Excellent thoughts from Pastor Ramsey!
I remember hearing that a church changed its name from Westminster Prebyterian Church to Greenmeadow Presbyterian Church (or something like that) and thought this was some sort of evidence of some sort of “departure” from the Reformed faith.
Looking back on that, all I can do is plead that I was young and stupid. There is nothing in the Reformed heritage that demands we put yestercentury identifications in our name. More importantly, it is entirely unbiblical to demand such a name as a test of faithfulness, and that in several ways. First, in the NT we find that every church is named after the prominant metropolitan center of the region where it is located. That’s why Paul never wrote a letter to Trinity Presbyterian Church or Washed-in-the-Blood Community Chapel. Second, demanding team identities within the body of Christ is pretty much directly in conflict with Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians (First letter; first chapter) that we not form factions around various names.
Of course, I don’t think it is wrong to come up with a name that distinguishes a congregation from another to avoid confusion. I’m fine with Westminsters and Providences and Trinities etc. But when you judge some label as superior and refuse to change it, I think you are crossing a line.
Which brings up another reason I have to repent: God wants us to perform the content of the Faith, not parade the slogans that associate with great moments in Church history.
I don’t question that our neighbors should embrace the full-orbed faith as it has come to expression in the Reformed heritage. But that may have nothing to do with the Church’s name. Unless we’re content to circulate only Christians through our congregations, it is perfectly reasonable to figure out ways to make a local congregation feel friendlier in the minds of the neighbors. And while I doubt it will make much difference by itself, changing one’s name is worth considering.
In my view, the point of pastoring is to disciple people according to the Word of God. That means in the teaching department we need at least three things: Bible, Bible, and Bible… Actually, perhpas four things because we should have more Bible.
Ideally, I suppose there is some level of Church history that it is good to know. But it is hard for me to judge how much or when it should rate with the other priorities (Bible holding the top ten slots, of course). But because of the geographical mobility of our culture, I think it is important to make sure those who come to us leave with just enough “brand name loyalty” to look for a Reformed congregation as a good sign they will get accurate Biblical teaching. My randomly selected goal when I made such decisions was that, within a year, a new member should be convinced that, if he or she should relocate, a Reformed congregation would be soundest.
Other than that, denominational labels don’t seem to have much importance. And church names after dead guys and their assemblies have none (does anyone think that the Westminster divines aspired to such an honor? Or that they care now?).. I wouldn’t say anyone needs to change from a Westminster or a Knox, but there’s no special theological significance in maintaining such names either.
As far as boasting in particularities, that is rife in a hundred different ways in the PCA. Cool Kellerites, EmerGentlemen, WCFans, Reformed Catholics, etc. Remember, in Corinth, even saying “I am of Christ” was schizmatic. How we pull all this in is worth talking about. But I’m not going to be intimidated into silence because an Ambassador for the Banner of Truth wants me to be quiet so his voice is heard more broadly because, after all, he is really only preaching Christ Crucified. He does preach Christ crucified and his voice carries just fine. He certainly would have been welcome in any of my pulpits, and I simply don’t believe the sacrament of communion would detract from his preaching Christ and Him crucified.
This is the world we live in. Let’s live in it together and pray together for God to give us a better one. We can’t say we tolerate diversity and then accuse people of boasting for saying what they do and why in their weekly service.
…I bow my knees before the Father…
So writes Paul in Ephesians 3.14. Are we Protestants known for doing this?
Kind of odd: If a zealous Protestant talks about other traditions (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic) and their practice of kneeling toward images or objects, he will (accurately) see the danger in it. The Bible clearly condemns such practices.
But ask that same critic why we never kneel in prayer in Church (or any other time in most cases) and suddenly posture doesn’t matter at all and you are guilty of “externalism” for caring about what the Bible teaches on such matters.
If the issue is what is in the Bible, then the situation makes no sense at all.
Here’s the final paragraph of three:
Whether or not one agrees with Kuklick’s assessment of Hodge, his idea on what makes a Christian thinker long dead worth reading has some merit. Christians today don’t read every Christian writer from the past. Many are forgotten and that is probably a good thing. Not everything written is worth reading (even this and other blogs!). Faithfulness to the Word of God, engagement of the culture, and a combination of experiential wrestling with both, often make for a good read. And, one might add that engagement with the full Christian tradition, not just one ghetto of it, is, or should be, a necessary condition for making a writer worth reading.
