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We just finished our community group series on Judges. It seems to be a good time to review the strengths and weaknesses of the resources I used for this study.

First, we used Judges: The Flawed and the Flawless by Tim Keller. It is from the Good Book Guide series and taken from his commentary on Judges. Keller keeps moving from the flaws judges, or saviors, of God’s people to the Flawless One. The study brings you back to Jesus early and often.

It only has 6 lessons to cover 21 chapters. We ended up breaking each lesson in half so it took us 12 meetings together. This affected some of the cohesiveness but increased the comprehension. We were able to spend more time talking through material. There is no way we could have completed the material in one meeting unless we planned to meet for 3 hours. Not many small groups meet for 3 hours at a shot.

We did like the overall approach of the study guide. We ended up deciding to continue with the series and move to 1 Samuel (Tim Chester wrote that commentary and study guide).

Keller’s commentary, also published by the Good Book Company, is called Judges for You. I believe it is adapted from a sermon series on Judges. It is more homiletical than exegetical. Keller tends to deal more in themes than nuts and bolts exegesis. Keller is great at connecting the text with its place in redemptive history and the gospel. Its weakness is that he sometimes takes a position that is not necessarily clear from the text, and doesn’t spend much time going over the rationale for and against his position. This is a result of the material being adapted from the sermon.

If you are familiar with Keller’s sermons you will find it typical of those sermons. He’s easy to understand, winsome in his approach and gospel-centered. While there may not be enough exegetical work to satisfy most pastors preparing for a sermon, there are sufficient gospel connections to make it useful in conjunction with a more exegetical commentary. This is precisely why I read more than one commentary at a time. I want a technical commentary, a popular one and one that helps me see how the gospel is laid out by the book. This is one of the latter.

I also read Judges: Such a Great Salvation by Dale Ralph Davis. Davis’ volumes in the Focus on the Bible Series (published by Christian Focus) are well-known and respected (at least in the circles I move in). It is not an exhaustive commentary. It is from a literary analysis approach. He looks at how it was written as well as what was written. He has some elements of grammar and vocabulary to keep the message grounded in the text. He also does a great job connecting the text to the gospel. This was also a helpful volume to read.

The wild card, so to speak, was Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges by George Schwab. I love the Gospel According to the Old Testament series. I am generally unfamiliar with Schwab though I used to be in the ARP (he teaches at Erskine, the ARP seminary). In addition to being an Old Testament scholar, he has a counseling degree which adds an interesting flavor to things. This is a bit more exegetical than other volumes in this redemptive historical/biblical theological series. Schwab went to places that Keller and Davis did not dare to go. He’s not the crazy counseling guy but ties his out of the ordinary views in the nuts and bolts of the text. One of my elders and I really appreciated Schwab.

For instance: Eglon may have been a homosexual and Ehud takes advantage of this by pretending to want sex in order to be alone with him. The placement of his long knife furthered the deception. This provides a number of ironies that the original audience may have found quite humorous (they were probably not a serious as some of us).

We find similar sexual themes in other stories in Judges. But Schwab isn’t all about sex. He’s mostly about the gospel. He, like the others, helps the reader to see how gospel themes play out, anticipating the true and final Savior, Jesus. In some ways it has a more academic feel than the others, but certainly not a boring feel. This book will make you think and consider the purpose of Judges.

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“A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” A.A. Hodge

I came across this years ago when reading Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Note: he wrote this in a commentary on a confession of faith.

Since I’m currently putting together SS material on the Westminster Standards I saw the red ink underlining and exclamation points in the margin. John Calvin expresses similar sentiments in his chapter on The Power of the Church in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541). I decided to run an experiment. I put it on my FB page, and in a closed group I belong to connected to Calvinism. I was curious if there would be any difference in responses.

On my FB page, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few questions, but no big deal.

In the group, it was overwhelmingly negative. There were a number of misinterpretations of the quote. People were fairly unreasonable. I know, shocking conduct on the internet.

Here is a sampling:

“I disagree. attendance and membership are two different things. …theology is as important as doxology.. we are there to preserve both.. as a group we draw lines in the sand.. as an open group we do not.

