Jack Haberer? You Have Got To Be Kidding Me.

As with the usual trepidation, I opened my new Presbyterian Outlook to find everybody’s favorite editor Jack Haberer had written his usual “Editor’s Outlook”, his commentary on the major article of the paper. This month’s issue happens to be concerning “retirement” and the Christian Pastor. Rev. Haberer chooses an obscure passage from the Book of Numbers to highlight that, yes, the word “Retire” does appear in Scripture. Specifically the Scripture is Numbers 8:23-26 which says:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
“This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting.
“But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. “They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall deal with the Levites concerning their obligations.”

Now we may be wondering why when Jack seems to dismiss the sexual codes of Leviticus almost completely as being out-of-date and not applicable to today’s Christian he delves into a passage that not only refers to LEVITES (which I know of no Pastor who is one) and if you look at the greater context, which is usually not helpful when conducting eisegesis, of the passage it sets up the setting apart of the Levites from the rest of the Nation of Israel so that Israel may have a clean and pure class of priests. Also mentioned in this passage is that the new class of Levite priests should be shaved from Head-to-Toe (Num. 8:7). (Insert hairy man joke here). Now not only does Rev. Haberer’s “exegesis” fail the sniff test but he then goes on to cite the establishment of the Sabbath as a reason for otherwise reasonably healthy Sexagenarians and Septuagenarians to retire from the mission field of Christ because as Jack quoting from Jack Stotts’ book,Aging Well: Theological Reflections on the Call and Retirement, “We [should] move from glorifying God to enjoying God forever, from usefulness to enjoyment”. What exactly do Levites retiring have to do with the Modern Pastor? Well as we know with the history of the Levites in Israel Jack may be more right in selecting them as an example of the Modern Pastor than he realizes.

What this signifies to me is the full movement of the modern Pastor from a person CALLED to ministry for the purpose of spreading the Gospel to the visible Church and saving souls to a person who sees ministry as a nice job option that seeks for them to raise Church attendance, move the budget to the Black, be a good CEO, try not to ruffle too many feathers, and has a pretty good pension plan for later use in playing 18-Holes at The Villages, Florida’s Friendliest Hometown(tm). Of course as my generation of Pastors graduates from Seminaries have our Seminaries done enough to guarantee we will serving Pastorates and saving souls into our 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, ad infinitum? I think we all know the answer to that.

Quick Questions on Seminaries

I am looking to work on a Th.M degree after I finish seminary and have narrowed down my choices (for various reasons) to three seminaries.

(In no particular order)

Covenant Theological Seminary
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Erskine Theological Seminary

Any information anyone has on these schools (I have already visited their websites. I am looking for personal interaction) would be greatly appreciated.

Must Read Letter to the Editor

This is a letter to the editor in the Layman that struck me as being not only spot on but a great summary of my feelings as well.

Beginnings of revival?
July 18, 2007
I am very pleased with the level of discourse I am seeing in the “Letters” section of The Layman Online. I left (“was told to leave” would be more accurate) the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the Presbyterian Church in America in 2002. I am now a PCA pastor in Sturgis, S.D.

One of my great concerns was that there seemed to be very little theological acuity among the conservatives in the PCUSA, and certainly very little awareness of the historic Reformed orthodoxy as expressed by the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions. A broad evangelicalism was certainly professed and held to, but robust Reformed theology is much more than just the puddle we call contemporary evangelicalism. I remember being called a “hyper-Calvinist” by another pastor at a PCUSA conference in Indianapolis because I believed in limited atonement. I can assure you that the dear man never met a real hyper-Calvinist in his life, and seemed not to know the true definition of the term. It was obvious that he had never read the Canons of Dordt.

It particularly bothered me that we were so up in arms about the gay marriage and gay ordination issues when hardly a peep has been heard concerning the century of apostasy from the Scriptures that led directly to the gay ordination issue. But the one surely led to the other.

Nor was there much of a desire to address the sin issues that the conservatives seemed to make an easy peace with – namely: inappropriate divorce, adultery, fornication, lack of church discipline, materialism and a love of money, and a lackadaisical approach to the sacraments and the Lord’s worship.

My reluctant conclusion was that many of the conservatives were simply culturally conservative, and not really Biblically conservative. I suspected what many on the theological left must suspect – that, given enough time and enough pro-gay propaganda from the culture around us, the conservatives would settle down on the gay issue as well. How well I remember “Rev.” Steven Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church standing on the floor of Cincinnati Presbytery during the debates on Amendment O saying, “The conservatives are just being hypocrites. They capitulated to us on women’s ordination and they capitulated to us on divorce and now they’re fighting us on gay marriage?” That man is an apostate, but he understood his hermeneutics and he understood his opponents better than his opponents understood themselves.

Today, however, when I read the letters to the editor, I find links to an article by Al Mohler. I find a letter from a gentleman articulating the marks of the true visible church and saying that neither Rome nor the PCUSA fulfill the requirements. I find in another letter a very adequate defense of the Reformed understanding of the interplay between saving faith and the good works which must proceed from saving faith. I find R.C. Sproul’s Tabletalk magazine quoted to good effect, and a clear understanding that deviating from the revealed names of the three persons of the Trinity is the sin of idolatry, not simply an issue of semantics. I even find a tolerable (though roundabout) explanation of the difference between the visible and the invisible church. This is a very good thing!

