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IOut of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope. became familiar with Christopher Yuan’s story when my wife gave me a copy of Out of a Far Country written by Christopher and his mother Angela. It is the story of his coming out of the closet, dropping out of dental school and pursuing a gay lifestyle, his parents’ initial rejection, their conversion and subsequent pursuit of Christopher and his conversion after being imprisoned as a drug dealer.

In the course of that story he mentioned the concept he called ‘holy sexuality’. At the time, I hoped he’d develop that further. Over the years I was disappointed that he didn’t. His name would arise periodically as a wave of controversies regarding how the church is to interact with people experiencing same-sex attraction arose.

The Revoice controversy was perhaps the worst of the lot. In many ways it seemed to be an exercise in talking past one another. At least that was my experience of many of those discussions and debates. These controversies reveal that the Church still needs to talk about how to faithfully and effectively serve those who experience same-sex attractions.

Recently I discovered that he’d released Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story in the fall of 2018. I bought a copy for myself, and by faith one for the church library. It was my hope that this could be helpful in helping us work through these issues.

He tackles a number of the issues that lay at the heart of the various controversies. It is not a big book, so it sticks to the point and does not overwhelm with information. At times he interacts (briefly) with opposing views. That can be too brief at times, for instance his discussion of Matthew Vines on the issue of ‘bad fruit’.

He begins with the reality of God’s Story which is intended to help us to understand and shape our story. This refers to the history of redemption (creation ==> fall ==> redemption ==> consummation) found in Scripture intended to help us to understand life and the world. He moves into questions about identity, the image of God, and the reality of sin. He then introduces holy sexuality and dives into the issues of temptation, desire, orientation and then marriage and singleness. The book concludes with how to assist those who struggle with sexual sin in terms of sanctification, discipleship, and outreach. As you can see, the breadth of material covered is impressive.

TImage result for rosaria butterfieldhe book begins with a forward by his ‘big sister’ Rosaria Butterfield. There is some irony there. She was a lesbian professor/academic who became a Christian in the process of writing a book critical of the Religious Right due to the friendship that developed with a Presbyterian pastor and his wife. She left academia and ended up marrying a pastor. She regrets the work she did in laying the groundwork for the changes in our culture we’ve seen in the last 15 years regarding marriage and benefits.

He is a man who was gay, dropping out of dental school to basically live the party life. To support himself he became a drug dealer and ended up in prison. He saw a Bible in the trash and grabbed it because he was bored. He became a Christian and after getting out of prison went back to school and entered academia. He remains single, experiencing same-sex desires but seeking to live out a holy sexuality.

Rosaria’s forward covers some ground he will as well: union in Christ, the development of sexual orientation in the 19th century, that the real issue is not homosexuality but unbelief (which keeps us in Adam).

“The idol of our historical epoch is this: your sexual desires define you, determine you, and should always delight you.” Rosaria Butterfield

Yuan begins with discussing paradigms. Our identity shouldn’t be based on sinful practices, or what we can’t do (anymore). He expresses his frustration with the dynamics of the discussions, particularly the heterosexual-homosexual paradigm. I share his frustration. Between Christians as least, we should try to use biblical language. Too often I find people, both conservative and liberal, using cultural language for a very theological discussion.

He shares the story of Andy who was a classmate of his who was married. Eventually Andy left his wife because despite his prayers, God didn’t take those same-sex desires away. We’ve all known a guy like Andy. I know a few. Some left the faith without getting married. Others left their wives and their faith, leaving a trail of wreckage because they had to be “true to themselves”.

At some point people started to confuse their desires with their identity. Some conservatives further this despite their intentions in how they shape the gospel differently for people who practice homosexual sex. What many people with same-sex attractions hear is “If I am my desires, then who I am, not just my actions, are condemned. As I continue to feel these desires, I must still be condemned.” People like Andy are tempted to change their convictions because they confuse those desires with identity.

He notes that until the mid-1800’s, sexuality was about behavior, not orientation or identity. Carl Westphal was one of the earliest to use homosexuality to describe a person’s nature rather than behavior. Yuan does some philosophizing about the rise of identity through Romanticism and nihilism.

Sola experientia (‘experience alone’) won over sola Scripture (‘Scripture alone’).”

We do need to have a biblical anthropology, and speak consistently with that. I agree with Yuan and Butterfield that due to our union in Christ our identity is Christ. Where I ‘depart’ from them is in mandating that people speak the same way. Part of the Revoice controversy was about using the term “gay” or “homosexual Christian”. They were following Wesley Hill who says in his book Washed and Waiting that Christian refers to his identity and gay/homosexual his struggle (page 22). I don’t get bent out of shape when I understand that. Not the preferred terminology, but he’s often communicating with people who aren’t Christians and don’t typically speak about same-sex desire (they use the language of identity and orientation).

This is a practical difference, not a theological difference. In her book Openness Unhindered she has a chapter, Conflict: When Sisters Disagree, about this capacity to love people who speak differently. But her comments about the PCA and Revoice appear to have a very different approach. I’m a little frustrated with my sister. It’s okay- she’s still my sister!

YuImage result for christopher yuanan brings us back to Genesis for the imago dei and the reality of sin. These are foundational concepts that need to be addressed in these discussions. He speaks covenantally about our fall in Adam. We are guilty of our covenant head’s disobedience. We now have a fallen nature. This moves us into the reality of indwelling sin or a sinful nature. If we are off here, then the rest of the discussion will really miss the mark. If we make the wrong diagnosis, we’ll apply the wrong cure. This cuts both ways, for the culture war conservative and the progressive accommodationist.

To a sinner, sin feels natural and normal. This is because we have a darkened understanding and our thinking is futile (Rom. 1). ALL sinners have sinful distortions of our sexuality. We all want to live beyond the boundaries God has established for our sexual behavior in one way or another. Our problem is sin (the condition or state), not simply a particular sin. The person engaging in same-sex activity also sins in other ways. The issue is not simply same-sex desires and activity but sin (Adam’s and their own). Salvation is about sin, not simply sexuality. The goal is not heterosexuality but living in obedience to God through the grace of God.

Here is part of where things get murky in many debates I’ve had with people. I think Yuan is helpful. Here is some of what he says within this biblical framework:

“I’m not saying the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is actual sin. However, the concept of original and indwelling sin fits every description of same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors.”

He will later draw an important distinction between temptation and desire. Here is the distinction between a temptation to commit a sinful act and committing a sin. Some see the temptation itself as sin. Butterfield has a few confusing paragraphs in Openness Unhindered; confusing because they seem contradictory (first she says temptation isn’t sin but homosexual lust is- she could be using those terms to refer to temptation and inordinate desire respectively and then we’d be in agreement- see below). I wish Yuan spent time parsing John Owens seeming distinction between temptation and falling into temptation (which I think is that same distinction).

“Again: temptation is not a sin. But what you do with it may be.” Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, pp. 83

“In addition, temptation is not a sin, but temptations to sin are never good. They are never from God. Therefore, patterns of temptation can never be sanctified.” Rosaria, pp. 123.

