Loving Our Country

Each Wednesday morning I send out to our congregation a revival prayer letter. A small group of our members use this every Thursday morning, and others privately, to pray for revival in our church, and in our community.

This morning’s Wednesday’s-4-Revival prayer letter addresses the topic of our nation and the church. While there is not any profound insights in this letter, it does (I hope) offer a biblically ordered and coordinated way of praying for our churches and communities, to the end that both the Kingdom of Christ is advanced, and our nation is blessed.

Given our focus today, I thought I might share it a bit more widely.
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Wednesdays for Revival #64
July 4, 2018
Reed DePace

Loving Our Country

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us.*


Historically Amazing

 

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photo: jeff hamilton, unsplash

As a fan of history (double undergrad degree in American History and geo-political science), I appreciate how blessed America has been in her short time on earth. She is rightly to be considered among the top ten world-spanning empires in history. This is not just in terms of her power. Yes, in comparison to other nations in her own time, America is the most powerful militarily, economically, and even to some extent, socially. Even today, in the midst of signs of her decline, and the rise of enemies (both old and new), America is the single largest exporter of cultural influence, the ‘currency’ which is a key component of an empire.

Yes, she has her problems. There is (once again) a terribly large and growing gap between her richest and her poorest. As well, real expressions of injustice continue to plague her. Yet, even in these areas of negative assessment, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. America’s poor are at least equal to, and in most cases, more materially blessed than a majority of the poor in the rest of the world. There are even many countries where their middle classes enjoy less material comforts than America’s poor enjoy.

When it comes to justice, yes, any injustice is a stench in God’s nostrils. Yet there is far less injustice in America than in just about any other country in the world. And even where there is injustice, the American system provides a better chance of rectifying and restoring justice than do the vast majority of the rest of the nations that currently fill the earth. What’s more, the level of personal freedom in America, the degree to which the individual can go where they want, when they want, to do what they want, without being questioned, is still among the greatest ever seen.

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photo: frank mckenna, unsplash

Compared to the rest of the Top Ten Empires, America has seen greater prosperity, greater freedom, and greater justice, for a greater percentage of her citizens than all the other world-dominating empires, and by a large margin. If God could tell the Israelites going into captivity under the tyrannical Babylonian Empire that would rape, pillage, and destroy their beloved homeland to:

… work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7

How much more do we citizens of the Kingdom of God have greater reason to praise God and seek his blessing on the nation of our earthly citizenship?

Dangerously Ill

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photo: andrew ruiz, unsplash

In spite of her great blessings, it is true that America is in some ways dangerously ill. Given the state of our social discourse, it is almost impossible for me to give examples. For each example I give, some will think they’re hearing me agreeing with them on their list of “America’s Worst Problems.” Still others will take offense, thinking I’ve dissed their list of what they think is wrong with America. The truth of the matter is I just have an opinion, more or less  informed than yours, depending on the topic at hand. But that we can’t even begin to civilly discuss such things possibly demonstrates just how ill America is.

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Mt 12:25

History shows that any nation in which democracy is the driving political principle is in danger of self-destruction when the majority will not allow for any social (i.e., public) disagreement with their opinions. That is, a democracy is always in danger of dissolving into a mobocracy, the rule of the mob (e.g., think: the French Revolution). While America was founded as a modified expression of democracy (i.e., the will of the majority filtered through and diluted by representative government), our government has more and more moved toward unfiltered, pure democracy. Worse, in our social discourse, our public discussion, and debate of our differences, the mob already rules. Just stand up and offer an opinion that the majority disagrees with. Overnight social hatred will form into an opposition in which its kindest and gentlest will utterly silence you. Worse, and increasingly more commonly than we care to admit, social opposition from the majority-mob threatens to remove your enjoyment of any dream for material comfort in this world, let alone the American Dream.

No nation in this world can achieve a state of perfection in which even a majority of her citizens experience the best of life all the time. In other words, Utopia is a fantasy that may sell books, but it is never going to be a blueprint for a viable nation. That America has come closer than most in achieving the utopian pipe dream is also a danger. It leads us into a dangerous pride in which we think we just need to try a little harder to get our point across to our opponent. We end up just arguing more angrily and then dividing further. And truly raw, no restraints mob rule creeps closer and closer to taking over our dreams for a better America.

Glorious Hope

So, is there any hope for America? Even though she will follow all the other secular empires and succumb to the King of Kings, is there any hope that America might find more grace and mercy from God? Yes. For within her midst is  a source of salt and light that God promises to use to bless her:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world– like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Mt 5:13-15

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photo: james bloedel, unsplash

In every nation and in every generation the Church (those who through Spirit-born living faith are united to Christ) is the hope of real blessing to that nation. Today this hope in the Church in America is still real. No, I’m not ignoring that America is increasingly treating real Christlike Christianity as the one enemy to be completely eradicated from her land. God is still sovereign though. And Jesus is still the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits on the throne over all nations. This means that the Church in America can still be the blessing our nation is so desperately looking for in all the wrong places.