“…maybe we should eliminate membership and just gather together without running church like a business. … If you expect the rent/mortgage on your church’s building to be paid, your pastor to be paid, the facility clean and in good repair, and your favorite ministries to be funded, then yeah, church needs to have a business component to it. Some churches take that too far and forget they’re a church, but churches have to run like a business to some degree.”

I also disagree. The elders are responsible to guard the flock, and you can’t keep the wolves out if you just admit members indiscriminately. Membership lists also have a use in determining who is eligible for church discipline. Just because a person sits in the pews doesn’t mean the church has authority to discipline them.

I would not expect a Pentecostal to accept me as a member since I do not accept their core beliefs about how the Spirit works and manifests itself. There should be some basic doctrinal agreement and some kind of pledge to serve to be a member.

“In order to worship in unity you need to agree on some things that aren’t salvation essentials. I don’t doubt the salvation of my Presbyterian brethren even though I doubt the legitimacy of their baptizing infants. They don’t doubt my salvation either but they would view my refusal to baptize my kids before conversion as disobedience to Christ’s command. Baptism is definitely not an essential doctrine but is practically speaking pretty important in fellowship and worship. …Messianic Christians and seventh day Adventists worship on Saturday, and think we’re misinterpreting the New Covenant when we worship on Sunday. They probably don’t doubt our salvation and in many cases we don’t doubt theirs, but it’d be pretty difficult to worship together weekly because they wouldn’t want to gather on our day nor we on theirs.”

“Nobody has to attend our church regularly in order to be saved, nobody has to agree to our church’s confession and member’s covenant to be saved, even baptism is not a requirement in order to be saved. So obviously this statement as it appears is false. But I wonder if it is explained in context in a way that might show it to have a true meaning.

We see an avalanche of erroneous assumptions, worse-case scenarios and oddities marshaled to reject Hodge’s premise.

What does Hodge mean? What doesn’t he mean?

These words begin that paragraph:

“In all Churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling.”

Hodge is writing a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. He believes in the use of Confessions and Creeds. He believes churches should have and use a Confession of Faith. He held to the Westminster Confession.

So, Hodge is NOT arguing that churches shouldn’t have a confession.

Hodge recognizes the distinction between members and officers. Members are held to a higher standard. He is speaking of the Confession, not extra-biblical conditions (keep reading). The Confession must be accepted, and taught, by the leadership of the church.

What the quote is saying, in part, is that holding to (subscription) the Confession (or any confession) should not be a requirement of membership. There are some denominations, wanting to limit doctrinal controversy. I used to be a pastor in the ARP and the membership questions included: “Do you accept the doctrines and principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”  A confusing qualifier to be sure. The URC requires membership subscribe to the Three Forms of Membership. I was surprised upon joining the PCA that there was no similar vow. Many wish there was one, but I tend to think there shouldn’t be.

This does not mean that Hodge didn’t think members didn’t have to believe anything. They had to believe anything necessary for saving faith. The Westminster Confession includes things necessary for saving faith, but has far more in there. The additional topics are for our well-being rather than our salvation. We should require faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate & part of the Trinity, who died and rose again. We should also require repentance as well. And baptism as included in the Great Commission. In other words, as far as we can tell, comunicate members should be Christians.

The other thing Hodge is (may be) saying is that membership should not bind the conscience in any way not required for salvation. Some church membership vows include abstinence from alcohol, smoking or dancing. These are not requirements for salvation (or sanctification).

In speaking about “church constitutions” Calvin argues in this way:

“So we must rapidly conclude as we argued earlier that, where God is concerned, our consciences are in no way compelled or obligated by any such constitutions. Their aim is to bind our souls before Go and to lay duties upon us, as if the things which they commanded were essential for salvation. Such today are all those constitutions called ‘church constitutions which they say are necessary if God is to be truly honored and served. They are countless in number, and make for equally countless bonds which keep souls imprisoned.”

If you think it wise not to drink alcohol, or dance or have the occasional cigar, you are able and free to make that decision for yourself. What you are not free to do is to bind the conscience of others to the same extra-biblical command. No church is free to so bind the conscience of its members. The doctrine of Christian Freedom needs to be taught in churches so members won’t fight over these matters (like the discussions I’d had as a young Christian with people who hated Christian rock, or secular music). You don’t resolve the argument biblically by binding consciences. “So you won’t fight about a beer with your pizza, we’ll just prohibit drinking altogether.” Too many churches take this very route and sin against God and their members.

