sins, sins which impinge upon or outright deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such issues are ALWAYS the purview of the Church as they deal with the honor, integrity, and glory of our Lord God and Savior.

This is an issue particularly relevant our church and me. We have such a history. Last year, our elders led our church to express repentance for the sins of our fathers in this regard. We are now seeking the Spirit to lead us in bringing forth “fruits of repentance,” acts consistent with our verbal profession (see Matthew 3:7; for details on our repentance, see: http://www.firstpreschantilly.com/repentance).

There are sixty-three overtures before us at this meeting. Forty-two deal with the topic of repentance for racial sins. Clearly this is the topic most pressing in our hearts.

You can find the overtures listed here: http://www.pcaac.org/general-assembly/overtures. Click on the title of each to read the details.

I haven’t been able to find a summary and guide for all these, so I thought I’d put together one myself. Some of these overtures are simply affirmations of support for another overture. Yet others include particular details, different from all other overtures on this topic. Without going into too detailed an assessment, I found it helpful to arrange these into three generalized groups:

  • Those (mostly) calling for denomination level action: four (#s 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 17, 19, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 34, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 51, 52, 57, 58, 60, and 63. Note: most of these are the same or similar to Overture # 4. The italicized are more or less different.),
  • Those (mostly) calling for local church/presbytery action: two (#s 50 and 53), and
  • Those calling for both levels of action: seven (#s 1, 16, 48, 49, 55, 56, and 59).

Overtures calling for denominational level action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on corporate-generational repentance (Leviticus 26:49; Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 1:3-10; 9:1-10:39; Daniel 9:1-20). Rooted in the continuing application of the Ten Commandments (see C#2, Exodus 20:4-6) and the trans-temporal and trans-spatial nature of biblical covenants, these overtures propose our denomination acknowledge and express repentance for the racial sins in view.

Overtures calling for local action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on personal repentance (Psalm 19:13; Matthew 26:75; Luke 19:8; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15). These overtures propose that churches and presbyteries apply the discipline procedures from our Book of Church Order (see particularly BCO 31-2, and 38-1).

Overtures calling for both propose we take action at both the denominational level and the local level. I find myself in favor of this approach. Admittedly without offering an extended defense of my opinion, let me briefly highlight the key considerations persuading me. First, I believe the covenantal considerations found in Ezra and Nehemiah’s examples are still applicable. Second, I believe the personal repentance considerations are still applicable. In other words, I believe the Bible teaches that, when and where appropriate, God’s people are to express both corporate-generational repentance AND personal repentance.

There are two overtures don’t quite fit into this scheme (#s 32, and 45). Let me draw your attention to Overture #32 in particular. If we did nothing else, given the circumstances of our church in our nation, I believe this overture is in order. My prayer is that we will do both: take action regarding racial sins and join together in asking God for deeper and wider repentance and its fruits. Our members, churches, presbyteries, denomination, the Church in America, and America herself are in desperate need of such salt-and-light gospel ministry (Matthew 5:13-14). I pray we will not prove worthless (Luke 13:34-35).

by Reed DePace

 

 

 

 

What’d J’ya Say God?

[by reed depace; from our church’s new website blog.]

So this has probably crossed your mind before:

• Does God still speak to people?
• If so, how?
• When that little voice speaks in my head, is that the Spirit?

Whatd jya say God.PNG

As always, we can only answer these kinds of questions by asking God Himself. You best friend’s grandmom’s neighbor’s cat’s opinion might be better than mine, but it is still just opinion. If we want truth, especially about God Himself, we need to ask God to speak for Himself.

Assume for a minute you believe the Bible is God speaking for Himself. (If you don’t believe this, I’ll be happy to show you how the Bible says this is true.) Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that while God may have spoken through a little old lady’s cat in times past (and in a host of other unusual ways), He does not do that anymore.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:1-2 ESV)

Can God speak through dreams, visions, wet fleeces, sticks turning into snakes, yada, yada, yada? Of course! Who can deny God doing what He wants? But as this passage expressly states, He does NOT do that anymore, not since He has spoken through His Son Jesus.

