Speaking of Giving In to Culture

I am currently working on a more “full length post” but for right now I’d like you to be thinking about a topic with which I am going to wrestle for a good long while personally.

To give a little context I was blindsided (in a good way) this morning at RPTS on the defense by the RPCNA concerning Exclusive Psalmody. I had never heard the arguments made by my Professor (Dr. Dennis Prutow) before and I would like to search them more deeply. Be ready with your arguments.

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“It is an error to identify the gospel with any particular system or culture, that has been my own danger.” –Billy Graham.

R. C. Sproul tells of the story of his letter to the best selling author of Lords of Discipline commending him on his style. The trend setting novelist replied from his flat in Rome informing Sproul that he had been the first Christian to compliment him on the novel. Raised in a fundamentalist home, this author told Sproul that the familiar circle from which he was raised now denounces him and proudly brands his literature satanic. The only time it seems that evangelicals get involved in main stream society is to register some complaint, some degree of hostility. And when our bright, energetic, talented thinkers, artists and workers go out into the world to fulfill their calling as a calling, they are often gunned down by the brethren for selling out to the world.

Fundamentalists have always been hostile to the outside world, but now they are highly politicized. Their anti-worldly stance which was once kept within the four walls of the church building is now seen in mass rallies in public places. U.S. Senate chaplain Richard Halverson, an evangelical himself, recently said, “All evangelicals care about is their own agenda. They will keep all the phone lines in Washington busy and many of the callers are downright nasty, yet when it comes to hundreds of other issues Congress faces, they never hear from Evangelicals.” The only time we get involved in education is to protest public education. The only time, it seems, we get involved in the arts is to protest the public funding of obscene art. While pro-life leaders often confuse the issue of abortion with getting little red riding hood taken out of the public libraries.

Before, we were hostile to the world but we were separated from it. Now we are still hostile, but very much involved. That’s why our involvement is so harsh, so strident, and often so very negative. Until we see our role in this world in a positive light we will continue to come off as those who can only judge instead of contribute. We engage in discussions of politics as a disgruntled minority demanding its rights, its piece of the pie, while very often we know little and care less about the deeper philosophical and cultural issues of our time.

Culture wars–that is what this situation is being called as American society polarizes into two camps, each employing the language of the battle field poised, to gain control of the nation’s public institutions. In this issue we will walk you through the culture wars debate, with some additional essays on evangelism and apologetics. You might ask what all this has to do with evangelism and apologetics? Everything! Ask the average person on the street what an evangelical is and you are likely to get stereotypical images, or portraits of TV evangelists, or particular political or ideological positions, but how likely are you to hear the “evangel,” the gospel as the singular proclamation of the evangelicals.

Christianity Is Not A Culture

The first problem with the church being identified with the culture wars is a pretty basic one: Christianity is not a culture. It is a faith wrapped around a person who had a real life, a life of significance because he was God incarnate and rose from the dead as he promised. It is a system of truth claims. The gospel has succeeded in a variety of cultures and has thrived among groups maintaining vastly different values and mores, and has been just as good at reconciling socialists to God as capitalists. This past January in the wake of the inaugural festivities President Clinton gathered a group of Southern Baptists ministers to pray with him in Little Rock They assured the evangelical community and the secular media as well that President Clinton was a sound, solid, Bible believing evangelical. Why? How did they know that? They said because he even cried during the singing of some of the hymns. While all this was going on I did an interview with a Christian station in the Bible Belt and Clinton’s Christian convictions seemed to be the chief interest of the callers. One caller said, “Isn’t that amazing! Can you believe all that? Did you hear that just the other day Jerry Falwell responded–and good for him–he responded, ‘You can’t tell whether a person is a Christian or not just because he cries at the hymns. I want to know what is his position on abortion!'” I replied to the caller, “No, you are both wrong. The question is what is his view of Christ. Who does he say he is?” Neither group seemed to get the point. One group is influenced by pietistic sentiment, the other by political ideology. Now one might argue that one’s position on abortion must be consistent with his profession of faith, and I do believe that every Christian ought to seek the end of this worldwide holocaust, but abortion is not in the Apostle’s Creed! It is not an article of Christian faith!

