Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kiss and Makeup

Kiss and Makeup
Another Anglican Sermon

I would like to ask you a favor. Turn in your Prayer Book to this morning’s Psalter Reading which is found on pages 380-81. I’m going to give you an outline of the Psalm. The setting of the Psalm is congregational worship at a time when God’s people sensed God was displeased with them. What may have brought this to their attention was a disappointing agricultural year.

Verses 1-3: the congregation remembers God’s graciousness in the past

Verses 4-6: they ask God to be gracious in the present;

Verses 8-9: a priest or prophet proclaims God’s gracious Word to them

Verses 10-13: the congregation expresses confidence in God’s gracious promise for the future.

Psalm 85. Benedixisti, Domine.

LORD, thou art become gracious unto thy land; thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
2 Thou hast forgiven the offence of thy people, and covered all their sins.
3 Thou hast taken away all thy displeasure, and turned thyself from thy wrathful indignation.

4 Turn us then, O God our Saviour, and let thine anger cease from us.
5 Wilt thou be displeased at us for ever? and wilt thou stretch out thy wrath from one generation to another?
6 Wilt thou not turn again, and quicken us, that thy people may rejoice in thee?
7 Show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. 

8 I will hearken what the LORD God will say; for he shall speak peace unto his people, and to his saints, that they turn not again unto foolishness.
9 For his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall flourish out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.
12 Yea, the LORD shall show loving-kindness; and our land shall give her increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, and shall direct his going in the way.

“You two kiss and makeup.” When you are offended you move away from the person who wronged you - relationally, emotionally, physically. When the offense is removed you move toward that same person. One way reconciliation can be sealed is with a kiss, because to exchange a kiss you have to move very close to a person.

What do we do when we know we have sinned and need to be reconciled to God? We can learn from Israel’s experience as we find it in Psalm 85.

1. The Past

God’s people found hope by looking to the past - to a time when God had forgiven their sins and restored his favor to their land.

In the past God had also been displeased with his people, and they had experienced his wrathful indignation. It is not popular today to say that God could be displeased with or wrathful toward anyone. God is supposed to be a pleasant and non-threatening Person. But that is not the God we know from the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. We must not mistake the patience of God for his indifference to sin. Even God’s people can experience God’s disciplining displeasure and indignation.

But God had not remained wrathful toward his people. He had forgiven their offenses against him and covered their sin. He no longer let their offenses stand between him and them. As we might throw a blanket over something ugly, so God had covered their sin so that he saw it no longer. When he forgave them, God became gracious once more toward their land and ended its captivity.

There were many such times in Israel’s history.

We might think of the times of the Judges when, though God had freed his people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, they repeatedly rebelled against him. God would chastise them by sending enemies against them. Then they would repent and cry out to God for help, and God would send a Judge to deliver them.

Or we might think of time when, after God had both blessed them and put up with their sins, and despite his sending prophets to call them to repentance, the people continued to rebel against him. Finally he expelled them from their land and sent them into captivity in Babylon. But after 70 years he freed them from captivity and restored them to their land.

Whatever historical event they were thinking of, God’s people, who were presently experiencing his discipline, could get hope by looking to the past when God had been gracious, forgiving their tsin, and restoring his blessings.

Sometimes when we have messed up badly and find ourselves in dire straits, we can feel there is no hope for us. It seems that God has turned away from us, that we have exhausted his grace, and that we are permanently under his displeasure. In those times we need to look to the past. God forgave Israel despite their persistent rebellion. God covered David’s sin despite his adultery and arranging the death of the husband. Christ restored Peter though Peter denied him three times. Christ saved Paul though Paul blasphemed his name and violently persecuted his people.

The past teaches us that we as a congregation, and you and I as individuals, are not beyond the forgiving and restoring grace of God.

2. The Present

Turning from the past God’s people now focus on their present. Finding hope in God’s past mercy, they ask God for present deliverance.

They ask God to turn them again, or “restore” (ESV) them (v. 4) and to turn again and quicken or “revive” (ESV) them. The harvest has not been good and this has called their attention to the loss of God’s favor and blessing.

Sometimes God uses changes in our circumstances to get our attention - things like church struggles, marriage issues, problems with our children, financial woes, job difficuliteis, health crises. When our earthly circumstances take a turn for the worse, we should not assume that God is displeased with us or chastening us. But such circumstances are occasions for us to take a look at ourselves and to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any grievous way in me…” (Ps. 139: 23-24a, ESV).

But whether it is circumstances or the just the workings of the Spirit on our consciences, there are times when we know we are not where we should be, when we have wandered from the Lord and his ways, when we sense that there there something between us and him.

In such times we turn to the Lord, and we ask him to restore and renew us. We ask him to put us back into a relationship of fellowship and peace with him. We ask him to work in us to give us hearts to repent of our sins, to help to seek him and to draw near to him in faith, and to free our hearts to love him. We ask him to breathe fresh life into us individually and corporately.

They ask God to turn away his anger or “put away your indignation from us” (ESV). They question if God will continue to be displeased with them forever, if he will stretch out his wrath from generation to generation to generation.

While as believers we cannot be under the wrath of the Lord as are unbelievers, yet as believers we can experience his displeasure and discipline when we sin. And at times it can seem as though there is no end to it.

At such times we may turn to the Lord and plead with him not continue to be displeased with us and to turn away his chastising anger. We can open our wounded hearts to him and ask if he will always be displeased with us and if we will always be under his discipline.

We can do that with confidence for Psalm 103 tells us that the Lord “will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (v. 9 ESV).

They ask God to show them mercy.