“Moving up the scale, homosexual or heterosexual lust is a sin- even the unintentional and persistent kind that springs up like a hiccup or a reflex.” Rosaria, pp. 123

This doesn’t make same-sex temptation okay or neutral. Nor is it ‘sanctifiable’. If acting upon such temptation is sin (it is!), then we should mortify those desires of the flesh as Paul tells us to do (Rom. 6 & 8). We are to make no provision for them because we’ve put on Christ (Rom. 13).

In some discussions I’ve brought up temptations to commit adultery or engage in pre-marital sex (heterosexual lust). Some who ardently oppose homosexuality, and are critical of organizations like Revoice say those temptations are ‘normal’, or ‘not contrary to nature’ as if one gets a pass because those are heterosexual sins. Such a view is quite unbiblical. Yuan confronts that common, faulty, view. Holy sexuality is not for homosexuals alone but for all Christians. We are to be chaste outside of marriage and faithful in marriage.

“Chastity is more than simply abstention from extra-marital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan then focuses on temptation. This section could use some more work. For instance:

“As God, Jesus did not sin and in fact is incapable of sinning (this is call impeccability).”

He doesn’t address Jesus as man, who specifically obeyed as man in our place for our salvation. There is a huge mystery here that Yuan pretty much ignores. It was as man, additionally, that he may be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). Jesus resisted sin “all the way” while we often give up well before that. We don’t really know how powerful temptation is.

But Yuan correctly reminds us that as fallen humans (despite being united to Christ) we will experience temptation. This includes same-sex temptation (something some others I know seem to reject based on their understanding of regeneration). The issue is not whether you will be tempted, but what you do with it no matter what the temptation is. We are to be vigilant and put it to death!

He then moves from James 1 to James 4 to discuss desire, or inordinate desire. For many, the same-sex desires are not primarily erotic. It is about romance and being together. He notes that in many lesbian relationships romance drives the relationship, not sexual desire. This means that the problem isn’t just about sex, but the inordinate desire for a person of the same sex: friendship gone wild. Here he draws more upon Augustine than Owen. People can fall prey to “co-dependency, relational idolatry, sinful fantasies” and more.

“Nonsexual romantic desires are essentially yearning to become one with and be permanently and exclusively united to someone we hold dear.”

His discussion of marriage is short but helpful. Sadly some take “it is not good for man to be alone” out of context and make marriage about companionship. Marriage is about far more than companionship. It is about fulfilling the creation mandate together. Yuan gets that and explains that (citing Christopher Ash in the process). When we make marriage about companionship, the end of loneliness, we more quickly make marriage idolatrous (or disposable when this primary ‘goal’ isn’t met). Marriage becomes about me and my feelings, not about covenantal union to fulfill God’s mission. It isn’t less than companionship, but far more. Marriage is about someone who is the same but different. The same creature but the opposite gender. Like but not like.

Yuan also upholds the dignity and goodness of singleness. All people are single for much of their lives. They are not less than whole people. Jesus was not less of a person because he was single. At times in this chapter he seems to display some characteristics of New Covenant Theology rather than Covenant Theology. Yes, we must be born again but we still have the truth that “this promise is for you and your children” (Gen. 17 ==> Acts 2). God works through generations as well as in individuals. I also disagree with some of his implications about 1 Corinthians 7 while agreeing with his main point. Singleness is not a lesser state or a death sentence.

Singles should be able to have vibrant relationships with their spiritual family. Couples and families need to do better in caring for single adults and inviting them into the web of relationships. Singles (and the infertile) can have spiritual descendants through evangelism and discipleship. God provides plenty of meaning in life for those who are not married. Being single is a calling all have at some point (sometimes more than once), a calling we can walk faithfully in because of the indwelling Spirit.

He then moves back to holy sexuality and the process of sanctification. Justified and sanctified Christians experience temptations. Some still experience same-sex temptations. We are already new creatures in Christ, but not yet completely new. We are in process, in part because God is humbling us and one way to humble us is the presence of temptations.

“… because of our union with Christ, we can hate our sin without hating ourselves.”

He then deals with some bad theology by Matthew Vines. Vines interprets “bad fruit” to mean physical harm or emotional despair. Theology that produces hardship and distress is false doctrine, in his view. Therefore because so many homosexuals struggle with suicide, the teaching of the church must be wrong. Yuan takes him quickly to task. “Bad fruit” is sin or the lack of repentance. There is no true discipleship without denying oneself, which is painful. He also takes on Jen Hatmaker who blames so much suicidal ideation among gay youth for the church’s historic (biblical) stance on same-sex relationships. Yuan notes studies in secular countries, quite accepting of same-sex relationships, which also have similarly high rates of suicide among homosexuals. The problem is not the church’s teaching.

He moves into reminding us to be compassionate toward those experiencing same-sex desires, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. His parents rejected him before they were Christians and then loved and pursued him after they converted. He brings us to the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminding us that the original audience were to see themselves as the beaten man. We’ve received compassion from Jesus Christ, and compassion we should show.

He also provides some guidance for outreach. Often we need to listen and ask questions. They often believe we hate them. Like his parents, we may have to love them for a long time in tangible ways. He also provides some practical advice for when someone opens up to us.

Lastly he provides some basic instruction on discipleship. He pushes that you need a mentor, not simply a friend or counselor. This means that the local church, and ordinary means of grace, are central. Yes, we need peers but we also need older more Christians speaking into our lives, challenging us and calling us to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. We need to have the right goal in mind: holiness, not heterosexuality.

At the end of the book there is an 8-session study guide to work through the material. He wants this book to be helpful to people and churches. I think it will be helpful for the Church to sort through ministry to people with same-sex desires. I hope it will help us to sit and listen to one another, understand what people mean, identify the common ground (rather than assume it or the areas of disagreement) so we can move forward helpfully. Our desire should be to see people caught in this sin come to saving faith in Christ, and then to walk faithfully in holy sexuality for their good and His glory. This is a book worth reading.

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The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set)John Newton has long been one of my favorite ‘dead guys’. A few years ago Banner of Truth reformatted his Works into 4 volumes (from the previous 6 volume set) and I picked up a set. Last year I read a church history set over the course of the year. This year I decided I’ll read a volume of Newton each quarter.

Well, the first quarter is done. One of the idiosyncrasies of the first volume in the pagination. If you look at the back it is just over 600 pages. But … it begins with Memoirs of Rev. John Newton from page xvii-cxlvi so the volume is nearly 750 pages long. I did have to adapt my reading schedule from 10 pages/day to 10-15/day and some times adding some Saturday reading.

After the Memoirs of Rev. John Newton we find An Authentic Narrative of Some Remarkable and Interesting Particulars in the Life of John Newton, in Fourteen Letters. In other words, Newton’s autobiography over the course of 14 letters. Then we have Forty-One Letters on Religious Subjects, by Omnicron and Vigil (a pseudonym) and Cardiphonia; or, the Utterance of the Heart, in the Course of a Real Correspondence.