Back to Confessions. Church members should know that the church has a confession, and that the teaching of the church will conform to that confession. I cover this in our membership class. I give them a copy of the Westminster Standards.

Some members will already agree with the Confession. That’s great! But I hope that many members are younger Christians. We are not a Reformed refuge where you need the secret password (John Calvin Owen & Newton). I see holding to the Confession as one of the goals of my teaching. I want people to move toward the Confession, understand it better and increasingly affirm it as a summary of Scripture. We can’t demand that as a condition of membership, however. We should never say to a Christian, you can’t be a member here. We may say, this is what we teach. If you are willing to discover more about this great. But if you fight about it, this may not be where your membership should be. Just as we offer Christ’s Table, this is Christ’s church. We may be Presbyterians, but can’t restrict membership to Presbyterians. I want people to grow in & into their faith in my congregation.

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Thursday and Friday was our stated Presbytery meeting in Flagstaff, AZ. This was the 3rd “short” week in a row thanks to a holiday, my son’s surgery and now Presbytery. Usually this means compressing the sermon preparation, but this week I have a friend from out of town preaching for us on Sunday. He was coming back to Tucson, in part to attend the presbytery meeting.

So he spent two nights at our house and was going to drive up with me. This also meant that I didn’t get my usual exercise. I was planning on leaving between 6-6:30, but the night before decided that 6:30-7 might work better for us, so we could get a little extra sleep in the morning.

I tried. We left shortly after 7 and were on the road for the approximately 3 1/2 hour trip to Flagstaff. I had kidded him about loading up my iPod with Deep Purple since he thinks Smoke on the Water is the only song they are known for. We ended up not even using my iPod as we talked most of the way up. We talked about the issues to be discussed in our meeting, the shooting accident that resulted in his hearing loss, church opportunities he is pursuing, the morality of football, and the Pope’s visit. Before getting on the highway we stopped so he could get a Coke to drink with his medicine. With no parking in front I dropped him off and then, without his realizing it, drove into the connector between the lots for Circle K and Wendy’s. It was a long line, and I was waiting thinking about having to make up time. When I saw him come to the door I pulled into the lot and toward the door. He missed me, and thought I’d parked around the corner. Though he knew I wouldn’t abandon him, he was still confused. So I honked at him, he got in and off we went.

We made one stop, on the north end of Phoenix. It is a new to me car and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Flagstaff on one tank of gas. While I pumped gas, he went in. For another Coke. When he had come out, I had moved the car to a parking space. I kind of enjoyed messing with his mind. This resulted in a story of how they used to do this to one of their friends who was always the last one out of the store.

We actually made great time, and arrived into Flagstaff on time. (One oddity of the new congressional districts in AZ is that I drove 3 1/2 hours and ended up in the same district I live in.) When we had been looking at maps online it looked like I needed to get off 17 onto 40 and get of the first exit. Since Siri does not like me (to put it mildly), I asked him to use his phone to get the directions. Siri responded quickly to him. Unfortunately we were brought through the NAU area which gets clogged due to low speeds, pedestrians and buses. So much for being on time. We then discovered that Siri brought us to the old address, from like 2 years ago. We quickly pulled up their website to get the address and now were on our way again. We finally got to the church, and arrived about 20-25 minutes late for the committee meeting. The new building was pretty much at the intersection of 17 & 40. We wasted that whole trip thru town. I don’t like Siri- it is a mutual thing.

The big news for the balance of the meeting was simply the time frame for re-starting an RUF ministry at the UofA. We, the churches in Tucson,  have until 2017 to get the initial money together and hire a campus director.

We didn’t eat here.

After the meeting, we went cruising for a restaurant without any assistance from Siri. We settled, rather quickly, on Freddy’s Steak Burgers. Ed had eaten Italian food for lunch and dinner the day before. Olive Garden was out It was the first time either of us had been to Freddy’s even though there is one near my house in Tucson. The burger was good- mine was the double with bacon and cheese. I prefer Five Guys, and I had known there was a Smash Burger not too far away I would have wanted to eat there.