So, what do we do? We follow Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who went into captivity in Babylon. We pray for God to bless America with the only blessing that will make any real lasting difference. We pray, in other words, for God to send a revival across our land. We work for the peace and prosperity of America. This is not the earthly peace and the material prosperity that will disappear when Jesus destroys the nations that follow the great enemy empire described in Revelation 18. Instead we work for the advancement of the gospel. We give ourselves to our own worship and discipleship under the Spirit’s enabling. And then we go back to our communities and tell them that Jesus has something better, and more satisfying, than even the American Dream.

Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:6

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, forgive our nation for her many rebellions against you. Forgive your people in America where they have cared more for their lives in this world than your glories. Heal your church. Restore hope in America that Jesus is the only answer needed. Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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* This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)?  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4).  Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.

Reed DePace

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Male and Female Souls?

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around sometimes!)

Here is a set of crowdsourcing theological research questions for my scholarly minded brethren:

Are you familiar with the teaching that men and women have gendered souls? That is, the idea that the differences between us (and perhaps the roles we are to play) are so essential that they are located originally in our souls as well as in our biology?

Can anyone give me the historical pedigree of this idea? What religions or sects have emphasized this teaching since ancient times? (Googling it brought up kabbalist and New Age spiritism, but I’d like to go deeper than blog posts if anyone knows of a decent resource.)

How have Christians historically interacted with this teaching? How does it comport with generally orthodox Christian teaching on the imago Dei, gender, and gender roles? What Christian thinkers, if any, have engaged or taught this idea?

Finally, how do you personally react to the idea that men and women have distinctly gendered souls as well as bodies? Do you think this is compatible with an orthodox anthropology? Would you teach this to your congregation? What would be your biblical supports?

I have encountered this idea in Christian teaching only recently, so I am not familiar with how it fits into the historical context of biblical and Reformed thought. I’m presently doubtful that it does, and I wanted to see if I could locate the idea in the history of theology and other religions in order to understand it better. 

Thanks abundantly in advance for your thoughts and any resources you can point me toward.

Thankful for Stumbling

[This is a copy of the weekly revival prayer devotional I send out to our congregation. Thought I’d share this week’s, as I have a little extra time waiting for the family to get back from shopping for turkey and trimmings. Nothing special, but maybe it will encourage. Reed DePace]

What Am I Thankful For?

I’m old enough now that a lot of my natural curmudgeon-ness has worn off. At Christmas, my family no longer worries if I’ll decide to reprise my award-winning role as Scrooge. At my birthday It is rare to hear a “harrumph.” But at Thanksgiving, I still struggle with one of the table traditions in our family, “Let’s everyone go around the table and share one thing we are thankful for.”

Now, it is not that I am not thankful. But it is kind of awkward for everyone else when you share, “I’m thankful I’m not as big a jerk as I used to be.” Some sitting there think I’m making a joke. Some (the quiet ones) know I’m not.

The Stone of Stumbling

So, with that bit of uncomfortable transparency to start our devotional this morning, let me share with you one thing I am thankful for. We’re visiting family this week, and so I am writing this in less than ideal circumstances for a person who does his best thinking and writing sitting in a dark corner with jazz lightly playing in the background. I’ve been a bit distracted, worrying a tad, “What am I going to write for this morning’s devotional?

I’d like to share with you something from my personal worship that just now grabbed my faith. I’m reviewing passages on election for an upcoming sermon series. This morning I completed Romans 9, looking at verses 30-33. There Paul explains why he was discussing election in the previous verses: to explain why most of the Jews who professed faith in God still rejected Jesus. He became for them the Stone of Stumbling.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 9:31-33

This is scary. All those folks raised in the heart of the Church with all the right blessings: adoption as God’s own family, the ministry of glory and joy, the covenant of grace, the law to teach them their need of Christ, worship based on faith and repentance, and the promises of the fullness of salvation (Rom 9:4-5). Yet when Jesus came along, they stumbled over him. They heard him speak truth about their sin, their need for salvation, and him as their Savior, and they rejected him!

Yes, I know, they were not among the elect. Yet, as I read this passage this morning, I found myself thinking about how many Christians, folks like you and me, maybe me and you, still stumble over Jesus. If it is all by grace, not of our efforts (Rom 9:30), them why do we still live by” do this or else”, and “don’t do that or else”? We’re still stumbling.

