Monday, June 9, 2014

The 2014 Presbyterian Church in American General Assembly to Houston: Do we have a problem?

The PCA to Houston: Proclaiming Christ…I hope?
On Monday, June 23, the visible impact of over 1100 PCA teaching and ruling elders will be reduced to a few recently emptied hotel rooms in need of cleaning and perhaps the last few bags of trash at the Americas Center. But what will be the lasting impact of our presence?

The Harvest is Plentiful. The Laborers are Few.
Consider: Houston has over 8,700 homeless people, including 3,824 people living completely unsheltered.  Another 3,500 live in sheltered facilities, and another 1,400 are in the Harris County jail. There are an additional 7,200 people in Houston jails. An estimated one million people are living as illegal immigrants throughout the state, many in Houston. Throughout the region, there are innumerable opportunities to volunteer with the homeless, help build and rebuild with Habitat for Humanity, encourage and train legal refugees and volunteer with the many hospice centers. There are as well a host of service opportunities with the police department, and helping adults and second-language speakers how to read English. As recently as 2011, Texas had over 1,500,000 veterans (or 8.6% of the population over 18), but in the area of care rated one of the lowest.

And if these aren’t in our area of competency, Houston Volunteer has dozens of other opportunities to engage our compassion while living out our mission. Not sure when to squeeze it in? Skip a seminar (skip my seminar), grab some theological rivals, go, serve. What better way to grow as leaders than through peer learning?

**UPDATE: There is the opportunity for commissioners to serve breakfast or lunch at a homeless shelter near the assembly location, and then visit and pray with those who come in. In conjunction with Christ the King. Email me for more info.

Five Days: A Year and a Half Later
As we prepare for our time in Houston, I want us to remember the human expense of this endeavor. Last year, 1,100 commissioners spent roughly 3 hours debating intinction. We committed 3,300 man-hours to the topic. It takes a pastor 66 weeks working 50 hours a week to equal that.

This year Assembly stands to spend that amount of time debating BCO revisions, views of creation (previously discussed and debated in 1990, 1995, and 2000), finding another way to move judicial cases back to the floor of the assembly, and a denominational logo.

The Essentials?
The Apostle Paul wrote I and II Timothy, passages that have been and will continue to be used in defense of overtures. But I’m drawn to Paul’s description of his interaction with the Apostolic powers. After fourteen years teaching and preaching, he seeks confirmation of the integrity of his message. Peter, James and John listen, support, and bless Paul with this single admonition: remember the poor. (Galatians 2:10). Nobody living knows what Paul presented to the Apostles, but I wonder how few of our own denominational overtures, movements, and debates could reasonably be considered in such an exchange.

James affirms the posture of faithfulness in the midst of trial (1:1-4), humility (1:5-11), a peaceable and dependent spirit (1:12-21), and self-examination; culminating in the call to control of our mouths, purity from the world, and care for orphans and widows.

Survey for the Self-Reflective

I believe MY time at GA is marked by humility and “quick to hear, slow to speak”?
I believe MY time at GA is marked by “care for orphans and widows”?
I believe the OVERALL tenor of GA is marked by humility and “quick to hear, slow to speak”?
I believe the OVERALL tenor at GA is marked by “care for orphans and widows”?

Results, Reactions, and Alternatives
As long as the PCA General Assembly functions like a small church of 150 people—where everybody can speak to every issue that he is remotely concerned about or interested in—the assembly will continue to wrestle with purpose, mission, direction, and movement. Robert’s Rules of Order aren’t functionally scalable to our current size. Simply put: we’re stuck. My point: Have a logo, or don’t have a logo, but God forbid we spend the equivalent of half a year’s time debating it.

If you answered Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes: Change nothing. The PCA and GA are working exactly as they should. For those who answered No at least once, consider the following:

1.      Seek Self-Reflection: Ask for a mandatory 2 minutes of compete, silent reflection after each four speakers on a particular topic of debate or discussion. As a very wise man said: Prayer is self-reflective. Silence is self-reflective. Leadership is self-reflective. Early-Industrial leadership is none of these. (I believe we’ve adopted a form of early-industrial leadership.)