The theme of volume one is two-fold: his life and his letters. We will find more of his letters in volume two (as they complete Cardiphonia). It did seem strange to have both the Memoirs and the Narrative at the beginning of his works. In one sense it makes sense thematically. From the perspective of the reader I would have preferred some space between the two accounts of his life.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgHis life, however, is an amazing testimony to the patience, persistence and providence of God. And the amazing grace of God. It is easy to lose track of how many times Newton nearly died, or should have died. For instance, one time the captain told him to stay on the ship one night after dinner. It was his custom to sleep ashore. The captain had no identifiable reason. That night the boat sank before reaching shore meaning Newton, who could not swim, would have drowned. Another time he took ill days before a voyage and could not go. That ship sank and Newton would have been lost. There are many of these stories which should remind you of how often we may be spared without knowing it.

Behind the seemingly random chaos of life, Newton saw God’s providence. He didn’t necessarily understand, or claim to understand, why God would do such things, but accepted that He did. And so should we. We don’t have to understand why. We do need to simply trust that God has His good reasons (a subject to which he will return often in his letters).

We fail to accept the fragility of life in our day. Due to technology we think we can prevent accidents from occurring. In his day, they were accepted as par for the course. For Newton, at least, the god-complex of thinking we should be able to control life didn’t exist. Both evil and calamity existed. We, on the other hand, seem to pretend evil doesn’t exist except in rare cases, and think we can prevent all calamity.

William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott.jpg

William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott

Mental illness shows up as well, both in the life of William Cowper and in some of Newton’s letters. This, obviously, was before the use of medications to treat them. People could be institutionalized for years. Cowper would die in an institution. Newton’s adopted daughter would also spend time in one. In a letter he alludes to visiting a person in an institution for the mentally ill, and it was a great struggle for him. It reminded me of the visits I’ve done to prison: there’s something about hearing that door slam shut and lock behind you. It feels oppressive.

This is not hagiography, which is refreshing. You do get a picture of a flawed man, a trophy of grace. You get a taste of life’s hardship. You also get a taste of societal sins: class and race struggles that marked his day. But also the people who worked to end the legalize prejudice. Today Newton might be called a Social Justice Warrior, but I think that would be quite the misnomer. He did fight to end some injustices which he saw as implications of the gospel. He was haunted by past sins of his regarding the slave trade. He kept the gospel central, and so can we.

As Newton moved into pastoral ministry, there was seemingly controversy on every side. Divisions filled England and its churches. He notes the high Calvinists considered him an Arminian and Arminians recognized him as the Calvinist he claimed to be. There were also Dissenters or Independents. This was a time when declaring oneself as a Methodist or Enthusiast closed many doors for service. Newton grew weary of such debate and dissension in Christ’s church. He wrote often enough about how to conduct ourselves in controversy. He also interacted with pastors who were younger and needing a mentor, and pastors of different minds on the secondary issues.

He provides some sound pastoral advice to pastors about subjects like when to seek a new call in addition to engaging in controversy. For me these have often been timely words of advice.

Sinclair Ferguson notes that the details of our conversion often shape the concerns of our Christian life. He notes Paul’s envy of Stephen’s gifts, as well as Isaiah’s subsequent focus on the holiness of God. In Newton’s case, he focused on the sinfulness of the human heart and God’s purposes in providence. They fill his letters. This is part of why I love Newton.

Newton doesn’t paint a picture of experiential religion that places us above and beyond sin. Rather, he struggles with his own heart, recognizing the temptations that arise both in private and public. In a number of places he wonders how a Christian can survive in London with all its temptations. This was before he was called to serve a church in London later in life. No pastors are called to serve in paradise. And neither is anyone else.

Newton is not excusing sin, but honest about the effects of indwelling sin, the world and the devil. He is critical of Christian Perfectionism that was found among some including some Methodists. Our pilgrimage is thru a fallen society that pressures us to sin, stirred up to sin and tempt by the Evil One, and possessing a heart that is too often receptive to these temptations.

“So wonderfully does the Lord proportion the discoveries of sin and grace; for he knows our frame, and that if was to put forth the greatness of his power, a poor sinner would be instantly overwhelm, and crushed as a moth.”

In addition to temptation we also experience much in the way of affliction. God reveals our weakness as well as His strength. It is not enough for us to consider this intellectually, but He wants us to “feel” our weakness and experience His sufficient supply. By these afflictions he reveals the idols of our hearts and the sufficiency of Christ for our satisfaction.

His letters address the subjects we struggle with but often don’t talk about. As a result, they are immensely helpful.

There are some topics of historical interest. Some of the letters mention the American Revolution. In that context he refers to the problem of the national debt a few times. He views the colonists as sinning in their rebellion against the king, but also that this is in some way a judgment on the nation.

For the anti-vax crowd, one letter struggles with the advent of the vaccine for small pox. He thinks thru the situation out loud. Does a trust in the God of providence avoid the vaccination leaning solely on Him or see this as God’s providential provision of means.

On subject of puzzlement is his view of the theatre or playhouse. He views it as a venue for sin. He doesn’t specify the content of particular plays. Could it be the sin that took place in the playhouses? In one of Jerry Bridges’ book on grace he mentions he grew up hearing that he should avoid the pool halls. As he grew older, he learned that playing pool itself was not the issue, but the gambling and other sins that took place in the pool hall.

Newton does chastise one person in a letter for attending a play. I need more context as to why in this case. Apart from the context it sounds a bit legalistic.

Volume One has plenty of material worth reading. Most of it is in readable chunks thanks to the fact it is largely letters. You can follow along as some relationships develop over time. Why don’t more people read John Newton?

 

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We previously looked at the rationale for the overture from Metro NY Presbytery to amend the Book of Church Order to permit local sessions to determine if their congregation may have women deacons.

The underlying disagreements center on ordination and authority. Those opposed to women deacons regularly cite these issues. First that ordination is only for men. I’m not sure I buy into this presupposition. It is an argument of “good and necessary consequence” and therefore you have to make sure the initial statements are true. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do  we see that only men may fulfill the offices in view and therefore only men can be ordained? Or do we see that ordination is limited to men and therefore only men can fulfill the offices?

IfImage result for deborah and barak we look at the messianic offices of prophet, priest and king I think we have the picture of ordination or appointment to office. Priest and king were, in fact, limited to men. There was a queen mother who usurped the throne after the death of her son the king. But she was an illegitimate authority who would finally be overthrown and executed.

But we see women prophets operating in Israel as well as the NT church. One of them, Deborah, also functioned as a judge since Barak was cowardly. As prophets, however, we see one of the messianic offices filled by women (even in a vibrant NT assembly) even though no books of the Bible were written by them. On this basis, I’m not so convinced that ordination is limited to men. We need to think a bit more deeply about ordination.

Image result for r.c. sproulR.C. Sproul in his older audio series on the Westminster Confession of Faith said that he generally believed in women deacons. Based on the authority granted to deacons in the PCA, however, he stated that there should not be women deacons in the denomination to which he belonged.