Or for others of us, we may not stumble at this point. But, ignoring that IF the Spirit really has saved us, then we WILL find ourselves increasingly loving and longing for Jesus and for what he loves and longs for, we stumble in a different way. Instead of rejoicing and learning to dance with Jesus, far too many of us professing faith in Christ are still having fun dancing to the world’s tunes, living the world’s life. Professing “we’re saved!,” we can’t even find the strength of faith to even be faithful in worshiping him, the primary place where Jesus gives dance lessons!

The Blessed Stumbling

This passage caused a blessed stumbling in me this morning. I worry too much for those who aren’t taking Jesus seriously. Yeah, I worry for some of those to whom I am witnessing. But the ones I fret over are those who’ve professed “Amen, Jesus my Lord,” and yet often do not even struggle with the fact that they don’t show much fruit of the new life that Christ says proves they are his disciples (Jh 15:8). I get worried enough that my “gotta fix this” mentality goes into overdrive.

This is what I’m thankful for this season of Thanksgiving. This has been rolling around in the back of my soul for a while, yet I’ve never really focused on it. Yeah, I’ve acknowledged it is wrong (repentance) and asked God to change me (faith), but I never really sat down and examined just how dangerous and offensive is this sin.

So today I am thankful that God kept his promises once again to work in me, to bring me just a little closer to the Christlikeness that is full maturity (Eph 4:13). Today I am thankful that he showed me how, in worrying for those who aren’t dancing with Jesus, I stumbled on him like those Jews Paul was talking about. All the promises and power Present for me, and yet I still run back to self-reliance. How thankful I am not just that he will keep his promises, but that right now, Jesus IS keeping this promise.

I don’t see the end of my self-reliance yet. But I do see it better than ever before. And I am enabled to recognize even sooner when I’m beginning to trip over Jesus instead of just resting on him. And I find right now, and will throughout my tomorrows, that I can dance with with more intention and sincerity, that is praying with more faith and repentance, and rely on Jesus, alone. This is something to truly be thankful for.

How about you? Do you find yourself still dancing to the world’s tunes? Be careful, you might stumble over Jesus one too many times, and never dance again. Are trying to do the Christian thing, but dancing solo? Ask that you might trip over Jesus now and learn to only dance with him. No more solos! The great news, what we can all be thankful for, is that stumbling over Jesus does not have to be fatal. Indeed, he often causes us to trip that we might not slip out of his hands (Jas 1:3-5).

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to dance with him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7, NLT, slightly paraphrased)

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, thank you for causing us to stumble over your Son Jesus. Thinking we’re ready for dancing with the stars, we fail to see how much we’re lurching toward destruction. Forgive us for where we’re still self-reliant, trying to solo on the dance floor. Forgive us for where we are chanting Jesus’ name, but still dancing to the world’s tune.

Stop us from being those who try to obey you through self-effort (solo dancers). Stop us from being those who don’t obey you (world dancers). Turn us into children who dance holding on to their Father’s hands. Make us into people who line dance with the Spirit. Let us dance for your glory and joy, held tightly in our Bridegroom’ arms.

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. For Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.”

 

reed depace

A Father’s Day Reflection

by reed depace

Possibly the best defense for fathers is the Fatherhood of God over His children in Christ. God didn’t create fatherhood as an accident, and then think to himself, “Hey, what a great picture of me!” No, the fatherhood of God to all who submit to him in Christ has been from eternity past; God’s status as father is an essential characteristic of his being.

Thus, fatherhood shares a sanctified status. That is, it is set apart for God’s own holy usage. That so many men refuse to rejoice in their calling to reflect God’s glory in this role is yet another slap of rebellion in his face.

How grateful I am for Jesus then. In him I find forgiveness and cleansing for all the times I refused to act toward my children in a manner that reflects God’s glory. In Jesus I find that his life of perfect obedience to our Father grants me growing obedience, expressed in all areas of life, and especially toward my children.

To them, on the eve of the day when our culture “honors” fathers while ignoring the One to whom all fathers point, let me say to my children (and their mom) how sad and grateful I am. I am sad at all the mean, unkind, selfish, and downright evil things I’ve done to you. I am grateful for both Jesus’ forgiveness and yours. Let not my failures dissuade you of your Heavenly Father’s perfection. Instead, let that sense that your dad is wrong, often, lead you to consider the perfection of God’s fatherly love for you.

I know I haven’t “failed” you, as in utterly. But I know I’ve given you more to forgive than to thank me for. Praise God our Father, He is nevertheless perfect. With you, I rely on him, alone.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:11-13

I love you. Happy Father’s Day.

by reed depace, te,
the church at chantilly
(historic first pres gumptown)
http://www.firspresschantilly.com

Overture 2 – A Quick Word

by reed depace

This may be too late for the debate, but since I can’t be at the PCA GA this year, I thought I’d post here in hopes that some at GA might pick it up. Consider it if you think it is valuable.