2.       Invoke Prayer: Use your time at the microphone specifically for prayer. Pray for both sides of a debate or discussion. Pray for the parties of each by name, by presbytery. Pray for truth in love, wisdom, and quickness to hear, slowness to speak. Pray for hotel and convention workers who will hear our debates and wonder what the heck we’re talking about.

3.       Request Engaged Participation: A Teaching Elder recently remarked that at one of his first GAs, “we condemned a video even though not a single elder had seen [it].” Request that speakers engage fully with discussion and debate by preparing ahead of time, including a thorough reading of essential materials.

4.       Seek Dialogical Balance: Finding airtime for the observations of bystanders and the self-critical evaluation of followers can create shorter debates with more effective outcomes.

5.       Move the Chairs: Something changes when you sit down and find yourself facing a group of men. We move toward the relational away from the transactional.

6.       Do Something Else: Leave. The sense that one must stay engaged in a debate in order to assure its outcome is inaccurate. There are plenty of others opportunities (see paragraph 2).

a.       Talk to Homeless People: listen to how they got there, learn why they live on the streets, and hear what the Gospel has to say to them.

b.      Listen to the Stories of Homosexuals: at the same time that we’re voting to affirm the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, what could we learn by sitting across from and asking learning-focused questions of declared homosexuals living the lifestyle.

c.       Pray: Take a walk with someone else and pray. Prayer is self-reflective. It reveals our desires, intents, hopes, disappointments, frustrations. Prayer is also formative: it reorients us to God.

What Will We Leave Behind?
How will Houston remember the PCA? Unless something changes, there is the real possibility our presence will evoke little more than confusion with the pro-homosexual, anti-Semitism of another Presbyterian denomination. What if our presence in Houston left such a deep mark on the city, that our light shines, “they see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven” ? (Matt. 5:16).


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Covenant Theological Seminary trained Robert Woodson (BDiv’60) Leads Multigenerational Impact on Latin America

Bob and Shirley Woodson
In May 1960, Robert Woodson graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary with a calling from God to serve in Peru, at which time about 90% of the population considered itself Roman Catholic. He and his wife moved to Peru in 1965. After serving in rural areas for about two decades, he and a national pastor decided to plant a church in the capital city, Lima. Today Lima hosts about 10 million people.

In 2001, Israel Ruiz heard the gospel of grace preached by Rev. Woodson. The Lord called Israel to his flock and kindled a passion in him to share the gospel with others. Israel moved to the United States in 2006 to marry Marietta Lessley (an American who served in Peru for six months with MTW). Still with the desire the Lord had placed in his heart to share the gospel, the Lord opened the doors needed to attend seminary and he was accepted at Covenant Seminary. He started his M.Div in 2009 and graduated in 2013.

Guillermo "Guille" MacKenzie (white shirt, front row) with the congregation of La Iglesia Nuevo Avivamiento.
While in seminary, he met Guillermo Mackenzie from Argentina and they became good friends. Guillermo had been a pastor in Buenos Aires, Argentina and came to the States to attend Covenant Seminary. He graduated with a Master of Theology in May 2010 and is about to finish a Doctor of Ministry this spring.

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and has between 10 to 13 millions people, it is the second largest city in South America and it has less reformed missionaries than other cities in the continent.

Guillermo invited Israel to work with him in Buenos Aires in a church plant that Guillermo started about two years ago. Guillermo approached a Presbyterian Taiwanese Church that was planted about 30 years ago, but had never had a service in Spanish.  After deciding to partner together, Guillermo started a Spanish service which has developed into a multicultural congregation. The service in Spanish hosts about 50 people from 10 different countries.

Israel has accepted this call and is now raising support to go to Buenos Aires and serve this multicultural church. The congregation and Guillermo are waiting for Israel and his family to have them as part of this multicultural family. Guillermo and Israel have the vision of fostering a multicultural community of people who worship God, share life with fraternal love, and is committed to being a witness of God to its neighborhood and the world. Racial reconciliation is emphasized in this church since this is what God is calling Guillermo and Israel to do in La Iglesia Nuevo Avivamiento (New Awakening Church).