We began with a time of prayer. We focused on our marriages, and the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our members. We heard a report from our RUF campus minister in Las Cruces. The part of the committee meeting I’d missed. He told three stories of people impacted by the ministry since last we met. Their large group meeting has been running at about 75 students. Things are going well there.

Much of the afternoon was spent examining a candidate for ministry. He had received a call to one of the churches in Tucson, but was coming from a non-PCA and non-Reformed context. So we wanted to be thorough. And fair. His English Bible exam was very good (though I prefer more than one reference when possible), as was his history exam (though I mentioned that he never mentioned the ARP in his history of Presbyterianism). There were some small blips in theology w/regard to the 3-fold division of the law and the 3rd use of the law but nothing that appeared significant. He would preach later during our worship service that evening.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in executive session. So I can’t tell you about it. Those sessions are often very personal and painful, or they wouldn’t be in private. They are draining periods of time. We didn’t finish that work when the time for dinner arrived. It had been a busy 5 hours.

Dinner was Italian. I thought it might be Olive Garden since it was cheese tortellini, a Caesar salad, rolls and tiramisu, but it was catered by NAU food services (good to build that connection). I spent some time talking with one of the assistant pastors from Tucson and getting to know the new director of youth and family ministry at the host church. Since the latter will eventually come before us for ordination, he had a few questions.

Theirs is a new building, two stories built into a hill. The sanctuary seats about 150, has the high ceilings (like an A-frame) with a library above the foyer overlooking the sanctuary. The furnishings often looked like they came from the Adirondack’s: knotty limbs and blocks of wood for horizontal surfaces. Downstairs was the kitchen, nursery and classroom space. This is where we ate dinner.

In the week before the meeting I’d developed a boil on the underside of my arm in the pit. I’d soaked it the night before to try and get whatever was causing the swelling out. It was tender in the morning, and had grown increasingly uncomfortable as the day wore on. I checked on it in the men’s room after dinner and saw that my work had been successful and hoped to attend to it when I finally got to my hotel later that night.

One of things I usually like about presbytery is worshiping in other churches. You get to see how they worship. Often I am able to borrow confessions of sins, additional verses from songs etc. They had the lyrics up on a large flat screen above the pulpit area. Most of them were also in the Order of Worship, except the one we sing which had an additional verse I wanted to bring home. Sometimes a worship service will be a bit outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay, generally speaking. This was a bit outside of mine in some ways. The sermon by the candidate was generally good, but it hit me as focused a bit too much on the imperative at the expense of the indicative. As it turned out, I was not alone in that impression.

As we prepared for communion I noticed that my sleeve seemed to keep sticking to my arm. Wondering what was up, I looked and saw it was covered in blood. After partaking of the body and blood, I slipped into the men’s room to tend to my now-exploded boil. I’ll spare you more of the gory details. But it sure felt better.

After the worship service we tied up a few loose ends, including a task for me, in the executive session. Then it was time for fellowship. Of course we got turned around a few times trying to read those road signs. Finally we asked Siri for directions to the Beaver Street Brewery. She-who-hates-me was useless. Back to Google and we were soon there. Thankfully we passed my hotel, so I now knew how to get there.

We had a great turnout, and only a few other people were in the restaurant. The music was too loud, and sadly they had just run out of the steamed mussels in a thai curry sauce. But I had a glass of their stout (which was good) and what they call Bowl of Goodness, fries sprinkled with cheese and herbs with a dip. It was very good and a few guys “helped” me eat it. It is good being able to get to know guys you don’t ordinarily spend time with because they work hours away. Josh, who organizes these events and I’ve decided to call “the Party Starter” decided we should play a pool game. Everyone threw a dollar into the kitty and the one who took the fewest attempts to get all three balls in a pocket won. I managed to get one in, semi-acquitting myself, before exceeding the best thus far.

Soon 11:30 was creeping up, and I still needed to check-in to my hotel. Ed was staying with other friends, so I was on my own. I’d picked the Econo Lodge University. The price differences between hotels were fairly large. I paid only $50 since I was basically only going to sleep and shower there. The room was clean, so I was content. I was delighted to see that the shower head 1. was not for Hobbit-sized people, and 2. of the rain fall variety.