God’s mercy is his “steadfast love.” The closest thing to steadfast love we see among humans is the love that parents have for their children. Children can be very bad when they are young, and as adults they can break our hearts, but it is very difficult for us to stop loving them or to give up on them. But God’s mercy or steadfast love toward his people is runs deeper and last longer than even parental love.

Once God sets his steadfast love on us, it will never end. He may be displeased, and he may discipline us, but he will not stop loving us. As Psalm 103 also teaches us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward them those who fear him” (v. 11 ESV).

They ask God to grant them salvation and let them rejoice again.

Our greatest need, if we are unbelievers, is for God to save us from our sins. Our greatest need, if we are believers, is for God to save us from our sins. We need salvation from the guilt of our sins and the condemnation we deserve. We can be sure that, if we ask him to save us from our sins and what they deserve, he will do it. Psalm 103 again helps us know that. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (vs. 10, 12 ESV).

We may feel that, if God will just spare us, that is all we can expect. But God will do more. He will restore to us the joy of being his people under his favor and blessing. Because David knew how gracious and merciful God is, even when he was convicted of his sin with Bathsheba, and under God’s chastisement that led to the loss of the child they conceived, he was bold to ask, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12 ESV). If David could ask for joy, you and I can too.

When in the present we know we have sinned and that we are experiencing God’s displeasure and chastisement, we can confidently ask him to restore us, to turn away his anger, to show us his steadfast love, and to grant us his salvation and the joy of it.

3. The Proclamation

Up till now the whole congregation has been speaking. Now an individual, probably a priest or a prophet, speaks to the people.

This person does not speak on his own. He listens for what the Lord will say to him and through him to the people. When we are convicted of our sin, and know that we are are under God’s displeasure and need his forgiveness and favor, no merely human word will meet our need. We don’t need someone to tell us that our sin is no great thing, or that we are not sinful but just broken, or that we are just like everybody else, or that God would never dare to be angry with us. We do not need someone to proclaim, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. If we are to be comforted, we need a word from God.

The word is a reassuring and encouraging word. God. The Lord will speak peace to his people. The Lord will renew his blessings to his people and restore their fellowship with him. God’s glory, his special presence by which God in his glory lives among his people, will be restored. This salvation is for his saints, not a special class of believers, but ordinary believers who who fear the Lord - those who trust in him and seek to be faithful in following him.

But there is a word of warning. They must not “turn again unto foolishness.” Sin is foolishness. It is turning away from God and his ways to go our own way and do what we want. It is seeking happiness and blessing in ways that can never give true happiness or lasting blessing. The reason we need this warning is because, as soon as God’s displeasure and chastisement end and God’s favor and blessings are restored, we are prone to return to our foolish ways. We tend to abuse God’s patience and to take his mercy and love for granted. So, it is important that we get a warning not to seek relief from chastisement only to return to our foolish ways.

God’s word to us when we repent and seek his grace is full of hope and comfort, but we must must be guard against returning to our sinful ways.

4. The Promise

The people rely God’s promises of forgiveness and look to the future with hope. The promise God’s people claim is also a prophecy of what God will do in Christ.

“Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” There is a reconciliation, but it takes place not primarily between God and his people but within God himself.

There is a problem that, I daresay, does not even show up on most people’s radar screens. The reason they have no awareness of this problem is because they have decided for themselves that God, if he is relevant to their lives at all, is the ultimate nice guy who does nothing but smile at us. He is there to make up happy and to help us, as best he can, to have good lives. People who think this way do not know the true God and what kind of Person he is.

God is a God whose attributes include both mercy and truth, righteousness and peace. This creates a problem that we need to take seriously.

How can the God of truth show mercy to those who rebel and sin against him? How can a God of righteousness be at peace with sinners? How can God show mercy to sinners and be faithful to himself and what he is? How can God be a peace with sinners and still uphold his own goodness and righteousness?

Let’s put this in terms the Apostle Paul would use. How can God be just and yet justify the unjust? How can God be righteous and at the same time declare to be righteous those who are unrighteous? It is dilemma, and it appears to have no answer.

But Paul tells us how God resolved it. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3: 23-25a).

The problem is solved in Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross. He redeemed us, obtaining our freedom from sin, guilt, and condemnation. He made propitiation for our sins. He turned God’s wrath away from us as sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself as our substitute.

In Jesus Christ, and especially at the cross of Christ, God’s mercy and God’s truth had a meeting, righteousness and peace kissed each other. We need not fear any conflict in God that would keep him from forgiving us, from from reconciling with us, from having a peaceful relationship with us, from accepting us into fellowship with him.

As Martin Luther put is so memorably, a Christian is at the same it righteous and a sinner. We are sinners by nature and action, but we are righteous by faith in Christ and what he accomplished for us by the cross.

Because of the redemption Christ accomplished for us, we can know that nothing will keep God from showing us his loving-kindness, his goodness, now. And nothing can prevent his bringing us to the new heavens and new earth where there will be perfect faithfulness and righteousness.

That former slave trader who became an Anglican priest, John Newton, wrote these words:

Thy promise is my only plea;
with this I venture nigh:
thou callest burdened souls to thee,
and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
by Satan sorely pressed,
by war without and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
to bear the cross and shame,
that guilty sinners such as I,
might plead thy gracious name.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Gospel Reformation Network Interviews Me

I Ask Myself the Five Questions

I waited for Kevin DeYoung to call and interview me, but he never did. So I had to interview myself. I then waited for the folks at The Gospel Reformation Network, but they too neglected to call. Maybe, since their concerns are focused on the controversy between the Grace Boys and the Obedience boys in the PCA, and I am now, after 65 years as a Presbyterian and 42 in the PCA, in the Reformed Episcopal Church, they thought that they would not trouble me.