My brothers and sisters, I want to encourage you. In our congregational prayers here at Foothills PCA, we frequently pray for you. You need to know that you have been cut off from a glorious theological heritage, not only by theological liberalism, but also by many well-meaning evangelical leaders who are more familiar with Bill Hybels and Chuck Swindoll than they are with the Westminster Divines and Calvin. I think it would be a very good idea if every reader of The Layman would purchase a copy of the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions and read it from cover to cover.

If you don’t want to give money to those who are responsible for the new Babylonian captivity of the church, you can find them all online. But read the Scots Confession. Read the Second Helvetic and the Belgic Confessions. Read the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Even the Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967 have some value. Read the Scripture references contained in them and carefully compare all these things with the Scriptures. It is the Scripture, after all, that is the only infallible rule of faith and life. But these guys were really, really good at exegeting the Scriptures! Think carefully for yourselves, and trust the Spirit of God to do what He promises He will do when God’s people get serious about God’s Word.

A.W. Tozer once said that when the Church behaves badly, it’s on account of the fact that the Church believes wrongly. True revival in the Church must begin with recovery of the truth. Historic Reformed theology is, in my opinion, the most thorough and careful exposition of the truths of the Scriptures that ever existed in the Church Militant.

It is my fervent prayer that these developments portend a new Great Awakening among God’s elect in the PCUSA, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or whatever visible organizations result from the gyrations of the next few years. Tolle lege! Take up and read!
Rev. Brian Carpenter
Foothills Community Church (PCA)
Sturgis, S.D.

3) A Free and Unordered Worship Service

This is the third part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

3) A Free and Unordered Worship Service

While this critique is probably the weakest and most contingent on a church-by-church and locational motivations it is still the one I notice most when attending services at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

One of the hallmarks of Reformed Orthodoxy is the presentation during worship of a standard and ordered worship service. This critique along with the criticisms of the EPC’s views on the charismata arise primarily from personal experience with EPC Churches I have attended and/or had friends who attended them. I’ll deal more in depth with this critique in the next bullet point dealing with the passe nature of “Reformed” theology in the EPC.

Backyard News

Presbyterians agree on split process

Washington Presbytery plan termed ‘a way of doing church together’

Thursday, July 12, 2007

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Washington Presbytery has adopted a plan that could allow congregations that leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for another Presbyterian denomination to keep their property, but it is unclear if that will affect a Peters church that is already in a more contentious process with the presbytery.

The vote was 56-18 Tuesday night at Chartiers Hill Presbyterian Church, North Strabane, to require at least four months of formal discussion between a “pastoral team” appointed by the presbytery and a congregation that proposes leaving. The congregation must also propose a mission plan for how it will continue serving its community and make pastoral provision for any members who choose to stay with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At that juncture, if at least half of the church’s active members attend a meeting at which 75 percent of them vote to leave, the pastoral team will recommend to the presbytery that they be allowed to do so and keep their property, which church law says would otherwise stay with the congregation. The final decision is up to the presbytery.

A lengthy debate Tuesday centered on whether the presbytery had a right to devise its own separation plan instead of appointing a powerful “administrative commission,” the denomination’s constitutional provision for dealing with such congregations. Most congregations fear administrative commissions because of their authority to replace the pastor and the lay governing board of the church.

The Rev. Linda Jaberg, chairman of the presbytery’s council, said the plan was an effort to “flesh out a new way of doing church together, to be more pastoral and to listen to each other.”

Unlike a similar plan in Pittsburgh Presbytery, Washington’s does not require the departing congregation to leave some money with the presbytery, although the plan’s sponsors said it doesn’t prevent the presbytery from making that requirement.

Both plans have resulted from efforts of some conservative congregations in the denomination to leave for the smaller Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Two churches in Pittsburgh Presbytery have already voted to do so, although the presbytery has not yet taken final action on them.

Because no plan for Washington Presbytery was in place on May 6, when the lay governing board of Peters Creek Presbyterian Church called for a congregational vote on moving to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the presbytery appointed an administrative commission.

Peters Creek then obtained a temporary injunction from Washington County Common Pleas Court, forbidding the commission from seizing control of the church.

The congregation has not yet voted on whether to leave the denomination.

The Rev. Richard Noftzger, chairman of the group that wrote the separation plan and of the administrative commission for Peters Creek, said the commission has met with representatives of the church.

It was “an honest and sincere exchange” about how the congregation came to consider leaving, he said.

He said the new plan was “a separate issue” from Peters Creek because the church initiated its effort prior to the plan’s adoption. The document may “provide some guidance and insight, but it is not binding” with regard to Peters Creek, he said.

Ray Peterson, a Peters Creek elder and designated spokesman for the congregation, would not comment on the presbytery’s plan or how it might affect his congregation.