Hebrews says that the blood of Christ speaks better than the blood of Abel. This is a contrast, but it is also a comparison. Abel’s blood also speaks, or at least has spoken. And this is precisely what Genesis 4 tells us. The blood of Abel liberated God’s people from the enemy. God heard Abel’s blood crying from the ground and responded by driving Cain away from the sanctuary. Seth grew up unmolested. The ground that drank Abel’s blood was the land next to the Garden of Eden to the East. When we read that Cain fled from the face of the LORD we are reading about his need to go further away from God’s sanctuary and its environs. Later we read that Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and it means he left Egypt. So here fleeing God’s face means leaving his special domain.
In the new creation we have another first marty who is also heard (I’m making a distinction between the first marty in the new creation and the martyr who began the new creation). Stephen’s death is a death that is portrayed in every way possible as an ascension into heaven (note: the “whole burnt sacrifice” of the OT is mistranslated; it is an “ascension”). He sees into the heavens and witnesses the Father with Jesus standing before him. Like Moses his face glows reflecting the glory of God (an interesting irony given the charges that were brought against him). As in the case of Cain and Abel, the acceptance of Stephen by God provokes bitter jealousy and murderous rage. And just as the blood of Abel cried up from the ground so Stephen’s calls out as he is dying and asks Jesus to recieve his spirit.
And just as in the case of the blood of Abel, God responds to Stephen’s death. But this time Cain gets to stay near the sanctuary and Seth must leave. But that’s the point. The Christians are not driven from the face of the Lord when they become refugees from Jerusalem and Judea because the Lord is going out with them to Samaria and Antioch and wherever else. It is being near the sanctuary that now constitutes exile.
Cool! I wonder what J. C. Ryle would have thought about this.
Many thanks go to Rev. Phil Ryken for pointing us to a British Evangelical symposium defending the penal view of the atonement. Of special interest I thought, was I. Howard Marshall’s “The Theology of the Atonement” which makes good use of N. T. Wright’s excellent commentary on Romans. But even more interesting was Sue Grooms’s “Why Did Christ Die,”:
Exile itself was seen as a punishment for sins, so forgiveness of sins was another way of saying ‘end of exile’. Lam. 4:22 reads, ‘The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished, he will keep you in exile no longer’ (NRSV). The arm of the Lord, which will redeem Israel from exile and to put evil to flight, is revealed, according to Is. 53, through the work of the servant of the Lord. N.T. Wright suggests that Second Isaiah as a whole was thematic for Jesus’ ministry and kingdom announcement, which is to be understood as the historical and concrete acting-out of the return of the Lord to Zion to defeat evil and to rescue his people from exile, that is, to forgive their sins at last.
(Naturally, I object to the term Second Isaiah as incompatible with a serious commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. However, I certainly don’t object to finding much good in Groom’s defense of orthodoxy and would hate to see it neglected for the sake of some sort of purity test on a different matter. The same goes for N. T. Wright how also sometimes uses the term.)
I find this last interesting because I know that Wright has felt his work on the suffering servant in Isaiah has been neglected in order to spin out a false perspective on his teaching about the atonement. I’m glad to see it is being appreciated now.
But perhaps I am jumping ahead here. I’m not at all sure Sue Groom is actually defending Wright’s own position or going in a different direction. I’ll have to take time to read it more carefully.
For Further Reading:
So, A great post from David Wayne (who really is a jolly blogger, by the way) starts up a bunch of stuff on the web. (Before I go further I should mention I really liked the Dane’s comment, though I have a lot of sympathy/agreement with David’s concern.) Common Grounds picks up on it, prompting some good thoughts from Joel Garver and Rick Phillips, and some reflections from Mark (the greater).
And I realize 99% of you (assuming I can fractionalize that far without dismembering anyone) already know this.
