Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Call to Confesional Renewal Will Be Heard at PCA General Assembly

According to Wes White:
. . . the Admin committee voted 28-2-0 to recommend approval of the NW Georgia Presbytery's overture on confessional renewal. This overture will be presented on Thursday as a substitute motion for the permanent committee's motion to reject this overture. We adopted the NW Georgia Presbytery in such a way that it is a stand alone motion and not an alternative to the Strategic Plan.
This is good news to us at RP who adopted this overture as our position on the proposed Strategic Plan.  I am quite eager to see and hear the discussion on confessional renewal as I believe it will be very telling for the confessional stance of the PCA.

Ever Thought About God's Eternality and How It Shapes His Love?

From "Jeremiah's Plaint and Its Answer,"

"The best proof that [God] will never cease to love us lies in that He never began. What we are for Him and what He is for us belongs to the realm of eternal values. Without this we are nothing, in it we have all."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Superb Summary of the Problems and Concerns Surrounding the PCA Strategic Plan

Wes White has provided a great distillation of the many and various problems and concerns with the PCA Strategic Plan in his blog post today "Why We Should Vote Down the Strategic Plan."  This is the best summary I have seen so far with very clear analysis.  Wes sums up his position at the beginning of the post when he says,
In my opinion, this is a very poor lan, with very poor analysis, and with a whole bunch of bad ideas that will take the PCA in the wrong direction.  It enshrines the agenda of the progressives in the PCA as the agenda of the PCA.
In his post, Wes provides six basic reasons for why the SP should be voted down, many of which agree with some of what I have posted on this blog(here, here, here, here, here, and here):
  1. The SP's analysis is flawed
  2. It further centralizes power in the PCA
  3. It is filled with bad ideas
  4. It is filled with useless ideas
  5. It is contrary to the constitution of the PCA
  6. The defenses of it are weak at best
In addition to this summary of his disagreement with the SP, he has also posted a helpful summary explanation of the SP and a fairly exhaustive list of internet commentary on the SP with all sides represented.

If you still have questions about the SP, you would do well to read Wes' posts and take advantage of the resources he has assembled.

Do You Want to Hear the Old Testament in Hebrew?

Many haven't thought about it or don't realize it, but did you know that the Hebrew text is the result of putting sounds on paper?  This makes it very important that the interpreter be able to hear the words in addition to seeing them when they are read.  In fact, the Hebrew text is literature that is designed to be read out loud.  This means that to fully grasp the writer's intention, his words need to be heard as well as seen.

As I have been working on my sermon for this Lord's Day morning on the latter half of Micah 1, I have noticed that there are a lot of word plays being used by Micah.   Micah uses poetry to communicate lament and in it uses the two poetic features of alliteration and assonance to bring out his point.  Both of these features have to do with sound.  Alliteration is the repetition of a consonantal sound at the beginning of a word, so for example, in Micah 1.10 where the ESV reads "tell it not in Gath," Micah's poetry is missed.  A better translation would be, "don't gab about it in Gath."  The meaning is tied to the two words that begin with the same guttural sound.

Micah also uses assonance.  Assonance is when a writer will use a similarity of sounds between syllables or words (for example, rhyming) to really draw your attention to what is being said.  "Sally sells sea shells by the seashore," grabs your attention and gets you to listen more intently than saying, "Sally peddles the empty husks of marine life down on the oceanfront."  So also in Micah 1.10, instead of the ESV's "weep not all," a better translation is "weeping, weep not," which is another way of saying by no means weep!

A lot of the power of the poetry can and is lost in the translation.  So, as I have been studying, I have been reading the section out loud in Hebrew; however, I am not able to hear and feel the poetry as much because, well, I don't read Hebrew out loud very proficiently.  So what's a guy to do?

You look online and find a site that has an audio Hebrew Bible.  Let me introduce you to the Academy of Ancient Languages website and their Hebrew Audio Bible.  In addition to Hebrew, they also have Aramaic, Akkadian, and Greek.  I have added this site to our "Study Tools" section in the right hand pane so that it will always be available.

Check it out and enjoy!

[HT: Reformed Reader]

Friday, June 25, 2010

Globalism, The Westminster Standards, and The PCA Strategic Plan

Do we need to jettison or at least add to the Westminster Standards in order to participate more effectively in the global mission of the Church?  In order for the gospel ministry to be more effective, does it need to be freed from North American and European biases that result from a more rigorous Reformed theology?  Have the self-consciously confessional Presbyterians mistakenly equated confessional Reformed piety and practice with 16th century Swiss, Scottish or British culture?