The Rev. Jeffrey Kisner, professor of biblical and ministry studies at Waynesburg College, was one of several opponents. He said the Presbyterian Church (USA) constitution intended administrative commissions to deal with such situations. His effort to amend the document to require an administrative commission for any negotiation was defeated, as was an effort to change the 75 percent congregational vote to a simple majority.

The Rev. David Bleivik, executive presbyter of Washington Presbytery, said the top expert on church law at Presbyterian Church (USA) headquarters had reviewed the plan and deemed it acceptable “as long as it’s not a guarantee that someone can leave.”

“What is required by the constitution is that the presbytery makes the final decision,” he said.

(Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416. )

Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

2) Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

This is the second part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

Now this critique certainly places me in a precarious theological position with my more evangelical colleagues. I find myself becoming more and more “Orthodox” in my Reformed theology and have come to be in full agreement with the early Church fathers: John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Origen (even if our Roman Catholic friends think he is a heretic), and Justin Martyr as well as the Princeton School of Theologians including Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen among others who claim that the miraculous works of the Spirit have ceased. In other words I believe that Scripture testifies that the works of the Spirit including prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the Apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. I am certainly not saying that miraculous events cannot happen (I would never handcuff the Sovereignty of the Father) but that these gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer manifest themselves outside of the Apostolic Age (cf: Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor 13:8-10; Hebr. 2:3-4; Gal 1:8; Rev. 22:19).

In the Reformed confessions (especially Westminster since it is the only Confession of the EPC) there is not to be found one mention of the continuation of the Spiritual gifts listed above. The confessions fail at one spot to give any credence to the idea that the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 for example are to be continued to this day. In fact when mentioning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church neither the Scots, the Second Helvetic, Heidelberg, or Westminster mention any of the aforementioned gifts to be normative or even available to the believer.

The EPC’s official position seems to be seeking some type of middle ground between the Orthodox Reformed view laid out above and those of Pentecostals and Charismatics. The EPC says:

Some would require that Christians manifest a particular gift, such as speaking in tongues, as evidence of a deeper work of the Spirit within. Others would have us believe such a gift is no longer available or acceptable. As a Reformed denomination, we adhere strongly to our belief in the sovereignty of God, a belief that does not allow us either to require a certain gift or to restrict the Spirit in how He will work. Rather, we call upon all Christians to open their lives unto God’s Spirit to fill, empower, and “gift” as He sees fit.

While the EPC claims to not “require the manifestation of a particular gift” the paragraph prior to the quote above seems to do just that when it says, “Regardless of what term is used, we recognize this deepening work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as being both valid and necessary, producing evidences of His presence in the process.” The official position lists as “examples of these gifts” the gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy (as spoken in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4.) which the Reformed and Ante-Nicene flatly deny as being works outside the Apostolic tradition.

This tolerance of Charismatic gifts in light of Scripture and the Reformed confessional witness I believe is outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy. Though the EPC’s claim to be “reformed” will be examined in another article I can honestly say the broadness of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s views on the Charismatic gifts is out-of-step with Westminster and the rest of the Reformed faith.

See here for the full text of the EPC’s position paper on the Charismata

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

This is the first part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

One of the main issues driving congregations to seek dismissal from the PC(U.S.A.) is that they conclude that the PUP Report will move the denial of GLBT ordination (and other controversial issues which may or may not crop up) from a mandatory church-wide ordinance to a rule that can be “scrupled” at the presbytery level. Allowing presumably for Presbyteries to have “local option” on GLBT ordination. I have included an example of the critique of Recommendation #5 and a defense of Recommendation #5. (These links are not necessarily the only critiques/defenses but to give one who does not understand the arguments a basic primer.)

The main fear, that I feel is justified, is that Presbyteries that favor GLBT ordination will have candidates for ministry effectively “scruple” G-6.0106b and therefore not have them subject to the code of conduct that the Church as a whole has voted to be required of those seeking ordination and those who are currently ordained. Effectively Recommendation #5 enables the personal conduct of Pastors and other ordained persons to be at the discretion of the ordaining body, which is the Presbytery in the case of Ministers of the Word and sacrament. While this was true before the PUP Report, according to then and current Church law, what this particular ruling means is that an individual now has the power to deny any national ordinance over and against anything that they find “binds their conscience”, thereby giving the individual power over the collective wisdom of the Book of Order when it comes to ordination. This power goes against the basic premise of the Presbyterian form of government that seeks unity in Doctrine and matters of discipline. I believe we fail to be a connectional body at all if we make things as pivotal as ministerial ordination a local option or a “non-essential”.

What does this all have to do with the PC(USA) and the EPC? Simply the EPC’s Book of Order claims that Women’s ordination is to be a “non-essential” belief and thus is left up to individual Presbyteries as to whether or not to ordain women, effectively making women’s ordination a “local option”. The major problem I see is that the churches that are seeking dismissal nearly always cite the aforementioned encroaching “local option” as being one of their main reasons for asking to be excused from their current denominational allegiance. So the question begs to be asked, “If you hold ministerial ordination to be an essential that requires church-wide subscription while in the PC(USA) why do you seek dismissal to a denomination that sees ordination to be a non-essential?”

See here for the EPC’s official statement on Women’s Ordination.