This issue of authority is one that is not really settled in the PCA. From the PCA Report on Diaconal Ministries we read:

E. The Authority of the Diaconate.
The BCO gives specific direction regarding the authority level of the diaconate and its relationship to the session of the church.[35] The specific wording is open to interpretation; however, as to the extent to which the deacons, both in authority level and practical function, are to be directed by the session and how much they are to function in a separate sphere close to the level of the session but nevertheless ultimately subordinate to it. The range of viewpoints on this issue is made clear in the following statements.

Coppes (OPC) defines a role of direct subservience of the diaconate to the session: “We conclude, therefore, that the deacons are assistants to the elders. The deacons are part of the ruling office in the New Testament, a subordinate and yet ‘separate office raised up by our Lord.’ “[36] Furthermore, “To them (New Testament Church) a deacon , although an officer in the church, was a servant to the elders. He was not someone who functioned on a par with the elders.”[37] Lee (PCA) reflects a perspective almost at the opposite extreme: “Toward the session, the diaconate is subordinate in ultimate government control but coordinate in ultimate importance… The work of the diaconate is just as important as is the work of the session. The diaconate is ‘sovereign in its own sphere’ of ministering mercy–even over against the session.”[38]

Coppes also addresses the relationship of women to the diaconate. “Women were used (in the church) probably in an auxiliary capacity to the deacons. They were not ordained, but there were stringent requirements to be met before they could be so employed.”[39]

While they may possess authority, as a Body they are under the authority of the Session. I see this as similar to a wife who has authority over children and any servants or contractors employed by the family, even as she is under the authority of her husband. She’s granted authority to discharge or implement the actions approved by her husband. The diaconate is not free to whatever they want, but are to operate under the direction of the Session. I’m not sure the diaconate can decide to help a person or family that the Session says they should not. While the diaconate prepares the budget, it is approved by the Session for the diaconate and treasurer to implement. We don’t want two bodies tearing the Body apart.

We also see that Coppes notes that women were not ordained as deacons, but served to support them. Perhaps, as I noted in the earlier post, this is the solution to our conundrum: shifting from assistants to the deacons to deaconnesses who serve the women of the church under the authority of the deacons. In this way, the widows and single., poor women are not taken advantage of by particular deacons, or form overly intimate mutual relationships (we see this type of protection advocated, I believe in Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5).

These questions need to be  addressed in the Overture, or they will continue to sabotage discussions. Controversy will be stirred up and no resolution found.

Let’s look at the changes to BCO 5, 7, 9 17,  24 and 25 (a whole new chapter). They forgot to mention 5-9 in the initial therefore even though it appears as the first two emendations.

 

  • THEREFORE, be it resolved to amend BCO 7-2, 9-3, 17-3, chapter 24, and add a chapter 25 in order to allow local sessions to decide whether women are allowed to serve as deacons [Proposed deletions are shown below by strikethrough, and additions are underlined]:
    • 5-9.c. When the temporary government determines that among the members of the mission congregation there are men who appear qualified as officers Elders, the nomination process shall begin and the election conclude following the procedures of BCO 24 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 5-9.i (1) The organizing commission shall ordain and/or install ruling elders and/or deacons according to the provisions of BCO 24-6, and/or install deacons according to the provisions of BCO 25-6 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only the office of elder is open to men only.
    • 9-3. To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men members of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
    • 17-3. As every ecclesiastical office, according to the Scriptures, is a special charge, no man member shall be ordained unless it be to the performance of a definite work.

Cav Commentary: Many of the changes are shifting from the general language of officers to the specific language of elders. What is currently being said about church officers is now being largely directed to or limited to elders in these paragraphs.

In a quick read 5-9 it seems to be indicating that we would no longer ordain deacons. This would be an important move. It would take some of the obstacles away. One of the big impediments is “ordaining women”. The language of ordination is a deal-killer for some people. No longer ordaining deacons change at least some of the geography upon which this debate takes place.

This interpretation is rendered null and void by 17-3 however. It extends ordination to members, not simply men. 7-2 still treats deacon as an office in the church. The office of elder is open only to men, but the office of deacon is open to members. But said offices are apparently ordained.

5-9i was not as clear as it could and should be. A more thorough reading indicates that the earlier mentioning of ordain is to be understood as also pertaining to deacons due to the “and/or”. All that changes is the chapter of the BCO in which we find the provisions for ordination of deacons. Ordination is a loaded term in the PCA, and while this is used of all deacons, I don’t see this or any overture passing. But let’s move on to BCO 24.

CHAPTER 24

Election, Ordination and Installation of Ruling Elders and Deacons

Election

24-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of ruling elder and deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of ruling elder and/or deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. his Christian experience, especially his personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9),
  2. his knowledge of Bible content,
  3. his knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he has been nominated, and
  5. his willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

24-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

24-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

24-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional ruling elders (or deacons) from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

24-5.       On the election of a ruling elder or deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

24-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of ruling elder, or deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The ruling elder or deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of ruling elder (or deacon). Prayer being ended, the members of the Session (and the deacons, if the case be that of a deacon) shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a ruling elder (or deacon) in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the ruling elder (or deacon) and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

24-7.       Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.

The ruling elder or deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the ruling elder or deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

24-8.       When a ruling elder or deacon who has been released from his official relation is again elected to his office in the same or another church, he shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

24-9.       When a ruling elder or deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his office, his official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

24-10.    When a deacon or ruling elder by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he may at his request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon or elder emeritus. When so designated, he is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He may attend Diaconate or Session meetings, if he so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: Essentially all this does is scrub deacons from the chapter. It now only pertains to the elder. This is to maintain, however, the masculine language of the material pertaining to elders. This is because Scripture permits only men to serve as elders as is clear from 1 Tim. 2-3 and Titus 1. They necessarily teach and exercise authority. As a Session they evaluate the doctrine and exercise church discipline.

CHAPTER 25

Election, Ordination and Installation of Deacons

Election

25-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3. While the Church shall not neglect the raising up of qualified men to serve in this position, particular sessions may determine whether women can serve as deacons in their own particular congregation. After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. His/Her Christian experience, especially their personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  2. His/Her knowledge of Bible content,
  3. His/Her knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he/she has been nominated, and
  5. His/Her willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

25-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

25-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

25-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional deacons from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

25-5.       On the election of a deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

25-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother (or sister, as the case may be) as a deacon, and do you promise to yield him/her all that honor and encouragement in the Lord to which his/her office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him/her?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of deacon. Prayer being ended, the members of the Session and deacons shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a deacon in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he/she is entitled to all encouragement and honor in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the deacon and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

25-7.       Ordination to the office of deacon is perpetual; nor can such office be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a deacon may have reasons which he/she deems valid for being released from the active duties of the office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him/her and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his/her resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him/her and the church.

The deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his/her official capacity to a majority of the church which he/she serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

25-8.       When a deacon who has been released from his/her official relation is again elected to the office in the same or another church, he/she shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

25-9.       When a deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his/her office, his/her official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

25-10.    When a deacon by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he/she may at his/her request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon emeritus. When so designated, he/she is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his/her office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He/She may attend Diaconate meetings, if he/she so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: This new chapter pertaining to the election, ordination and installation of deacons is essentially the same as the previous chapter pertaining to elders, but with both masculine and feminine pronouns used. 25-1 grants local sessions the right to determine whether women are permitted to serve as deacons in their congregation. It expressly states we should seek to raise up men for this office. It should not degenerate into a body comprised of women, but either men alone or a mixed body.

One question that emerges for me is whether this would require a separate service since now each paragraph indicates a sermon warrant and nature of the offices as well as the character necessary to perform them. I’m assuming that the separate votes can take place at the same meeting. Presumably the sermon could concisely state the necessary information for both offices, but some may quibble and follow the letter of the law.

One significant and meaningful change is the vow of the congregation. Obedience to the deacon-elect is removed. The authority of the diaconate is lessened, but how much is not clear. This is an important change, reflecting that “the office is one of sympathy and service” (9-1).

The pronouncement also removed obedience,and therefore lessens the authority of the office.

While this overture deals with the question of authority (though perhaps not as clear as it should), it does not deal with the issue of ordination (what it is really?) and particularly the powder keg of women’s ordination.

The better routes would be to either no longer ordain deacons or to create the role (not office!) of deaconness to work with the diaconate among the women in the church. Perhaps this means we get rid of the assistant to the deacons. For the foreseeable future I see this issue continuing to churn and frustrate both sides. Perhaps we will continue to deal with issues like this until we learn a better way to handle them, and begin to treat each other better when we disagree.

 

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Recently new of the overture from Metro NY Presbytery has been burning up the internet and PCA pastor & elder groups on Facebook. I assume the same is true on Twitter and other social media.

Image result for phoebe in romansFor many this is a very controversial request for the General Assembly to consider this June in Dallas. The issue of women deacons has been churning since before I entered the PCA back in 2010. The issue has more layers than an onion, and just as many presuppositions that drive the (lack of) discussion. Sadly, the discussion quickly degenerates into accusations of being feminists or egalitarians, modernists, progressives etc. and people are told to leave for a denomination that permits women deacons. It is kind of wearisome for me as I grow older (wiser?) and read more John Newton. It is wearisome because we never really get to the root of the issue (those presuppositions) like the nature of ordination and authority, particularly in connection with the office of deacon.

My first decade in ministry was spent in the ARP, which allows each Session to decide if they will have women deacons. As a result, much of this overture is familiar with me. It is not forcing women deacons on churches, but permits those having that conviction to exercise it. This does not affect the courts of the church since women elders are not (and should not) be up for discussion. The issue of the courts of the church is precisely why most of these ‘women deacon-loving’ guys don’t go into denominations like the ECO and EPC as advised by some.

To the overture!

 

  • WHEREAS there has long been a sincere diversity of views among Reformed churches as to what Scripture says about the role of women in diaconal ministry…
  • WHEREAS conservative, complementarian scholars differ in their understanding of biblical texts that touch on the role of women in diaconal ministry, specifically 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1…
  • WHEREAS there seems to be strong evidence that the word διάκονον in Romans 16:1 is used in a technical manner to describe an office Phobebe holds rather than in a general descriptive manner…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession does not specifically address the office of deacon…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession 20.2 does speak of Christian liberty and not unnecessarily binding the consciences of men…
  • WHEREAS it is in line with the historical spirit of the PCA to be a grassroots denomination and to defer to the judgment of local sessions in decisions regarding congregational ministry…
  • WHEREAS several conservative, reformed denominations within NAPARC allow women to serve as deacons (i.e. Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ), and The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America)

The rationale for the overture begins with acknowledging that for quite some time there has been a diversity of opinion in the PCA and Reformed churches as to what the Scriptures teach regarding this issue. That is a key point, “what Scripture says”! This is not about culture, but about trying to rightly divide the Word.

The WCF in the first chapter recognizes the following:

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

This is an issue that is not as clear as whether or not women may be elders. To me that is crystal clear. Deacons is far less so, which to me means we should be less dogmatic. This is a topic that is not necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. This hits the well-being, not the essence of the church. It is important we put this in the right compartment so we don’t treat those with whom we disagree as heretics or unworthy of our fellowship. This isn’t the hill worth dying on. But we can discuss it, challenge each other and see this in the ‘reformed and reforming’ category as opposed to the ‘faith handed down by the saints’ category.

Image result for r.c. sproulConservative complementarian scholars do differ on this question. Some live in some sort of denial on this issue. John Piper is surely not a feminist. R.C. Sproul was not a liberal (though he thought the PCA should not have women deacons because of its views of deacons and authority). There are others as well. For instance, you can read the OPC Minority Report on this issue. You can’t get more conservative and complementarian than the OPC (yes, it was a minority report and was not approved, but some there held to that view).

TImage result for john calvinhe rationale brings up Phoebe in Romans 16. It mentions that she may have held an office rather than merely being a servant of the church. This is because of a lack agreement in gender; Phoebe being feminine and the word for deacon being masculine. That great liberal egalitarian John Calvin (tongue firmly in cheek) says about Paul’s mention of her: “he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church…” (Commentary on Romans, chapter 16, verse 1). Chrysostom, according to the footnote, considered her a deaconess (as did Origen which isn’t so great).

In his practice, Calvin did have a separate order of deaconness to assist the deacons. Through most of church history they were separate, with the deaconnesses helping the widows, poor women and quite early instructing female catechumens prior to baptism. Some have mentioned this, and perhaps this is a better option that will result in less upheaval.

The PCA currently has provision for assistants to the deacons (9-7), both male and female to be appointed by the Session. I wonder how many churches utilize this provision. I suspect not many do. When I mentioned this as an option for our congregation, I heard crickets. It seems to be another layer of bureaucracy. And it reminds us of Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott going round and round about assistant to the manager vs. assistant manager.

Women deacons, this rationale asserts, is not contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. We are not violating our confessional standards if we do this. We are merely changing our BCO which while is also part of our constitution is about how we enact our polity, not the system of theology to which we subscribe. As a result, while there are theological presuppositions at play this is a polity shift, not a move to reject our Confession of Faith, or Scripture (as noted above). This is a different category of disagreement.

The issue of binding the consciences of others is important. Currently, those congregations which believe the Scriptures permit women deacons are not able to practice their beliefs and convictions. Unlike issues like paedocommunion, this is not a confessional issue and perhaps more leeway and charity ought to be practiced. A solution similar to that of the ARP “principled compromise” may be a good way to move. Congregations opposed to women deacons don’t have to have them. Their freedom of conscience is preserved, though that of an individual may not. This argument can cut both ways, and should be only a supporting and not a main argument.

Because this issue is not directly related to the courts of the church- who gets to exercise judicial authority- it is about how a local congregation goes about its ministry (women elders necessarily affect the higher courts and aren’t simply about how a local congregation functions), it should be handled as a local matter. If your church has women deacons, it doesn’t affect mine unless people shift from one to another on the basis of that decision. As a grassroots denomination, this may be best made a local decision.