Israel Ruiz with his wife Marietta and child.
Covenant Theological Seminary has rooted Rev. Woodson, Rev. Mackenzie and Israel Ruiz in a gospel focused on God's grace. This grace is what makes the apostle Paul say that "the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes," first to the Jew, then also to the Greek, the American, Argentinean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Peruvian and to every nationality. God is impacting unique cultures in Buenos Aires with the gospel of grace.
If you would like Israel and Marietta to speak at your church, please contact them at or 309-202-8804. They would love to tell you about this exciting project of urban church planting in one of Latin America's leading cities. Their goal is to finish support raising and move to Buenos Aires in the fall of 2014.

Mr. Israel Ruiz (MDiv ’13)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error , A Review

In Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error, Dru Johnson offers a valuable resource to pastors and theologians as he tackles the daunting task of explaining what “knowing” is and encompasses within the Bible. This exploration includes helpful implications with regards to both evangelism and discipleship.
In his unpacking of the concept of “knowing,” Johnson lays out clear parameters for his methodology: As he states, “We intend to hash out epistemology with the tool of biblical theology” (xv). To do so, Johnson establishes an epistemological process that incorporates both knowledge and error, which is defined and developed by Genesis 2 and 3. He defines the epistemological process pre-fall in Genesis 2 as “a process, where an authenticated authority leads the knower to the known through a fiducially bound relationship...both must be committed to the process (47).” He then, in turn, defines the “error” within the garden by the first humans as “the shift from trusting the voice of God through the man accredited as the authority to the voice of the serpent (62).” The quest for knowledge becomes a discerning of whom or what to trust in order both to know and to do what is right. In other words, error is a failure to discern the proper authority, resulting in a failure to listen to and put into practice what this authority teaches.  
This epistemological process becomes the “brick and mortar” of understanding for the people of God throughout the rest of the Bible, as well as for humanity in general (64). As image bearers, we are provided with the tools necessary for true knowledge; as Johnson writes, “[There] is no need for special knowing as a separate way of knowing God or the world. Instead, we know the kingdom of God and God Himself the way we know everything else, through personal guidance. The chief difference, which should not be understated, is that our authority in biblical knowing must be extraordinarily authenticated to us” (147-48). A qualifier, perhaps, should be added, that this extraordinary authentication, which leads to true knowledge and right relationship with the proper authority, comes through the gift of dramatic intervention on our behalf by this authority. 
Johnson’s book provides a helpful framework for God’s people in regards to evangelism and discipleship. With respect to evangelism, Johnson brings up the point that coming to proper knowledge always involves listening to the proper authority, regardless of the discipline in which one is involved, be it science or philosophy. Formulating a worldview free from error involves the epistemological process--the proper authority authenticating himself and guiding the knower, as the knower discerns and heeds the proper authority. In other words, gaining any knowledge relieved of error involves a relationship, a relationship that involves budding trust and results in obedience to the proper authority. Any member of humanity can enter into this relationship and participate in it.
With regards to discipleship, the people of God are already drawn into this epistemological process. The process should be an encouraging one: Something valuable is being developed; the framework for success and development already exists; and the proper authority is a loving one. The process should also involve a loving community, with pastors or laypeople functioning as guides, keeping the people of God in step with the proper authority. As Leslie Newbigin describes discipleship, in words quoted by Johnson, “[We] need to learn to know God as he is. There is no way by which we come to know a person except by dwelling in his or her story and, in the measure that may be possible, becoming a part of it” (208). 
Jeff Roth (MDiv '10)
Associate Pastor for Young People and Families
Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church, Hermann, MO

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity: A Review by David Lindberg

Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity (Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Crossway: Wheaton, 2013)

According to Anthony Chute, those looking at the church from the outside and even those involved in the church often view the denominational differences which divide American Christians as “nothing more than petty disagreements between strong-willed religious partisans ” (p. 13) In the pluralistic culture of the west this can have a negative effect in at least two ways: First, denominational diversity can fuel sectarian pride among confessing Christians; division becomes more than simply personal conviction regarding the finer points of theology- it becomes personal.  Second, denominational diversity, especially where sectarian pride exists, can communicate to those outside the church that Christians cannot even agree on “the truth” they expect others to embrace and, in their minds, confirms the suspicion that religion is just about grabbing power.

