The Great Pope Within (Nick Batzig)

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self.” Martin Luther almost certainly never made this statement (though many have falsely attributed it to him). It is, however, an accurate and quite helpful statement, as far as it goes. We all have a great pope within. By nature, none of us wants to submit ourselves to God and the sole authority of His word. All of us enjoy being a law unto ourselves. We’re all committed to laying out standards with which we are comfortable–standards that appear to benefit us. We go on to affirm our own standards by finding affinity with others who have similar standards. We then live in an echo chamber of a functional magisterium we have collectively formed. Of course, at the head of this functional magisterium is the pope of self. While this is certainly the mode of operation for unbelievers, it is not entirely eradicated when we are converted. In fact, aspects of this functional Roman Catholicism are ever manifested in the hearts of believers. Here are several ways in which this manifests itself in our everyday experiences. 

1. Penance. In the first of his 95 theses, Martin Luther wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Luther felt as though this was necessary on account of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church had built an elaborate system of penitential satisfaction for the forgiveness of sins on a faulty translation of the word μετανοεῖτε. Rather than give it the natural translation “repent,” Erasmus had given it the Latin translation from which we derive the English phrase, “Do penance.” Luther preached his 1518 Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, in order to show to what great lengths Rome was willing to take the penitential system. Thomas Aquinas had articulated the doctrine of penance in such a way as to include indulgences–“together with vigils, working, [sleeping on a] hard bed, [wearing rough] clothes, etc.”–for satisfaction for sin. Johanne Tetzel, the great seller of indulgences and Luther’s principle adversary, defended Rome’s penitential system in his Against’s Luther’s Sermon on Indulgences and Grace

All who love the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement–the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ–will rightly revolt at the idea of Rome’s penitential system. However, we functionally embrace something of a penitential system when we try to quiet a guilty conscience with good works. There are a thousand ways in which we can fall into this trap. If we haven’t been fruitful in our outreach in the community in which we live, we go on a short term mission trip to make up for it. If we haven’t been faithful in gathering with the saints for Lord’s Day worship, we give more money to the church to cover for our delinquency in worship. No matter what shape or form it takes, we can seek to make satisfaction for our sins by doing more or by doing better, rather than recognizing that God has made satisfaction for our sins by offering up His Son on the cross. This is why we believe, with Luther, that the Christian life is to be one of repentance not penitence

2. Ritualism. Closely aligned to the idea of penitence is the idea of ritualism. Ritualism comes in many shapes and forms. The great danger of ritualism is that it perverts religious rituals that God has instituted in His word by investing in them an efficacy that they do not have in and of themselves. This is most fully exemplified by Roman Catholic sacramentalism. Geerhard Vos explained the nature of sacramentalism when he wrote: 

“Roman Catholics teach concerning a sacrament that it works ex opere operato [worked by the work]. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper of themselves do what they are said to do. The cross of Christ does not justify but merely opens justification, makes it possible, and hence the mass. It makes certain merits available that then, however, require a special application to become effective.”1

It may seem quite a jump to suggest that we can call into functional sacramentalism in Protestant churches; however, it is probably far more common than one might suppose. Many years ago, I was a member of a large Presbyterian church that celebrated the Lord’s Supper on a monthly basis. After a few months there, I began to realize that attendance was up approximately one-third whenever the Supper was being celebrated. I asked one of my friends why that was the case. He explained that some functionally treat the Lord’s Supper exactly the way Rome views the mass. Instead of seeing the word as the central means of grace–and as that which defines the sacrament–they convinced themselves that the Supper was something far more special. In doing so, they functionally embrace a form of sacramentalism. This is just one example of how we too can fall into ritualism. 

3. The Confessional. The Scriptures plainly teach us that we should confess our sins to one another (Matt. 5:24; 18:15; James 5:16) and that we should confess our sins to God (Ps. 51; 1 John 1:8-2:2). The Roman Catholic Church, of course, perverted the intention of this teaching by making the priest the agent of absolution and the confessional an element of penance. Once you go to the priest and confess what you have done, he gives you a series of penitential deeds unto absolution. Protestants have long seen the absurdity of such a perversion of the biblical teaching on confession of sin; however, we are ever in danger of turning our friends into personal priests–and, without going to the Lord in contrition and confession–functionally creating our own confessional. I can easily seek to unburden my guilty conscience by telling a friend what I have done sinfully without going to the Lord for pardon and cleansing (1 John 1:8-2:2). Instead, we ought to confess our sin to those against whom we have sinned, confide in a close friend or pastor with whom we can pray together, and–most importantly–go to God in brokenness knowing that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One–the propitiation for our sin. 

4. Conscience Binding. Little needs to be said about how prevalent this is in the lives of those of us who attend Protestant churches in our day. How many of us haven’t made up our own rules about schooling, food and drink, television and movies, dress, etc. Whenever we subject ourselves to man-made rules and regulations, we are functionally doing the exact same thing that the Roman Catholic Church has been doing as an insitution for well over a thousand years. The doctrine of the liberty of conscience was one of the most precious doctrines to the Reformers for this very reason. It was on account of Rome’s perversion of it that the Westminster Divines dedicated an entire chapter to it in the Confession of Faith. There we read those great words: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship” (WCF 20.2). It was this doctrine that lead Luther to make his great “Here I Stand” speach.  

The Christian life is one that can only be lived in dependance on Christ as He is set out in the Scripture. The word of God is the sole authority by which we test all things and to which we hold fast in all matters of faith and practice. If we give him free reign, the great pope within will pervert the clear teaching of Scripture on matters of salvation, worship and the Christian life. We must constantly return to the Scripture to have our minds and hearts renewed in the knowledge of the God who is over all. We must be able to say with Luther, with great conviction and sincerity, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God…to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.” 

1. Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, … K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 5, p. 247). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Quest for Biblical Worship (Part 2) (Terry L. Johnson)

Reformed churches not only have the regulative principle worship (RPW) to guide them regarding elements and forms, but they also, throughout their history, have had liturgies and directories. The liturgies were the more restrictive (e.g. Strasburg, Geneva, Amsterdam), the directories (Westminster Directory of Public Worship and the family of directories it spawned) less so, allowing more freedom, leaving more to the discretion of the minister. Yet a high degree of uniformity has always been the goal, even among Presbyterians.

The Directory and Directions

We might ask ourselves, what is the function of a directory if not to direct? What is the point of providing examples of prayer and descriptions of preaching and rubrics for communion and baptism if it is not for those examples and descriptions and rubrics to be followed? The aim of the original Directory was substantial uniformity, or “sameness,” with the past, in the present and for the future. The Westminster divines explained in the “Preface” to the Directory that they were “persuaded” that “our first reformers… were they now alive… would join with us in this work.” There is the connection with the past, with the first generation of Reformers whose work revived the worship of “the ancient church,” as Calvin claimed. 

Moreover, they understood themselves to be answering “the expectation of other reformed churches” abroad for whom, along with “many of the godly at home,” the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) “proved an offense.” There is uniformity with present-day Reformed churches, domestic and foreign. 

Consequently, they argued, their work of “further reformation” was required, bringing the churches of England, Ireland and Scotland into conformity with “the reformed churches abroad.” There is the goal of perpetuating their work into the future. Through the Directory they aimed to “give some public testimony of our endeavors for uniformity in divine worship” which they had promised in their Solemn League and Covenant, wherein they pledged to endeavor to bring about “the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for worship and catechizing.” 

No one, from Bucer to Calvin to the Westminster Assembly to the late 20th century considered liturgical uniformity unusual, indeed the opposite. All thought substantial uniformity was necessary to (1) promote unity; (2) to guard the church from the introduction of unbiblical (as determined by the RPW) and therefore unauthorized elements into the services of the church; and (3) ensure that the authorized elements receive the attention they are due. Medieval novelties were removed by the Reformers; future novelties were barred. Our fear of uniformity, our resistance to conformity to historic liturgical forms is unprecedented and unbiblical. Unbiblical? Let me explain.

Today

How much “sameness” is enough and how much is too much? The devil, quite literally, is in the details. The Apostles expect a high degree of uniformity between the churches and demand a high degree of conformity. The same Paul who gave directions to the chaotic Corinthians for “when you come together as a church,” not just informally, casually, or ad hoc, but officially, “as a church” (1 Cor 11:18; cf 5:4; 11:32, 34; 14:26), also exhorts them, “We have no other practice, nor have the churches of God” (1 Cor 11:16; cf 1:2; 4:17; 14:33). He appeals to the uniform practice of the churches, and he expects aberrant churches to conform to that standard. The point of the historic Reformed orders of service is that of the Apostles: unity in worship and ministry. The radical sects might do whatever they perceived the Spirit was leading them to do, but Presbyterians have maintained standardized orders based on the elements and forms determined by the RPW. This meant substantial lectio continua reading of Scripture, expository preaching, the singing of psalms and (later) biblically sound hymns, a full diet of biblical prayer, and the simple administration of the sacraments. This also meant the elimination of all unauthorized elements, ceremonies, rituals, postures, and gestures that might disrupt the church’s unity in worship or might distract attention, time, and energy from the ordinary and authorized means of grace.

The goal of Reformed worship from the beginning, as repeatedly stated in Martin Bucer’s defense of the reforms implemented in Strasburg in 1524, Ground and Reason (Grund und Ursach), was to fill the biblical elements with biblical content: the word read, preached, sung, prayed, and seen (in the sacraments). Let this be enough. If we could agree on these few elements and forms, administered in simplicity, we’d still have issues to discuss. Yet such agreement would go a long way toward unifying the church at the hour of worship, promoting appropriate sameness without strangeness, that we might “together… with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6).

*This is the second installment of Dr. Johnson’s short series of posts on “The Quest for Biblical Worship.” You can find the first post in this series here

The Truth about the Rapture (Daniel Hyde)

“We…will be caught up” (1 Thes. 4:17) Soon after I was converted at age 17 my dad gave me three books–a King James Bible and two by a local pastor I had yet to hear of: Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and The Rapture. For the next three years I was immersed in eschatology. I even started a Bible study on my college campus utilizing charts that laid out the entire scheme of the last days utilizing a verse here from Daniel, a verse there from Ezekiel, and a verse over there from Revelation. To say I am conversant with the pre-tribulational, pre-millennial rapture of the church is an understatement.

I now believe that the rapture is the Second Coming. There is no gap between them. 1 Thessalonians 4 makes this clear.

Several weeks ago as I continued to preach through the doctrines explained in the Heidelberg Catechism at my congregation’s evening service, I came to the final words in the Apostles’ Creed: “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Always trying to keep things fresh for those who’ve heard my preaching over the years, I went back and re-read many sources that expressed the rapture doctrine above. I knew what they said but it was a good exercise for my congregation. Then a few weeks later Dallas Theological Seminary had a sponsored post on Facebook for a free E-book by Dr. Mark Hitchcock on The Truth and Timing of the Rapture. I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t resist writing a counter E-book.

Thanks to my friends at the Alliance, we are pleased to offer the following free E-book and inexpensive booklet: Caught Up: 1 Thessalonians and the Truth About the Rapture. Download it; read it; share it.

Caught_Up_Cover_r21.jpeg

My goal is simple: show from 1 Thessalonians 4 that the rapture occurs at the Second Coming; there is no gap in time between these two events. If I can get brothers and sisters in Christ to see that, then they (you!) can move on to more heavy duty theological works I mention in the notes of the book.

Tolle Lege! Take up and read!