In his recent article "Catholicity Global and Historical: Constantinople, Westminster, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, in the Westminster Theological Journal, Robert Letham provides the historical and global make-up of the Westminster Standards and shows how the Divines purposely placed themselves in the stream of historic, orthodox biblical interpretation by allowing the ancient creeds to guide the Westminster Standards.  He notes how they saw themselves as continuing and perpetuating the insights of the Church fathers and the ancient creeds.

After laying out the ecumenical history and content of the Westminster Standards, he turns his attention to those who say that the Church needs to free herself from the influence of Western theology and practice in order to be more effective globally, and that the Church needs to allow the third world theologians to shape today's theology and practice.  He notes,
There are those who claim that we are entering an entirely new era requiring a massive paradigm shift in the church’s thought and action. In this case, historical theology is merely a curiosity. It may have a part in an ongoing conversation but the debate has moved on. The past is effectively sidelined since a conversation, as it progresses in subtle and dynamic ways, renders obsolete and irrelevant the comments made five minutes ago. Many voices praise the idea that the church will be freed from its captivity to Western Europe and North America. This misses the point that the foundations of the church were laid by Egyptians (Athanasius and Cyril), Turks (the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor), Tunisians (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine), and a Syrian ( John of Damascus), to say nothing of the apostles (Middle-Eastern Jews)—these hardly look like Western Europeans, let alone North Americans. This mantra is a coded message, indicating that its utterer wants to move away from the confining dogmas of the Reformation. . . . The ecumenical creeds cannot be reduced to conversation partners at a global round table. Insights there may and will be from various parts of the world. But the nature of the ecumenical councils was quite different—they simply confessed the truth and the church recognized what they confessed. They were acknowledging the apostolic faith, not bringing insights from their culture. The same principle applies to the teachings of the Reformation. (p. 55)
Letham's point is quite timely given the desire on the one hand to make church practice reflective of culture while on the other hand complaining about the cultural captivity of Reformed theology and practice.  Maybe what they mean to say is that we would be better served to be held captive to culture that is not North American or European.  Funny how the winds of politics seem to be shaping this conversation. But merely exchanging one cultural influence for another is not biblical, but is also not truly catholic or ecumenical.

If we are going to be more "global" it cannot be the result of leaving history behind, even Westminster history. Letham concludes, "Global Christianity in the twenty-first century, to be truly catholic, must be apostolic—grounded in Scripture and built upon the teaching of the church. It is worryingly evident that many who have leaped onto the bandwagon of globalism—mainly in this country—are ready to move beyond the foundations. (p.57)

As the Christian Church, who has been commissioned by Christ to take his gospel to all the globe, it is right for us to desire and spend ourselves in going global.  Yet, we need to pursue it wisely.  And the wise way includes retaining our history, especially our history of interpretation of the Bible.  This history is retained for us in the historic creeds of the Church including the Westminster Standards--both in doctrine and practice.  Let us not fall prey to bad practice as a result of a bad understanding of our Standards and of ourselves.  Yes we go forth as Americans subscribing to the Westminster Standards, which means but we go forth with a gospel founded upon, shaped by and explained in the creedal and confessional work of many nations.

Reformed Presbyterian Church's Position on Current Debate Concerning "Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses"

In addition to meeting to discuss the "PCA Strategic Plan," the Session of Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain also met to discuss the current debate in the PCA concerning commissioning (not ordaining) deaconesses, since there are several overtures being presented at General Assembly next week that have to do with this controversy.

In discussing the overtures and the ongoing debate as it has continued since last year's GA debate between Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan, the Session determined that the heart of the current debate in the PCA on deaconesses is that there are some in the PCA who want local congregations to have the freedom to commission women to an unordained office of deaconess (for more details on the issue and recent developments with some of the overtures, see this post).  Although some are framing the debate in terms of the gender issue, we believed it best to address the issue by looking at it ecclessiologically instead, and have sought to address the idea of commissioning men or women to an unordained office, regardless what you call those men and women.  The issue is not about whether or not women can be referred to as deaconesses, but whether or not it is possible or necessary to commission anyone to an unordained office.

