The Choice

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Pray for the United Methodists this weekend.  At a special session, held in St. Louis, they will be making a decision that is likely to be critical for the future of their denomination, and for their witness in a lost world.

The issue, of course, is whether to embrace or reject the sexual revolution.  Unless they put the issue off again, they will be choosing either to hold their present biblical position regarding human sexuality, or to revise it some way or another, affirming (in varying degrees) LGBTQ+ identity.  Either result will probably mean the fracturing of their denomination, whether immediately or more slowly.

Religion News, a propaganda machine for liberal “Christianity”, has published a showcase of opinions regarding what some Methodists hope will result from the session.  It is a very slanted piece of reporting (granted, it is labeled an Opinion piece), a collection of voices that are mostly liberal to very liberal, with a couple of very gentle conservative voices included to soften the one-sidedness.  But, as a piece of liberal advocacy, the article does highlight what is at stake for the Methodists in this session.

It begins with a reminder that the denomination has already effectively caved to the sexual revolution, and only by repentance and submission to God will they be able to turn back from the precipice of paganism that looms before them.  They already have an openly lesbian bishop.  Having biblical standards regarding human sexuality on paper isn’t worth much if you ignore them in practice.

The voices that follow show the inroads of secularism and paganism in their denomination’s leadership.

Rev. Adam Hamilton says:

It requires patience, humility and grace to look at people with whom you disagree on an issue or theological point and say, “You are still my brother or sister.” It requires a willingness to say, “I don’t agree with you here, but I value what you bring to the table, and I need you.”

As though gross sexual immorality were a matter of adiaphora or theological minutia!  Hamilton regards willingness to tolerate this sort of thing as a sign of patience, humility, and grace.  The Scriptures regard that sort of tolerance as a spiritual failing, not a virtue (see 1 Cor. 5).

Rev. Alex da Silva Souto speaks in worldly terms of discrimination, framing this (as the culture has so effectively done) in terms stolen from the civil rights movement.  He says:

Which is why I and thousands of other United Methodists support the Simple Plan, which would strike from our Book of Discipline all discriminatory language against LGBTQIA+ people. After decades of systemic harm, the only solution is returning to the first rule of United Methodism: “Do no harm.” The Simple Plan proposes exactly that. We must first stop the spiritual/physical harm against LGBTQIA+ people, and only then can we have a real conversation about “human sexuality.”

Very good.  First, let the pagan culture set the agenda, then engage in theological reflection.  Step 1, surrender, step 2, sit down at the diplomatic table.  What could go wrong?

Rev. Beth Ann Cook begins insightfully.  She recognizes that there is an underlying issue:

Our theological division is not limited to the issue of human sexuality. Sexual ethics are the presenting problem for a deeper theological division in our church.

But her following comment makes clear that she does not grasp what the underlying issue is:

The Commission on a Way Forward spent countless hours looking at every possibility. There is no perfect plan. Passing any of the plans will violate someone’s deeply held convictions in such a way that they will feel unable to remain part of our denomination.

Deeply held convictions are not worth defending simply because they are deeply held convictions.  Atheists have deeply held convictions, but you shouldn’t let them guide your denominational policy.

The underlying issue is whether or not God should be believed and obeyed.  A perfect plan, in this case, is one that says God should be believed and obeyed, and that those whose deeply held convictions disagree with this are welcome the to leave.  The Traditional Plan probably approximates this closely enough.

The Scriptures are not unclear about the issues being debated here.  This is not a matter of difficult biblical interpretation.  Besides the clear condemnations of homosexuality in various biblical passages (e.g., Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Tim. 1:10), the opening chapters of Genesis lay the groundwork for a sound theological anthropology, and attendant doctrine of human sexuality.  God created mankind in His image, male and female (Gen. 1:27).  He made us man and woman, equal in dignity and glory as His image-bearers, immutably different from each other, and sexually complementary (Gen. 2:18-24).

That is, God created humanity in two genders, male and female; both men and women are fully human and equal; men and women are different, not changeable and not interchangeable; sexual intimacy is designed to be enjoyed by a man and woman within the covenant of marriage.

We could go on through the article, but it isn’t necessary.  This is the issue, often buried beneath worldly rhetoric or the laudable goal of unity.  Is God to be believed, trusted, and obeyed?

God’s Word is clear.  The issue for the United Methodists is a question of whether to believe God’s Word and accept its authority; that is a question of whether to believe God and accept His authority.  The alternative is the anthropology and sexual mores of an increasingly pagan culture.  Ultimately, then, the United Methodists are deciding between God and idols, between Christianity and paganism.

I pray they make the right choice.

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And She Even Has the Hat

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It would be far too easy to laugh off the First Annual Christian Witches Convention.  Their syncretism of Christianity with paganism is absurd, their justifications for their understanding of Scripture are farcical, they’ve chosen to maximize irony by meeting in Salem, MA, and the ‘Reverend’ Valerie Love even has the hat.  It’s as though they’re trying not to be taken seriously.

But I think they are serious.  The evil they represent is serious.  The seriousness with which God regards it is shown in His words to the Israelites: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD” (Deut. 18:10-12, NIV).