A Vital Call for the Vitals of Religion (Brian Tallman)

In the denomination in which I serve as a minister–The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)–we have confessional standards to which all our ministers voluntarily agree to submit, subscribe, and support. The language we use to describe this action is that of adoption. He must, our Book of Church Order requires, be “able in good faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Fatih and Catechisms” of the church as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” (BCO 21.4).

That fact being stipulated, the adoption of the documents as containing the system does not mean a jot and tittle adoption of every “statement and/or proposition” (BCO 21.4). To put it another way, one is not automatically disqualified from being able to minister in the PCA because of a difference with the Standards. Instead, ministers and candidates for the ministry may take exceptions–at the discretion and permission of a Presbytery–to any differences or scruples they might have with the official doctrine of the church as contained in the standards. When this happens each exception is weighed and examined by the court of the church. Some exceptions are deemed acceptable and thus approved; others are not.

Of course, all of this raises the following questions: “By what standard is an exception deemed acceptable or not? Is there another repository of truth which may be mined and appealed to in order to determine whether or not an exception is acceptable?”

The answer to the latter question is “Yes!” The litmus test used to determine acceptance and approval of exceptions to the standards is this: “The exception(s) must not be the kind that is either hostile to the system or strikes at the vitals of religion” (BCO 21.4). In other words, all exceptions are acceptable as long as they don’t strike at the vitals of religion. So far so good, right?

But this forces additional questions to surface. What are the vitals of religion? Where might one find the list of them? What types of exceptions are hostile to the system? Where might one find that list?

This is where things get quite interesting. The answers that I have heard to those questions, at least from my experience and in my opinion, is alarming. The vitals of religion evidently clearly exist. They are mentioned in the BCO, after all. But no one can seem to agree what they are or where they are codified. In the context of debate on the Presbytery floor, I’ve even asked for someone to articulate them! Many people seem to know what they are and where they are codified. But the problem is that often their particular lists differ from the list of their colleagues.

Evidently the vitals of religion are different for different people. And because different people make up different Presbyteries, they are, therefore, different for different Presbyteries. Furthermore, if history teaches us anything it’s that the vitals actually change over time as well. What was once a vital and struck against the system in 1973 is no longer a vital today and therefore acceptable. And we should expect the same evolution and progression to continue. What is a vital today will not likely be a vital in 50 years from now.

This undefined language of the BCO is, at this point, highly subjective and allows for the acceptance of anything so long as it is agreed upon by the majority who determine that the exception is not threatening a vital.

From this we can conclude that a vital is what the contemporary majority at the time of examination determines a vital to be.

The only way to remedy this is to come up wth a list of vitals–that is, acceptable exceptions–or require strict subscription to the original documents. There are simply no other alternatives. And when the list of vitals is produced, no doubt, a sub-set of vitals-of-the-vitals will emerge, and then we are back to square one. Apart from strict subscription, all other solutions will allow for the contemporary majority to determine what is acceptable or not in the denomination.

At the end of the day, Even if we come up with a list of vitals for the entire denomination now it will reflect the contemporary opinion of the majority. So, really, the only option is full subscription to the old confessional standards. If this is rejected the PCA will be, in 50 years, what the PCUSA is today.

Closely Connected Care (Nick Batzig)

With each cultural crisis or natural disaster, our minds are freshly flooded with a litany of images and calls to come to the aid of our neighbors who have been the victims of an injustice or who have suffered loss. One of the downsides of living in a media-connected age is that we can’t escape the constant barrage of information about all of the miseries of this life. Additionally, we have an overwhelming number of para-church ministries that, by virtue of the fact that they are specialty ministry organizations, often give the sense that their thing is the thing in which all should be invested. Many of us begin to feel undue guilt about not rising to the occasion, so to speak, when we become aware of all of the needs of those around us in the world. Surely, there must be guiding principles in Scripture that help us know when God expects us to help and when it is outside of our ability. Without wishing to fall into the ditch of undue guilt or the ditch of inactivity, here are three principles to to keep in mind as we are daily confronted with global scale needs. 

1. The moral proximity principle. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine articulated what has become known as “the moral proximity principle” when he wrote: 

“All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you.”

In short, Augustine suggested that we have a greater responsibility to assist those who live more closely related to us by time, place or circumstance. You have a heightened sense of responsibility to come to the aid of those who are “more closely connected with you.” This means that we must start with our own family members (1 Tim. 5:8), neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and residents of the community in which we live. The proximity we have to those with whom we are most closely connected determines the moral responsibility we have to assist others. As Paul Tripp notes, “A man…needs a clear sense of what God calls him to do as a husband, father, neighbor, relative, son, worker, and member of the body of Christ.”

2. The ecclesiastical priority principle. “The moral proximity principle” paves the way for the priority that we should place on caring for the members of the body of Christ–those in the local church in which we worship, first of all, and then, Christians in the wider church. This is clearly articulated in Scripture when the Apostle Paul wrote, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). A believer is to have a desire/commitment to assist those in the household of faith. Since we have limited time, energy and resources, we are to first and foremost focus our attention on how we can spend these talents in coming to the aid of our brethren. When there is a hurricane, we should think about the needs of the saints in the churches with whom we have ecclesiastical affiliations prior to thinking about other churches/community needs. We often begin to feel undue guilty as we are bombarded with calls to give to charities/networks. Instead, pastors should help guide their congregations with well researched and tangible ways that members of one congregation can assist members of another. This principle was exemplified by the Apostle Paul who took assistance form the Macedonian and Corinthian churches to the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-3; 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 9:5). 

3. The collective provision principle. As believers seek to care for those who, within their moral proximity and ecclesiastical priority, have needs, it is important for us to remember that we can do a great deal more if churches work together to care for the needs of others. One of the great tragedies of the church in America is that there is often a pernicious territorialism that hinders a more widespread caring for others and co-laboring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Each of our churches belong to Christ. Believers are members of one another on account of our union with Christ. Pastors should labor to create partnerships with one another so that collective care occurs in the hour of needs. This principle applies to supporting missionaries and should also help govern our efforts at local mercy and outreach. 