I have a couple of things to post for further reflection. My basic problem is not with the actual ideal of a personal relationship. i think it is a good and accurate description. The problem is that relationships between persons always involve symbolic interaction. So, unless this personal relationship is through word and sacrament, it is vapor. Also, while we are Jesus’ friends (like Abraham and the disciples), in our society such language is usually considered antithetical to rank and office. In the Bible it means we are royal advisors.
So, the first thought from myself, here:
In both the West and the East, people commonly think of the being they call “God” as some sort of vague ghostly force which cannot be approached except through some sort of vague, internal–often called “spiritual”–contemplation. At best, this “God” is considered personal, and the “spiritual” exercise involves verbal communication–prayer. Nevertheless, as important as prayer is, it is hardly an adequate way, by itself, to relate to a real person. Believing in such a God too often resembles a child’s imaginary friend.
In contrast to this popular view, the God presented in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures is a real person who has real relationships with human beings. More than that, He is a great king over the whole universe (which He made in the first place). People who are rightly related to Him are said to be members of His kingdom, citizens of His commonwealth. In the words of Saint Peter, writing to such persons: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9 & 10). Saint Peter is quoting the words of Moses which God gave him to say to the nation of Israel: If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5 & 6). Whether a national society as at the time of Moses or an international society as at the time of Saint Peter and even today, God has always been someone who had real relationships with human beings. Because he is a king, the society formed by these relationships can only be a kingdom.
But there is more. God is not only a real person, but has also revealed himself as three persons. This is extremely mysterious, and completely alien to the conceptions of God posited by all other religions, but it is inescapable from the way God has worked in history. God sent Jesus to us and in so doing sent himself-God with a human face. Jesus claimed and proved himself to be God. Furthermore, he revealed God as “Father” and spoke with him as another person. Finally, he promised “the Spirit,” and made it clear that the Spirit was a person and was just as much God as himself and the Father. Thus, the Christian tradition has developed the term Trinity to emphasize the “threeness” of God as Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit.
Now the Trinity is, as I said, very mysterious, but its implications are breathtaking, because it means that God is a society. From before time began, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have enjoyed a relationship of love. By initiating a relationship with human beings, God draws them into the eternal relationship of love which exists among the persons of the Trinity. Jesus put it this way when he was praying to God for his disciples: The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me (John 17:22 & 23).
Notice here that Jesus speaks of the glorious unity which his disciples should have is not some internal state of affairs, but a visible unity which no one around can possibly deny. Jesus wants his followers to form an objective society in order to demonstrate that God is a society–a community of love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit into which we have been brought as members.
So, because God is a real person with kingly authority, his followers cannot help but be formed into a real kingdom, just like Canada or any other nation. And because God is a community, his followers cannot help but be formed into a real community. That God is a real person and persons means that we can have a real relationship with him. This network of relationships, this society, kingdom, or community is known as the Church.
Again, an illustration may help: When a husband hugs his wife, he doesn’t pour any substance into her, but he does communicate love and build their relationship. So it is with the sacraments. Through these personal symbols, God graciously interacts with us, forming and nurturing his relationship with us. He expresses his love for us. He communicates Christ — his very person, in the form of the God-man — to us.
Thus, the Word and sacraments work in largely the same way inter-personal human relationships work. We relate to one another through various signs — words, gestures, hugs, handshakes, etc. Word and sacrament are simply the inter-personal means through which the divine — human relationship is initiated and maintained. God deals with us through these symbols. The symbols do not “get in the way” of a closer, more immediate relationship with God; in fact, apart from them, there is no relationship with God at all, any more than two humans can get to know each other apart from exchanging signs and symbols. A God without means of grace is a figment of one’s imagination, just as a “girlfriend” one has never spoken to or taken out on a date is a product of overactive daydreaming.
I think this quotation from Rich counts as my favorite from him out of everything he has said or written. However, don’t neglect to go through his excellent sermons and decide on your own favorite.
The Big Lie
Every time we Christians talk about our need to reach contemporary culture we are telling a lie to ourselves and others–a lie that worsens the problem we’re trying to address.
We are contemporary culture just like everyone else who is now alive. We don’t have to reach anywhere. We’re already here.
Speech about reaching contemporary culture reveals our ongoing effort to keep the gospel away from most of who we are.