Faith: February 2007 Archives

Jim Miller, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, took a sermonal swipe last Sunday at Kirk of the Hills, the Presbyterian congregation which decided last year to disaffiliate from the mainline PCUSA and become a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Here's what Miller said:

“They left the presbytery because they believed that the Presbyterian Church is the Titanic. And if you’re on the Titanic, the best thing that you can do is get off the Titanic….”

“I believe that if you use the analogy of a ship [and] there is a fire in the engine room, in the boiler, and if you have a crisis in the engine room you don’t need to have people getting off the ship, you need to have people getting in the boiler room and beginning to put things right.”

Tom Gray, pastor of Kirk of the Hills, says he and his church's leadership have spent 15 years trying to put things right:

I, Wayne, and a significant number of our elders attended many General Assemblies and were participants and officers in various renewal groups. We’ve met with denominational officials over the years, written letters and articles, caucused with sessions and pastors of like mind, and generally have invested a tremendous amount of time and treasure in trying to turn the ship back on course.

I’ve spent at least two weeks of every year since 1991 devoted to addressing the PCUSA’s wayward course. I’ve made hundreds of phone calls in that service. I hesitate to compute the tens of thousands of miles I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. working with others in an effort to redirect the denomination. I’ve taken stands that have made me unpopular at home, and I’ve had to hear the general presbyter complain about people like me who are “at the extreme” for wanting the denomination to remain true to its traditional beliefs.

Gray says the problem isn't in the engine room; it's on the bridge.

The ship of PCUSA is heading in the wrong direction even though it has a clear map of where it is supposed to go, found in Scripture and in the denomination’s confessions. Sometime between 1950 and today, in the denominations from whence the PCUSA was formed, there was a very slow and subtle mutiny. Those opposed to the direction of Scripture gained control of the rudder....

If I had paid fare to travel, say, from New York to London, and found that the ship had, without permission or announcement, changed its course for Antarctica, I’d have good reason to get onto another ship—one going in the right direction. This is what the Kirk did when we disaffiliated. The fact that other churches (passengers) are willing to hope that the ship goes back to its rightful course is their business. We found that the officers on the bridge were deaf to our concerns, so we came to the conclusion that the rudder is now lashed in the wrong direction.

The case could be made that the PCUSA started heading south in 1967, when they eliminated adherence to the Westminster Standards as a requirement for ordination and adopted a new watered-down confession.

First Pres has a beautiful and historic facility. It would be hard to leave an apostate denomination knowing that it might cost them their building, but that's the same challenge the Kirk is facing, fighting in court to keep control of the property that their members built.

I'm thankful that forty years ago the founders of our congregation placed faithfulness to God's unchanging Word above the perishable glory of buildings and were willing to forgo stained glass and pipe organs for Sunday worship in a school cafeteria.

"Sheshe," a mom to eleven kids, is being evaluated for deep brain stimulation surgery to deal with severe dystonia. She asks for prayers for wisdom on the decision she'll have if the doctors decide she's a good candidate for surgery.

Amy Wilhoite is a young mom with a fourteen-month-old baby boy who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia last summer. She had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, but she learned today that the cancer has returned, and there are few remaining treatment options. She writes:

We are heartbroken. This is not the news we wanted to hear. We wanted to raise our son, to grow old together, but God has different plans for our family. And as much as we don't understand them right now, we know that He is sovereign over this as well. Please pray for us, and for my family especially. My part in all of this is rather easy. I get to die and be with my Savior in glory. I get to miss out on all the suffering this world holds. It is my family who bear the grief and the pain day in and day out. It is for them that my heart breaks.

(Via Rocks in My Dryer.)

Tartarus control

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The Ace of Spades, a non-believer himself, has a post wondering why non-believers get offended at the fact that believers think they're going to Hell, and it includes this perceptive passage:

Most Christians who get heat for this don't offer the statement "You're going to Hell" of their own volition. What usually happens is that non-believers begin badgering them -- "You can't possibly believe I'm going to Hell!" -- which Christians initially attempt to deflect away. Because they do in fact wish to be polite, and don't want to hurt someone's feelings.

But if you keep badgering a committed Christian this way, your are forcing him to choose between 1) Being polite and 2) Expressly repudiating his religion.

At some point the deflections stop working and this becomes a very easy call.

I knew a fundamentalist Christian in high school, and he was always troubled by the compromises he had to make as he navigated the world among nonbelievers. On one hand, he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and wanted to fit in, as anyone does. On the other hand, he believed the Bible compelled him to "witness" and "testify" as much as possible; he was always troubled that he was choosing the easy, non-Christly way of keeping his beliefs hidden.

