09 September 2010

Heaven's Breeze

Some lament, “Why does it seem that so few in our day believe?” Perhaps the more appropriate question is, “Why does anyone in our day believe?” Everything seems stacked against it. The world’s temptations, the devil’s malice and the weaknesses of fallen humanity (“the flesh”) all conspire to prevent sinners from accepting the free offer of grace. We are no match for these foes. The enemies of our salvation are too powerful for us. Our great Champion has won salvation at the cross, but unless some mighty Advocate applies that amazing victory to each of us individually, it will be to no avail. In other words, apart from being delivered, rescued, liberated, we will perish.

The apostle John assures us that sovereign grace will prevail. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1Jn 4:4). Take, for instance, the crucified yet believing thief. Hanging from nails, struggling for breath, defending our Lord, he expressed a simple but firm confidence in the majestic royal priesthood of Christ. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Lk 23:42). The man somehow overcame all odds to believe this King would intercede for him in heaven! In fact, the very charge for which the Lord Jesus was sentenced by the religious elite served as a basis for this man’s faith. Christ is King! How did the thief embrace such a conviction? The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (Jn 3:8). The Breeze of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, blew into this man’s soul, gliding sweetly into its innermost recesses, implanting faith in his heart, bringing life to his spirit and securing his eternal dwelling in paradise with Christ (Lk 23:43). We believe in the Holy Spirit, that heavenly Zephyr whose grace is invincible.

Thoughts on the PCA Strategic Plan

The PCA’s website asserts that its Strategic Plan is a contribution “to the progress of the gospel and the building of God’s kingdom with wisdom and intentionality.” As I understand it, the Plan appears to be strong on intentionality but weak on (true) wisdom (few if any Scripture passages are quoted, paraphrased, or alluded to). It has been in the making for two years, and its three themes consist of providing for 1) “safe places” to discuss new ideas, 2) increased involvement and more diverse representation in PCA leadership, and 3) more effective participation in global mission. Each theme includes various means by which the respective goal is to be reached. The General Assembly approved the entire plan except for one of the means under increased involvement: “establish standards for voluntary certification of men and women for specific non-ordained vocational ministries.”

Having read the plan and listened online to Dr. Bryan Chapell’s presentation, I think its strength lies in its social, cultural, and ecclesiastical analysis. Strategic planning is certainly not wrong. It is biblical. Paul himself was a master strategist (e.g. seek out synagogues in major cities). The Cooperative Ministries Committee has done a good job in assessing some of the strengths and weaknesses of our denomination at this historical juncture. Its desire to facilitate discussion, expand denominational participation, and promote greater effectiveness is noble. The structure of the Plan is clear, having three major themes with stated goals and specified means to achieve them. Much of the material should be considered carefully as it may prove helpful to us as a church in fulfilling our commission.

However the Plan is extremely weak on biblical rationale. This is likely to be the Achilles’ Heel of the whole project. In fact, the Plan is strikingly undersupplied with references to Scripture. Hence, the whole tenor of the document has a pragmatic air to it. It may be argued that biblical principles are assumed rather than stated because everyone is aware of the foundational underpinnings. However, even if a majority of PCA’ers understand them (which we should not assume), it is helpful and important to be reminded of them in a document such as this.

Equally bothersome is the fact that some of the proposed means may be contrary to biblical principle. For instance, “Public forums at GA to test ideas without vote or risk” may open the door for heretical opinions being unaddressed and passed over for the sake of “safety.” This contradicts our commitment to uphold biblical standards in belief as well as practice. Also, enlisting a more diverse involvement in our leadership may lead to quota systems much like those we must endure in politically-correct America rather than godly character which matters most. In addition, the proposed “unifying funding” sounds like an ecclesiastical tax to me, which flies in the face of God’s delight in and approbation of cheerful giving (2Cor 9:7) and His implied non-delight in conscripted giving. If ultimately passed, every church, if they want a vote at GA, must pay the legislated fee (I think it was 1/3 of 1% of annual budget). Lastly, the express mention of withdrawing from NAPARC so that we can minister more effectively seems to undervalue the importance of truth. The Plan suggests we “withdraw from organizations with whom we share doctrinal history, but not ministry priorities, currently draining our ministry energies (e.g. NAPARC).” What would constitute ministry priorities apart from doctrinal concerns? Do we not receive our "marching orders" from Christ our King? Does He not reveal those orders in His word? Is that not doctrine? I fear this weakness might lead to the proverbial “slippery slope.”

In sum, I think there are beneficial aspects to this Plan. As a mere advisory document aimed at spurring us on to think of our place in history and its unique challenges, the Plan has some merit. As a binding aspect of our denominational life, I think the Plan is dangerous. It has a pragmatic, worldly air that concerns me and keep me from lending it my full support. At best it is severely lacking in biblical support. Perhaps like the 17th century Parliament, we should send it back for Scripture proofs (though I’d rather have more than mere “proofs”).

04 September 2010

A Devil's Dream House

Immoral behavior seems to have increased dramatically in American society. This should not surprise anyone for as outward restraints are removed, inward lusts find freer expression. As a result, support groups have sprouted up across the landscape as many grope for answers and seek by various means to reestablish morality, civility, and decorum. In some instances, a degree of external reform is achieved and society is benefitted in some provisional way. But the advantage is small and often short-lived. The solution to America’s moral decline is not a 12-step program but a rebirth of souls.

Indeed, mere behavioral improvement without spiritual rebirth is a surefire way to build a devil's dream house. The Lord Jesus makes this point while being accused of collaborating with Beelzebul. He exposes His opponents’ fallacy by stressing the principle of a divided house and the practice of their own sons (Lk 11:17-19). It is in that context that He says outward reform without inward renewal is like neatening a house for a vacationing demon (Lk 11:24-25). Mere external restraints and moral reform groom a soul for demonic repossession of a worse kind (v. 26). The religious leaders themselves were as whitewashed tombs because they worked hard to appear outwardly righteous but remained inwardly corrupt. In other words, the hypocrites were furiously religious but ungodly at heart (Mt 23:27-28). The truth is, apart from a sincere, heart-felt profession of Christianity, reforming conduct is like applying lipstick on a pig. Paint it with the market’s best cosmetics and at the end of the day it is still a pig. So while both the reform of morals and the renewal of souls are vitally important, the latter should be our most fervent prayer. May the Spirit breathe life into Christ’s church!