While seeking to act on these principles certainly helps us narrow our focus, unburden our consciences from unnecessary guilt and walk in the good works for which Christ has redeemed us, a great deal of wisdom is needed in pressing forward. Additionally, caring for others costs time, energy and resources. Yet, as we remember that Christ poured out his soul and offered His body for us in order to care for the deepest needs of our soul, we too should be motivated to seek to assist those in need. 

The Nashville Statement: A Test of Orthodoxy? (Rachel Green Miller)

When the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality, there were immediate responses from almost every quarter. Reactions ranged from wholehearted endorsement to begrudging acceptance to outright rejection. Many of those who rejected the Nashville Statement have done so because they disagree with the content of the Nashville Statement–those who support or defend issues such as homosexual marriage, transgenderism, and homosexuality. It is not surprising that they would be strongly against the Nashville Statement. 

Most who strongly supported and quickly signed the Nashville Statement are those who share CBMW’s concerns over the wholesale rejection of biblical sexual ethics. They recognize that there is a need to speak up regarding what the Bible teaches on sexuality. And given the strong push in our country, and even in our churches, to reject the Bible’s teachings on sexuality and to embrace the world’s approach of “anything goes,” I believe that there is a great need for strong, biblical teaching on sexuality.

There has also been a significant amount of pushback by some who share the concerns addressed in the Nashville Statement but who disagree with various aspects of the statement. Some are concerned about what CBMW means by “divinely ordained differences between male and female.” Considering what CBMW has taught since its inception regarding male and female roles of authority and submission and the connection they have made with authority and submission in the Trinity, it’s a reasonable concern to have.

After the Trinity debate last summer, the official answer from CBMW was that to be a complementarian one only needed to uphold the Danvers Statement and that it was not necessary to hold to the Nicene teaching on the Trinity. Such a position appears to make the Danvers Statement more essential for complementarianism than Nicene orthodoxy. That is a very rocky foundation and a legitimate concern for many who have not signed the Nashville Statement.

Another concern has been raised over the use of “procreative” describing marriage in the Nashville Statement. Again, because of the well-known teachings of CBMW and its authors on the topic of marriage and procreation, it’s reasonable to ask exactly what they meant.

Others have expressed concern over the timing and usefulness of the new statement. They are concerned about the pastoral implications of such a statement. Will the Nashville Statement help or hinder efforts to reach and share the gospel with those in the LGBT+ community? Certainly it’s true that the Bible’s teachings on sexuality will be challenging and even offensive to many, but does the Nashville Statement add clarity or generate more heat than light? These are valid questions.

There have been a number of other concerns raised. Even some of those who signed the statement have addressed the reservations they have with the Nashville Statement. But in the push to defend the statement and to encourage others to sign it, there have been a number of articles that appear to make support of the Nashville Statement a test of orthodoxy.

In one article, an individual who supported the Nashville Statement comparea the Nashville Statement to separating the sheep from the goats. Another claims that to reject the statement is to reject the Bible. Yet another author stated that he had not seen anyone who supports historic Christianity that was opposed to the Nashville Statement. One defender wrote questioning the faith of those who disagree. These are serious claims to make and dangerous ones too.

As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both” (WCF 31.4).

The Nashville Statement might be helpful, but it is not “the rule of faith, or practice.” It is not on par with the Nicene, Apostles’, or Athanasian creeds which the Christian church has accepted as representing the fundamental aspects of Christianity. Opposing or supporting the Nashville Statement is not necessarily a proof of heresy or orthodoxy. This is especially true considering that some signatories of the Nashville Statement continue to hold to beliefs about the Trinity that are contrary to the ecumenical creeds.

In expressing my concern over aspects of the Nashville Statement, some friends who were supportive of it told me that they felt they needed to sign it because they had to do something to show support for biblical sexual ethics. Others said that the statement might not be perfect but no one else was doing anything. While I understand and share their desire to stand for the truth, especially in the face of such opposition today, there is danger in being too quick to act.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we’ve seen many well-meaning people and organizations wanting to just “do something” to help. Sometimes it is useful. People are donating time, money, and resources that are dearly needed. Other times it’s not so useful. A friend shared a story about an organization that donated a crate of limes. What are we going to do with limes right now? I’m not sure.

In making a stand for the Bible in our society today, we need to be careful and measured in our actions. I’m not opposed to making new statements that respond to challenges to biblical orthodoxy. Such statements may be necessary. But I would like to recommend that first we consider whether or not we’re recreating the wheel.

As one writer pointed out, the Westminster Standards already address the very issues that CBMW attempts to cover with the Nashville Statement. Consider these excerpts:

On the creation of man:

“After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall” (WLC 17).

On marriage and divorce:

“Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time” (WCF 24.1).

“Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness” (WCF 24.2).

“Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case” (WCF 24.6).

On sexuality:

“The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others” (WLC 139).

What the Nashville Statement attempts to say has already been said and, in my opinion, said better by the authors of our historic Reformed confessions. Instead of a new statement, what we need as believers, especially those of us in confessional churches, is to teach the Scriptures and catechize our congregations so that we are well-equipped to answer the many challenges made to biblical orthodoxy. When society asks, “Did God really say?,” we will be ready to respond.

I do not object to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed the Nashville Statement. They have done what they thought best. I share their desire to make a strong stand for biblical sexual ethics. I pray more Christians will be willing to stand firm on the truth of the Bible. We can expect the opposition to become increasingly fierce. I simply ask that in defending our decisions to sign or not to sign the Nashville Statement, we do not make either a test of orthodoxy.