I cleaned up my armpit, again. Resisting the urge to watch TV I went to bed about 11:45. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure why. But I had a hard time falling back asleep. The pillow wasn’t very comfortable being overly fat and fluffy, and there were unusual noises (the refrigerator?), and the room was a bit stuff. So eventually I turned up the fan and read. I finished 1 Chronicles, and then a chapter in a book on missions I’ve been reading. At 5 I tried to sleep again, and slept until about 7 when CavWife called.

From my trip there in 2010

I showered and dressed. The continental breakfast, and the lobby, didn’t look appealing so I went next door to Chick-Fil-A. I noticed 2 other guys from presbytery and ate with them talking about various aspects of the meeting and ministry in our respective cities. Afterwards, having finished my sweet tea, I went next door to Dunkin’ Donuts for a vanilla chai.

The air pressure warning had gone off the night before, and was still on when I started the car. I figured that if I filled up with gas, and had the air checked, I’d be ready to go once the meeting was over. I knew, due to the ideal gas law, that the pressure would drop due to those refreshing cooler temps at 7,000 feet. But I’d been having some trouble with air pressure and didn’t want a tire to go flat on the long ride home. I didn’t have my new digital gauge with me so I wasn’t sure which one was low. I spotted a Discount Tire and took advantage of their free air pressure check. Only a pound light, but I guess the sensors don’t work well at such elevations and read as if about 3 pounds light. They put a little extra in and I was good.

The rest of the meeting was mostly reports and prayer. We didn’t handle the proposed changes to the Standing Rules of Presbytery. This was good because the proposed “radical” changes had been replaced with some minimal changes. I’m not excited about the status quo which seems mostly maintenance not pressing the kingdom forward. We will talk about them at our next meeting.

There were lots of opportunities for congregations and individuals to be involved in missions connected with our presbytery, like:

  • Helping with church planting in Hondoras w/the Pettingills.
  • Teaching local pastors in Uganda.
  • Helping Barrio Nuevo, a mercy ministry in Phoenix
  • Helping Crossroads Ministry, a mercy ministry in Las Cruces
  • Supporting interns with the Hispanic Leadership Initiative
  • 2 Church Plants in Albuquerque.
  • Possible prison ministry in Phoenix/Tucson
  • Native American ministry east of Flagstaff
  • Ministry across the border in Juarez

The best line of the meeting was when one presbyter was disagreeing with the Parlimentarian about a particular section of the Book of Church order, to whom he replied “I wrote it” and therefore knows what it means.

After some good-byes, Ed and I were off for another largely uneventful ride home. I did spot 2 elk along the side of the highway that had been hit. They were actually quite huge so I wondered what the vehicles looked like. My ears popped repeatedly as we went from 7,000 feet to under 2,000 feet. We stopped for a late lunch in Phoenix at Pappadeaux which I’ve wanted to do for 5 years. It was excellent, though a bit more expensive than I was hoping. I was also surprised to see so many people with grey hair because it was a loud restaurant with lots of background noise that can make hearing difficult. We continued to talk family stuff, transitions in ministry and how my book is coming since he works for the publisher.

Still Deep Purple and iPod-less we arrived at my house at 4 pm. I think I will sleep well tonight.

[I meant to take some pictures of the building and sanctuary, but forgot.]

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This year General Assembly was in Chattanooga, TN. This presented some unique opportunities for the PCA. Chattanooga is where New City Fellowship is, one of the far too few churches that is multi-ethnic. It is also the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL (if you haven’t, WATCH the movie!).

All Presbyterian denominations have struggled with issues of race, particularly southern ones. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Notable Southern Presbyterian theologians tried to justify race-based slavery that was the result of man-stealing (a death sentence sin in the OT and condemned in the NT as well).
  • The Southern Presbyterian church supported the Confederacy in the War Between the States. The Confederacy defended state’s rights, but one of those rights was to own slaves.
  • The Presbyterian Church refused to stand against the Jim Crow laws, and stand with their brothers and sisters of color for their basic human rights.
  • The Presbyterian Church did not protect the lives of defenseless and innocent African-Americans from racists individuals and organizations like the KKK.
  • At least one of our “founding fathers” has taught (at least) proto-kinism which is a false doctrine that rejects the reality of the dividing wall of hostility being torn down in Christ so that the vision of Revelation 4-5 is not just eschatalogically true but intended to be ecclesiastically true today.
  • Many of our churches have tolerated kinism.
  • Many of our churches and private schools were founded to avoid the move toward integration in some churches and in public school districts.