So, since for whatever reason they have not called, I decided to interview myself using their questions.

Is there misunderstanding about Sanctification within the PCA and the broader Reformed community?

Yes. Enough misunderstanding for plenty of blame, if that's the word, to go all around. There are those who so emphasize the tests of true faith (focusing on holiness of character and righteousness of life) as to undermine the truth that we are justified (declared righteous) on the basis Christ's representative righteousness and substitutionary death. To put it another way, they so focus on what Christ does to and in us as to deflect attention from, if not practically deny, what Christ does for and outside of us as sole basis for our intial, present, and eternal acceptance with God. On the other hand there are those who see faith as a once-for-all decision or act (such as saying a prayer) and so make faith something less than receiving Christ and resting upon his work for our salvation. This is sometimes called "easy believism" which I think is something of a misnomer as the opposite would be "hard believism" which would be just as big an error. Others teach the "alien righteousness" (righteousness that is outside us) in such a way as to lead Christians to be indifferent to the law, to sin, and to righteousness. "We all sin all the time. Don't make such a big deal of it. Don't worry about it."

Which is the greater threat to the church in our time, legalism or antinomianism?

If you mean by "the church" what some would call the evangelical church, it is antinomianism. There is such an aversion to law that it undermines not only sanctification but justification, because it is very difficult to see our need of being forgiven, declared righteous, and accepted by God when the law is not there to make us aware of guilt and condemnation and when we do not see the demands of the law as what Christ fulfilled for us and the penalties of the law what Christ suffered for us. It seems to me that in the broader evangelical world people are largely oblivious to the law.

If, on the other hand, you look at the church in terms of the fundamentalist Christianity in which I grew up or in terms of kind experimental Calvinism of which I became a part, it may be legalism. Not legalism in the sense of teaching salvation by works. But legalism in two senses: First, there is the sort of legalism that produces legalistic (extra-biblical) rules. This kind of fundamentalism was not confined to independent Baptists but was very much a part of conservative Presbyterianism. I grew up with the no dancing, no smoking, no drinking, no card playing rules. This leads to the Barney Fife rule of "Obey all rules" which put rules at the forefront of Chrisian living. It's interesting that this sort of thing occurs somtimes in tandem with doctrinal antinomianism. Second, there is the sort of legalism that leads to a performance mentality. "God loves me, or God loves me better, according to how I perform." Or "God requires of me a certain quality, quantity, and time of performance before I can get back into his good graces when I sin." This sort of legalism can be torturous for the individual who believes it, can lead to congregations where people do a lot of hiding and/or pretending, and can lead, sometimes simultaneously, to ignoring some sin and/or sinners and being exceedingly harsh in regard toward some sins and/or sinners.

Why do you think pastors downplay the importance of effort in Sanctification?

To the extent this is a problem I think there are probably several reasons. One is the most unfortunate effort to make the Christian faith attractive by making it a means to personal happiness and fulfillment. God has a wonderful plan for our lives and wants to help us to find it and enjoy it. "God isn't mad at you no matter what!" This makes Christ not a Savior but a helping friend. Another is non-existent or defective theology. An example would be the kind of "carnal Christian" teaching that is associated with dispensationalism and popularized by the Schofield Bible and Campus Crusade (now CRU). Then, I think some downplay effort in sanctification because they do not want Christians to experience the kinds of legalism which I mention above. They do not want Christians to think of the Christian life as "you watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry...he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake." I think we would all be better off if we followed the pattern of the Heidelberg Catechism - guilt, grace, gratitude. In fact I have been surprised, that, so far as I can tell, this approach has not been more emphasised among either groups of boys.

How would you define progressive sanctification, and how have you emphasized it in your teaching, preaching, and ministry?

Progressive sanctification is progress in developing holiness of heart and righteousness of conduct in the life of a Christian who is accepted by God now and eternally because of the holiness and righteousness of Christ. It is not only individual but corporate lived out in the fellowship of the church.  It is always dependent on the church's  ministry of Word and sacrament. It cannot ever be detached from once for all justification.  And it always must be attached to a healthy realism about how imperfect, partial, and halting it is in the lives of many of God's people. The churches and Christians in Thessalonica, Galatia, and Corinth show us that Christians and congregations can be pretty messed up (unsanctified if you will) and still be Christians. If Romans 6 shows us that we cannot be indifferent to sin or make ourselves its servants, Romans 7 shows us both doctrinally and experientially the reality of struggle and defeat in the Christian life. We may not and must not sin with impunity but we may and we must reckon that God forgives us at least 490 times. God does not condone our sin, but God is more ready to forgive and be reconciled to the chronically sinning believer than the believer is to ask forgiveness and believe he is reconciled.

I am afraid I tipped too much to the "nomian" or obedience and tests-of-faith approach for much of the time. I have tried and do try to be more gospel oriented. And, as a pastor, I think it is important to know your people. Where are they? What do they need now? Sometimes they need a kick in the butt. Some of them may need to look at the question of faith - in whom, for what, by what means. But I guess I have become increasingly convinced that God's people need more confidence and less testing, more forgiveness and less guilt, more encouragment and less questioning, more Christ and less of themselves or the preacher.

In general, while mis-placed or over confidence is a bad, I think confidence in God's acceptance is the best foundation for living the Christian life. It's hard to do your duties as a spouse if you trying to earn the love of your spouse. So it's hard to live the Christian life when you are unsure of how stand with God in Christ you, when you are not there but trying to get there with God. I recall Sinclair Ferguson's being extremely helpful on this matter. I think the book I'm remembering is now titled The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction.