I Can’t Hear You Over All the Name Calling (Randy Nabors)

Lately I have been reading articles by a few Evangelicals who are deeply committed to racial justice.  As I agree and sympathize with much, I do find myself in reaction to some of the things they have said. These ideas, and others like them, spring up from time to time, although often in new phrases and provocative rhetoric.   Some of what they have said is not new, they are echoes of various lines of thinking that have been part of conversations that have been present as long as I have been involved in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.

Ah, you will see I mentioned a word that is part of what is at stake in the conversation, and that is the word “reconciliation.”  The phrase “racial reconciliation” is a term that has been at times threatening, revolutionary, and welcoming to people who have been convicted about the racial and ethnic alienation that has been present in our society since the idea of race was constructed to help both Arabs and Europeans feel justified in their exploitation of various nations, namely those nations and ethnicities of color.

This term is also slammed, shunned, and discarded by some as being either misunderstood or misused, and thereby not radical enough in the quest for justice. Some have postulated there can be no reconciliation since we were never unified to begin with, and though this sounds like it might make sense, the idea discards Adam and Eve and Noah as a unified human race, Babel as the dividing of the nations, and the calling of Abraham as a Jew to divide the world into Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised).  I take that criticism as a cheap rhetorical trick with no logical foundation.  It also seems to accept the postulation of race as a biological reality and not a constructed one.

Some don’t like the word “racial” since it was a socially constructed idea to explain “color” in various human beings and to assign them a lower status by white people.  No less a person than John Perkins has recently spoken powerfully against this word since it creates differentiation between people groups, and God is no respecter of persons.  He thinks that our continued use of it perpetuates the differentiation in a negative way.  Nevertheless we all pretty much admit to such realities as “racism” and doing away with the term is not going to do away with racists anytime soon.

Then there is the criticism of the entire phrase as one seen to be preferred by white people because they see it as an individualized process or event and fail (or refuse) to see systemic injustice in the broader society.  One of the writers I read wants only to speak of “white supremacy,” and feels that is where the onus belongs, on the white community. I certainly sympathize with the need to see justice as a larger issue than simply our personal bias and prejudice.

White Supremacy

White Supremacy is a term that is searching for some consensus.  It seemed to have a historical context in the teachings of the slave justifiers (even among Muslim scholars prior to the Western slave trade) the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and going back to Nazi Germany’s view of the “Superior Race.”   The attempt to dump the guilt of such association  on all white people due to their being in the numerical majority, having inherent white privilege as a cultural majority in a racialized nation, and or being clueless as to what systemic injustice does to people is problematic at best, and frankly, racist at worst.

Let me be clear, as our former president used to say.  I think white supremacists are dangerous, and the belief in white supremacy is the essential building block of intentional white privilege.  In short systemic decisions to deprive people of color of their rights while seeking to maintain those of whites is due to an evil and deceived thinking that being white is superior and something to be maintained by economic, political, and social means.   The use of violence to achieve and maintain racial advantage has often followed soon after, but not all those who agree with this racist ideology or who passively and/or ignorantly go along and enjoy its benefits are people who would engage in violence.

I also believe that racists can be converted and changed, and that the white population that is carried along in the stream of white privilege has a conscience that can be stimulated by truth and justice. This is one of the  historic realities of the power of the Civil Rights movement in our nation, and no matter the mockery by some of the Christian Church the fact is that some of those Christians were touched and awakened to help bring about legal and substantive change in our society.  It did not happen without them.

Political ideologues, in their rhetorical world, are adept at polarizing issues, leaving no middle ground, and thereby marginalizing people who are still learning and still becoming conscious of issues.  In their eyes you are either as radical as they are, or you are the enemy.  Taking and using such political device and rhetoric may sound and read as prophetic, but the question remains as to whether or not it is genuinely Christian?  Some of it frankly is bitter, a bit mean, and seems to take delight in making people feel miserable.

Some of the rhetoric is no better, and serves no other purpose, than name calling.  I suspect some of it is an attempt to feel powerful, a sort of triumphalism, through the use of language. Rhetorical “one ups-man-ship” might make one feel better but I don’t think it convinces anybody but one’s allies.  Instead of seeking peace, which is a Christian duty, command, and practice, it alienates.  I believe one of the worse things we can do is to use language (no matter how lyrical or artistic) that is confused, opaque, and that causes more misunderstanding and less healing.

One of the realities we live in is that of a demographic white majority in the United States, and lately we are seeing in the white population (both here and in Europe) a strong reaction against and resistance to any changing of that reality through immigration.  White cultural reality is very strong in Evangelicalism, and those minorities which are present in a white Evangelical world are forced to encounter “white normativity.” Whether or not white people in majority or whole admit to the presence of other cultural realities in the United States I think “white normativity” is going to be a cultural reality for a long time to come.

Some minority individuals decide that self-segregation is what they would rather pursue for their own cultural comfort, healing, and safety.  They seek an escape from the cultural fatigue and aggravation which seems to be fairly consistent in the education and training of “one more white person,” who has only now realized and admitted there are other cultural realities.  If it is not self-segregation it sometimes seems to be an emotional self-alienation with a lot of complaining.

There is a corresponding majority culture reaction by which racial issues are simply shut down, walked away from, or mocked and ridiculed if a white person feels racially aggravated. Too often white people seem to react to racial issues, or even some racial event on the news, as if every mention, achievement, or expressed anger of black folks was taking something away from them.  When that resistance to engaging in a healthy understanding and realization of racism gives up to listening, learning, and hoping then the turn begins; the turn to reconciliation and justice.

The price to pay for real “reconciliation” is high for each of us in our own ethnic and cultural groups and we pay it in different ways.  I believe minorities pay a higher price but it is arrogance to assume others are paying nothing (though they may not being paying the full price yet), it is disingenuous and dangerous to assume it will cost any of us little.  There is both an illegitimate and a legitimate price to be paid. The illegitimate price of self-hatred and complete assimilation into the “other” while discarding our own culture and ethnic identity pays negative dividends in self, family, and community.  There is only one thing worthy of paying the legitimate price of reconciliation (which is a long exposure to misunderstanding, insult, attacks of various kinds, and sacrifice in relationships,) and that is the pursuit of being the answer to the prayer of Jesus; that we might be one.