So, the position that the Session of Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain is adopting is:
Whereas, we affirm that as a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America we are subject to the Church’s Constitution, consisting of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order, and that the Church’s Constitution sufficiently addresses the various roles for men and women in the church (BCO 26-1); and
Whereas, we affirm that as elders we are to exemplify and lead the Church to be subject to our brothers in the Lord and are to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church(BCO 8-3, 21-5, 24-6); and
Whereas, we affirm that both male and female are created in God’s image and have equal redemptive standing before God (Gen. 1:27; Gal. 3:28), and that all believers are gifted and called to participate in certain aspects of the ministry of the church (1 Cor 12, 1 Pt 4.11-12); and
Whereas, we affirm that the Bible and our Church’s constitution provides a structure for how this shared ministry should be carried out, which consists of office holders, “rulers,” and the laity, “those ruled,” which the two working together constitute it a “spiritual commonwealth” (BCO 3-1); and
Whereas, we affirm that the New Testament offices of the Church consist of teaching and ruling elders and deacons (1 Tim 3, Acts 6; BCO 1-4, 4-2, 7-2); and
Whereas, we affirm that the nature of an office as it is a special charge representing Christ to his body entails that one holding an office has been inducted to it by ordination, which is the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, and that apart from ordination, one cannot hold office in the Church, and therefore that there can be no such thing asan unordained office or officer (Acts 6.6, 13.3; 1 Tim 4.14; BCO 17, 21); and
Whereas, we affirm that the New Testament does not teach or support by way of direct command or example the concept of “commissioning” that is not tied to “ordination” and the Church’s Constitution does not refer to, provide for, or define “commissioning;” and
Whereas, we affirm that by God’s design only men are called to hold office in the Church since only men are to be ordained according to Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1, Tit. 1:6; Acts 6; BCO 7-2, 9-3, 4-4, 12-5, 16-2, 24-1); and
Whereas, we affirm that since the only offices of the Church are teaching elders, ruling elders and deacons, and to hold one of these offices one must be ordained, to speak of an office other than teaching elder, ruling elder or deacon, or to speak of an office or officer that is not ordained, regardless of one’s gender, is contrary to the nature of an office, and is not in accord with the Scripture or the Church’s Constitution; and
Whereas, we affirm that there is already a sufficient provision for lay persons, both men and women, to help in the diaconal work of the Church in BCO 9-7, which reads:
It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men andwomen of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.
Therefore, the Session of The Reformed Presbyterian Church is resolved to reaffirm to our congregation, the Church and the watching world that (1) until or unless there are constitutional amendments to change our BCO with regards to the role of men and women in ordained or unordained office, we are to be faithful to uphold the constitutional views of the Church; and (2)it would be sinful for the Church to amend her Constitution with regards to establishing an unordained office of deaconess or in establishing a provision for “commissioning” women as unordained deaconesses since that is not in accord with what the Scripture and the Church’sConstitution teaches concerning the structure of the church and the nature of a biblical office; and (3) that it is unnecessary for the Church to amend her Constitution with regards to establishing an unordained office of deaconess since there is already a sufficient provision for unordained persons of both genders to participate in such service.
Let us all strive to fulfill our vows to be subject to our brothers in the Lord (#4) and to zealously maintain the purity, peace and unity of the church (#6).  And may we do so graciously, humbly and speaking the truth in love.

Reformed Presbyterian Church's Response to "PCA Strategic Plan"

On Tuesday, June 15, 2010, the Session of Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain met to discuss the "PCA Strategic Plan," which will be presented at General Assembly later this month.  If you don't want to wade through all the written materials, a helpful one page summary of the details to be approved can be read here.  A helpful summary of the funding plan can be viewed here. You can also find a series of videos presenting the CMC's plan here.

It was the determination of the Session that the PCA Strategic Plan, though well-intentioned, correct in much of what it perceives as challenges facing the PCA, and is being set forth as an honest attempt at answering these challenges in order to make the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination, nonetheless,we believe that it is misguided, will not actually improve things, and is out of step with RP's stated understanding of what the scriptures and our confessional standards teach concerning the identity, worship and mission of the Church.

Because of these concerns,  the Session passed the following motion as its position on the PCA Strategic Plan:
The Session is in agreement with the overture of Northwest Georgia Presbytery, "A Call for PCA Renewal," as its response to the PCA Strategic Plan, as that overture reflects our understanding of what the Bible teaches about the identity, worship and mission of the Church.

RP's identity, worship and mission have been summed up by the following:
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain is a Reformed, confessional, and covenantal family of believers seeking to trust and obey our Triune God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we seek to live out this identity by:

1. Continuously seeking the truth of God's Word, our only guide for faith and practice by:
  • Seeking to experience daily the Kingdom that our Savior won and secured through His humiliation and exaltation, even as we await the fullness of His Eternal Reign
  • Emphasizing the importance and primacy of corporate worship on the Lord's Day
  • Feeding upon God's Word through various regular Bible study groups and meetings for the spiritual nourishment of all the congregation
  • Calling confidently upon God in regular corporate, family and private prayer on behalf of the Kingdom of God
  • Continuing in historic orthodoxy, adhering to the Westminster and other Reformed Standards
2. Calling the Sabbath a delight by:
  • Answering God's call for His people to gather with all His beloved before His Throne for worship morning and evening on the Lord's Day
  • Rejoicing in a worship dialogue with our Triune God in Word and sacrament
  • Celebrating the Lord's Supper weekly
3. Embracing our lives as the Covenant People of God by:
  • Submitting to our God-ordained Church authorities and the proper administration of Church discipline
  • Devoting ourselves to one another in sweet and costly fellowship
  • Helping each other fulfill their sacred convenantal obligations in all family relationships
  • Enjoying and submitting ourselves to the sovereign rule and will of our Triune God
4. Spreading the Gospel in word and deed locally and globally by:
  • Providing financial, prayer and personal support and opportunities for involvement in foreign missions
  • Loving our neighbors through active support in local ministry organizations
  • Living lives that proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus
5. Equipping the Saints for a life of service to God and His people by:
  • Encouraging a lifetime of learning so that we might grasp the wonder of who God is and how much He has given us
  • Calling the Church to remember her heritage as God's Covenant people
  • Assisting parents as they seek to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord
  • Supporting parents in the surrounding community through the ministry of the Classical Studies Center, a classical tutorial school
  • Training and seasoning young men who are preparing to enter seminary in pursuit of full time Gospel work
  • Providing a church home away from home for visiting college students
We believe that not only our theology, but also our piety and practice should be self-consciously and confessionally Reformed.  Therefore, the Session determined to support Overture 24 from the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, "A Call for PCA Renewal" since it is a better alternative to the PCA Strategic Plan.  We would particularly highlight the following section of the overture:
Therefore, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, meeting on May 22, 2010, overtures the 38th General Assembly to call all its congregations and presbyteries to this simple, straightforward, unambiguously biblical call for renewal as an alternative to the complex and potentially divisive “PCA Strategic Plan,” except for the funding proposal already presented by the Administrative Committee, which this overture wishes neither to condemn nor support. And let us trust that in the coming years God will enable us, by His Spirit, to faithfully employ the spiritual means that He Himself has already provided us.

17 Points for PCA Renewal

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching (Is. 55:10-11; Ez. 37:1-10; Jn. 21:15-17 Mk. 1:38; Acts 2:42; 20:26-27; I Cor. 1:22-25; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; WLC 67, 154-5).
A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Gen. 17:9-11; Ex. 12; Mt. 26:26-29; 28:19; I Cor. 10:16-17; 11:17-34; Col. 2:11-15; I Pet. 3:21; Rev. 19:6-9; WLC 154; 161-177).
A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained means of private, family and corporate prayer (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:5-15; Mk. 1:35; Acts 6:4; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:17; I Tim. 2:1; WLC 154; 178-196).
A renewed commitment to - and delight in - the Lord’s Day (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Is. 58:13-14; Mk. 2:23-28; Jn. 20:1;19; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10; WCF 21).
A renewed commitment to worship on God’s terms, according to Scripture (Ex. 20:4-6; Lev. 10:1-3; Deut. 12:32; Jn. 4:23-24; Acts 2:42; Col. 2:18-23; Heb. 10:24-25; 12:28-29; WCF 21.1).
A renewed commitment to private, family, and public worship (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:6, 16-18; Neh. 1:4-11; Dan. 9:3-4; Deut. 6:4-6; Eph. 6:1-4; Ps. 100:4; Acts 2:42; Heb. 10: 24-25; WCF 21.5-6). 
 A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to Reformed ecclesiology (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 14:19-23; 15:1-41; 20:17, 28; I Cor. 11:17-34; The Pastoral Epistles; Titus 1:5; WCF 25; 30-31).
A renewed commitment to loving, Word-and-Spirit-dependent, prayerful, and courageous evangelism (Mt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Acts 4:1-13; I Peter 3:15-16; WLC 154-7).
A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:1-13; 11:27-29; II Thess. 3:6, 14-15; I Tim. 5:20; WLC 45; WCF 30).
A renewed commitment to biblical diaconal ministry (Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8-13).
A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children in our homes and churches (Deut. 6:4-6; Prov. 22:6; Mk. 10:13-16; Eph. 4:12-13; 6:1-4; WSC).
A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity (Gen. 2:18-25; Deut. 31:6-7; Prov. 31:1031; I Cor. 16:13; I Peter 3:1-7; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:11-15; WLC 17).
A renewed commitment to entrust the leadership of the Church into the hands of the ordained leadership (Jn. 21:15-17; I Tim. 5:17; Heb.13:17; I Pet. 5:1-3; WLC 45).
A renewed commitment to the Reformed Confession which we have avowed, before God and men, to promote and defend as our system of doctrine (I Tim. 6:12; Heb. 4:14; 10:23; Jude 3; Westminster Standards).
A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness (Rom. 6:11-14; 8:13; 12:1-2; I Cor. 6:12; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:20-24; I John 2:15-17; Gal. 6:14; WLC 76-7).
A renewed commitment to the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works of the law (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1; Gal. 2:15-16; 3:10-14; Phil. 3:1-11; WCF 11).
A renewed commitment to rest, by faith, in Christ alone for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience (i.e. the third use of the law) / (Rom. 1:5; 6:1-2; 8:5-8; II Cor. 7:1; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:1; 5:1-21; Phil. 3:12; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:14; I John 5:3; WCF 19.5-7).
Furthermore, rather than having the Cooperative Ministries Committee propose additional structural changes, let us adopt this plan for renewal (reflected in the seventeen points above) asking our presbyteries and sessions, who are the best originators of denominational change, to study, discuss and implement it. Accordingly, this overture asks our appropriate elected leaders to represent and publicize this to our churches in writing or in counsel as the action of the 38th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. By taking this action, we, as elders, intend to send a clear and simple message to our churches, presbyteries, General Assembly, and the world, that the PCA will seek spiritual renewal on God’s terms, trusting solely in His sovereign wisdom and grace.
As we believe this overture closely resembles our own beliefs and commitments, we believe it to be a superior option for the PCA to adopt at General Assembly instead of the Strategic Plan.