Overture 2 would give constitutional authority to chapter 59, On the Solemnization of Marriage, of our BCO. That is, it would require all office holders (TE’s, RE’s) to live by the practices outlined in this chapter.

The primary reason for opposing this overture appears to be a well-meaning desire to not confuse and clutter our doctrinal standards with unneeded repetition. Since the other constitutional standards, in this case WCF 24.1, fully affirms that marriage is solely for man and woman, there is no need to add BCO 59 to our constitutional requirements.

While I sympathize with the motive here, I think this misses a critical observation. The Westminster Standards cover our required beliefs, our doctrine, our orthodoxy. BCO covers our required doing, our practices, our orthopraxy. While the former clearly affirm hetero-marriage alone, the latter merely recommends it.

This is a hole big enough for even a first year law school graduate to drive a truck through. I can just hear the cross-examination in the trial, “Let me make sure I understand this right Rev. PCA pastor. You require your officers to BELIEVE that same-sex marriage is a no-no. But you only recommend they don’t PRACTICE it?! Other chapters in your BCO are required, but NOT this one on marriage?! How serious is your opposition to same-sex marriage? Certainly it is not an essential in your faith.”

Less legally tenuous inconsistency than this has been used to affirm the most egregious abominations in our civil courts. Time for us to listen to Jesus’ command to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Matthew 10:16

Overture 2 should be approved simply because it makes our practice convictions consistent with our doctrine convictions. I pray even that it would be unanimous.

by reed depace, te
The Church at Chantilly, PCA
Historic First Pres MGM, AL

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.

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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?
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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.

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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

The Decline and Fall of Westminster Theological Seminary?

Dr. Tremper Longman has opined, along with Dr. Sam Logan, and Dr. Clair Davis about the supposed decline and fall of Westminster Theological Seminary. In their taxonomy of eras at WTS, there is a beginning era, a middle era, and a new era. For them, the middle era is the golden age. It is characterized by names such as Dillard, Longman, Enns, Groves, Kelly, Fantuzzo, Clowney, etc. In Clair Davis’s rather sweeping dismissal of the beginning era, the target is E.J. Young, who, according to Davis, relinquished pursuit of understanding the meaning of the OT in favor of crushing liberal arguments (I am sure Davis means this as a generalization, not an absolute statement).

I find it interesting that Van Til is not mentioned, who was certainly part of the beginning era. I also find it interesting that Gaffin was not mentioned much, who is really a bridge figure in some ways, having studied under Murray, and taught during most of the “middle” era, and having quite a large presence in the “new” era as well, given that Tipton and Garner are quite thoroughly cut from the same cloth as Gaffin. No one could conceivably learn about Paul from successors to Gaffin, could they? But then, the post is really about the OT department, isn’t it?

I find it sad that the generalized opinion is that WTS students really won’t learn much about the Bible from such (impliedly) pitiful scholars as Iain Duguid and G.K. Beale. I consider both of these men to be successors to Geerhardus Vos, and I can offer no higher compliment. I have learned immensely from them, about what the Bible means.

In my time at WTS, the OT department was Groves, Kelly, Enns, and Green. I learned from all of them. A lot, in fact. But I have also learned from Duguid, one of my very favorite OT commentators. I do not think that WTS has declined.

The real issue is whether the OT department respects systematic theology or not. In the “middle” era, I would say that the relationship of the OT department at WTS to systematic theology was ambivalent at best, antagonistic at worst. I heard many stories of “debates” between ST professors and OT professors where cardinal points of orthodoxy were challenged by OT professors, points such as the ultimate sovereignty of God over all creation, and the very validity of ST itself (if some OT profs were to be believed, then Gaffin, as professor of biblical AND systematic theology, ought to have been highly schizophrenic). To put it mildly, I never experienced any such schizophrenia from Dr. Gaffin, from whom I took five classes.

The publication of Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics could not come at a better time. Vos was a generalist theologian. He could do biblical theology (NO one better!) and exegesis, systematic theology (I have read the first three volumes, and am now in volume four of a truly masterful systematic theology), historical theology (his treatment of the history of covenant theology makes him look a lot like Richard Muller), and he could preach! The successors to Vos today are men like G.K. Beale and Iain Duguid. They, like Vos, respect the claims that systematic theology has to put a boundary around exegesis. The loss of the “creativity” that such boundaries supposedly stifle is, in my mind, what folks like Longman, Davis, and Logan mourn. Others like myself will consider the newfound respect for ST in the OT department to be a gain, not a loss. Creativity with regard to the boundaries of orthodoxy is not a virtue. We need to dig deeper into the Word, not shift sideways. True creativity comes in the context of boundaries that are clear and, yes, small, as any true artist knows.

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

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