Do you agree with the Gospel Reformation Network’s Affirmations and Denials?

Yes and no. But, I think this sort of thing is properly and best left to church bodies rather than to various extra-ecclesiastical groups. The church is the body that ought to work out doctrinal statments with affirmations and denials.  Those produced by other groups should not be used as doctrinal tests. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let's Talk About Race

Black and White Together?

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Bill (July 2, 1964). What Southerners feared and what was expected as the outcome was integration of the races. That has not happened. Initially many whites resisted integration as long as they could. One way of resistance in Mississippi was the abandonment of public schools and establishment of white private academies. Now it appears resistance to integration is found among blacks who, while using the rights established in the Civil Rights Bill, seem to desire as well maintaining their own community with what they see as their own distinctive culture. The Civil Rights Bill has not led to integration and assimilation. 

Fifty years after the passage of the Bill we have a black President who is in the third year of his second term. Still racial tensions and separation continue. And talk, a whole lot of it. Too much in my opinion, as I suggest in the last of the blog posts below.

But, if there is going to be talk, it needs to be a conversation. A conversation in which everyone gets to speak his mind.

Out of 290 Blog posts I have written there are 10 that touch on matters of race, culture, society, and the church. I have listed them in chronological order. 

But, I suggest, if you read any of them that you begin with "Realism, Race, and RUM in Mississippi" "Black, Tan, and Mad All Over" and "Race and Church Politicians" in order to gain some historical perspective. Some of us believed in and practiced racial equality and integration when there was a price to be paid. My family suffered in Hattiesburg, MS, because of my racial views and practice. Yet in today's context I can be accused of "not understanding", of being a "culturalist", and perhaps even of being a racist.

What am I against? Racial discrimination. Segregation. What am I for? Western civilization. Integration.

If you feel we need to talk about race and you are interested in conversation, I offer the below list of blogs.

Diversity Training - Thoughts on and questions about the meaning and practice of diversity

Realism, Race, and RUM in Mississippi - History and reflections on race, the churches, and RUM during my time as a Campus Minister in Hattiesburg, MS, in the 70s and 80s and race in MS today

Black, Tan, and Mad All Over  - Does Doug Wilson Need Sensitivity Training? More history and reflections on race in MS in the 70s and 80s and response to Brian Lorrits criticisms of Doug Wilson's book. I am not a fan of Wilson but try to bring some perspective to reactions to his book.

You May Have Your Culture, May I Have Mine? - Some reflections on Thabiti Anyabwile's comments about "Crazy Confederate Uncles" and some experiences of a Southerner in the North

I Don't Like Paula Deen - Thoughts on Paula Deen's use of the n-word and the consequences that followed

Race and Church Politicians - History of the Reformed Episcopal Church on race, when it was not easy to have and practice views of racial equality, and thoughts about thoughts about church politicians for whom it is easy to be racially sensitive

Bad News This Morning - Thoughts in response to the efforts of some students at Washington and Lee University to diminish Robert E. Lee and his legacy

The End of Integration - Thoughts on Jemar Tisby's call for a "indigenous Reformed movement" with an indigenous theology and theological method

He's Losing His Accent - Another response to Jemar Tisby and his view of the  "the languages" different cultures speak 

Time for Benign Neglect? - Yet another response to Jemar Tisby's report on his experience at the PCA GA and the possibility of talking about race less

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Abomination of Desolation?

Time to Try 
Something Different?

Thad Cochran

Last week Mississippi United States Senator Thad Cochran won a hard fought and sometimes dirty primary campaign over State Senator Chris McDaniel. It was something of surprise since McDaniel had a small lead after the first primary and seemed to have the momentum. However, "the establishment" marshaled its considerable resources, and Cochran won by about 6500 votes.  If elected in November and if the Republicans win a majority in the Senate, Cochran, the third most senior member of the Senate and second most senior Republican, is in line to become the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman.

From some of the reactions among
Chris McDaniel
Republicans you might think that in the person of Cochran the Abomination of Desolation has appeared and that the Man of Lawlessness has taken his seat in the temple. What I mean is that some Republicans, among them Christians, cast this election in stark terms as a battle between good and evil. Now they seem to think that Cochran's win is the defeat of good by evil, that it means doom, that entrenched powers bent on the destruction of the country have triumphed (perhaps by nefarious manipulation of the system) over those who would save the country. For Christians it is tempting to see things this way given fellow-believer Sarah Palin's campaigning for McDaniel and the perception of McDaniel as the Christian candidate. (World Magazine in a profile of Tea Party-supported candidates says of McDaniel: 
"Chris McDaniel, challenging six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran from Mississippi, has attended the same Baptist church in Ellisville, Miss., for more than 30 years. His conservative roots, he says, came from his faith and his father.")

Christians are by no means the only Republican "conservatives" who are upset. (It should be noted that it would be very difficult to find a Republican in MS who is not a conservative and professing Christian.) But for Christians who supported McDaniel the election was seen in moral, hence religious-spiritual terms. To put it another way, though few would so articulate it, it was a matter of a Christian worldview. McDaniel shared their worldview (budget, immigration, healthcare, guns, abortion, all related to faith and what is right). As they saw it, Cochran did not. Or, at least Cochran did not hold to their Christian principles with the same purity and tenacity as McDaniel. That is why the outcome was seen moral terms.

I have always been a conservative. When I was in college, I was from Muskogee. I didn't smoke marijuana; I didn't make a party out of lovin' like the hippies out in San Francisco; I didn't wear beads or sandals;  I respected the college dean. When I first registered to vote, I registered as a Republican (not smart as it cut me out of primary voting in FL).