While not addressing the ‘slippery slope’ argument explicitly, they do by mentioning other NAPARC denominations which have women deacons. Those denominations have not slipped down the slope. Those that did previously rejected the authority of Scripture (for instance the CRC which rooted their decision in the giftedness of women despite what Scripture said) or just jumped off (the PC(US) which permitted both women deacons and elders at the same General Assembly). Yes, there are some in the ARP and RPCNA who would like to get rid of them.  Not too long ago, however, the ARP affirmed their ‘compromise’. We cannot know what will be, but only what has been and is. And those denominations have had women deacons for decades without slipping down that slope.

That is the rationale for the requested changes to the Book of Church Order. I’ll address those changes in future posts.

 

 

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In this, the Year of Newton, I’m trying to also read some shorter books. At the end of last year I bought a pair of books by Christian Focus. I’ve already reviewed the one on the ascension of Christ. Over the last week or so I’ve read the second- In Christ: In Him Together for the World by Steve Timmis and Christopher de la Hoyde.

In Christ: In Him Together for the WorldTimmis is generally known for his other work with Tim Chester, particularly Total Church and The Gospel-Centered Church. Those are both books I’ve benefited from in the past (here’s one blog post). He is an English pastor/church planter who is generally Reformed. I hadn’t heard of de la Hoyde before.

As the book indicates it is about union with Christ, which until recently was a greatly neglected theological subject. There are a number of newer titles looking at it from more academic and popular perspectives. This short book (90 pages) is an introduction in some ways. It doesn’t look at the subject exhaustively. What it does say is good and helpful, but keep in mind they aren’t trying to say everything.

The introduction prompts our thoughts in terms of what a church plant needs to learn and believe. This is not a surprise in light of Timmis’ role in Acts 29 Europe. They threw out a few options, like ecclesiology. They then bring up John Calvin, asserting that he was believe that a church plant needs to learn what it means to be united to Christ.

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ … This union (with Christ) alone ensures that, as far as we are concerned, he has not unprofitably come with the name of Savior.” John Calvin

This book, beginning with this quote from the Institutes, is drenched in Calvin’s thought. They are also dependent on theologians like John Owen. The organizing principle in Paul’s thought on salvation is union with Christ, or being “in Christ”. Rather than simply define it, they address it in terms of its benefits.

The first chapter is Safe in Christ. United to Christ we are safe from God’s wrath, but outside of it we are subject to it. The opening illustration is a house in the storm: in the house is safety, warmth and nurture. Outside is rain, wind, lightening and danger.

They do bring us back to Genesis 2 and humanity’s first home, the Garden of Eden. It was full of provision and peace. Adam and Eve lacked for nothing, except clothes but they didn’t need those. But then came sin and their exile. The curse means that our work is not as fruitful. Yet God held out hope for a new city, a new land.

As the story line of redemption develops we see that to be in the land is seen as enjoying prosperity and protection. To be removed or excluded from the land is a picture is a picture of judgement. Between Malachi and Matthew there were 400 years of silence, something of a 2nd Egyptian captivity where they are in the land but under the thumb of the Greeks and then the Romans. They are “exiled in the land” as a conquered people.

In comes Jesus, entering the land from the Jordan to begin a new conquest of the land. Jesus as the head of the new covenant is our representative. He bore the curse for us, and obeyed for us. We are now safe if we are “in Him.”

They develop this idea of representation with the illustration of Olympic athletes and, more importantly, Romans 5. Adam was our initial representative. All human beings from “ordinary generation” (human parents) are born “in Adam”: guilty of his sin and corrupt so we are also guilty of our own sins. If, by faith, we are “in Christ” His obedience is our obedience, we died and rose with Him. In other words, sin has no hold on us. We have already suffered its penalty with Christ. We have been raised to newness of life with Jesus as well.

“The gospel is God’s command and invitation for us to come out of Adam: out of sin and judgment. The gospel is also God’s command and invitation for us to come into Christ. The good in Christ is so much better than the bad in Adam.”

Then they move to Connected in Christ. Our union with Christ is a relational union. They begin to delve into the work of the Spirit who unites us to Jesus, and to one another. The Spirit unites us directly to Jesus thru faith, not through ritual. It is mediated by the Spirit, not the Church as in medieval Roman theology.

Connected to Christ we are in the presence of God. As we see in Ephesians 2 we’ve been made alive with Christ AND raise and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We therefore have unlimited access to God in Christ.

They then talk about Growing in Christ. Christians, and congregations, become more like Christ. They grow through their union with Christ. Calvin notes that in Christ we receive the ‘double grace’ of justification and sanctification. We are accepted and righteous in Christ. His righteousness is imputed to us. But it is also imparted to us in sanctification.

While our union does not change, it is a dynamic union through which Jesus changes us. This brings them into discussions of progressive and definitive sanctification. It is important to remember that we don’t become more or less acceptable to God even though we can be more or less conformed to the likeness of Christ.

In Christ we are dead to sin, and need to think of ourselves as so. They bring us to Romans 6 to unpack this. But we are not only united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection. We’ve been raised to newness of life, and need to think of ourselves that way. We grow into our identity in Christ. Sin is not inevitable for us. We are not indebted to sin. We are indebted to Jesus.

In Romans 6, their credobaptist colors show a bit. This is one of the few points of disagreement I have with them. What we see in Roman 6 is what baptism signifies as a sign and seal of God’s promise. They take this as necessarily signifying what we have already received. Our disagreement is more about sacramental theology than union with Christ. But while our union with Christ is mediated by the Spirit, baptism is a sign & seal of our ingrafting to Christ. Paul speaks of them receiving this in baptism because as fruit of missionary work they believed, coming out of paganism, and were baptized.

They begin to unpack our mutual union in Together in Christ, bringing us to Ephesians 4 and 2 “for we are members of one another.” A great reunification has taken place because Jesus has removed the wall of hostility. But that does not mean that church life is easy.

“Church life is messy. It’s tough, it’s long and it’s often ugly. That’s why we need to help each other to regain God’s own view of His church: we are a people reconciled in Christ to display His wisdom  to the universe.”

They return to Ephesians 4 to address the practices that help and hinder membership in the one body. Not only do Christians grow in godliness, but churches are to as well. We are a light in the darkness.

They shift to Mission in Christ. Joined to Jesus we share in His mission. God’s mission becomes our mission because we are united to Christ. They discuss identity (who I am), purpose (why I am) and function (what I am). Then they have a few case studies to explore these concepts.

The final chapter is Everyday in Christ. They admit “the Christian life can be frustrating.” Our temptation, in frustration and boredom, as they note is to look outside of Christ for help. They bring us to Colossians to look at some of the things we look to in addition to Christ. They call us back to the gospel.

“We need more of Christ, not more than Christ.”