Now the theology wrapped up in Hebrews 1:2 is deep and wide and goes a long way toward giving us confidence to not make a pilgrimage to look at a piece of burnt toast with the (supposed) image of Jesus on it. It is sufficient here for us to observe that Jesus Himself says that He speaks today only through the Bible.

So, using this as our starting point, let’s ask the particular question: does God still speak to us, personally, through the Bible?

Hebrews 4:12 gives a compelling answer: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)

It doesn’t get any more personal than the division of soul and spirit, speaking to us at the deepest and most intimate of levels in our being. Yes, God still speaks to us, even personally, but again, only through His word, the Bible.

Now there are lots of other passages in Scripture that also teach this. (One of my favorites is Jesus’ promise that His sheep actually do hear His voice, John 10:27.) And the doctrine of illumination does tell us that this speech is by the Spirit and at the deepest, most intimate of levels in our beings (1 Corinthians 2:7-14).

Yet in spite of this promise, this guarantee, we still have that niggling little question in the back of our minds, “how does the Spirit do this?”

The Bible is amazingly silent on that question. (I think this is related to our idolatry of our own abilities and what we’d do with the details of the how-answer, but that is a subject for another post.) We simply cannot go into too much detail, lest we end up in error, and get even more confused. Or worse, we end up identifying the Spirit speaking through a means He does not, and actually begin listening to the Enemy.

From Scriptures, what we can say is this:

• God does speak personally to His children.
• They can recognize that He is speaking to them.
• It is the Spirit who does the speaking.
• He always and only speaks to us consistent with the written record found in Scripture.
• He always speaks in a manner that increases our repentance and strengthens our faith.
• He always speaks those things which convict us of sin, convince us of Jesus sufficiency, and conform us to growing in Christlikeness.

And yet again, this still leaves us a bit murky about exactly how the Spirit does this. That can be a bit frustrating. While I can’t give you any “thus saith the Lord!” I can offer two biblically informed illustrations that may help you put a bit more faith into God’s personal speaking to you through the Bible.

First, consider the four faculties of the soul: mental (thinking), emotional (feeling), conscience (judging), and will (choosing). These are not separate functions but integrated capacities that are always working in conjunction with one another. Given that the Bible is itself in a form that interacts with our soul’s faculties, and given that the Bible says the Spirit speaks the Bible intimately into our souls, we are safe to observe that in some manner the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us is received by us in our souls. This eliminates the “audible voice” expectation, as well as a host of other unusual “coincidences” that many of us still rely on. (I still get a kick out of Christians who, when something bad happens, say, “Uh oh, bad things always come in threes.” Talk about a messed up way of hearing from God. :P )

Second, consider the idea that we can tell the Spirit’s speaking by the results, the evidence left behind. To understand this better let me draw your attention briefly to the Large Hardon Collider in Cern, Switzerland (you may have heard about this related to something called the “God particle”). This thing is an atomic accelerator. Scientists use it to discover and describe sub-atomic particles. The interesting thing is that they do not have instruments that are able to see these sub-atomic particles. Instead of examining the particles directly, using this accelerator they crash atoms into each other at very high speeds.

atom crashing

The resulting collisions, like a car accident, send these unsee-able particles careening off in all directions. As the particle fly off they hit other atoms in the air around them, causing them damage. Like an accident investigator, the scientists then can measure the nature and shape of the unseen sub-atomic particles by the effects they had on the seen atoms they damaged.

This is in part how we can identify that the Spirit has indeed spoken to us, by the results, the effects of His speaking the Bible into us. Jesus says we will know the credibility of someone else’s relationship with Him by the fruits of that relationship (Matthew 7:16-20). This applies to looking at ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Proverbs 26:2; Galatians 6:4;1 John 3:20-21, and other passages). The fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are expressly the good results, the dramatic changes that take place in our life, as a result of His speaking the Bible into us. These are the seen evidences of the unseen speaking of the Spirit.