When I went to seminary I learned about a Christian world-and-life view. I was most influenced by a paper written by Dr. Palmer Robertson that combined Kuyperian sphere sovereignty with Southern Presbyterian spirituality of the church. It seemed near perfect - the church in its own sphere with its spiritual mission and individuals and groups of Christians bringing to bear Christ's Lordship in every sphere. I went on to teach a world-and-life view to RUF students and for awhile was asked to teach it for summer student conferences and to ministers and interns for staff training.

But there were nagging questions of which
two nagged most: (1) I could not find this world view stuff in the New Testament in the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. It just was not there. (2) I could not, and no one else could to my satisfaction articulate a peculiarly Christian/Biblical view of many things. I could state the Christian's duty to the state, but I could not describe the Christian state. I could talk about work, wages, debt, payment of bills, but not about a Christian economy.

I came to see that my political views were based mostly on "natural law" and common sense, not Biblical precepts. Some of my political views were based on preferences and even prejudices. I came to see that politics is not only about what one thinks should be done but about what one finds can be done. Politics involves negotiation, alliances, compromises. Politics requires legislating and governing. There is very little purity in politics, and, if there were, it would not be the unmixed blessing some think.

Be that as it may, I wonder if the time has come for conservatives, and especially for Christians, to look at the results of the efforts to make the country more conservative and Christian. There have Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Rousas Rushdoony, James Dobson, James Kennedy, et al. 

There is talk radio, dominated by conservatives and especially by Rush Limbaugh.
There is cable television news  with the hegemony of Fox. The  Moral Majority, Reclaiming  America for Christ, the Family  Research Council, the Tea Party,  the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, et al. As some ask in other contexts, How's that working for you? What do you have to show for all that?

It seems to me the answers are, "Not so well and less than not very much." Yet people keep doing the same thing. 

Why has so much come to naught? Some few Christian conservatives will think it is because the United States does not constitutionally recognize Christ as King, while others will think it is because Christians are not committed to the whole of the Law of God as the agenda. Some think the American people agree with them on conservative and Christian principles but are manipulated by the mainstream media, out-maneuvered by the secular left, and betrayed by impure politicians like Cochran. Some think that if pragmatists and "moderates" like Cochran were replaced with consistently conservative politicans all would be well. Perhaps. But I don't think so.

Christians would do well to focus less on politics and more on the church. Don't invest so much in the outcomes of elections, court decisions, and legislative victories and defeats. The NT church did pretty well apart from any power to influence government or political pocesses. Minister the Word and sacraments. Pray. Live together as a community called out of the world and into the church. Love the brethren and care for the needy among us. Practice Christian liberty in politics. Be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession. Live as a colony whose citizenship is in heaven. Pray that we may have freedom to live peaceful, quiet, dignified, and holy lives. 

It was Chris McDaniel who lost. Not Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Time for Benign Neglect

A Moynihan Moment?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a Democrat who served four Presidents, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. He was elected to the United States Senate from New York in 1976, defeating the incumbent Conservative Party Senator James Buckley (to whom his brother William F. Buckley used to refer as "the sainted junior senator from New York"). He was re-elected three times until he chose not to run in 2000.

While serving Nixon as Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs, Moynihan produced a memo in 1969 on the subject of race. He wrote: 
The time may have come when the issue of race could benefit from a period of "benign neglect." The subject has been too much talked about. The forum has been too much taken over to hysterics, paranoids, and boodlers on all sides. We need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades.
The last 45 years prove that, however that advice was received in the administration, society has surely not (benignly or not) neglected the subject of race. It seems to be one subject about which we cannot stop talking. 

Jemar Tisby produced two blog posts addressing the need for an indigenous African-American Reformed movement. I linked to and responded to these posts here and here. Mr. Tisby continued to share his thoughts along these lines with his blog about race and the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. He writes of what might be called a cloud of hope the size of a man's hand which he hopes will turn into showers of greater diversity. 

After finding hope in presentations that were made, Mr. Tisby offers this cautionary note:
What I’m Not Saying
As I said, if all I knew of the PCA and race was gleaned from these presentations I would be encouraged. But don’t hear what I’m not saying. There’s more to the story than what went on in these few sessions. In fact, the historical presentation revealed disturbing facts about factions inside and outside of the denomination that were angling to perpetuate racist practices. Even in 2014 when every national group listed by the U.N. is currently represented in the United States, the thousands of faces bobbing by were still overwhelmingly white. I still felt the pressure to speak and dress a certain way because little cultural diversity was observable at all. It’s going to take a whole lot more than a few talks once a year to see substantive change regarding diversity in the PCA.
Mr. Tisby's hopes are tempered because "I still felt the pressure to speak and dress a certain way because little cultural diversity was observable at all." Now I can identify with Mr. Tisby's discomfiture. My wife and I recently  celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary in a hotel dining room, and I felt quite intimidated by both the maitre d and the waitress. Heck, even the person who poured our water intimidated me. I kept waiting to be asked to leave. 

But I wonder how Mr. Tisby would have dressed and talked if he had not felt the pressure or had there been more diversity at the meeting. I mean in the context of ministers dressed in khakis and polos did he want to wear baggy pants, a cap with flat brim turned sideways, and gold chains? Did he want to converse with urban street dialect? I do not mean this question to offend or to employ a stereotype. I am serious. I am trying to figure out what he means. 