So what should we, as theologians, pastors and laypersons, do with the external and internal division that exists within American Evangelicalism?  In the introduction editor Anthony Chute suggests that the “proposed solution to such divisions [has typically been] more visible unity, but historically speaking, attempts at establishing visible unity have failed” (p. 14). Chute puts forth the doctrinal disagreement between Whitefield and Wesley, despite the lip service the former gave to unity, as an example of how difficult such unity can be even among those who fervently desire it. Thus Why We Belong seeks to address “how denominational affiliation can be natural without being negative, and how evangelical identity can help rather than hinder Christian unity” – a tough task for anyone immersed, or sprinkled, in the waters of American Evangelicalism (15).

At this point a brief comment is warranted regarding the book’s focus on the American church. One potential weakness of this book is the fact that the discussion is focused primarily on the American church. Even the perspective of an Anglican and Pentecostal didn’t really satisfy any attempt to bring the global voice into the discussion. The book was short enough that this could have been done with more than the nod it receives in the last chapter. Even so, it is clear that the editors and authors are not blind to the “catholic church” or to the need to hear the voice of fellow Christians around the globe.  

In pursuing the main task of Why We Belong, which is to aid Christian unity while positively maintaining denominational affiliations, the editors take a unique approach. Rather than having each contributor present doctrinal defenses for their tradition – an exercise that often gets abstract as if members of other traditions are ignorant of the relevant counter arguments and Scripture passages (see p. 16) – Why We Belong gives six church leaders the opportunity to present the personal narratives behind why they belong to their particular tradition. These authors are: Gerald Bray (Anglican), Timothy George (Baptist), Douglas Sweeney (Lutheran), Timothy Tennent (Methodist), Byron Klaus (Pentecostal), and Bryan Chapell (Presbyterian).

This approach does not seek to minimize the doctrinal convictions that led each author to their particular tradition; indeed, the chapters are replete in doctrinal considerations.  Rather, the purpose is to put the human element before us as we consider the way forward in the Evangelical pursuit of ecclesiastical unity. This personal approach certainly has its advantages as each author offers something that brings the discussion to a human level. Further, each chapter gives good reason to view the church through a wider lens. In this regard the intended outcome is achieved. However, I am not convinced that the personal approach adds all that much to the overall discussion of Evangelical unity and denominational diversity. Some of my hesitation has to do with the subjectivity of the approach –arguments were not really made so much as personal convictions were presented. Therefore, if you can only read a couple of chapters I highly commend chapters one (Christopher Morgan) and nine (David Dockery), which together offer practical steps toward evangelical unity. Chapters  two through eight are mostly helpful if you know nothing about and have no friends within the represented traditions (note: Anthony Chute also offers an overview of each denomination’s storied histories in chapter two).

The major payoff of the book comes in chapter nine when David Dockery finally asks the type of question that needs to be asked. Having generally described the distinctives of the major branches of Christianity (from Rome to Pennsylvania) Dockery asks: “Can we say that these” – all these different groups with their various distinctions – “are all true to the words of Ephesians 4 that proclaim there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’?”( p. 214). Ephesians 4 is a key passage when considering the subject of “Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity.” I think this is especially true when considering what took place soon after the Protestant separation from Rome. During the time of the Reformation Protestants almost immediately divided over at least some of the things that are supposed to demonstrate our unity, namely the sacraments. As I am sure most are aware, in the case of Luther and Zwingli the division was over Communion, while later the Anabaptists and Reformed divided over Baptism (p. 212).

The book’s contributors, convinced of the importance of Ephesians 4 and like passages, are rightly concerned that Evangelicals pursue unity without sacrificing doctrinal precision rooted in a shared commitment to Scripture while still having the freedom to practice and apply differing convictions on the interpretation and application of the same Word of God. Personally, I think this is impossible without the existence of a basic Protestant Ecclesiology (after all, Evangelicalism is a movement and not a church and visible unity remains an uphill battle as long as there is not some form of a visible structure binding churches together).