May God grant his Church the wisdom, grace and resolve to trust what he has promised to bless.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

First Annual Reformation Worship Conference

This coming fall, October 21-24, the first annual Reformation Worship Conference will be held at Midway Presbyterian Church.  The purpose for this conference is:

The speakers include Hughes Oliphint Old, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall.  The conference opens with a Hymn Festival led by Paul Jones and then doesn't stop for three days!

Check out the website where you can find more details here.

The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses May Have Just Gotten Tougher

Last year at the PCA General Assembly, the issue of commissioning deaconesses was debated by Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan and has continued since then.  One of the things that makes the discussion difficult is that there are many who think the issue is about defining what women are allowed to do in the church and what we are allowed to call the women who serve(deaconess?).  However, this is not really what is at the heart of the debate.  What is really at the heart of the debate can be seen in Keller's own words from a byFaith article, where he stated, "When we began Redeemer I encouraged our new session to establish a diaconate that included unordained, commissioned deaconesses," [emphasis mine].  Later in the article when he discussed how to understand Phoebe in Romans 16.1, he utilized Robert Strimple's argumentation for understanding her as an "office holder."  Still later in the article he noted that he is making a case for a recognized body of deaconing women [emphasis mine].  These statements are just a sampling of what Keller is arguing for, which is a recognized office of unordained women deaconesses commissioned for diaconal work in the church.  The purpose here is not to put the spot light on Keller; he is not the only person in the PCA making this case, but his argumentation seems to be representative of what others are saying, as well.  So, the issue is really this:  there are some in the PCA who want local congregations to have the freedom to commission women to an unordained office of deaconess.

In the ongoing debate on this issue in the PCA, it has become more clear that there is much disagreement about how to understand the provision in the seventh paragraph of the ninth chapter of the Book of Church Order (henceforth, BCO 9-7).  In BCO 9-7, there is a provision for the session of a local congregation to select and appoint godly men and women to assist the deacons.  Those advocating the commissioning of women to the unordained office of deaconess point to this provision as their Constitutional basis for doing so, and from it, have proposed two basic ideas.

First, many argue that this provides for a class, order, body, or office in which unordained women can serve along side the diaconate, or like a Keller's congregations, serve on the diaconate.  The way Keller works this out is by not ordaining the men who serve as deacons, so that everyone, male and female, on the diaconate are unordained.  Second, many argue that the provision of BCO 9-7 allows for the women to be nominated and approved by congregational vote leading to a commissioning service where the deaconess is installed.  The process looks nearly identical to the process used for calling, ordaining and installing male deacons to the diaconate, only that in the commissioning, there is no laying on of hands (since that is about ordination).  The one thing that seems to be clear in the debate at this point is that it is not about the ordination of women as deaconesses in the PCA, and yet, when there are proponents doing things like equating deaconesses with deacons by not ordaining deacons, electing women to unordained office in a way that mirrors election to ordained office, having women train for unordained office alongside men training for ordained office, and when congregations are having commissioning services that include vows to the woman and to the congregation that looks like ordination and installation, the apparent clarity disappears.  What also confuses matters is the assumption that there can be such a thing as an unordained office or unordained officer, and the assumption that "commissioning," which is not found anywhere in the BCO, let alone defined in the BCO, is a legitimate and acceptable practice in the Church.