In general dress has gone to hell in this country - for all of us on all occasions. In fact, if any group in this country still has some standards about dress for church meetings, it is African Americans, at least those who are older. Tom Wolfe blames the loss of dress standards on the bright young iconoclastic engineers in the Silicon Valley who were not going to have those stuffy East Coast types dictate work attire. Apparently Mr. Tisby feels that he would be more comfortable if he did not feel the pressure to conform to the dress down standards of this "majority" culture. But what he wants to wear, I do not know.

(I digress, but before I move on, let me add that Dr. Morton Smith himself cast me out of a classroom into outer darkness, where I wept and gnashed my teeth, for dressing down by wearing Bermuda shorts to take a systematics exam. He seemed to think it clinched my agreement with his disapproval when he told me he would not appear in downtown Jackson without his suit jacket on. Now I shall not go on, though I could, to speak of a now seminary president who almost thrown out of a class by a certain Dutch professor because he placed his bare feet on top of his shoes.)

Back to Mr. Tisby. He wrote a blog last December welcoming the appointment of Dr. Sean Lucas to the regular faculty at Reformed Seminary Jackson:
In fact, one of the most glaring deficiencies in Reformed seminary curricula is the lack of cultural diversity. I took Dr. Lucas’ History of Christianity class this past semester and I was surprised to find How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas C. Oden as one of the required readings. Not only was it required reading, but our longest writing assignment was a response to the book. Dr. Lucas also devoted a significant portion of class time to fielding questions and discussing reactions. Assignments like this one give seminary students an appreciation for the global and cross-cultural history of Christianity.
These remarks led me to read some review material of Dr. Ogden's book. One reviewer summarized Dr. Ogden's points about the contributions of northern African churches and theologians as follows:
Long-standing prejudices about the unimportance of Africa (and even possibly stark racism) have stood in our way. Oden sees the prejudice of nineteenth-century liberal German historians and theologians (Harnack, Schleiermacher, Troelsch, etc.) as at the crux of this distortion. But Oden suggests that Africa distinctly shaped the Christian mind in at least seven ways: (1) the western idea of the University was conceived in Alexandria, where an unrivaled library became a model for universities all over Europe, (2) Christian exegesis first emerged in Africa, (3) African biblical interpreters shaped a majority of the important Christian doctrines, (4) Africa birthed the pattern of ecumenical conferences that settled major scriptural controversies in the Patristic Era, (5) the monastic movement arose first in Africa, (6) Christian Neo-Platonism emerged from Africa, and (7) Rhetorical and dialectical skills which were later so important in Europe were first developed in Africa. In summary, he notes that “during the formation of early ecumenical Christianity, Africa was more like a creative intellectual dynamo than a submissive sycophant.”
Augustine of Hippo
What strikes me is how western this all seems. I suppose there is no surprise about that as nothern Africa was part of the Roman Empire and thus was included in Graeco-Roman civilization. University forerunner institutions, libraries, Biblical exegesis, Patristic theology, church councils, creeds, heresies, rhetoric and dialectic - so much that underlies western civilization. (Please do not tell me that the accompanying picture of Augustine is misleading because he was black. The picture may very well be inaccurate, but he was not a black man. Not that it matters at all unless it shows somebody's sensitivity about the subject.)

I don't give a rip about your genetic make-up or skin color. I do care about civilization. And to the extent that culture reflects civilization I care about culture. We do nobody at all any good when in the name of diversity we denigrate western civilization and and the cultures that have been shaped by it. Nothing has surpassed the western tradition, and unless its setting sun reverses course, we may well be headed for some kind of intellectual and civilisation-al dark ages.

Booker T and the MGs
Lately I have been on a Sam Moore kick (Dave, too, when they were still together). This led me to viewing on YouTube a documentary about Stax Records of Memphis. Stax was founded by a white brother and sister, but it quickly became the haven of Memphis Soul music. Steve Cropper (who with Duck Dunn made up the two while members of the four member Booker T and the MGs) commented that things changed after the assassination of Martin Luther King: "I can tell you that prior to that, as far as I know, there never was any color that came in those doors, didn't happen. But it never was the same - ever." Understandably Blacks were hurt and angry after Dr. King's murder. Understandably, though tragically, they determined to make Stax more "indigenous." No longer was it about blacks and whites playing the music. Increasingly it was about race. Eventually that coupled with bad business decisions killed the record company. 

As I heard Steve Cropper say those words, I immediately wondered if there is not something to be learned about the calls for indigenous theologies. We've got the theological music, classical though Mr. Tisby finds it - the catholic Creeds and the Protestant Confessions. I think we should forget about race and play the music.

I care if you call me a racist. I don't care if you call me a culturalist. But, I think about Christianity what I think about the whole country. We could use some benign neglect about race and just get on with it. It's not that we are not conscious enough about race or don't talk about it enough. Just the opposite.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rocky I

The Rock

A Homily for St. Peter's Day

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19 - BCP, pp. 262-263

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

A cartoon shows a man looking at his new business cards that read, “Simon the Fisherman.” Then Jesus says, “I’m changing your name to Peter.” It’s not uncommon in the Bible for people’s names to be changed when they get a new calling. St. John tells us that it was when Jesus and Simon first met that Jesus changed his name to Cephas or Peter, which means Rock. But it is not till we come to the 16th chapter of St. Matthew that we learn the significance of the name change.

1.The Question Jesus Asks

Jesus and his disciples had traveled outside the borders of New Testament Israel to a place called Caesarea Philippi about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It seems they were by themselves.

