Monday, August 18, 2003

A tired sentence 

"I was trying to put this behind me quickly..." explained the Rev. Alvin O'Neal Jackson, pastor of National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and top elected official of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was talking about an embarrassing set of plagiarized sermons he had preached, and an untrue explanation he had first given about it.

To his credit, Jackson continued the sentence: "but I was wrong.... There is no excuse...." Jackson confessed. Repentance appears to be coming. Restoration and return to his normal ministry may well ensue.

But that little sentence "I just want to get it behind me" is something we hear over and over and repulsively over again these days. A politician gets caught in something immoral or illegal, and she "just wants to move on, getting this behind me" as she brushes off any outrage in the press. A sports figure beats his wife, says he feels bad about it, and immediately suggests that everyone "let it go and get beyond it now." A nationally prominent pastor gets caught with a prostitute and can't figure out why a couple of weeks later everyone isn't particularly inclined to "put this behind us and move on."

Have people forgotten the law of cause and effect? Even four-year-olds know that there are CONSEQUENCES for being naughty.

Rather than rushing to put things behind us, maybe we should focus on putting things under Jesus Christ. As we confess our sins, place them at the foot of the Cross, allow Jesus Christ to work the costly miracle of washing us clean, and demonstrate our repentance by establishing a new pattern of life free from reoccurrences of the same sorry sin, THEN we can leave the sordid memory behind. But that's not quick or cheap or full of gall, like rushing to instruct others to "just put this behind us."

Friday, August 15, 2003

An Evenhanded Explanation 

You may have people asking you what the big deal is about the homosexual question in mainline churches. If you're like me, you've been thinking about that for about 30 years and have so much background, passion, and baggage that it's sometimes tough to come up with a simple, unemotional explanation.

Associated Press Religion Writer Richard Ostling comes to our rescue. Send your friend Ostling's recent article.

Ostling distills the matter to a problem of biblical interpretation rather than a prurient fixation. Good.

He outlines arguments on both sides of the matter. Good.

He points people to Robert Gagnon's book "The Bible and Homosexual Practice." Excellent! (Why is it that opposing scholars simply dismiss or ignore Gagnon's theses and never attempt to refute them? Hmmm. Could it be they can't?)

Ostling also quotes Auburn Seminary's Walter Wink: "The Bible has no sex ethic." Say what?

In a few words, Ostling surveys the territory well and delivers an accurate, useful map.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Wishful positive thinking 

Talk about a cup being half full!

Following a set of decisions in the Episcopal General Convention that created a media circus, brought down denunciations from Anglicans around the world, threatened massive schism, and drove the Archbishop of Canterbury to call the first and only special meeting of worldwide Anglican primates to deal with the dire repercussions, at least one Episcopalian leader saw opportunity where most of us saw injury. An upbeat story from the Episcopal News Service reads: "On the last day of convention, Dean George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, urged clergy and congregations to make the most of the evangelistic potential that lies ahead.

"'Looking at the vast collection of [media] coverage this church has been getting,' he said, 'this Sunday may be one of the greatest if not the best missionary Sundays in the history of the church.'"


Watch for vast, teeming swarms of new Episcopal converts in your neighborhood.

Monday, August 11, 2003

"To" Christians and "for" Christians 

Two simple little English words tell a great deal about where a Presbyterian is coming from these days -- the words "to" and "for."

When Scripture is read and interpreted, what does the reader/exegete say? If it is "Listen TO the Word of God," the person is probably a theologically conservative, biblically orthodox Presbyterian. "Listen TO the Word of God" means that "What you're going to hear IS the Word of God -- every bit of it -- and we need to attend to it, learn from it, and conscientiously apply it to our lives." These people believe that the Bible is true, and Spirit-breathed, and authoritative. We must attend TO it, for it is God's truth.

"Listen FOR the Word of God" most likely identifies a theologically liberal, "progressive" Presbyterian (or one who has been around such people and has picked up bad habits.) "Listen FOR the Word of God" implies that what you're going to hear from the Bible is a mixed bag, with great ideas sprinkled in among some cultural and sociological baggage from ancient times, and the listener is going to have to carefully decide what parts are God's Word and what parts aren't. Somewhere within what's going to be read, you may just find something of value, but you have to be careful in your search FOR it.

"To" and "for" tell us about the opinion of TRUTH the speaker holds. And it's not only about the Bible. In a Presbyterian Outlook article on the Theological Task Force, the author wrote that a pastor "wanted to give the session more time to listen for where God was leading it." Notice the word "for" in that sentence. If we listen "for" something, the assumption is that it may or may not be there. If we listen "to" something, the assumption is that that "something" definitely is there.

Is God's truth, God's leading, God's will something solid and propositional, something definitely to be listened TO and not groped FOR amid a whole lot of ambiguity? Those who trust God's Word and believe in the existence of truth as revealed by God listen TO the Word and obey. Those who trust their own discernment and question the existence of propositional truth listen FOR the Word of God, because, after all, there just MAY be something there they might like and decide to endorse as God's leading because it fits their expectations.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Managing the decline of America 

Episcopalians capitulate to the gay agenda.

Gay marriage gaining momentum politically.

Christian morality deemed hostile.

Every day we run into demoralizing (literally!) news from our now-quite-pagan culture. It's an exhausting battle, it seems, simply NOT to lose moral ground, not to give up in weary futility.