The fact of the matter is that Evangelical Protestants, like the reformers themselves, divide primarily over things that are supposed to unite (specifically Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). However, Dockery offers some thoughts that push us in the right direction when he talks about reclaiming “a model of dynamic orthodoxy.” He states:

A commitment to…confessional integrity will help us recover a call to the unity of the Christian faith in accord with the Nicene affirmation that the church is one, holy, universal, and apostolic. All of us in this changing twenty-first-century world must recommit ourselves afresh to the oneness and universality of the church. This recommitment must also be supported by the right sort of virtues: a oneness that calls for humility and gentleness, patience, forbearance of one another, a love and diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… [So that we can] hold hands with brothers and sisters [with whom we] disagree on secondary and tertiary matters of theology and [while working] together for the common good to extend the work of the gospel and the kingdom of God on this earth… (p. 230)[1]

Therefore, what makes Why We Belong a valuable read (particularly the chapters highlighted) is that it pushes the Protestant/Evangelical pastor, theologian and layperson to consider ways of developing and maintaining a model of mutually confessed orthodoxy (what I envision as a basic Protestant Ecclesiology). If we can formally come together around what we agree upon – the first five councils of the Church and the basic tenants of the Reformation – then we should be able to learn from one another, minister alongside one another, and communicate internally and externally a unity in the Lord that, despite our still very important differences, reflects the visible unity for which Jesus himself prayed (John 17).  Further, this would communicate a genuine love for one another as we in unity proclaim the message that Jesus is Lord and apart from him there is no salvation from sin and hope of eternal life. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God moves us in such a direction.

[1] I should mention that Bryan Chapell offers some very helpful thoughts regarding how “the Word rightly preached…the sacraments rightly administered…[and] discipline rightly enforced” can remain the marks of a true church even if individual denominations differ on the exact application of each mark (p. 183).  

Rev. David Lindberg (MDiv '10)
Ass. Pastor,  ChristChurch Presbyterian
Atlanta, GA


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Affirming Love - Remaining True to Biblical Revelantion Concerning Homosexuality while Remaining Faithful to Love of Neighbor, by Rob Wootton

(This is an edited excerpt from a longer piece, titled, "Affirming Love" which can be downloaded in full here.)

How do I remain true to the biblical revelation concerning homosexuality and at the same time remain faithful to the call to love my neighbor?

This is not asking the question, are homosexual acts sinful? The bible is clear that they are. If you disagree I understand and respect your position. I will ask that you continue reading as I hope to present a position that encourages a loving response to a polarizing issue

This is not asking how people become homosexual. There are many factors that contribute to someone identifying himself or herself as a homosexual; psychobiological (first sexual experience), psychological (parental influences / relationships), temperament (gender non-conformity), sexual abuse, sociological/cultural, and hearts bent by sin. I must also mention the possibility of a physiological component. Current research hints at this possibility. But this does not undermine my understanding of the biblical text concerning homosexuality. There are many physiological factors that affect the way that we interact with the world and are tempted by sin; the predilection to addiction is a similar corollary. If at some time in the future it were proven that there are indeed physiological factors that contribute to a homosexual orientation, I would then point to a fallen world that affects our bodies, even from conception on, as well as our actions. “What is does not always tell us what ought to be.”

This is not asking the question of sexual orientation. Is there such a category? Today’s popular western, political culture often assumes that there is. As one who is a part of the orthodox Christian community, I have to disagree. I believe that homosexuality in practice, behavior, or as an identity is not what God intended for the best part of his creation. Yet I also need to acknowledge that there are many millions of people who believe that their identity is first homosexual. It is an identity that is pushed upon them by the fall, by a fallen creation, and by the sin of fallen people, and at the same time it is an identity that they choose. So if there is both a physiological cause and an environmental cause, and if these two are combined in such a way that the biological predilections towards homosexual behavior are encouraged either by positive reinforcement, (such as in a culture where it is viewed as an acceptable option) or negatively, (through abuse or neglect), then it is clear that there are those that are clearly oriented towards the same sex. This being true, then I would have to understand that for many, perhaps most, it is not simply a choice. Homosexuals do then make fallen choices based upon how they have been shaped by the fallen state of this world. The same is true for all people in regards to any other fallen choice. We are all affected by both the fallenness of this world and we all make choices to live in out fallenness.