  • Jesus asked his disciples a question: “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” Sometimes out of egotism or paranoia we may ask, “What are people saying about me? What do they think of me?” But that is not what Jesus was doing. He was drawing his disciples out to get them to think about the ideas people had about him and to help them crystallize their thoughts about his true identity. 
  • People were saying various things, all of which showed they thought Jesus was someone different from ordinary people and that something important was happening in his ministry.
    • John the Baptist, the preacher of repentance. Perhaps alive and released from prison or raised from the dead and continuing his ministry.
    • Elijah, the OT prophet whose dress and ministry John the Baptist resembled. Malachi had said that Elijah would appear before the day the the Lord.
    • Jeremiah or one of the other OT prophets. A man through whom God spoke. 
  • Jesus did not let them stop at reporting on what others were saying. He asks, “But whom say ye that I am?” They had been with him now maybe two years, witnessing his ministry, hearing his teaching, experiencing all that he was. “Now what conclusion have you reached about me? Whom do you think I am?”
  • Jesus presses this question on the world today through the preaching of his ministers and the witness of his people. “You have heard about me. Now what do you say. Who am I? “ He also presses it on us. “Do you believe about me what you confess in the Creed? And, if you believe those things about me, what impact does your belief have on your daily life? On your attendance at worship and the way you participate? What do you really believe about me?” 

2. The Confession Peter Makes

Peter spoke up - for himself and for his brothers: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

  • Jesus has asked his question in a leading way, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” 
    • “Son of Man” does not mean the same thing as “human being” the way “Son of Virginia” means “Virginian.” 
    • It comes from the book of Daniel where the prophet had a vision of God whom he calls “the Ancient of Days.” Daniel saw one “like a son of man” (who) came “with the clouds of heaven” ...“one like a son of man (who) came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all language should serve him; his dominion was an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away; and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7: 13, 14 ESV). The Son of Man is a mysterious Kingly figure who comes with heavenly glory to the Ancient of Days and is given a universal kingdom that never ends. He is more than a mere human being. Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man more often than any other way. He meant to provoke people to ask, “Is he referring to himself as one of us, a son of man, a human being? Or, is he asking us to think of him as as Daniel’s son of man who comes divine and kingly majesty and power?

  • Peter’s response was, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
    • Peter believes Jesus is the Christ, or the Messiah. 
      • The longing of God’s people was for the coming of the Messiah to deliver them. The mistake they often made was to think of the Messiah in political, military, and material ways. They hoped for the restoration of the nation of Israel to its former glory. 
      • The reality was that God was going to do something bigger and more glorious in Jesus. He was going to save his people from their sins and from the devil. However clearly or unclearly Peter understood, it is huge that he was able to say, “You are the Messiah, the focus of the hopes of God’s people.”
    • Peter believes that Jesus is the Son of the living God. The Jews spoke of God as the “living God” or “the God who lives” because they believed that all the so-called gods of the heathen nations were dead because they did not exist, and that the Lord, the God of Israel, was the only true God. Peter says that Jesus is God’s Son. In the OT kings are called sons of God because they are appointed by God and rule for him. When God puts them on the throne he adopts them as his sons. Peter believes that Jesus is King. But there is more implied - that Jesus is the Son who is unlike any other son, “the only-begotten Son” who is “God of God...being of one substance with the Father.”
    • This is a great confession of belief. Jesus is the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. 
  • Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” 
    • What Peter has said is not something that some other human could have explained to Peter or something Peter with his human mind could have figured out. Jesus did not meet the Jewish expectations, not even his disciples expectations, of the Messiah-Deliverer- King God would give his people. What Peter confessed is beyond human ability to discover.
    • Jesus said his Father revealed this to Peter. God enabled Peter to see and confess what he otherwise could not have. It was not human insight but divine revelation that led to Peter’s confession.
    • That’s why Peter is blessed. He understood what can be known only if God reveals it. You and I are also blessed when the Father uses the reading and preaching of his Word to enable us to see and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Left to ourselves we would not see or believe. But the Spirit of God using the Word of God shows us the truth about Jesus and enables us to believe in him and be saved.

3. The foundation and building Jesus establishes.

With Peter’s confession in the background Jesus speaks about a building and its foundation.

  • What Jesus promises to build is his church. 
    • What is the church?
      • The word “church” means “those who are called out.” In the Old Testament God called Israel out of the Egypt. Then he gathered them together as his chosen and special people and organized as a holy nation different from all others.
      • In the NT the church is not just loosely “all the Christians in the world. It is not like Israel a national and ethnic nation, but it is still the people called out of all the nations of the world by God. The church is made up of those Jesus redeems by his death, gathers in congregations, guides by his ministers, and governs by his Word and Spirit. It is a living organism but is also a visible organization.
      • Jesus builds the church. We are his workers. He uses us, but he is the Builder, and he will see to its building. The church is his, not ours. We must never forget, especially when we say what we think the church ought to be or do, that the church belongs to Jesus, and we are here to serve him in the building of this congregation. When we give, and work, and serve in the church we must not call attention to ourselves of our contributions but in true humility say, “We are but unprofitable servants.” 
      • Jesus promises the the gates of hell, or the powers of death, will not prevail against his church. Hell or death stands for all the powers of destruction and death that belong to Satan’s kingdom. The church and the powers of death at war. But the gates of death are not strong enough to resist the battering ram of the church. They cannot win because Jesus will not let them. It does not always look that way or feel that way, but in the big picture and long term perspective the church must prevail because it is Jesus’s church and he is building it.