The argument for expanding the term White Supremacy to include the entire white population (and thus take the onus off of specific political and violent groups) as responsible for systemic injustice seems to negate the idea of personal repentance, and personal relational healing, and declare it to be inconsequential as long as injustice continues. In an attempt to thwart individual evasion of institutional racism it makes the personal repentance of racism meaningless.  We agree that change must be pursued in “loosening the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke,” as Isaiah says in chapter 58:6 Change has to begin somewhere, and more pointedly in “someone.” From such individuals justice begins to arise, and it must if the repentance and change is real.

To take the term White Supremacy and make it universal rather than specific to hate groups is to deprive all of us of the vigilance needed to monitor their incipient violence and to be prepared to resist it.  White supremacists must love this universal application and definitive inflation.

Reconciliation

I would like to be one of the few voices lifted up to defend the word “reconciliation.”  Not only do I like it, want to practice it, and have paid some measure of a price to pursue it, but my bottom line is that I think it is Biblical.  It is a word far greater than race, full of grace and mercy, includes all the Gentiles in the Body of Christ (thus including in its central idea inter-Gentile union), and the Jews, and is one of the soteriological effects of the death of Jesus on the cross.

Reconciliation is not a word to despise for the reason that being personally reconciled (to God or people) does not automatically end systemic injustice, but rather a word that is to be preached!  It is our future hope that Jesus will reconcile all things to himself.  In short, it is a process which God commissioned, a message and a ministry we should all be caught up in and which will not be fulfilled in our lifetimes.

To reject reconciliation, and yes, racial reconciliation, and substitute it with permanent guilt until there is complete systemic change, is defeatist, despairing, unrealistic, and ultimately creates more division.  I think it is better to spell out, and preach out, the price of real and Biblical reconciliation; the cost of sacrificially enslaving ourselves to other groups to win them, the cost of suffering with and for them in a true “becoming” with them.

One phrase that comes up is “white fragility” in the context of conversations about race and injustice. I think I understand the historic dynamic but unfortunately this is a universal human problem, and not simply one that can be assigned to one people group.  It is difficult, as a representative of a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group, to constantly hear the pathology present in one’s own people group carped on by another ethnic group.  Racial conversations are frequently difficult and sometimes feel threatening; the use of blaming and provocative language in the guise of the pursuit of justice (without giving hope) I believe will be self-defeating.

I have seen this reaction in various groups when the issues of public health and social concerns and “pathologies”are listed by race or ethnicity.  Invariably the argument is made to stop blaming those listed as representative of the statistics (from our ethnic group, or our ethnic group a whole) and attack something else; the system, society, and history that has helped to create those problems.  I’m just wondering if you can feel my love if I keep telling you how bad your people are?

Can any of our identified racial groups own any of (their) our peculiar or popular sins? It is no doubt difficult. Will our identified racial groups continue to resist group labeling as insulting and demoralizing?  I have a suspicion that they will, therefore such labeling should be used tenderly, strategically, tactfully, and even lovingly in trying to bring about change.  Every cultural group has particular sins that should bring shame to them, and certainly the white majority in this country has earned much of the shame and guilt that generally they don’t like to hear about or embrace.

Guilt, by itself, is an insufficient motivator and is quite often the edge of the blade on which people will either divide into denial, anger, and resentment on one side and admission, confession, and a search for restoration on the other. The preaching of the Gospel always contains the bad news of sinful reality, but it is not a Gospel at all if it doesn’t have “good news.”

The Gospel, the real Gospel of Christ, is not true to itself if all it does is stick people with guilt and leaves it there.  This is not a way of saying that we shouldn’t preach against societal or national sins,  it is a way of saying that with repentance there is forgiveness, there is grace, there is, (watch it, here it comes…) reconciliation.  I see that word as one which has a milestone beginning but continues as a process, both personally, socially, institutionally, and ecclesiastically.

It is progress when any community faces its reality head on, and in humility and courage seeks to change its culture toward righteousness, both personal and social, in its behavior. As the Scripture says in Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  Does any of this humility and courage happen without change in individuals?  I would submit that it cannot. Does it suddenly happen generally, culturally, systemically, politically?   While some despise the individual aspect of Christian faith as insufficient for corporate change it is nevertheless a historic (societies and nations have changed) and realistic part of the whole, it just has to be preached (consistently) as a beginning and not an end in itself.

Randy Nabors was the pastor of New City Fellowship, a congregation committed to the African American and poor communities, in Chattanooga, TN from 1976 until 2012. In 2012 Randy began working for Mission North America–the mission agency of the PCA–in order to coordinate Urban and Mercy and to build the New City Network.

[Editorial note: This post originally appeared on Randy’s blog and is used with his permission. While it is somewhat lengthier than that which we usually run at Ref21, we believe that the content demands a more careful and developed treatment.]

Love the Sinner as You Love Your Sinful Self? (Nick Batzig)

Over the past week, I’ve seen more appeals to the second half of Matthew 22:39 than I’ve seen artist postcards in a hipster coffee shop. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which is the second greatest command, according to Jesus) is now apparently the favorite verse of atheists, agnostics and liberal Christians alike. Without doubt, it should be one of the most greatly beloved truths for anyone who calls himself or herself a disciple of Christ. However, this command can only be properly understood in light of the previous two verses, its own textual qualification and the teaching of Scripture regarding the person and work of Christ. 

Recently, while reading through Augustine’s “On Christian Doctrine,” I stumbled across an enlightening section on self-love, loving other and loving God. Augustine wrote: 

“He is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself. Likewise we ought to love another man better than our own body, because all things are to be loved in reference to God, and another man can have fellowship with us in the enjoyment of God, whereas our body cannot; for the body only lives through the soul, and it is by the soul that we enjoy God.”