Christ, who lived for us, defines how we should live. This is not intended to be an abstract doctrine. For Paul, it was a doctrine that shaped our daily lives. They direct us to a few areas: prayer and marriage. There could have been more, and I wish there were more (at the least singleness).

This makes a great introduction to the subject. They take a biblical theology approach, viewing union from the perspective of the history of redemption (creation, fall, redemption & glorification) rather than a systematic approach. They also try to bring out the connections to church planting and other practical aspects. For this they are to be commended. Just as they aren’t saying all they could theologically, they aren’t saying all they could practically or in terms of implications/applications. They want this to be short and sweet. In light of this they also avoid lots of technical terms so ordinary people can understand what they are saying.

All this to say it was a good little book that I wish was a little longer.

 

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I was not a Black Sabbath fan. I heard some of their songs on the radio but didn’t buy any of their albums. Then Ozzy was kicked out of the band for his substance abuse. That was ironic since the whole band at the time had substance abuse issues.

A blurred photograph of a man wearing a helmet and sash and brandishing a sword with the title of the album and artist written in the backgroundBut Ozzy began a solo career and his first two albums featured Randy Rhodes. I owned those records and played them often. After Rhode’s untimely death in an airplane accident they released the Tribute live album. Among the songs on that album were some Black Sabbath standards found on Paranoid. I finally took the dive and bought the album. I was not disappointed.

I’m not sure why this didn’t turn into more of Sabbath’s albums. This is even more surprising since former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio took over for Ozzy. That seemed like a no brainerh but who knows why we do all we do. But when Ian Gillan left his own band to join Black Sabbath before the Deep Purple reunion, I bought that album- Born Again. After I became a Christian, that album seemed to freak me out at points.

Back to high school…. in those days they made us cover our textbooks. We used paper bags cut to fit the books. This was before we decided that paper bags were not environmentally friendly. One one of life’s great inexplicable ironies they were replaced with small plastic bags which were obviously made using oil, didn’t hold much and tore when the wind blew. Much more environmentally friendly.

Those paper book covers were begging to be drawn on. Mine were covered with band logos, like Van Halen’s. It was also covered with song lyrics. Paranoid  made the cover. As a high school outsider it resonated with me.

Like Led Zeppelin, Sabbath (named for the Boris Karloff movie, not Satanic devotion) released its first two albums in less than a year. The first, Black Sabbath, was recorded in a 12-hour recording session on one day according to guitarist Tony Iommi. It was released on February 13, 1970. While the critics didn’t appreciate it, the record-buying public did. Based on its success, they re-entered the studio in June. The album would be released in September 1970. Two albums in 7 months!

Iommi was the man behind the riffs with most of the songs for the album coming together during improvisational jams. Then bassist Geezer Butler would work on the lyrics and Ozzy on melody (I’m still not sure how that works for a Black Sabbath song).

Their songs were heavy, helping to trigger heavy metal. But when you listen you hear elements of jazz at times. Iommi is a fan of jazz great Djano Reinhardt’s guitar playing which provides an influence. Some songs have the feel of classical pieces with the different movements common in progressive rock.

The album begins with War Pigs which was originally called Walpurgis, the Satanic version of Christmas. For Butler, the real Satanic force was the warmongers. The song is not a celebration of Satan, but an anti-war song. As the generals pursue war, “Satan laughs, speads his wings.” This song was initially going to be the title song. It did become one of their standard songs, however.

The opening notes of War Pigs reveal the “heaviness” of the album: they are deep, full of bass. Then the siren kicks in before the music slows.

“Generals gather at their masses

like witches at black masses

evil minds that plot destruction

sorcerers of death’s construction”

The music repeatedly changes time like ebbs and flows. But with a dark subject matter lots of bass and Ward’s destruction of the drum kit with his often frenetic playing this is one of the original heavy metal albums. Butler’s bass is not plodding at all but fully match for Iommi’s guitar and Ward’s drumming. The song includes the politicians in its indictment for the plague of war. They draw pictures of the destruction and the cries for mercy from the war pigs before the God of judgment. This classic song with all its musical twists and turns takes up the first 8 minutes of the record.

Paranoid was one of the last songs written but shows up second on the album. They didn’t have enough material and needed to write more. Iommi played a riff they liked and they claim it took about 25 minutes to pull together. Butler put together some lyrics and the song was done is about 2 hours. It barely exceeds 2 minutes.

Butler says it was about depression, which he experienced as paranoia partially due to the effects of his pot smoking. Butler thought the song was too much like Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown. They both have riffs reminiscent of a fast moving steam locomotive. The studio saw potential in Paranoid as a single and decided to name the album after it even though the album art had already been completed. In this case, their instincts instead of Butler’s were right as the song became their highest charting single and a classic rock radio staple.

The riff. like Communication Breadown, sets the pace for too many later metal riffs. It can be repetitive. Which isn’t bad when you are an originator, and the song is short (in both cases). The solo is not repetitive, but rather quite good.

Planet Caravan is a gigantic shift. It starts with bongo drums and bass, sounding more like psychedelic rock. Ozzy’s vocals are muted, almost gently crooning about some voyage among the planets. Iommi’s guitar is mostly in the background, including his solo. Suddenly piano appears during that solo as the bongos continue to set the stage. It is a very weird sort of song, but it works, somehow, in between the two heavier songs.

Iron Man was not the original name of this heavy metal song with progressive elements. Thankfully it did not remain Iron Bloke. That title was their response to the plodding riff. Ozzy noted it sounded like a guy walking in an iron suit. Butler says it is about a man who travels to the future and sees the apocalypse. When he returns he’s rendered mute, unable to warn people about the impending destruction of the world. The magnetic field turns him into steel. He is mocked, grows angry and brings about the destruction he saw. Maybe it was the drugs that prompted this song’s story line. But the music is a monster.

In addition to the main riff, there is Ward’s drumming filled with rolls and cymbal crashes. He’s a heavier version of Keith Moon. Like Paranoid it is a song of isolation and fear.

Then the music shifts. The guitar fades despite a solo with focus on bass and drums with the time shift before a return to the dominance of the guitar and the main riff. After the final verse the time shifts back to the beginning with the groaning guitar and another soul while the drums and bass are all over the map. There is a second guitar line in the background (is my mp3 ruining it???).

Electric Funeral begins with another heavy riff. Ozzy’s vocals seem to have some echo on them. As a teen I remember reading The Fate of the Earth. This song, in part, is about the effects of thermonuclear war with numerous references to radiation. But there are also the robots. The music explodes during the musical break. The music shifts again as Ozzy’s vocals speed up the pace. Then the odd chant of “electric funeral” by one of the band members. The final verse, like War Pigs, focuses on a coming judgment. In Sabbath’s universe, there is a moral code. War is one of the big no-nos, and for good reason.

Hand of Doom was about the results of the Vietnam War. Some of the soldiers returned addicted to heroin. They became aware of this after playing at two U.S. bases. This is one of the ironies of rock bands. They basically do an anti-drug song but abuse drugs. Other drugs, granted. Maybe there is a pecking order of drugs so heroin users are near the bottom. I don’t know.