  • The foundation Jesus will use is Peter the confessing Apostle.
    • “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” We can imagine Jesus looking at Peter, after Peter made his confession, and saying, “You are Peter - the Rock - and on this rock I will build my church. What did Jesus mean?
      • There is a whole line of Roman Catholic reasoning about this saying. It goes something like this. Jesus said he would build his church on Peter. Later Peter became the first Bishop of Rome. Rome became preeminent among all the churches and exercised not only leadership but authority over them. Before Peter was martyred he appointed a successor to take his place. Therefore the Bishop of Rome has final authority over the whole church.
      • This has provoked a Protestant reaction that says something like this: Jesus was not speaking about Peter at all. He was talking about Peter’s confession of faith. This confession - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God - is the foundation of the church.
      • The RC argument asks us to assume a history that is not there and to follow a logic that is unconvincing. The Protestant reaction seems to contradict the plain sense of the words.
      • What can we say about Peter?
        • He does seem to have preeminence in the early church. He is first in all the lists of the Apostles. He often spoke for them though sometimes impetuously and not wisely. He was the representative of all the Apostles when he preached in Jerusalem on Pentecost. He was given the revelatory vision that the Gentiles were to share in the Gospel. He seems to have settled the issue of whether the Gentiles had to keep Moses’ Law when the Jerusalem Council met though he did not preside at the meeting. After that he disappears from Acts. He seems that he was the primary source of Mark’s Gospel and that he ended up as martyr in Rome.
        • Jesus was speaking to Peter the Rock, the foundation. But is it not to Peter in a vacuum. 
          • It is not Peter without his confession. There could be no church apart from what the Father revealed to Peter.
          • It is not Peter apart from the other Apostles. He is one the twelve, not the only one. Peter did not rule the Apostles or the church. Paul wrote that there is no other foundation that can be laid other than the one that has been laid which is Jesus Christ. In another place he says the church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. The church from at least the time of the Jerusalem Council was ruled by Councils of the church. 
          • Jesus speaks to Peter the Rock whose confession of Jesus is the foundational confession of Christianity and who among the Apostles is first among equals. 
          • Peter, you’re the Rock and I am going to use you, imperfect and sometimes failing man that you are to build my church.
  • The authority Jesus gives is the keys.
    • Jesus says to Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
    • The keys to the kingdom are the keys by which the kingdom gates are opened so that people may enter and have its salvation. 
    • To loose or bind or earth is to declare that people remain in the guilt and condemnation of sin or are set free, forgiven, and reconciled. 
    • Peter, as the Rock, has the keys and the power to bind or loose but he is not alone But the other Apostles have the keys and the authority to bind or loose. Today the church holds the keys and the power to bind or loose. 
    • Today the church uses the keys when it proclaims how people may enter the kingdom. By preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments the church opens the kingdom to all who will enter by faith and repentance. 
    • Today the church with the authority of Jesus tells people their sins remain unforgiven or their sins are forgiven. This happens every time we say the prayer of confession and the minister pronounces the absolution. But we make that confession to God and the minister speaks on God’s behalf.

Today we honor St. Peter. He was a great man, a Rock of a man. He was also like us a sinner, sometimes weak and failing, most shamefully when he denied our Lord, but a man Jesus restored and commissioned to feed his sheep. But were Peter to speak to us today he would say, “Jesus gave me the privilege of being the foundation on which he built. But don’t ever forget that under me is the everlasting Rock, Jesus himself. Confess him. Believe him. Follow him.

Friday, June 27, 2014

She's Not the Love of My Life

And We Don't Date

Susan Drexler
 I married my wife. I did not marry my best friend. Had I done that, I would have made history that was not made till very recently. Nor do I call her "the love of my life." Not that she is not the one person I have ever loved as a wife, albeit, to greatly understate the case, imperfectly. But I think of the "love of my life" as either trivial ("She passionately loved the love or her life") or tragic (Tom was the love of her life but she was married to Bob"). This kind of language about spouses shows up everyday in the social media and (I am appalled to say) obituaries. What am I protesting here? The need to say something more about a spouse than, "She is my wife," or, "He is my husband." What says more than that? What is more intimate? Marriage is unique (because of the devaluing of "unique" I am tempted to add the adjective "absolutely" but will not in hopes that "unique" will once again mean "one of a kind" and "nothing like it"). What could be more descriptive, taking in all aspects of the relationship, including friendship and romance, than "wife" and "husband." I think I have the right to say this as I am married  for 45 years last Friday to the only woman who would not have killed me by now. You can put in obituary, "She put up with him for __  years. She was bound but now she is free! (1 Cor. 7:39).

Dating. I used to go on dates. To protect reputations of girls who would not want it known they had gone on dates with me, I will not provide a list. I dated one girl for 3 years. She went to a church party with one guy but left with me. But I kissed her hello that night and kissed dating goodbye on June 20, 1969, when we got married. Sometimes, as last Friday, we go to dinner to celebrate something. Sometimes we go to movies. Sometimes to the grocery store. Sometimes we take trips togeher. Sometimes we watch TV. Sometimes we go places alone. Perhaps this is self-dating. It means I can listen to any music I want at any volume and she can enjoy my non-presence. But we don't date each other. Dating is for unmarried people. When we were in that stage of life (young, kids) when "date nights" are strongly encouraged, we did not date much because we did not have the money to go on "dates," but had we, would not have been on dates. Husbands and wives spend time together and do things together, sometimes without the kids. 

Nor have I ever been on a date with my kids or grandkids. I never had a date with any our five sons, though we sometimes we went for a coke, a ballgame, or breakfast. My wife never took any of her sons on dates. We have five female grandchildren. I do not plan to date any of them. I find the term "daddy dates" silly. We have kids. We have grandkids. One or the other of us do things with them. But we don't date them. Except when I pick up the boys from school for us to go on a haircut date.

I leave you with a poem.

Sugar pie, honey bunch
You know that I love you
Cain't help myself
I love you and nobody else

Started to go with "Soul Man" but thought the better of it...