The one thing that is clear right now is that there is a tremendous need for clarity.  As the debate has raged on, others have recognize this need for clarity and there have been at least six different overtures on this issue submitted for consideration at General Assembly this year.  Well, at least that was the case until yesterday.  Yesterday, the Committee on Constitutional Business found three of them, Overtures 2, 9, and 10, to be contrary to the Constitution of the PCA.  In my personal opinion, this is a shame.  Overtures 2 and 9 would actually have brought some clarity to the debate. 

First, Overture 2 was responding to the practice of "several churches in the PCA" who "currently elect and commission women to the office of deacon and call them by the title deacons or deaconess and allow them to serve on the diaconate" and use BCO 9-7 as their basis in doing so.  Overture 2 sought to bring clarity by proposing that the Assebmly amend BCO 9-7 to prohibit deaconesses by adding an extra sentence to clarify the provision of 9-7 (the proposed addition is in bold type),
It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.  These assistants to the deacons shall not be referred to as deacons or deaconesses, nor are they to be elected by the congregation nor formally commissioned, ordained, or installed as though they were office bearers in the church.
It is clear from the argumentation of the overture that women are extremely important and necessary to the work of the Church, acknowledging that "the ability of the church to minister to a lost and dying world depends in large part on the self-sacrificing volunteet spirit of our female members."  The intent is not to make it impossible for women to serve and bless the church with their gifts, which BCO 9-7 provides for, but rather, to make the provision more explicit so that it cannot continue to be distorted into something it does not promote or permit.  Furthermore, the overture is not just concerned with the unordained women in BCO 9-7, it is also concerned with bringing clarity concerning the unordained men--who they are and how they come to serve.

The committee ruled, however, that amending BCO 9-7 this way was contrary to the Constitution for two reasons.  One, it assumed that the term "deaconess" necessarily denotes an office equivalent to that of deacon.  This assumption is unwarranted since the Bible uses the term diakonos (deacon) most commonly to refer "to a person being a servant and not an office bearer."  Second, the overture was ruled contrary to the Constitution because it was restricting the use of the term "commissioning" (a term that is not defined by the Constitution) as "equivalent to the actions of ordination and installation."  The point of the overture was to bring clarity to the discussion by making the very point that the men and women appointed to assist the deacons in BCO 9-7 should not be treated like they hold an office and that the procedure by which they come to serve should not look like ordination and installation, which is a much needed statement right now.

And yet, the ruling can help in moving the discussion along and helping to provide for some clarity in two ways.  First, in saying that we should not assume the terms deacon and deaconess to refer to an office holder undercuts one of the arguments put forward by the proponents of commissioning deaconesses.  Proponents of commissioning women to the unordained office of deaconess like to point to Romans 16.1 where Phoebe is referred to as a deaconess.  They argue that since Phoebe is referred to by the feminine form of diakonos that she held the office of deaconess.  But this is the only occurence of a woman in the New Testament being referred to as deaconess.  So why leap to the conclusion that office of deaconess is in view there?  One could apply the committee's position to this argument this way, "Just because one is referred to as deacon or deaconess, one time in Romans 16.1 and no where else, it does not mean that an office is in view since the terms mostly refer to general service.  What the committee's decision does is put the impetus on the interpreter to demonstrate "office of deacon" is in view when the word deacon is used and not just assume it or declare it to be the case.  One should not simply assume "office" when they see the word deacon, and this should govern the discussions surrounding Romans 16.1.

Second, even though Overture 2 will not be considered, the committee's second reason for ruling it contrary to the Constitution can still be helpful in addressing the procedure being used by proponents of commissioning women to the undordained office of deaconess.  Overture 2 wanted to bring clarity to BCO 9-7 by clarifying that the unordaned men and women assisting the deacons were doing so because of the Session's right to "select and appoint" in contradistinction from them serving because of being "formally commissioned, ordained or installed as though they were office bearers in the church."  The ruling of the committee can still help to make this point given that the committee admits that "commission" is not defined in the Constitution.  If commissioning is not defined in the Constitution (and by the way it's not even found in it), then why are congregations doing it at all?  On grounds are they doing something in a worship service as part of how they structure their ministry that is based on something not provided for, not defined, not even found in the Constitution?  Do you want a good reason for why the PCA should not commission women to the unordained office of deaconess?  Because the Constitution doesn't prescribe it, allow it, define it or even address it. 

But this is also a third way that the committee's actions are helpful.  In addition to ruling that Overtures 2 and 9 were contrary to the Constitution, it also found Overture 10 in conflict with the Constitution.  In that overture, there were several amendments to the BCO being offered, all of which had to do with the idea of separating ordination from office.  It wanted to argue that there can be such a thing as an unordained office and an unordained officer.  The committee's response was very clear, "The insertion of 'ordained' to describe the office of elder and deacon in the proposed revision of BCO 7-2 implies that there is an unordained office, which conflicts with BCO 17-1."  With regards to the idea of an unordained officer, the committee's response was once again quite clear, when it argued that "the existence of deacons who have not been ordained . . . also conflicts with BCO 17-1.  The point here seems clear: there is no such thing as an unordained office or unordained officer, and this should include the idea of an unordained office of deaconess.