But still, what about that voice we hear in the back of our heads? What is that?! Pulling these two illustrations together, here is what I think happens.

Consider that it is a common experience for people to have an inner voice. This is a normal function of our soul, usually assigned to our consciences (think about the picture of the little angel and devil, sitting on either shoulder, whispering into your ears). This is universal, common to all mankind, so much so that people with defects in their inner voice are identified as mentally ill: schizophrenia, people with more than one inner voice; bi-polar, two opposing inner voices; sociopaths, people with no inner voice. Such folks have defects in their soul’s faculties.

So, considering that the inner voice is a common experience to all mankind, and that Christians find this inner voice increasingly sounding like the Bible, what I think is going on is this:

• The Spirit “speaks” to us in a spiritual manner that the Bible does not describe.
• He does so through the Bible itself.
• He uses secondary means (e.g., preaching, reading, listening), but these secondary means are not themselves His speaking.
• We do not “hear” His voice directly, either through our physical bodies or our immaterial souls.
• Rather, we see the results of His speaking.
• And the first result, is changes wrought in our souls.
• That is, the Spirit speaks the Bible to our souls, and we experience the results of that speech.
• The inner voice we hear and wonder, “Is that God speaking?” is our own inner voice, evidencing the changes produced by
the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us.

In other words we can tell the Spirit speaks to us to the degree our inner voice echoes the Bible. As the Spirit speaks the Bible to us, into our souls, we find ourselves increasingly:

• Thinking the way the Bible says we should think,
• Feeling the way the Bible says we should feel,
• Judging the way the Bible says we should judge, and
• Choosing the way the Bible says we should choose.

These are first-order, or immediate fruits of the Spirit’s speech into us, evidences that He has indeed spoken.

So we must be careful when talking about our inner voice and the Spirit’s speaking to us. The Bible tells us that the inner voice IS NOT the voice of the Spirit. Instead, the inner voice, as it grows more and more to echo, to repeat what the Bible says, is evidence to us that the Spirit truly has spoken to us.

This is a great encouragement. I know the Spirit will speak to me, personally. I know He will use secondary means. I know whatever He says will always and only agree with what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears written in the Bible. And finally, I know that my soul, my spirit, will experience the results of His speech.

Now this does not call for us to adopt some form of Christian navel gazing, some form of mantra-induced emptying of our thoughts so we can concentrate and not miss something the Spirit says to our inner voice. Instead it is a cause for great relief. I can relax, rest, and just take advantage of the ordinary means that I use in faith to participate with the promise of the Spirit’s speech.

• I can read my Bible;
• Use reading glasses when the words are too small;
• Take a break when I have a headache;
• Do a quick doodle on the edge of the bulletin when I’m starting to lose focus on what that long-winded preacher is saying;
• Prepare the notes for my next small group meeting, etc.,

And be assured, that though I’m like those scientists crashing atoms and can’t tell exactly how the Spirit is speaking, He will be speaking, and will leave behind the evidences, growth into the beauty and glory of the image of Jesus Christ.

• Here is another article emphasizing some of these points:
http://bit.ly/God-told-me
• Here is an excellent and short book particularly applying these points to how God reveals His personal will to us:
http://bit.ly/Ferguson_Gods-Will

If I can help with any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime:

Stop listening to the neighbor’s cat,

Cat mouth

Stop staring at your toaster waiting for the bread to be burnt just right.

Toasty Jesus

Go read your Bible!

by reed depace

A [Troubling?] Defense of Halloween

by Reed DePace

Have you seen this article at Reformation 21, the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals?

Halloween: A Distinctly Christian Holiday

I find this very troubling. The historical review seems more or less consistent with what I’ve studied. Even more, given this brother’s background, I’m willing to bend in his direction with facts I might find in question. As well, some of his cultural-historical assessment seems insightful and to that degree helpful. Halloween as celebrated in America does have some “Christian” influences. (I think he at least over-states this, considering Christianity more as a source, maybe the main one, rather than just an influence.)