If we endure the enigmatic language of Augustine’s opening sentence, we come to what is one of the most profound thoughts on the relationship between the first and second greatest commandments. “No sinner is to be loved as a sinner,” he wrote, “and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself.” Augustine is walking back from the second great commandment to the first great commandment; and, in that way, is showing that we cannot properly understand the second great commandment if we do not rightly understand the first. 

We will surely find ourselves at a loss to properly explain what Scripture means when it says “Love your neighbor as yourself” if we do not have an adequate understanding of what it means when it says “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” To love the Lord with all of our being is to live as a creature in dependence on our Creator, to humble ourselves under His word, to acknowledge His infinite, eternal and unchangeable being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, to seek to do those things that are pleasing in His sight and to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is the first and great commandment because we are, in all that we do, to seek to please God rather than men (Gal. 1:10). In short, man’s chief end is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” 

Without doubt, a vital constituent of loving the living and true God is loving those made in His image. If we don’t love our fellow image bearers, then, the Apostle says, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). It is impossible for someone to prove that he is living for and loving God if he is not seeking to love his neighbor as himself. 

When, however, someone bandies about Matthew 22:39–irrespective of its subordination in the taxonomy of Matthew 22:37-39–he or she often goes on to misconstrue its theological and ethical meaning. The second great command is not, “You shall love the sinner as you love your sinful self.” As Augustine succinctly put it: “No sinner is to be loved as a sinner.” Rather, we are to love our neighbor “as a man for God’s sake.” This involves first realize that “God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself.” When we fail to place these truths in their proper order there is no end to the sorts of evil that we will readily tolerate in ourselves and promote in others.

Of course, none of us has loved the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. None of us has loved our neighbor as ourselves as we ought. In fact, we are all pervasively depraved by nature (Eph. 2:1-4). A Christian is necessarily someone who confesses that he or she has fallen short–so very short–of the glory of God (Rom. 6:23). A Christian is one who flees to the only One who ever perfectly loved the Lord with all of His heart, mind, soul and strength–to the only One who ever perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. Jesus fulfilled the first and second great commandments. Jesus took the punishment, in His own body at the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), for our failure to keep these two commandments. Jesus bore the wrath of God that we deserve for our failure to love the Lord and our neighbor as we ought. Jesus did not “love the sinner as His sinful self.” The sinless Son of God incarnate loved sinners “for God’s sake, God for His own sake, and God more than any man.” It is only as we keep the Jesus of the Scriptures before our eyes that we too will learn to love the Lord and our neighbor in a way that brings glory to God and good to our neighbors. 

A Social Savior (Darrell B. Harrison )

As I continue to scan the landscape of Christian social justice activism, that is, social justice-labeled activities that are said to be carried out “in the name of” Christ, I’ve noticed many Christian activists have a tendency to proffer to the world an image of Jesus that is tantamount to that of a sanctified social worker, a holy humanitarian, an exalted egalitarian.

This visage of Jesus as a “Social Savior” is borne of a proclivity many Christian social justice activists have to leverage the works of Christ as the primary impetus not only for individuals who profess to follow Him to do likewise, but also institutions, such as governments and corporations, so that an equitable, just, and impartial society and world, which they believe Christ envisioned for mankind, ultimately becomes reality.

It is through this paradigm that such works of Christ as healing the centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:13), and the blind man (Jn. 9:6-7), and feeding more than 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 on another (Mk. 8:1-8), as well as His love for the poor (Luke 6:20) and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), are viewed as evidences that mandate Christians to take upon themselves, in accordance with Christ’s words in Jn. 9:4, to “…work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work.”

This kind of sanguine worldview may seem admirable, perhaps even virtuous, to some, especially given the current milieu in which Christianity – and white evangelical Christians in particular – are being called to account for the deliberate and systematic misappropriation, to put it mildly, by their ancestors of various biblical precepts for the express purpose and intent of enslaving and otherwise oppressing black people in America.

That Christianity was practiced in such a deliberately iniquitous manner is both a sad and unarguable fact.

As author and researcher Richard Reddie notes in a 2007 BBC article on the Atlantic slave trade and abolition:

“Religion was…a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelization was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians.”

Conversely, theologian and author Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, extols:

“Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be both addressed and redressed. There is no excusing it. The typical criticisms…about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity’s own resources for critique of itself. The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel. Historian C. John Sommerville claims that when Anglo-Saxons first heard the Christian gospel message they were incredulous. They couldn’t see how any society could survive that did not fear and respect strength. When they did convert, they were far from consistent. They tended to merge the Christian other-regarding ethic with their older ways. They supported the Crusades as a way of protecting God’s honor and theirs. They let monks, women, and serfs cultivate charitable virtues, but these virtues weren’t considered appropriate for men of honor and action. No wonder there is so much to condemn in church history. But to give up Christian standards would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism.”

So, admittedly, there were those, including many Christians, who, while professing to be followers of the God of the Bible, appropriated the teachings of the Bible in such ungodly ways as to devalue, disparage, and destroy those who were equally the bearers of God’s image (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26) as those who, “in the name of” God, volitionally chose to oppress, maltreat, and, on many occasions, murder them.

Be that as it may, to whatever extent the gospel was leveraged in such base and sinful ways is not the fault of Christianity. Quite the contrary. It is the fault of that which Christianity unambiguously and forthrightly addresses. Namely, the innate depravity of the human soul (Gen. 4:7, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 5:17.)

To view Jesus preeminently as a “Social Savior” is a misguided, short-sighted, and dangerous proposition, as it fails to take into account the fundamental root cause of many of the historical and contemporary socio-ethno inequities which many Christian social justice activists, particularly blacks, are seeking to redress through such propitiatory gestures as the removal of Confederate statues and monuments and the paying of reparations for slavery.