We live in a culture where the pagan practice of sacrificing sons and daughters is widespread; it should be no surprise that other elements of pagan spirituality show increasing acceptance and popularity.  The farce of this vaudevillian episode is the basic absurdity of idolatry, the grotesque folly of worshipping a statue made of wood (Isa. 44:14-16).  Such foolish beliefs seem plausible to the mind darkened by rejecting God (see Rom. 1:21-23).

But let no Christian be deceived.  The new heavens and new earth belong to the faithful in Christ; “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Now is the day of repentance.  The cross of mercy still stands.  For those who have followed the way of paganism, who have sacrificed their sons or daughters, who have practiced sorcery, there is yet one hope: repent, believe the gospel, and be saved.  The Savior’s arm are still outstretched to you.  There is no hope in sorcery; there is forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ.  But you must choose one.

Purposeful Suffering

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When we are suffering, we sometimes ask why.  Why does God allow me to go through this?  There are philosophical explanations, but that’s not usually what we’re looking for; we’re looking for assurance of God’s love, comfort in the midst of pain.

God alone knows why He allowed this or that bad thing to happen to His children.  But the apostle Peter does give us a general idea that Christian suffering is purposeful: it refines our faith.  He acknowledges that the believers to whom he is writing “may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV).

Faith is precious in God’s sight, and so He refines our faith like people refine gold, to remove impurities.  Notice, in fact, that faith is not compared with gold so much as contrasted with it; people regard gold as precious, but it’s just a perishable thing–faith is truly precious.  If we think it worthwhile to subject ‘mere’ perishable gold to a fiery refining process, how much more should we recognize the worthwhileness of God’s refining work upon our spiritual life!

Understanding this does not take away the pain of suffering.  But it should give us courage.  Suffering, for Christians, is purposeful.  God will use what we suffer, even the hatred we receive from those who hate God, to strengthen and refine us.  The end result will be a glorious commendation from God, when Jesus is vindicated at the last day.

Indispensable

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“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12, NIV).  Union with Christ is the great gift of the gospel.  Knowing Christ is the key to meaning, hope, and eternal life.

Reformation 21 has been gracious enough to publish another piece of mine, this one on the centrality of union with Christ.  Head on over and take a look!

I Believe We Have Located the Problem…

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While all of us who minister do so only by the grace of God, and I am keenly aware of my unworthiness for this high and holy calling, I think some of the minimal qualifications of pastoral ministry are rather intuitive–such as believing in God.

The United Church of Canada has decided, apparently, that theism is not strictly necessary for pastors.  No doubt it is still desirable in the eyes of that denomination’s discerning leadership that their pastors believe in God; but it is not a deal-breaker.  That is the inescapable message of the news that the denomination has decided Rev. Gretta Vosper, an avowed atheist, will continue to pastor West Hill United Church, in Toronto.

The article linked above, from the liberal Religion News Service, is enlightening.  It begins, “Gretta Vosper is surprised to still be a minister.”  I’d imagine quite a lot of people share her surprise.  It’s a rather puzzling thing, until you follow the (il)logic.

How does the United Church of Canada justify this decision?  Why would a Christian denomination allow an atheist to shepherd a church?  The key is inclusivity.  The denominational leaders found themselves wrestling with the tension between two of their “core values”: “our faith in God” and “our commitment to being an open and inclusive church.”

So, by “inclusive” they mean not simply that they welcome different groups of people, but that they welcome people with a variety of doctrines (or lack thereof) into the clergy.  Aha.  That would create a conflict with your cherished belief in the existence of God.  The leaders of the United Church of Canada have found themselves in the embarrassing situation of wanting to affirm x and not-x at the same time.  I suppose the implication of their solution is that they will accept either x or not-x (please choose one); which is to say that the United Church of Canada believes nothing at all, or at least not with any real conviction.

How does a denomination get to such a pitiful place?  Quite obviously they have let themselves be swept along by the winds of western cultural trends and ideologies; the zeitgeist, rather than the Holy Ghost, has been filling their sails.  But it’s more specific than that.

The atheist pastor herself offers what may be the key.  In this she does a valuable service to orthodox Christianity, if we will heed it.  From the article:

Vosper was willing to go through with the hearing even if the ruling went against her.  She said she is fit for ministry in the church.

She said she believes what she was taught in seminary.

“Everything I teach is consistent with the theological training I received,” the 60-year-old said.  “I was taught the Bible was a human construction, and there is much wisdom in many texts, both ancient and contemporary.”

During her studies, Vosper said she learned that the Bible isn’t the only source of spiritual or moral authority.

“If the Bible is not the authoritative word of God for all time,” she says, “why does it take such a central position in the United Church?”

Well, I think she has put her finger right on the problem.  The rot took hold of their seminaries, particularly a rotten doctrine of Scripture, a loss of the orthodox doctrine that the Bible is uniquely inspired, completely true, and utterly authoritative.  Her seminary professors passed down to her a faith uprooted and blighted, and at whatever point in her journey it followed the logical course and became no faith at all.