This is not asking the question on what my position should be concerning same-sex civil unions or gay marriage. I believe marriage between one man and one woman to be a creational norm that is assumed and explicitly and implicitly defended throughout all of scripture. The result of this fallen world is confusion about these truths. This confusion is not a sufficient reason for me to remain quiet concerning the damaging affects of a culture that permits, allows, or condones, homosexual marriage. 

Thus, I believe the church should stand publicly before government and culture for the truth of scripture not simply because it is what I believe the bible teaches but because I believe that these truths concerning how we should live are for the good of all. Contrary to the opinion of those who see gay marriage as a way to strengthen the institution of marriage, I hold that only heterosexual marriage supports the common good.

This is also not asking whether change is possible. In one respect this is not the right question. The hope of someone with homosexual tendencies or who has lived a homosexual lifestyle, and who desires to change, is not that they will one day find that all their homosexual tendencies will disappear and they will live happily ever after in a heterosexual marriage. This can and does happen, but the hope is that through ongoing repentance all of their temptations will come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is then that the homosexual can say no when faced with any temptation. The process of healing from any besetting sin requires a commitment to the normal means of grace, as well as individual counseling within the context of a local church. This is the call to any Christian, homosexual or not, who desires change. 

This is also not asking the question should an unrepentive homosexual be allowed to join the church or similarly should an unrepentive homosexual who is also already a member of a church come under church discipline. Just as a church should not allow an unrepentive sex addict or someone who is continually engaging in premarital sex without any sign of repentance to join the church, a church should not allow an unrepentive homosexual to join either, no matter how convinced they are that the bible does not condemn homosexuality. In the same fashion a current member who engages in homosexual behavior and exhibits no signs of repentance should come under the discipline of the church. However, judging repentance is a difficult process, which is given to the session of a local church and is in part what this discussion is about. But what about those oriented towards the same sex who do not recognize their need for repentance?

The question is: how do I, as one called to shepherd and protect the church, love both the homosexual who is my neighbor and the homosexual community?

Of course I understand that to love someone includes pushing them away from their sin and towards God. I must pray for the conviction of sin. Today’s culture of tolerance has all but excluded this capacity to love. Leviticus 19 has several insights on how to love my neighbors well, v. 17 reads, “you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” This makes clear my need to love in this way. Unfortunately, this line of thought has been used to attack the homosexual community and alienate them from the church. Though the elders should not admit the unrepentive homosexual as a member of the church, they should welcome them into the life of their worshiping community.

I must affirm both publicly and privately then what is good and right in the life of those who call themselves homosexual. Pointing to the imago dei[1] that is a part of everyone, no matter their sin, is one of today’s best apologetics. There is much that is good, even in a homosexual relationship. It is of course twisted and tainted by sin, but I can still legitimately affirm how homosexuals live out their imago dei. As I affirm what is right, I can at the same time love them well by “reasoning frankly” with them concerning their sin.

If I ought to affirm love and at the same time reveal the fallenness of homosexuality, how then do I enter into the homosexual culture in a way that is neither condemning nor approving?

This is the call for the church to reach the hurting and oppressed. “Christians must be exhorted to live not in fear, but with the kind of self-sacrificing love and acceptance that Jesus showed toward those regarded as social inferiors.”[2] This points to both the corporate (those who exhort) responsibility of the church to the individual homosexual, and to the homosexual community and the personal (those exhorted) responsibility of each church member to them as well.

For those that exhort, one responsibility is to preach and teach in such a way that invites from the word of God all sinners to bring their fears, hopes, and shame to the feet of the cross. This is preaching and teaching that brings the gospel to bear on all aspects of life including homosexuality. This hope of the gospel, from the word, through the power of the Spirit, even speaks into the heart of those who think that their homosexuality is immutable. This is the hope of a fuller life, available even to those that believe that they are given their homosexual orientation at birth and cannot change. Contrary to the view that sees orthodox Christianity as offering no morally responsible way for the homosexual to realize their sexual identity, orthodox Christianity offers the only way to know the fullness of what it means to be human. Not simply as a heterosexual, but as a child of God created in his image.