What bothers me though is the cavalier tone of the whole piece. His writing treats the concerns of Christians about Halloween as silly. They are to be dismissed with a chuckle that says to the person who asked the question that they’re being ridiculous. More, it is as if he thinks he is being kind in limiting himself to saying that. Maybe sometimes this is true for some Christians and some of their concerns, but this article effectively sweeps out all opposition to Halloween as nothing more than the uninformed blather of Neanderthal Christians. Example: placing “neo-pagans” and “neo-puritans” in the same context effectively equalizes both terms. Both become pejoratives for those to be dismissed as effectively un-Christian!

A second glaring concern is the author’s historical rooting of All Saints Day. His review of its origins in the remembrance of martyrs appears sound (as well as I know my history). Yet he then skips over the dominant historical context of All Saints Day in the American celebration of Halloween – its Roman Catholic historical context! Indeed, I would argue that Halloween is more a creation of Madison Avenue (marketing to sell things) and the infiltration of Roman Catholic cultural tradition into weakened American Protestantism in the first half of the 20th Century. Pagan roots to Halloween may very well be blurred or even non-existent (as the author all but asserts). Yet he effectively skips over the DOMINANT influence of America’s Halloween history. This can be seen even at the end of his article where asks three leading application questions. The expected answers to these questions force the reader to AFFIRM the celebration of Halloween or mark oneself as someone who dismisses the martyrs of the Church. Thanks for judging the fullness of my faith on the basis of a dubious secular holy-day.

Christian_Martyrs_Last_Prayer

Christian Martyrs Under the Roman Empire

The “Christian” culture in which Halloween grew is at best a weak period in the history of the Church, not one of her stronger ones. The American secular celebration of Halloween grew out of a context in which the very fundamental truths of our faith, even the nature of the Bible as the thrice-I (inspired-inerrant-infallible) word of God, were being jettisoned by the majority of the TRUE Church. Halloween does NOT have a good historical background, even if we limit it to about the last 100 years. The false-gospel rooted context of the Roman Catholic Church is the dominant “Christian” influence in Halloween.

Add to this the obviously increasing pagan dominance in the celebration of this “holiday” and any suggestion of a true Christian influence is being swept away. The modern family, who decorates their front yard with gruesome displays first seen in an evil Hollywood slasher movie, most certainly is not afraid of death. But that is not because they fear God and rest only on Jesus. They’ve just adapted the power of the position of post-modernism. “Who are you to say I’m wrong! [There are no absolutes!] I’ll hang a decapitated body from my tree if I want to!!! Quick honey, go thaw out some more pig’s blood. The stuff on this neck is drying out!” What, exactly, does that have to do with celebrating the lives of martyers?

Image Result from a search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costumes

Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costumes

Imagine that Halloween were about the celebration of virtuous romance between men and women. Do we really want to encourage our members to dress up God’s precious little ones, their children, as a “prince” or “princess” and go door-to-door in a community where some parents will dress their kids up as prince-and-prince, princess-and-princess, and prince-who-thinks-he-is-a-princess? Do we really want to try to steer around the house with porn movies playing in the living room behind the big bay window, just behind the tree decorated with light up sex toys and the blow up sex doll sitting next to the stuffed animal? Sorry for the graphic inferences, but that is a fair characterization of what Halloween in America, in its UnChristian celebration of the reign of death, is increasingly becoming. We all know it. We just don’t want to address it.

 Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costume

Image from a Google safe-search: Christian Martyr Halloween Costume

Aside from these considerations, I am a bit startled at the close connection he suggests between what is supposedly a secular celebration with the worship of God. He mentions “liturgy” at one point. This reminds us that when talking about Halloween we’re not dealing with a merely secular celebration that happens to have Christian influences. We’re dealing with matters of worship. Indeed a large part of his argument to support children dressing up, getting boodles of candy, only to give dentists job security, rests of the biblical validity of the worship celebration of All Saints Day. I’ll let my puritan loose and express aghast shock at even the inference that All Saints Day has any place in the worship of the Church. My aghast sucking in of a deep breath before I blast “HOW DARE YOU!!!!???” is not opposition to remembering the martyred saints. It is opposition to introducing into worship ANYTHING that adds to God’s word, even by a set of good inferential arguments. The gospel that frees us so we don’t have to be afraid of things in the dark is darkened by such additions. That’s a lot worse than denying a child the joy of dressing up and eating candy as if sugar highs were part of the “blessed life.”

Throughout the article I think the author expresses a cavalier-ness that is most disturbing. I recognize he is seeking to use this tone to challenge what he sees as Neanderthal thinking. Indeed, I admit that Scripture in some places uses such apparently intemperate language to challenge the worst of thinking. But does the secular tradition of Halloween, with its dubious “Christian” sources, does this calls for the use of a cavalier tone? To do so with such sweeping observations, in my opinion, ends up affirming what should not be affirmed, all in the name of Christian liberty!

I get the desire for dressing up. I still have a big chest full of dress ups my kids used when younger, and we still pull these out when visited by families with young kids. I even own my own Elvis mask, thank you very much. But consider what Halloween is becoming; the celebration of the most gruesome forms of death, displayed by dead bodies hanging from trees. Do we really think that has anything valid to do with, even by mere conjecture, the only dead Body hanging from a tree Christians should be celebrating? I acknowledge this author’s desire to rid Christians of the legalistic thinking often attached to the discussion of Halloween. I fear he has inadvertently called holy that which is anything but. His argument is most certainly not one of adiaphora (things indifferent). I don’t expect my voice is all that important, so I don’t expect a response. Yet, sometimes the child must speak when the Father, his Older Brother, and the Best Friend are slighted.

foxe-s-book-of-martyrs-c1780-hand-col-.-burnings-at-smithfield-canterbury-[2]-27499-p

Christian martyrs under the Roman Catholic Church

Let me conclude with some hopeful expressions of peace. Given that this is a public article on a major reformed website, it is biblically moral for me to respond to it on another less well-known but public reformed website. At the same time, given that some of my disagreements are worded somewhat strongly, it would be right for me to also try to communicate these concerns directly with Reformation 21. I did try, for almost a half hour. There was no place to posts comments in response to the article. Further, the only place I could find a “contact us” link was at the bottom of the page, located in the mess of the “site map” stuff. The link did not work. I even tried the “How to Support” link; did not work. I got the same result from other links. It was only after realizing that I could not talk directly with those responsible for this article that I chose to post here. I don’t think I am following a hard and fast rule required of all. I’m observing my efforts however to highlight the degree to which I find this brother’s article disturbing the peace of the Church. It is harmful as written. I am hopeful he means better. I pray the Spirit lead him and the editorial staff at Reformation 21 to think through and consider a re-write.

by Reed DePace

War Room – Actually Pretty Good

by Reed DePace

I tend to be down on Christian movies. They usually are very lame in both the Christian and the movie departments. But War Room is surprisingly not, lame that it is. On the contrary:

War Room – A Review (Yes, I’ve seen it)

images

Good: good story, well told; uplifting, particularly Christian in content.
Bad: some weak, even dangerous, expressions of prayer.
Recommendation: positive for nominal to mature Christians; not necessarily for non-Christians.

The story line of the movie War Room is very credible – for the average middle class evangelical. This is not a criticism, but an observation. Indeed, in terms of the struggles and circumstances faced by the average evangelical believer in Christ, this movie is rather sound and well worth the time and money to see it. As most evangelicals fall into this social strata, this movie is rather well tuned to confront and challenge them about the purpose, power, and promise of prayer when one is in a saving relationship with Jesus.