These rulings, should help move the discussion along and I hope that those proposing commissioning (something that the Constitution doesn't define and shouldn't look like ordination and installation since they're not the same) women to the unordained office (something that doesn't exist and is in clear conflict with the Church's Constitution) of deaconesses will pay attention to these rulings and allow them to constrain their ideas, practices and pursuits.  As it is said in Overture 25, "until or unless there are constitutional amendments to change our BCO, each court is to be reminded to be faithful in upholding the constitutional views of the Church."  Let us all strive to fulfill our vows to be subject to our brothers in the Lord (#4) and to zealously maintain the purity, peace and unity of the church (#6).

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Inherent Practicality of Eschatology

As I have been studying and preaching from Micah, one thing that has struck me over and over again is the role that eschatology and history play in Micah's prophecy.  In Micah there is a constant interaction between the two in a way that many of us are not used to thinking.  Typically when we think of eschatology and history we think of eschatology as the end of history or we think of history leading to eschatology.  But Micah sees it another way.  He sees eschatology shaping and guiding history.  But even here, he does not do so abstractly, but rather grounds it covenantally.  And he does this in two basic ways: through the covenant history of Israel and through the covenant history of the world.

First, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel.  Micah as the Lord's prophet serves as the administer of the covenant that God cut with Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus and that was renewed in Deuteronomy.  This covenant by way of typology was eschatological.  It was given in Exodus 19 in the context of a theophany, which means that God manifested his presence, his eschatological presence, in history.  This theophanic presence revealed the Lord of the covenant but also what was at stake in the covenant.  On the typological level, life and death were being revealed in the covenant.  Obedience would lead to life in the land of Canaan, which was typological of life in heaven.  Disobedience would lead to being cut off from the land of Canaan, which was typological of hell. 

But this arrangement was not just in the covenant, but was already present in the giving of the covenant.  God's eschatological presence was both a potential blessing and curse for Israel.  So, in his grace and mercy, he revealed to Moses how the people could remain safe (blessing) rather than dieing (curse) in his presence--they were to gather at the foot of the mountain but not touch it.  So we see eschatology intruding into history at the giving of the covenant where the substance of the covenant is revealed in the very situation of its ratification.

But the eschatology of the covenant was also manifested in the forward looking expectation of the covenant.  The fact that the covenant had terms that were to be kept directs us to understand that God would return at some point to execute the terms of the covenant.  In the future, God would judge and meet out either blessing or curse.  So, there was a forward looking expectation concealed in the covenant.  That which was revealed at the beginning would be manifest again in the future.

Second, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel to teach us about the covenant history of humanity.  Now, as I have said, this covenant with Israel, though administering earthly blessing or curse tied to the geographical land of Canaan, serves to help us understand the higher and greater realities of heaven and hell, but also serves to remind us of the more cosmic covenant that God had established with Adam and all his posterity.  In the second verse of chapter one, Micah calls for all the nations to hear and pay attention to what God is doing with his covenant people Israel.  The reason is because the time of Israel's looking forward to God's return to execute of the terms of the covenant with Israel is at hand--the future day of the Lord is about to no longer be future, it is about to be present.  The judgment that God is bringing upon his people for the rebellion of their covenant breaking is to direct the nations to understand the judgment he is going to bring upon them for the rebellion of their covenant breaking.

God had established the covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden, and this included everyone who would be born from Adam by natural generation, i.e., everyone human ever born in history that could trace his lineage to Adam.  Adam failed this covenant and as a result plunged all of humanity into the misery of sin and death.  This covenant in Genesis also had a forward looking expectation of God executing its terms.  Adam and all of humanity that fell in him rebelled and so are now liable to the curse of that covenant, which is eternal death.  The future judgment is going to intrude into the present and God is going to judge all the nations, and we know this because the future judgment of Israel that was built into the fabric of their covenant intruded into their present.  Through God's historical dealings with Israel, we see a portrait of God's historic dealings with mankind.  Eschatology that intrudes in history past that speaks of the eschatology of future history will become eschatologically present in the history of all of mankind.

Now, for many, this view of history seems very complicated.  It seems difficult to understand.  It seems very abstract.  So how is it inherently practical?  What does this have to do with the mom at home raising her children, or the person at work at their job, or the student at school?