The music is subdued at first. It has a bit of a jazz feel mixed with San Fran flower rock. And then the vibe amps up. Instead of the mass effects of war on the civilian population, this is the effects on the soldiers who wage it.

My, how they’ve aged.

But the music shifts for a bridge that doesn’t quite seem to fit. The same with the lyrics. There is a questioning of how the soldiers could this. Is he referring to the waging of war or doing of the drugs? This is probably my least favorite song on the album at this point. But it returns to the style of the earlier section which was more interesting, as the soldier dies from a drug overdose.

Rat Salad is an instrumental derived from Ward’s drum solos in concert. When they started they didn’t have many songs so they had to fill numerous sets at a venue with long improvised sections.

Don’t worry, there is plenty of guitar on this short song. And then Ward will go into extended rolls. Then around 1:20 they all drop off so Bill can play a solo for about 40 seconds. It is a great little piece of music that changes the pace a bit in a good way.

Fairies Wear Boots has lyrics by Ozzy based on one of his experiences (Wikipedia). But Genius attributes it to Butler He had an encounter with some skinheads that didn’t go well. Well, the band apparently

There used to be fighting all the time. I used to be a football [soccer] fan—well, I still am—and I’d go down to watch the [Aston] Villa [Football Club]. I had long hair at the time. Then this one day, the skinheads, or hooligans, turned on the people with long hair, even though we were fans too. So after that, I couldn’t go down there. This other time we did this gig in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare [in North Somerset, England], and we had a fight with all these skinheads. I think that’s where the lyrics for “Fairies Wear Boots” came from.

It begins with drum rolls and a guitar solo before finally settling in to the odd lyrics. At the end the doctor attributes all this to his smokin’ and trippin’. Did this encounter happen? It likely did, but they are mocking the skin heads as we see a bit more of their sometimes twisted moral compass (everyone has one).

In one of life’s twists, in 2017 Iommi worked on a choral piece based on Psalm 133.

A few years ago the Classic Albums series was on Netflix. The episode on Paranoid is very interesting and informative. If you can find it, it is worth watching. Here is the trailer, but Eagle Rock hates America and the series isn’t available on YouTube here.

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One of the senators who threw her hat into the ring that is the race for the DNC nomination for president in 2020 has advocated “medicare for all”. This is a controversial idea. It concerns me, for a number of reasons and someone challenged me about this the other day. I woke up early today and my mind got to thinking.

In some ways I’d welcome medicare for all. There are benefits that come to mind (that may or may not come to fruition if this were  actually implemented).

It would be good for the poor to have greater access to health care. I’m not sure how much it would change the patterns of seeking care by most of the poor, but their cost would no longer be a concern. I know I don’t have some preventative care because of the cost of my “deductible” (I have a medishare plan so technically it is not a deductible, but I have to pay the first $500 so that colonoscopy gets pushed off).

In a time when the ACA has pushed many people into high deductible plans, they are incurring greater debt for health care. For instance, a family I know had a baby recently. It was a home birth, but within a few days the baby had an infection. After a few days in the hospital, they owe $15,000 they hadn’t expected to owe. Do you have $15k hanging around doing nothing? Neither do most people.

Another friend in another state has a baby on the way. The health insurance rep informed them that prenatal care is charged to the mother, but delivery is charged to the child. The insurance company is double-dipping on deductibles. Does this mean if they had triplets there would be 3 deductibles to meet for the delivery?

Our health insurance system has serious flaws that were not resolved by the ACA. There is reform that is needed.

The ACA forced insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. That doesn’t mean the plan has to be affordable. With a son born with a birth defect requiring numerous surgeries, getting insurance for him wasn’t cheap. This is why we went with a medishare, though it doesn’t cover that pre-existing condition. It would be awesome to never worry about his care.

So, I can see some benefits, in theory, to a single payer system.

But let’s consider some of the unintended consequences of shifting to a single payer system in our situation as a nation. The nations that have a national health service shifted before the growth of health insurance. The changes to our health system, as a result, will likely be massive and have to be reckoned with instead of just the promise of “free” healthcare.

Health Insurance Industry

This industry would become obsolete. That has happened to other industries but that was through technological advances and changing demands. Manufacturers of horse-drawn wagons gradually went out of business with the advent of the automobile. Netflix put Blockbuster out of competition.

Here we are talking about the instantaneous loss of an entire industry due to government fiat, which hasn’t been seen since Prohibition. That will mean 300,000 people hitting the job market (that number seems low to me). Some will likely find jobs in the government as it necessarily has to expand its capacity to administer medicare for all. But not all of them. Those are real people who are affected. Those are real families.

The Stock Market

Many of those companies are publicly traded companies. This morning Anthem, Inc. was trading at $306/share. They do more than insurance but what would the end of health insurance do to stock prices? In other words, what will that do to the IRAs, 401ks and other retirement plans of millions of Americans? Should the government provide “reparations” for stock losses caused by this change in legislation? Or do we just ask stock holders (and you may be one) to take one for the team? This is an unintended consequence that affects many people.

Doctors & Health Care Professionals

Doctors and other healthcare professionals incur large amounts of debt. Many of them do this under the premise they will make enough in their careers to compensate them for the debt. Advanced nursing degrees are not cheap either. One person I know estimates she’ll pay off her student loans around the time she retires.

Doctors already limit medicare patients because they don’t make enough money to pay off debt (often there can also be equipment debt associated with running a practice) and malpractice insurance. To move to single payer will mean that those already having debt may never be able to pay it off. Will it simply be forgiven?

With decreased salaries, we may likely have a shortage of healthcare workers in the future. It will weed out the people only in it for the money, but to invest that much time in education and internships should have some pay off for people.

Education & Training

This will likely mean we have to change how we train doctors, nurses and technicians in the future. I have no idea would that would look like. Would it be state schools with minimal tuition to incentivize health care professionals in the public interest? Would there be a shift to state-run training centers? It is possible that many medical schools would go out of business doing serious damage to the educational system.

Hospital System

One option is that our hospitals remain as they are (whether for-profit or not-for-profit) and receive payments from the government. This would put “for-profit” at serious risk, however. Corners would have to be cut. This would mean that the stock prices of many companies that own and run these hospitals would drop significantly as well.

Another option would be for the government to begin running all of the hospitals. This would mean that the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers become government employees. The issue of malpractice suits comes into play. The government, not just the doctor and private corporation, could be sued unless we legally prohibit malpractice lawsuits. None of these options should appealing.

These are just the things I thought of in a few minutes.

Medicare for all would represent a seismic change to healthcare. We would simultaneously dismantle one system and build another. We couldn’t even pull off the switch mandated by the ACA. The ripple effect of this change could create an economic tsunami that is catastrophic. It should not be entered into lightly, and the politicians peddling such plans need to be honest with the people. Not more “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” and “average premiums will drop by $1,200” promises that can’t be delivered by are made as part of the elaborate shell game.

There is much about our health care system, including insurance, that need to change. Dynamite is not the most useful tool for reform, of anything.

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