A little over a decade ago, the PCA admitted the sins of our fathers with regard to slavery. But there are other issues that keep African-Americans, who remember the history better than we white people do, out of our churches. It is time for us to address these additional issues.

There were many things I found encouraging about General Assembly. For instance, the 3 worship services were all very different. Prior to Bryan Chapell’s excellent sermon from Psalm 32, the music was very traditional including a choir, organ/piano and strings. The second service was led by the worship team of New City including James Ward and some incredible singers, both black and white, in what was a very different vibe for GA. Then their pastor Kevin Smith delivered a powerful sermon on the 6th commandment tying it in to Southern Presbyterians failure to protect the defenseless and innocent in those dark days we want to forget about. It is only my fourth PCA General Assembly but Kevin is the only African-
American I’ve seen preach so far. (During my years in the ARP I don’t remember any African-Americans preaching to the synod.) In the final worship service, I think the worship team from Lookout Mountain lead us in a southern folk style that was quite interesting. The sermon by Rankin Wilbourne on Union with Christ was very good as well. Unfortunately, during the liturgy there was a line that created some offense by thanking God for the particular founding father who paved the way for kinism.

Bryan Chapell led an assembly-wide panel discussion entitled How to Advance Ethnic Outreach and Ministry in the PCA. We heard from 4 brothers: 1 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American and 1 Caucasian who works among the generational poor. It was a much too short conversation though a good one.

During the seminar times, there were opportunities for us to learn more about this subject. Lance Lewis lead one called Moving Forward: Actively Engaging Issues of Race/Ethnicity from a Biblical Point of View which argued for a proper ecclesiology that expressed the multi-ethnic character of the church. I also sat in on Duke Kwon’s Building a Racially Inclusive Church which was excellent as well. Unfortunately I missed Jemar Tisby’s seminar The Image of God and the Minority Experience. I bought the CD and plan to listen to it soon.

People could avoid these opportunities if they wanted to. But they could not avoid the personal resolution that was put forward by Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas with regard to our sins against our African-American brothers and sisters during the civil rights era.

Initial reports were that the Overtures Commission was quite divided on this issue. Before it returned to the floor they had met with some key members of the African-American Presbyterian Fellowship. The unanimous recommendation was to prepare a much improved version which would also include specific suggestions as to the fruit of repentance. This would allow time for those unaware of the history to learn, particularly from Lucas’ upcoming history of the PCA. There was also a desire for overtures to come thru the lower courts. In many ways they encouraged a year of reflection and repentance by our Sessions and Presbyteries leading up to next year’s GA in Mobile.

On the floor, things got … interesting. Some saw the need to do something NOW. I agreed with that sentiment. We do need a perfected statement with the kind of fruit we are looking to see. But we needed to start now. This discussion was long and heated. Parliamentary procedure once again made like more confusing and frustrating. If you go down the wrong path you can’t go back. There is no room for “repentance” with parliamentary procedure. One of the remaining founders of the PCA stood to speak. While he disavowed racism as a motive for founding the PCA, he confessed sins of omission during the years of the civil rights movement. This was very important.

What did happen after the vote was positive. First, the moderator opened the mics for a season of prayer, focusing on repentance. There were many men on their knees, literally, praying for mercy and for God to work in our midst to bring repentance and fruit in keeping with it. He initially said about 5-6 guys would pray at the mics. I lost track of how many men were able to pray at the mics. Someone (wink, wink) noted that we offended our brothers in our worship that very evening because we don’t listen to them and learn from them.

Then there was a protest of the decision which allowed those who wanted to do something now to register their names up front. There was a very long line of men wanting to register their protest. God is at work to deal with these issues. Hopefully within a generation we will be an integrated denomination filled with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in the pews and positions of power and responsibility.