Most practicing Christians are similarly conflicted. They don't want to hurt feelings or cause conflict or even just make themselves look "weird" among nonbelievers; but however they navigate their way through these rocky shoals, there's one thing they can't do: Deny the divinity of Christ.

And if you keep badgering them, they will, at some point, tell you those hateful words: "Yes, since you don't believe in Christ, you're going to Hell. Christ said he was the only way into Heaven, and I'm inclined to believe him."

So why doesn't everyone who's so terribly bothered by this stop badgering these people? Stop asking. I can tell what they'll say; in fact, I just did.

There's your answer: Yes, you're going to the Hell you don't believe exists.

Satisfied? Good. So you don't have to ask anymore, jaw hanging in disbelief, eyes welling up with angry tears.

Speaking of Dawn Eden, I like what she said recently to Terry Mattingly regarding churches' outreach to singles:

If church leaders truly want to reach out to women and men who are looking for an alternative to that lifestyle, said Eden, they must realize that the last thing single adults need is a singles ministry that turns "your church basement into a sort of 'Animal House' with crosses."

What congregations should do is rally single adults around worship, prayer, books, the arts and service to others, she said. Then friendships and relationships can develop out of activities that strengthen the faith of those that choose to participate.

"You really don't have to dumb things down for us," said Eden. "There are plenty of ways for single adults to get less church if that is what they really want. Why not talk to some of your young adults and ask them what they really want. They may want more church _ more faith _ not less."

That's not just true for singles. You don't have to dumb things down for the rest of us either. Christianity is at its most attractive when it stands in contrast to the ways of the world. If a person has come to realize that the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life cannot satisfy his soul," why would he then be drawn to something that looks like a cheap watered-down imitation? If he's discovered that he can't find contentment by making himself the center of his life, why would he seek out a church that puts the focus on him? Why disguise a fountain of living water as a broken cistern?

Perhaps if the real reason for tarting up church activities is to appeal to cradle Christians who might otherwise feel that they're missing out on all the fun the world has to offer. I suspect that many church activities are most effective at recruiting people who are already churchgoers rather than attracting the unchurched.

Or perhaps it's because church leaders have become bored with what is foundational, what is solid, what is time-tested, what is true and lovely. It's a problem that extends to every area of church life. For example, music.

I'm reminded of the way a choir director will get tired of performing the Hallelujah Chorus every Easter. It's old hat to him, and he's jaded, so he wants to replace it with something modern. The choir director reasons that if he's bored with it, the congregation must be bored with it too. But to the people in the pews, it's a thing of beauty and transcendence. There's always someone in the congregation hearing it for the first time. There are plenty more who will feel cheated if they don't get to hear it again. Likewise for old hymn tunes, ancient prayers, etc.

On Palm Sunday 1989, I was attending Holy Trinity Church, an evangelical Anglican parish in Hounslow, Middlesex, west of London. I was excited to be in a liturgical church for the beginning of Holy Week. I was excited that we would be singing "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" as the processional hymn, and I was all set to boom out the traditional tune, but instead a different, sappy little modern tune was sung. Whoever planned the service must have been bored with the majestic traditional tune. I felt like I'd been deprived of the very reason I sought out an Anglican parish.

Preachers even get bored with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preferring to deliver self-help messages. They forget that even long-time believers need to hear that Jesus died for their sins and has reconciled them to God. (Our pastor doesn't forget that, I'm happy to say.)

This tendency -- getting bored with and discarding the church's most attractive distinctives -- must be especially grating on Catholic converts like Eden, drawn to the church by a beautiful and ancient tradition, only to have their eyes and ears assaulted with ugly modern buildings and music, created by people who were evidently bored with Gothic architecture and Palestrina.

On a business trip to Montreal a couple of years ago, I took a walk up and over Westmount to St. Joseph's Oratory, which dominates the skyline on the north side of the island. Construction of the basilica began in 1924, and the exterior is dramatic and stately in the Italian Renaissance style.

The interior was completed in 1967 -- and it looks it. It was like being in a very large bank vault. There were only a couple of other people there, tourists like me, taking pictures.

I made my way to the lower level of the complex, to the crypt chapel, which was built in 1917 and used as the main church until the basilica was completed. It was as warm and colorful as the basilica had been cold and grey. Here you had traditional stained glass and statuary and shrines and thousands of votive candles and racks of abandoned canes and crutches. It looked like a Roman Catholic church is supposed to look. And here, not up in the basilica, is where you found dozens of people praying.

Seekers are looking for something solid, something permanent. Why remake the church into something flimsy and ephemeral?

To return to the quote: Eden's suggestions for singles activities are spot on, and not just for singles. Churches hold mixers, progressive dinners, and ice cream socials, build massive recreation centers and even open Starbucks franchises in the lobby, trying to create a sense of fellowship and friendship among their members. But it doesn't work. True koinonia is built when the people of God are side-by-side in worship, study, and service.