But Vosper can perhaps take some comfort that the Bible does not enjoy nearly so central a place in the United Church as she feared.  If that were the case, they might have put more weight on the fact that the Bible starts with the words, “In the beginning, God…” (Gen. 1:1).

We have here a wake-up call for faithful Christians in the United Church of Canada–it might be time for an exit plan; a cautionary tale for the orthodox–guard your institutions, because what’s taught in seminary doesn’t stay in seminary; a warning for theological moderates who want to see more doctrinal inclusivity in your denominations–you might find yourselves inclusive’d all the way to atheism.

The good news is that this disease is easily preventable.  There’s a ready antidote to this poison.  There’s an extremely popular book that could be studied in seminaries to promote deep and widespread theism among the ministerial students.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NASB).

Beautified

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“O blessed Lord, I beseech Thee to pour down upon me such grace as may not only cleanse this life of mine, but beautify it a little, if it be Thy will,–before I go hence and am no more seen.  Grant that I may love Thee with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself–and that I may persevere unto the end; through Jesus Christ–Amen.”

-James Skinner, quoted in Great Souls at Prayer, 125

The Massacre of Innocents

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King Herod Gov. Cuomo has recently signed into law legislation that makes it legal in the Empire State to put to death babies in the womb, at any time prior to birth, and for (effectively) any reason.  With much fanfare, the pro-abortion state legislators advanced this assault on the life of the most vulnerable.  The blood of the innocents is on those clapping hands, who have enabled this unspeakable evil.

We are reminded that America today tolerates an evil as great as any in our nation’s history.  Powerful forces promote the killing of babies, most notably Planned Parenthood; as their president, Leana Wen, recently said, “our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”  The key lie that abets this vicious crime is the idea that abortion is healthcare, rather than the destruction of an innocent and vulnerable human life.  This is what Planned Parenthood has recently tried to reinforce in a billboard campaign, where one of the images features a woman with the quote “I had an abortion, & it was just healthcare.”  It wasn’t.  It was the murder of a baby.  Other messages begin the same way, but end “and I am not ashamed” or “and I am not apologizing.”  But shame is appropriate in this case, and apologizing would not be nearly enough.  Repentance is necessary, before the throne of God.  Only there can healing and forgiveness be found.

Worst of all, this widespread wickedness is given cover by some who claim to serve God.  The priests of Molech liberal clergy also have made news in their support for this evil.  The rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, and other supposedly Christian leaders, should perhaps have sensed something was amiss with their theology when they found themselves teaming up with the minister from the First Unitarian Universal Church.  All pretensions of Christianity aside, nothing is so pagan as child sacrifice.

The child in the womb is a human being, made in the image of God.  Their lives are sacred, and abortion is a hideous evil.

Yet remember also that Christ died to save a world of sinners; that when we turn to Him with repentance and faith, He forgives all our sins.  And God may yet give us the grace of national repentance, and have mercy on us, and turn our nation from this evil.  For this we should pray.

 

A Living Hope

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The apostle Peter knew the joy that flows from contemplating the greatness of salvation in Jesus Christ.  When he began his first canonical letter, he reminded Christians of the wonder of God’s gift, exulting: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Pet. 1:3, NIV).  The reason for his praise was that God, out of the vast riches of His love, has given believers “new birth into a living hope” through Christ’s resurrection.

We come into this world spiritually stillborn, and have no spiritual life unless God begets us anew in Christ.  But, if we come to Christ, we are born again–spiritually alive.  Sin forgiven, death disarmed, a welcome into the family of God–all this is given to those who will receive the gift of God the Father, being united with God the Son by God the Spirit.

This new birth, done and accomplished for those who are in Christ, has present results and a glorious future.  It means a living hope now, in this world of dead ends and empty promises, vanity and illusion.  Christians have a hope that is real and sure.  The end result of this hope is a magnificent inheritance when Christ returns: “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (v.4).  The treasures of this world are ephemeral; the treasures of God are eternal.

Praise to God, who blesses generously those who come to Him.

Elect Exiles

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The book of 1 Peter is a letter, and so it quite naturally begins with a greeting.  It says who it’s from (the apostle Peter), who it’s to (the scattered churches of Asia Minor), and offers a blessing.  But summarizing it like that misses the profoundly theological statement about identity that Peter communicates even in his opening lines.

For Peter introduces himself in a way that draws attention to Jesus Christ.  He uses the nickname Jesus gave him (Peter), and identifies himself as an apostle of Christ–that is, someone who speaks not for himself, but for Christ Jesus his Lord.  Peter’s identity is found in Jesus.

Then, when he turns to his addressees, he puts their identity in theological perspective too.  They are ‘elect exiles’ or ‘chosen foreigners’, strangers in the world because they are citizens of God’s kingdom.  And this chosen identity is elaborated in a trinitarian description of salvation, that “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, NIV).  Their identity is formed by God’s saving work for and in them.

In a world so confused about identity, in a culture that wears a thousand masks to hide its face, Christians must be firmly rooted in their God-defined identity.  We are ‘elect exiles,’ strangers in the world, sent to proclaim the kingdom of He who has overcome the world.