Eschatology is inherently practical because it forms and shapes everyone's life.  Our present lives are to be lived in light of God's eschatological intrusions in the past as they help us to understand the consummate intrusion still coming in the future.  The stage in which our lives, and every seemingly mundane detail of our day to day existence, is lived out is the stage of God's eschatological intrusions.  Each day that we are alive is to be lived presently in the recognition of what God has done in the past and what God will do in the future.  We cannot live faithfully as the covenant people of God without constantly reminding ourselves of the terms of the covenant.  But we also cannot live faithfully without constantly reminding ourselves of the future consummation of the covenant. 

When we don't remember these foundational truths, we only see our lives in the present here and now.  And when we do that, we find ourselves tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the wisdom of this present world.  For what is there to ground our faith?  Our vocation?  Our worship?  Our mission?  Everything we do is contingent on remembering the future that broke into the past and the future that still awaits the present. 

In Micah, the life of Israel was lived between the two advents of God--his advent at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the covenant and his advent in judgment when he utilized Assyria to wipe out the northern ten tribes in 722 B.C. and Babylon to take the southern two tribes into captivity in 586 B.C.  And yet, the message of Micah in calling us to see life this way is not to discourage but to give hope as his message reveals the hope that comes in that judgment.  For in this judgment, which is another type of the coming day of the Lord, we are directed to the day of the Lord that broke into history in the past that now shapes our present.  When the Lord, in another theophany, intruded into history and lived among men.  When the future became present in his bringing the curse of the covenant--only not against his people, nor against the nations, but against himself as he died the cursed death of the cross.  It is this day of the Lord that shapes our present and directs us to the future consummation that is coming. 

There has been an execution of curse that leads to life for sinners of all the nations.  And yet, there is still a future Day of the Lord that is coming.  And as believers find themselves united to Jesus Christ by faith, they are to live between these two advents ever looking backwards and forwards, so that they may live presently, as mothers and fathers and children and employees, etc., with their faith, obedience, vocation, worship and mission grounded firmly in Christ.  And so they may not find themselves living under the tyranny of the present and forgetting who they have been made and called to be in Christ. 

Geerhardus Vos once wrote, "Only one thing more, and that of supreme importance, needs to be remembered: all eschatological interpretation of history, when united to a strong religious mentality cannot but produce the finest practical theological fruitage," (p. 61).  Everything we know about God, our very relationship with God and everything you do in your relationship with God is rooted in eschatology. Eschatology is the beginning, the end and the middle step in living in a saving relationship with God--you cannot live a faithful life in Christ apart from eschatology.  Eschatology, then, is inherently practical for living a life of faith in Christ.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free Ligonier National Conference Webcast

The Ligonier Ministries' National Conference held every year in Orlando can be viewed live this year for free through their webcast.  The theme of the conference is "Tough Questions Christians Face."  As a heads up, I was not able to view it using Firefox, but have been able to access it using Internet Explorer. 

The webcast schedule:

9:00 - 9:20 a.m.
The Brave New World of New Media,  Ed Stetzer
9:25 - 9:45 a.m.
Principles for Conduct in Communication, Tim Challies
10:00 - 10:20 a.m.
Taking Captive New Media for the Church, Burk Parsons
10:25 - 10:45 a.m.
The Hypersocialized Generation, Albert Mohler 
10:55 - 11:55 a.m.
Questions & Answers
3:10 - 4:10 p.m.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die?, John MacArthur
5:10 - 6:00 p.m.
Is the Doctrine of Inerrancy Defensible?, Michael Horton
8:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Does the Doctrine of Divine Decrees Eliminate Human Will?, John MacArthur
8:30 - 9:30 a.m.
What Is Evil and Where Did It Come From?, R.C. Sproul
9:30 - 10:30 a.m.
Why Do Christians Still Sin?, R.C. Sproul Jr.
11:40 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
How Do We Know Which Interpretation Is Right?, Derek Thomas
2:30 - 3:25 p.m.
Is the Bible Just Another Book?, Steven Lawson
4:15 - 5:15 p.m.
Is the Exclusivity of Christ Unjust?, Alistair Begg
7:15 - 8:30 p.m.
Questions & Answers
8:30 - 9:40 a.m.
Why Does the Universe Look So Old?, Albert Mohler
9:40 - 10:30 a.m.
Is Calvinism Good for the Church?, Burk Parsons
11:15 a.m. - 12:05 p.m.
If God Is Good, How Could He Command Holy War?, Derek Thomas
12:05 - 1:00 p.m.
Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?, R.C. Sproul

Friday, June 4, 2010

Christ, Communion and Cannabis?

Here is a great little blog post by my good friend Mark Garcia.  Sometimes it helps us to remember that the Lord's choices were not random nor unimportant.  Garcia provides us much for meditation for communion this coming Lord's Day.