What we’ve done is we have substituted the gospel for moral, political, and sentimental tests. That’s why Pat Robertson can’t be called into question, in spite of his serious doctrinal errors, while Tony Campolo, who is a little left of center politically, can be put on a heresy trail for his political views by a group of parachurch ministries whose supposed purpose of existence is evangelism. Today the basis of unity is ideology, not doctrine. What defines us politically is one thing, what defines us as Christians is a totally different set of questions. It is not to say that public policy issues shouldn’t be important to a Christian. Quite the contrary, every Christian ought to be interested in public policy issues, but as citizens, not as the church making stands on what the gospel is. Yet to often in the past twenty years we have equated the gospel with a particular cultural agenda. Surely no one would say that the late Francis Schaffer shied away from public issues, but he warned, “Equating any other loyalty, whether it is political, national, or ethnic, with our loyalty to God is sin, and we better get our priorities straight now.” He says,

There is a tremendous pressure to lose the Reformation memory as the years pass and our first task is not to align our message with the middle class establishment only to have our children rebel against our faith because of our politics, but to recover the lost truth of our Reformation heritage.

This is why we must recover the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms as Luther and Calvin did so clearly four and a half centuries ago. There are two kings and two kingdoms, each ruling a distinct sphere. I remember one of the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.) when Clinton was elected said, “Now what is to become of the kingdom of God” as though Clinton had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God, that is, as a public official. In the kingdom of culture, what Augustine called “the city of man,” there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs which are regulated by human wisdom. In the kingdom of Christ, or “the city of God,” there is one ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he advances his kingdom, not through marketing, not through legislation or police force, but by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of his holy sacraments. If we confuse these two kingdoms–and we have–we will no doubt confuse evangelism with cultural, moral, and political programs.

A Grand Obstruction

And that brings me to my second point: it is a grand obstruction for the people out there. What happens when we confuse evangelism with a particular social or political agenda? Well, we’ve seen it in history, haven’t we, in the crusades when evangelistic texts like “Go ye into the world and preach the gospel making disciples of all the nations…” was used as a justification for political expansion and the building up of an empire. When this confusion occurs it is very difficult to convince the South African victim of apartheid, or the Jewish victim of the holocaust, or those who suffered under the pro Czar Russian orthodox church, that Christianity is not a source of political oppression. And whether or not it is true or an unfair caricature by the secular press (I tend to think it is both), evangelical Christianity is now being widely perceived as one more dying gasp of one more ally of the status quo of middle American, white, middle class culture, unwilling to let go of its power. The issue is whether we confused culture values with the gospel, not whether those values are right or wrong. Billy Graham said,

It is an error to identify the gospel with any particular system or culture, that has been my own danger. When I go to preach the gospel I go as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, not America. To tie the gospel to any political system, secular program, or society is wrong and will only serve to divert the gospel.

We have to ask ourselves whether the Gospel really is our main preoccupation these days. Just over a decade ago Jerry Falwell said, “The sad fact that is today the United States could only kill three to five percent of the Soviets.” That’s a great pro-life movement! That will really get the world out there to stand up and take notice of what the gospel can do. Meanwhile the same leader said, “We have to stay away from helping the poor because it is a complex issue.” The poor and unemployed had no reason to listen to our gospel with Falwell calling them “that lazy trifling bunch lined up in unemployment offices who would not work in a pie shop eating the holes out of doughnuts.” This same religious leader with argued during the 50’s that Christians ought not to stand up for the civil rights of the blacks. How can the gospel be advanced when it is perceived as a radical political and social agenda, when it always sides with a particular segment of society predictably, whether it is Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson?

I have always wondered why any homosexual would listen to us the way we talk about AIDS as the judgment of God. I have often reflected that it is a good thing that God does not hand out judgments for gossip and slander and greed and self-centeredness and self-righteousness or many of our evangelical churches would be empty. But there are other reaches of alienation. Gallup tells us that white evangelicals are more likely than any other group to object to having black or hispanic neighbors. Boy, that’s a gospel concern, isn’t it. That will sure help push the gospel along. Evangelicals just simply aren’t concerned about the gospel, the “evangel,” anymore. It’s about a culture. It’s about preserving traditional values for a certain segment of society. Francis Schaeffer was worried that evangelicalism would become so aligned with conservative middle class Americanism that any rejection of the establishment would entail a rejection of Christ, and that is exactly what happened in the sixties. God–all be it the unknown God of the pagans–fit in when Ike was president. After all, Eisenhower declared that “there can be no good government without religion, and I don’t care what religion it is.” But with the rejection of that particular cultural expression, and the growing diversity of the American population, there was not enough room for God. Why? Because we helped define God as a public mascot of society. As Os Guinness says, “He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.” But the Holy Spirit will not honor any other gospel.