Maggie Gallagher injects some needed hope and perspective into this dismal view of things. She writes: "What will happen in the short run? I do not know. Which ideas will triumph over the long run? That I do know. In the early '80s, the Soviet Empire appeared to be at its height, but Ronald Reagan, perhaps alone, understood: 'The task,' President Reagan said then, is 'to manage the decline of the Soviet Union.' A few years later, a false idea contrary to human nature collapsed in on itself. The Cold War was over, without a shot fired.

"Human beings are free to adopt self-destructive ideas, but we are not free to make them work. Ideas based on a faulty view of human nature can grip the imagination of the powerful for decades, wreak havoc and suffering on untold millions, but they cannot triumph in the end. What is contrary to nature, including human nature, cannot ultimately survive."

That's it! You don't break God's laws with impunity. Go against God, and things break. Humankind's "better idea" eventually becomes a colossal failure. Read Maggie Gallagher's full essay and cool down. You'll feel better. Guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Chronological snobbery: the latest greatest ideas? 

A recent column by George Will introduces a name for a phenomenon I'd only vaguely recognized previously: chronological snobbery, the feeling that our time is SO much more brilliant than any other era.

George Will agrees with the theologically moderate Rt. Rev. Gethin B. Hughes, Episcopal bishop of San Diego: "Tentativeness is not for the real provocateurs, the progressives who believe, above all, in progress. Their faith is in the tendency of things to get better, and therefore in the probability that the newest ideas are best.

"Hughes worries that some Episcopalians' progressivism is what C.S. Lewis called 'chronological snobbery' -- the belief, Hughes says, that 'our time is the brightest time.'''

Judging by how quickly the theological orthodoxy and fervent good sense of many Third World Anglican bishops gets dismissed by "enlightened" Westerners with an agenda to promote at all costs, I join Hughes in contending that "chronological snobbery is sometimes compounded with geographic condescension -- the complacent certainty that 'our part of the world is better.'''

Jesus had it right about homosexuality. The ancients understood it well. Churches have consistently intended moral practices in regard to it until only recently. The vital churches in the Anglican stream remain horror stricken by the effrontery of American Episcopalian autonomy on the matter. Too bad that chronological snobbery and geographic condescension so cloud good judgment in Episcopalians as well as Presbyterians!

[Thanks to Perceptive Reader Nancy Cross.]

Saturday, August 02, 2003

The whole world is watching 

When Episcopalians debate ordination questions or homosexual marriage in General Convention (or Presbyterians at General Assembly), something is happening that is unusual in the larger culture: ideas that matter are actually being articulated and examined, rather than just assumed or bought wholesale. That's an interesting thought in a Dallas Morning News story today by Jeffrey Weiss about the triennial Episcopal General Convention, which is considering affirming Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire (must be somewhere near Burlington, VT!) even though he is living in a noncelibate homosexual relationship.

Weiss includes this quotaton: "There are very few places in American society where we can have this debate in any kind of a public forum," said Dr. Nancy Ammerman, professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University. "These major denominational gatherings are providing a really important civic function for the larger society."

A news story from yesterday on the subject stated: "Asked about how he reconciles his relationship with his partner of more than a decade, Mark Andrew, with biblical prohibitions on homosexuality, Robinson told the committee that in Andrew's 'unfailing and unquestioning love for me I experience a little bit of the kind of never-ending love that God has for me. So it's sacramental for me.'" Notice how Robinson gave not a biblical or theological answer but rather an answer from experience and his feelings (apparently the most authoritative sources in his world). This is a common practice when the Bible is discounted or ignored. The committee, by the way, must have bought his explanation, for they voted to send him on for approval in the House of Deputies.

When Presbyterians debate "fidelity and chastity" and while Episcopalians give a whole new meaning to the term "loose canon," it's not just some little drama on an obscure stage. The whole world is watching -- and can either learn of God's gracious will or be led astray by false teaching. Pray for our Episcopalian sisters and brothers in their key decisions this week.

Friday, August 01, 2003

"Families in Transition" watch 

The rejected draft of a denominational families policy statement -- "Families in Transition" -- is getting rerouted through the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) this year, with a revised draft to be submitted to General Assembly in 2004. Actually, two papers are before ACSWP: their own draft, which received only rejection at General Assembly, and the G.A. committee's majority report, which G.A. commissioners moved through the committee to replace the ACSWP draft. In plenary session, both got sent back to ACSWP for reconsideration.

ACSWP meets three times a year, and just recently finished a meeting in Sacramento, where the "Families in Transition" rewrite received some attention. G.A. minister commissioner Miji Working (Santa Barbara Presbytery) and Alan Wisdom from Presbyterian Action attended the ACSWP meeting. They were given a combined 15 minutes (during a three-day meeting) to present testimony about what the new draft should contain. Both Miji and Alan are to be commended for this work on behalf of all who seek a biblical and theologically sound next draft.

ACSWP will receive theological input for the revised paper from the Office of Theology and Worship at a special meeting in Louisville September 23 and 24, including a panel discussion. Then at their regular January 22-25, 2004, meeting in Louisville, they will probably act on a draft being produced by a writing team. Both the ACSWP chair (the Rev. Nile Harper of Ann Arbor, MI) and the vice-chair (the Rev. Sue Dickson of El Paso, TX) are liaisons to the as-yet unnamed writing team.

No members of the independent press were at the Sacramento meeting, although the Presbyterian News Service covered it. Keep this process in your prayers. There is some skepticism about the will and ability of ACSWP to thoroughly reverse its own course on this draft policy statement, but a whole lot of us would love to be pleasantly surprised.

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