At first I wasn’t sure about this movie. In the first 45 minutes there was no specific mention of Jesus or even anything that could be considered exclusively Christian. Up to that point if the Christian elements were removed the movie would still have made sense, and still have been interesting, to the non-Christian. Yet when the turning point came the gospel was presented in a clear, forceful, and particularly consistent with the Bible manner. In fact, this has got to be the best presentation of the gospel I have ever seen in a movie targeting a popular audience. I was quite surprised and encouraged.

Even more, as the characters then turned to practice their new found convictions in prayer, the scenes were (for the most part, see caution below) quite believable and compelling. As a pastor I could easily recommend any of these scenes as what sincere prayer in faith would look like in such circumstances. Further, the growing experience of answers to prayer were well balanced. These were presented not as things that could be written off as just ordinary coincidences. Nor were they so outlandishly “miraculous” as to strike at credibility. Instead, these answers to prayer were portrayed as exactly the kinds of changes one should expect if Jesus is real and the Bible is His inspired-infallible-inerrant word.

The movie was filled with little throw away lines that were actually gems of faith-wisdom, worthy of being placed on a church’s sign for the public to ponder. One of my favorites was the wife’s response to her husband, as he determined he needed to take a job paying about half what he was making, “I’d rather have a husband chasing Jesus than a house full of stuff.”

By and large the methods of prayer portrayed in the movie were biblically sound and worthy of emulation. I was especially encouraged by the primary use of Scripture as the foundation for prayers. I also appreciated the scenes at the end showing the key family, and others, praying together in scenes that were brief snapshots of a much neglected and much needed form of prayer called family worship.

Having said this, I do need to warn and caution against one glaring and dangerous error, that of rebuking Satan. The character did this as an application of James 4:7, and actually was doing EXACTLY opposite what the verse teaches. We do NOT resist the devil by having a conversation with him, by praying to him as it were, even if we speak the truth to him. Instead, as this verse says, we resist the devil as we submit to God. As we humbly bow towards God, with our backs to Satan, Satan is then face to face with the One who has already defeated him. That is why he flees, not because we’ve rebuked him, even in the name of Jesus. We are NOT to talk with anyone in the spiritual realm except for God, even for otherwise good reasons. The example of Michael the ArchAngel serves here to demonstrate just how much we are NOT to engage in conversation (which is what prayer is) with Satan (Jude 1:9). I understand this is a common prayer practice among some sister churches, and they mean well by it. Yet like prayers offered to Mary or the saints, this is nothing more than a worship practice that is a man’s good idea that actually breaks God’s law. Better we stick with neither adding nor subtracting, neither turning to the left or to the right, in our worship practices, especially in prayer (Deuteronomy 12:32).

As to the audience for this movie, it will work for those who think of themselves as Christians. This can be either the very weak, Christian nominalists who like the main characters are like lukewarm coffee, or more mature Christians like the prayer “general” Clara. This movie will be understandable and compelling to them. As a movie to be used for evangelistic purposes, well, I’d say again only with people who have some Christian background. It is certainly not going to mean anything to a Muslim, a Buddhist, etc. In fact, they might very well watch and reinterpret the movie to fit their pagan worldview and come out just as pumped as their Christian friend who took them. Now, if we’re talking about some non-Christian friends who are finding that their pagan faith is coming up short, then this movie might be a good conversation starter to get into the gospel. But for broad evangelistic purposes, the War Room is NOT the movie.

And that’s o.k. This is not a criticism as I gather from the nature of the movie that the Kendricks, as with their previous movies, were really trying to challenge those in/around the Church. This movie does that well, and on a vital topic. If I could get one prayer answered from this movie it would be that every Christian was moved to pray and submit to the last prayer in the movie. If that were to happen, then everything else isn’t even academic.