We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel–we don’t preach sin and grace anymore–and have taken it over for ourselves. We’re offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. The minorities, the feminists, the gays, and others who practice immoral lifestyles–people with whom we may not agree–will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don’t like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much loves much.” The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.

A Grand Offense

And finally it is a grand offense to God. At this year’s National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Los Angeles, the star of Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury, was asked to address the delegates, but the planners were going to cancel her appearance at the convention because in an upcoming movie she was to play a prostitute. That morning, the hosts of Good Morning America could not keep from making there comment, “Wow if that is not an irony! A convention of televangelists barring someone from their convention for playing immoral roles.” Recently I was asked to appear on a secular talk show with an ACLU lawyer to discuss the so-called “culture wars.” The host admitted I was her second pick since the pastor/church leader she had previously chosen had just been arrested for embezzlement. I also happen to know right now prominent Christian leaders who were writing books about traditional values while one left his wife for another woman, another one was having an affair, and another (a pro-life activist) was counseling his daughter to have an abortion. As we look across the Christian landscape right now I don’t know how we have the gall to muster together out of our hypocritical selves the fire in our belly to attack the world for being worldly! Gallup and Barna hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. The statistics are about neck and neck. That is why pollster Lou Harris reports, “After ten years of piety and ideology the American people have about had it with the approach of religious types.” When are we going to realize that God is looking in our direction with his charge, “Because of you my name is blasphemed among the gentiles.” How many evangelists will we have to see disgraced on national television for their own moral bankruptcy before we can say with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”

At the end of the day the culture wars are not only misguided theologically and biblically but even strategically. It is simply an illusion to think that there is any possibility of putting the lion back in the cage. Secularism is here for awhile and will only be turned back with better ideas. Secularism is the result of a vacuum which we created. Tim LaHaye and his battle for the mind asserted that secular humanism is moral, not theological, but that’s the root of the problem. That people like Tim LaHaye have thought that the problem is ultimately moral and not deeper, not theological. If you believe that our society’s greatest problem or any individual’s greatest problem is behavioral, you have a weak view of sin, and the consequent weak view of grace. If you view sin in terms of actions and not primarily in terms of conditions, you will see the answer primarily in the terms of moral reform, not in terms of throwing yourself on the mercy of God. That is why Charles Finney, who said, “A revival is the work of man not God; it’s simply the right use of means,” was also the father of the temperance movement. You don’t need a cross in this scenario, you need a kit to help you put your life back together or a law or a rule to govern your behavior so you don’t get out of hand. No, I must insist secular humanism is a theological issue and when we put it in its natural theological habitat a strange thing happens; we realize that we ourselves are the secular humanists. LaHaye observes that the chief mark of secular humanism is to place man at the center of existence. But that is exactly what I see being done in churches across America. Aren’t our testimonies designed to show people how God made me happy, how he satisfied me, how he worked for me? Aren’t our worship services for our tastes very often and not for God’s? Don’t we tell people that once they become Christians they too will experience the abundant life? What we should be telling people is that salvation isn’t a matter of God making sure we are happy with him, but his making sure he is happy with us, and that is why we have the cross at the middle of it all. But churches don’t center anymore on the old rugged cross, where God saved us from himself by putting his own son in our place to bear the wrath justly meant for us. No, that would make us unhappy, to talk about wrath and hell. More often church services center on us as if our happiness was the goal of the universe. But, Tim LaHaye, this is exactly what you call secular humanism. I am not the first to see this irony. Historians Hatch, Nolan & Marston write,

Humanism or faith in humanity has been mixed with virtually every American religious heritage including evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Most commonly, since the 19th Century many Americans, including many evangelical Christian Americans, have tended to believe in the essential goodness of humanity and the importance of believing in oneself, in self-help and the ability of a free people to solve their own problems.

Sounds like a litany of an average Christian book store these days. Further, the same people who protest the erosion of moral absolutes are often quite willing to accept the erosion of doctrinal absolutes. It is an amazing irony! I can be absolutely certain that God has a published position on the Panama Canal treaty but remain basically unsure about justification and election! If we are as apathetic about moral issues as we are about doctrinal issues, then we are really in trouble, then we are put in the dog house.