TRACKBACKS: Manasclerk has three entries addressing this topic:

Don't Smarten Up Church Either
More on singles in Christian churches
Again with the singles

From that last entry:

I suppose one of the things that I found sad about Eden's comments was that someone actually has to say "I would like to learn about God at church, please." Her requests are ludicrous as Requests For Singles because they should simply be Things That We Do Here. Singles should not have special classes on the faith simply because they are single. They should participate in the full life of the congregation as members, including teaching and learning the doctrines and the scriptures.

Not that I haven't seen it recently. Friends of mine left our church in part because there wasn't any opportunity to learn about the Bible. In depth. Not just verses but the whole thing. They're married, with kids. And he has a great new job. How can we lose someone when they want to learn about God more deeply?

Somewhere, we became embarrassed about the only distinctive that we have: we're the adopted children of the Almighty. We have the Word of God among us, and can read the words about the Word to learn more of him. (Yes, he's a heretic but he's right on that point.) What can be better than learning about the work of God through the scriptures?

Faces of persecution

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I've been listening to David Calhoun's lectures on Ancient and Medieval Christianity, and the third lecture is about the persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire. Christians were sent to their deaths for refusing to deny their faith in Christ, for refusing to offer incense or bow to an image of the emperor.

The persecutions continue today -- mainly in places like Sudan, Indonesia, North Korea, and China, lands under the sway of Communism and Islam. Every year, 160,000
Christians are martyred for their faith.

But these people aren't just numbers. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Please watch this four-minute video, which introduces us by name to several Christians who suffered for their faith but survived.

It was produced by The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which is devoted to making western Christians aware of our suffering brethren, and providing the persecuted with prayer, support, and any comfort they can offer.

You can keep informed about opportunities to pray for and act in support of persecuted Christians by reading Persecution Blog, a online publication of The Voice of the Martyrs.

Reformed rap

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Calvinist hip-hop? Fo' rizzle:

Bethlehem Baptist pastor John Piper took the podium at a Saturday evening service in downtown Minneapolis last fall and introduced Curtis "Voice" Allen, a hip-hop artist. After warning the largely white congregation that his music would "thump" a bit more than typical Bethlehem fare, Allen launched into a lyrical testimony about the unstoppable power of God's irresistible grace: "I been exposed to bright lights, the doctrines of grace, I'm elected, imputed perfected, becuz of the power of God resurrected and his gift of faith, that when we see his face we're not rejected."...

Even the harshest online attackers had no ill words for the theology of his rap, a departure from the shallowness that has characterized much of Christian hip-hop since its commercial inception in the mid-1990s. Allen is part of a small but growing cadre of artists who lace their stylized rhymes with orthodox Calvinism.

The end of the article in World Magazine tells of another Reformed rapper, Dishon Knox, now a student at Covenant Theological Seminary:

Knox, aka Born2Di, believes hip-hop can become a force for doctrinal correction. "The black church suffers a lot from theological malnutrition, for lack of better words," he said. "That's what drives me to go to seminary."

Knox is not shy with his musical styling on campus, recently performing during a chapel service. The song "True to Reformed Faith" chronicles his view of his own Presbyterian denomination: "Faithful to Holy Scriptures, true to Reformed faith. Presbyterian Church in America, grow in grace. Obedient to the 'Great Commission,' that's the mission. History ain't perfect, but the goal is gradual submission."

The blog Exhibiting the Value of Knowing God has links to video and audio of some of the Reformed hip-hop songs mentioned in the article, including the history of the PCA rap, which traces the development of Reformed doctrine and polity beginning with the 95 Theses and Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Puritans and the Westminster Assembly, Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening, the New Side/Old Side controversy, Francis Schaeffer, and the "joining and receiving" of the PCA and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod in 1982. (I think it would be cool if, for his next historical rap, he sampled Prof. David Calhoun saying the name "Kirkegaard.")

Dishon Knox's desire to make hip-hop a "force for doctrinal correction" is not a vain hope. It seems to me that the structure of rap music would enable it to carry more complex information than, say, a praise chorus. Rap lends itself to long sentences and limited repetition, and the use of rhythm and rhyme would be an aid to memorization.

(That link to Prof. Calhoun's name goes to his lectures on Reformation and Modern Church History. You can also listen to all of his lectures on Ancient and Medieval Church History, along with 20 other Covenant Seminary courses in Bible, theology, ethics, apologetics, homiletics, missions, and ministry. I took Calhoun's video courses on church history many years ago, and I highly recommend them.)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Faith category from February 2007.

Faith: January 2007 is the previous archive.

Faith: March 2007 is the next archive.

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