By way of follow up on the topic of this movie, let me recommend a recent book by Don Whitney, Praying the Bible (http://www.wtsbooks.com/praying-the-bible-donald-s-whitney-…). This is an exceptional book teaching the foundational practice of prayer, as taught by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer. When Scripture forms the basis of our prayers, then we are truly blessed, and God is glorified. This IS the key secret to the prayer practice portrayed in the War Room. If you don’t do this, your prayers are hindered. Learn it and you will rejoice, and not because a movie made you feel good. (Even though that’s o.k., sometimes. )
images by Reed DePace

A Time For Waterfall Eyes

Posted by Reed DePace

Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jer 9:1)

I’m beginning to weep and mourn for both my Country and Church. In the midst of all our energy given to discussion and debates on these things, maybe what we need to do is hit pause and begin to ask God one simple question, “Why?”

After all, He is the sovereign One whose hand is behind all these things.

And maybe, if we listen to the Spirit respond through the word, we will give ourselves over to the only thing that offers any real hope: repentance.

SSM WH rainbow

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1Pe 4:17)

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2Ch 7:14)

We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name. (Isa 63:19)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; (Ecc 3:1-4)

In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; (Isa 22:12)

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joe 2:12-13)

Welcome to Babylon! Here’s Your Mark!

[Update: Rod Dreher has another article worth reading (in addition to the one linked at the bottom). In this one he speaks to a political strategist on the reality that some religious liberty is going to be lost in the near future. Consider. Note too his suggestion that the only solution is another Great Awakening. Oh, that the Church would prioritize being the Church. -RDP]

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In July of 2013 I posted on the topic of persecution of Christians in America. At the time the Supreme Court had recently made some decisions allowing same sex marriage. I opined on how I saw this as a key marker that the future would see social persecution of Christians in America because of their opposition to homosexuality. Also at the time (and since) I received a bit of friendly criticism, admonishing me for being an alarmist.

Well, here we go again.

When I first took up this topic I expected that society-wide overt social persecution of Christians would not be wide-spread for at least a few decades. Not being a prophet or a prognosticator, I was engaging in the time honored tradition of looking at history for lessons to apply to today’s circumstances. Admittedly an inexact “science”, I thought I was in the ball park to propose that my children and grandchildren would face at least social persecution for maintaining belief in the Bible’s sexual morality teachings. E.g., I thought my grandchildren might suffer the loss of education opportunities while their parents, my children, suffered the loss of jobs, homes, etc., for simply declining when demanded by the World, “Say same-sex marriage is holy, right, and true!!”

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Given the widespread response to recent events, I’m now expecting such social persecution within the next decade.

Consider Indiana’s passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is being characterized as a form of a Jim Crow law (Google it: “Indiana RFRA Jim Crow”). Yeah, I know, those are just crazy comments from folks no one listens to anyway. Except for one little problem, what sounds crazy today increasingly becomes “gospel” tomorrow.

Consider the Indiana Pizzeria owners who got tricked into saying they wouldn’t cater a same sex wedding celebration (again, Google it: “Indiana Pizzeria same sex”). The family for whom this is their livelihood has shuttered the business and is thinking of leaving the state due to the amount of death threats they’ve received from those who think any vocalized opinion against homosexuality is tantamount to saying one thinks lynching is an acceptable way of carrying on race relations.

We won’t even talk about the poor grandmother florist in Washington where the power of the state is being used to force her to comply with the new (im)morality or lose her economic livelihood. (Google it: “Barronelle Stutzman”)

After my last post on this topic in which I listed eleven examples of Christians whose economic freedom and well-being was harmed because of their declining to participate in a same sex wedding, I thought I might keep a running list of such examples for the naysayers. But it got too burdensome. There is almost a new example of this every month!

For you who insist on not seeing this as a form of persecution, I’d ask you to read the book of Revelation a bit closer. [Full disclosure: I consider myself a pan-millenniliast: at the core an amillennialist, with a willingness to affirm and adapt insights from the other positions.]

In the Bible Babylon is presented as that world system, that empire of Man, which is fully invested in opposing the Kingdom of God. Life is quite simple in that empire. Publicly affirm your allegiance to the ruling belief system (the anti-Trinity) and your economic well-being is secured. Fail to do so, and punishing you economically is just the start.