As those that exhort, we are to also provide as a ministry of the church, a way for the homosexual that desires change, to come out of the lifestyle. This would include counseling services, safe same-sex relationships, support groups, and even a place to live if needed. Those who exhort are also called to lead their congregation through the example of developing friendships with homosexual neighbors. This is done not for the purpose of ministry but for the sake of loving those who are in our community.

Love like this is costly. There is a cost in comfort and time; in fact, loving anyone is costly. The potential for heartbreak is also a significant cost to love and loving the homosexual may cost one’s reputation. Many who would agree with the biblical views here would never so identify themselves with a homosexual for the fear of being counted like them. There are many individual decisions that must be made as one enters into the gay community. For example, many would not have a problem with having a homosexual couple over for dinner, but would they go to their homosexual friend’s house to eat? One may go out to have a drink with their homosexual friends, but would they go out individually with their homosexual friend of the same sex, or would they go with them to a gay bar? Can they attend the civil union ceremony or marriage of a same-sex couple? 

These questions cannot be answered easily and they require wisdom and counsel. What is clear though is that if the loss of an idol of reputation or the fear of having my intentions misunderstood is the risk of engaging the homosexual community, then it is a cost that should be willingly paid. It is likely that as Jesus was counted as a sinner, for associating with sinners, that I will be as well. Some Christians, even those in my own circles, may suspect that I am soft on the sin of homosexuality because I am willing to love them where they are. I may be counted with the unrighteous because I am willing to love homosexuals in such a way that compels them to consider the claims of Jesus and the bible on even their supposedly immutable sexual orientation. This is all done for the sake of love, the love that I, the broken, abused, and outcast, have received freely from Christ. This I now offer freely with the hope that more and more of those created in the image of God will find their fullness and completion in the corporate worship of their creator.
Rob Wootton, (MDiv '08), is a TE in the PCA and serving as the Pastor in Residence at Grace Covenant Presbyterian inWilliamsburg, VA.  Rob previously served as a church planter in Seattle, WA, with Crosspoint Churches, (PCA).  Prior to seminary Rob taught high school art and was a Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian in Norfolk, VA

[1] Latin for image of God, indicates a comprehensive theology of who we are as human beings and how we live out our likeness to God as what separates us from the rest of creation.  [2] Faithfulness to God’s Standards: The Lord’s Calling to Homosexuality-Inclined Christians, Committee of the Missouri Presbytery 1994, p40

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why We Belong, Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity: A Review.

In the last year, I’ve been asked many times, “How did we get here?”—in reference to our religious landscape. The people asking this question wanted to know why we have so many Christian denominations in America. After reading Why We Belong (referal link), I think I would just hand that person the book and tell them to read it and then we’d discuss it later. Since many of the major denominational shifts happened in the past, many wonder what all the differences mean today. Why We Belong gives the reader a simple digest of origins of the major denominational movements. The views of those represented here all reflect those who hold God’s word to be authoritative, hence the inclusion of basic evangelicalism in every chapter. In a day and age where many question meaning and relevance, this shows the reasons why the different denominations came into existence, while also including why they still believe the Bible to be the word of God and hold to basic orthodoxy.

Also in this book, a reader can investigate without having to hunt and navigate through mountains of denominational writings. This book could be helpful in congregations where people have a wide variety of religious and denominational backgrounds. For example, if a Muslim became a Christian, they might wonder why they were at a Presbyterian church verses a Baptist church. The origins of both can be found and explored in this book.

Also, a new members’ class could use this book to explain why they were a Baptist church verses a Methodist church. A small group could read this book and discuss the differences and hopefully confirm their position or change to another one if they felt it provided a better understanding of scripture.

As a Presbyterian minister, I think I would use this book to act as an introduction to officer/leadership training. We would read the chapter on Presbyterianism and also look at selected parts of the other chapters to explain why we took a different position. Bryan Chapell’s basic description of the distinctive and origins of the Presbyterian Church are simple and concrete.

Rev. Wes Neel (MDiv '10)
Assistant Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church
Winnetka, IL