Notwithstanding the innumerable and tangible good works performed by Jesus for the practical benefit of those to whom they were graciously and mercifully imparted, those works were subsidiary to the primary reason Christ came into the world which, contrary to what many Christian social justice activists – and others – believe, was not to remedy socio-political or socio-economic inequities by improving the material, financial, or social station of those with whom He interacted, but to point people to Himself as the long-awaited Messiah.

This reality is underscored in , in which the apostle John declares:

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

A problem many Christian activists have in their pursuit of social justice is that they confuse Christians with Christ.

That is something that should never happen.

As theologian and historian Thomas J. Kidd cautions in his 2012 article titled Slavery, Historical Heroes, and “Precious Puritans”:

“The Christian faith has only one perfect hero. He is our proper object, not just of emulation, but of worship. We all fall far, far short of his example.”

In other words, only Jesus is Jesus. We are not.

Even in our most well-founded expectations that those who profess to believe in Jesus display a certain level of consistency in living out that belief (Eph. 5:1-2), we must never lose sight of the fact that when an individual professes faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9), it is their salvation that is instantaneous not their sanctification (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

It is with this thought in mind that we would do well to consider the words of theologian John R.W. Stott who, in his classic work The Cross of Christ, reminds us of this spiritual reality:

“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; whereas God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”

Stott’s words highlight the futility of espousing a Jesus who is a “Social Savior”–whose coming to earth is viewed strictly in terms of how works-righteousness (e.g. removing statues, paying slavery reparations, etc.) can be a means toward the kind of society in which justice, equity, and righteousness are normative (2 Pet. 3:13).

At the risk of disappointing many of my social justice warrior (SJW) brothers and sisters, Jesus is not a Social Savior. Christ came into the world save sinners not society (1 Tim. 1:15; Matt. 10:34-36). If the works of Christ themselves were sufficient as the model for how the kind of egalitarian social structure so zealously desired by many Christian SJWs is to be realized in today’s society, the question still remains: why, then, was it necessary for Him to die?

 

Darrell Harrison is a member of Rockdale Community Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation located in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell was the first African-American to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. Darrell blogs at “Just Thinking…For Myself

.

When Calling Yourself a “Christian” Isn’t Enough (Adam Parker)

As a new Christian, I was very interested in studying cults. I studied the nuances of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarianism, and so on. When we think of cults, we tend to think of groups that not only pervert what the Bible says about salvation, but especially that depart from what Christianity has long taught since the very beginning. One of the other interesting features of cults is that they desperately want to be seen as in the mainstream of Christianity. When the Mormons come to my house, they insist that they’re “Christians” – in fact the last ones that came to my house told me they’re evangelicals.

Recently, I was reflecting on an important point that Dr. Trueman has been making for a number of years–namely, that the term “evangelical” has not only lost its meaning, but that it probably needs to be abandoned altogether.

Is it possible that the term “Christian,” like “Evangelical,” isn’t enough? Since the Nashville Statement was released this past week we have seen a number of negative responses from people also wanting to claim the name of Christian. I have seen many people claiming that suicides among the LGBTQ community will skyrocket every time Christians reaffirm what they’ve always said on these issues. I have seen nobody try to argue that what is in the Nashville Statement is innovative or foreign to what Christianity has always taught.

Truthfully I don’t see engagement from the dissenters when it comes to the text. I do see the modern shaming, naming, and bullying tactics of the crowd being employed in full-force. I don’t see anyone carrying the flag for historic Christianity who is opposing the Nashville Statement. There is no effort on the part of the dissenters to make any connections with the teachings that have been part of the catholic (universal) church since Christ established it.

In this regard, one of the most important books that have been released in the last year was the book Unchanging Witness, by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unchanging Witness approaches the theological question of human sexuality from two fronts–the historical front and the exegetical front. Fortson and Grams spend most of the book examining every biblical text that refers to human sexuality, and especially to homosexual behavior. They spend about a quarter of the book surveying direct quotations from the early Church Fathers, the church during the Middle Ages, and the church during the renaissance/Reformation period. Their overall argument is that not only do the Scriptures teach with unanimity and clarity that homosexual behavior is sinful, but their larger point is that the church in history has spoken with one unanimous and unchanging voice on this specific question. Lutherans and Calvinists may differ on the Lord’s Supper. Methodists and Baptists may disagree over how to baptize. Baptists may disagree with Baptists over the five points of Calvinism (the list goes on). No Christian church or denomination ever disagreed on the morality of homosexuality.

Here’s the real money quote from Unchanging Witness

“On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because…both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church’s teaching” (Fortson and Grams, pg. 5).

This is precisely where I wish to come back around to the question of whether it’s enough to just claim the name “Christian.” The people who are spearheading the ‘Gay Christian’ movement are innovators in the extreme. They must argue that there is no relevance to the church’s teaching on the subject of sexual behavior, because there is no argument to be made in that regard. Can someone really claim to be Christian while enjoying the church’s teaching (perhaps) on the doctrine of God while they at the same time willfully jettison its interpretation of what the Bible says about human sexual behavior? They can, perhaps, but they would be ‘Christian’ in name only. It is our relationship to the history of the church that makes our claim to be Christians meaningful. Wolfhart Pannenburg said this:

“If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norms, and recognized homosexual unions as personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” (Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, pg. 37).

Whatever you think of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood… whatever you think of the helpfulness of issuing public statements signed by hundreds of professors and pastors… whatever you think about the CBMW’s willingness or unwillingness to deal with the errors that they put forth during the ESS controversy… an objective reading of the Nashville Statement ought to ring true to all people who are Christians in any sense that our forefathers would have recognized. Those who belong to the cult of Evangelical Libertinism are howling in pain right now, but they should be recognized for what they are: a fringe cult masquerading as Christians, just like the Mormons and Watchtower folks.