(Rev 13:16-17 ESV) 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

So what’s my point? No, I am not predicting the date of the 2nd Coming. I’m not even interested in debating whether or not we’re in the end times of the Last Day.

Instead I’m pointing to a principle. In Scripture the first empire to set itself up against God was Babylon, at the Tower of Babel (Gn 11). Babylon then becomes paradigmatic: it becomes the picture that represents man in his best efforts to prove the lie of Satan, to become like God through his own efforts. In Revelation Babylon is clearly presented as this Kingdom-of-God-opposing empire (cf., Rev 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21, and everything in between). It is Babylon, the world in opposition to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is the primary source of persecution for the people who follow King Jesus:

(Rev 17:1-5) 1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

Notice that among the chief characteristics of this Empire that economically persecutes the children of God is leading the rich and powerful to engage in sexual immorality. We don’t have to ponder much to see this wedding of possessions-position-power with sexual immorality in the push for moralizing same-sex marriage … and soon to come, its in-bred cousins. (E.g., be prepared for transgenderism to become the latest “gospel” from Babylon. April 24 should prove to be another pivotal point, when Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer is broadcast.)

The upshot? Whether we’re in the end of the Last Days or not is not material. What is material is that in this country, in this generation, or if I am not Chicken Little, within this decade, we should expect to see the overt adoption of laws that persecute Christians for simply declining to affirm same-sex marriage as morally good. Following this we should expect the passing of similar laws forcing Christians to affirm the holiness of other sexual perversions.

Already it is socially unacceptable to speak against these things (e.g., homosexuality, etc.). To do so is to invite the label bigot. Yet, in light of the response of a number of companies to Indiana’s passing of their RFRA, just around the corner is this: not only will you be labeled a bigot, you will also lose your job!

Don’t think so?

Don’t think this is not the new norm? Businesses are moving from being supportive of same-sex employees to demanding that all employees vocally support the gay rights agenda, or risk losing their jobs. Don’t think that they aren’t rationalizing this as just a necessity of doing business. Their profit margin is their holy of holies.

And as businesses threaten the economic well-being of those who disagree with the gay rights agenda, don’t think you’ll find support from your local state representative. Politicians will cave if they think their own future is jeopardized. They will pass laws protecting homosexuality via persecuting Christians in less time than it takes them to flip flop on where their favorite pizza joint is located!

So what does the future hold? Well, if the new norm is to deny the Christian his First Amendment freedom of speech rights (at least with regard to his views on sexual morality), is there anything stopping Babylon from removing Christians’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights? I think not. Indeed, I foresee the not too distant day in this country when even churches are not only not allowed to speak against homosexuality, they will also be forced to openly support this sexual immorality, and all its in-bred cousins.

This is just the way life in Babylon operates. We may not lose our heads, but we will lose our wallets and pocket books. Will we find the strength of faith to remain faithful then? Be prepared for a pruning of the Church:

(Jh 15:2, 6) 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Maybe we can find hope and power in these promises of our King:

(Rev 2:10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(Rev 2:25-27) 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

Reed DePace

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[Postscript. Yeah, I know, I’m not painting a Kinkade picture here. But I don’t think I’m fear-mongering. You can tell the tenor of the mood of America by looking at the response to those who are paid big bucks to write a weekly opinion column. When they say something that most Americans don’t agree with, that weekly column becomes major news. When they say something that most Americans don’t find controversial, that weekly column is quickly forgotten. It is just economics; the media reports what people are interested in.

Here are three such recent opinion columns related to the Indiana RFRA topic. What concerns me is that these opinions should cause quite a bit of consternation, at least among Christians. Yet I fear these columns are being quickly forgotten – because they just aren’t that controversial at this point!

If so, my cautions are well founded. Prepare brothers and sisters. Worship Him more!

A Musing

The day is growing slight,
The dark is close at hand.
Will we reach for the Light,
As we walk through dimmed land?

Reed DePace

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.]

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