I asked a friend about the ARP. I am delighted to say that they also have begun a similar process. The Theological and Social Concerns Committee has been tasked with this matter. There was no apparent opposition to this. May the Father heal these denominations for His glory.

Here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas, last year and this year mark significant anniversaries in the Civil Rights movement: 2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Selma-to-Montgomery March; and

Whereas, many of our conservative Presbyterian churches at the time not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement, but actively worked against racial reconciliation in both church and society; and

Whereas, the 30th General Assembly adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that confessed its covenantal, generational, heinous sins connected with unbiblical forms of servitude, but failed to deal with the covenantal, generational, heinous sins committed during the much more recent Civil Rights era (cf. Daniel 9:4-11); and

Whereas, the 32nd General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on “the Gospel and Race” that was produced under the oversight of our Mission to North America committee, but that also failed to acknowledge the lack of solidarity with African Americans which many of our churches displayed during the Civil Rights era; and

Whereas, our denomination’s continued unwillingness to speak truthfully about our failure to seek justice and to love mercy during the Civil Rights era significantly hinders present-day efforts for reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters; and

Whereas, God has once more given our denomination a gracious providential opportunity to show the beauty, grace and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ by showing Christ-like love and compassion towards the greater African American community;

Be it therefore resolved, that the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period; and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly recommit ourselves to the task of truth and reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it finally resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek to further truth and reconciliation for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

TE Sean M. Lucas

TE J. Ligon Duncan III

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In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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One of my friends is dying. We’ve known this since shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer more than 5 years ago. He has lived beyond the average life span for a person whose cancer had spread so far. I started thinking about David’s impact in my life. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of one person on our lives.

I met David Wayne after he transferred to RTS Orlando to finish his MDiv. I had graduated but was still working in the bookstore until the end of the summer. David would come in to browse and buy. He would talk with me and the other guys like Keith Mathison when he was in the store.

I wouldn’t see David for another 6 years. I was living in Winter Haven and serving a small ARP church as their pastor. One of the PCA churches in town was without a pastor. Spring was difficult for me. My girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me and one of my good friends was leaving the area to serve as the pastor of an ARP church in the Carolinas (the heart of the ARP). I felt lost and lonely. But God would provide.

I heard the PCA church called a new pastor, and his name was David Wayne. I was excited they called a man I knew, although only casually. I was going to be out of town for his installation so I called the office to leave a message congratulating him and that I hoped to see him soon.

When we finally talked it took some time for him to remember who I was. But we were two men called to serve as solo pastors in a place we were still figuring out. So we began to spend more time together. It was a time of healing for me that none of us realized.

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It seems like so much has happened since our first congregational meeting on this topic in December. There have been plenty of changes in the plans and dollar figures. One of our members, a retired OPC elder, noted that with building projects you should double the figure and add 10%. He was about right as we went from Dec. to mid-May.

What are we doing?

At some point I’ll put a link to some graphics but here is the rundown.

  1. Adding a triple-wide modular (new) that will provide office space, a new nursery and SS space.
  2. The office space will be converted into sanctuary space. We estimate adding 60-70 seats. We can’t fully utilize that space or we’d have to retro fit with sprinklers, so we’ll actually have some storage space for chairs/tables/instruments depending on the use of the sanctuary space at any given time.
  3. The “overflow room”/SS room will be converted into a new ladies’ room where they shouldn’t have to worry about the door knocking their knees every time they enter/leave a stall.
  4. The old ladies room will be converted into a men’s room so we can have more than one guy in there at a time (up to 3).
  5. The old men’s room will become a family/ADA restroom that can handle busy bathroom times.
  6. Part of the covered sidewalk at the entrance will be walled in to create a foyer or narthex. There will be double doors to enter the sanctuary space so there will be more noise insulation for bathrooms and crying/naughty children.
  7. We will reorganize our largely haphazard parking to accommodate more cars in a more organized and functional fashion.

We are looking at about a $370k project and a sizeable loan to fund it. We do have nearly 1/2 of the funds already but taking out a loan is a big deal. We cannot wait until we have the money in hand because we will soon stagnate and/or shrink if history repeats itself. We are past the comfort zone of capacity and that is okay in the short run, but a church that is too “full” will usually shrink back to comfort (and often beyond as some people misinterpret the departures).

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