Conclusion

We propose a two-fold strategy. First, we will have to clear up this confusion about the gospel and cultural values. Being pro-choice I believe is morally wrong, but it is not heretical. God will never be anyone’s mascot and will never allow himself to be worshipped in either the carved image of the donkey or the elephant. We cannot impose our will on the American electorate anymore and we will have to stop it. We’ll have to stop shaking our fists at our neighbors. We must call the church to a cease-fire with the world over gays in the military and engage in spiritual warfare for their hearts and minds for the first time perhaps in forty years. Second, we’ll not only have to recover gospel proclamation, but we’ll have to learn how to interact positively again with our culture. When the church was facing a really hostile culture in the first century–a lot more hostile than ours–Paul instructed the early Christians to “Make it your ambition to lead a quite life to work well with your hands so that you may win the respect of outsiders and have enough to give those in need.”

In God’s charges against Israel recorded in Hosea, the moral breakdown is credited to the fact that God’s people had grown ignorant of the God they worshipped. Truth again lies slain in the streets, slain not by villainous secular humanists, but by self-congratulatory believers. A people without understanding will always come to ruin. Not a people without enough laws, not a people without enough police, not a people without enough rules, not a people without enough moral values, for ultimately a people’s morality is an expression of deeper convictions. But a people without understanding! T. S. Elliot once observed,

To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality for the general culture, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion. It is not enthusiasm but dogma that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.

For those who will tear down the cardboard and tin shacks and go for the quality materials, building on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, there is hope for the future. For those who will lodge their anchor on this rock and know no other message than Christ and Him crucified, there is the promise, “I will go on building my church and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.” “For what does it profit a man,” our Lord asked, “if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”


Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of The White Horse Inn national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of several books, including Power Religion, A Better Way, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker, 2006), and Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype (Zondervan, 2006).

PC (USA) Ordains Non-Celibate Homosexual to Ministry

Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area ‘Fidelity/chastity’ ordination standard not an essential of Reformed faith and polity, commissioners decide

By Craig M. KiblerStaff Writer
The Layman Online
Monday, January 28, 2008

EDINA, Minn. – Scripture and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) both took a beating Jan. 26 when the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area overwhelmingly voted that the “fidelity/chastity” ordination standard in the Book of Order is not an essential of Reformed faith and polity. With several inches of snow on the ground and temperatures hovering in the high teens, more than 350 people were in the sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church as commissioners voted on a declared scruple to that clause by Paul Capetz, an openly gay former minister in the PCUSA. Later, the presbytery also voted overwhelmingly to restore Capetz to the exercise of the ordained office of minister of Word and sacrament, as well as validating his service as an associate professor at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn.Commissioners voted on the following motion: “The Committee on Ministry recommends that Dr. Capetz’s declared departure from G-6.0106b be not found to constitute a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order.” Of the 283 votes cast by written ballot, 197 commissioners voted in favor of permitting the scruple; 84 voted against; and there were two abstentions. In a statement, Interim Executive Presbyter Sarai Schnucker said, “We are overwhelmed by the grace and love that this presbytery exhibited today. The members of the presbytery have conducted themselves with respect and restraint, even while handling such a controversial issue. As a presbytery, we listened to each other and heard each other. In the midst of this time of debate and discernment, there was true worship by the Body of Christ as we sang songs and broke bread together.” “We are unaware of what might take place as a result of today,” she said, “but we have come together as the Body of Christ and we are grateful for the presence of the Spirit with us. Thanks be to God.” Second declared scruple It was the second time in 10 days that a presbytery had approved a declared scruple regarding the denomination’s “fidelity/chastity” ordination standard. On Jan. 15, San Francisco Presbytery approved a scruple in the case of Lisa Larges, a lesbian who is seeking to take the first steps in the ordination process. The three votes in Edina came in response to a request by Capetz that he be restored to ordained ministry. In April 2000, he had requested, and the presbytery agreed, that he be released from the exercise of ordained ministry because of clause G-6.0106b in the denomination’s Book of Order.That “fidelity/chastity” clause, approved by a majority of the PCUSA’s 173 presbyteries in 1997, requires those called to office in the denomination to “lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church,” including living “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.” At the time, Capetz said in a document provided to the presbytery for the Jan. 26 meeting, he was “unable to construe that amendment to the constitution as implying anything other than commitment to a life of permanent celibacy on the part of homosexually-oriented persons who serve as ordained officers in the church.”

PUP report

In June 2006, the 217th General Assembly approved the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity that included an authoritative interpretation that allows individual church sessions and presbyteries to declare whether G-6.0106b is essential. The authoritative interpretation focuses on the “conscience” clause (G-6.0108) and states that the judgment of ordaining bodies cannot be bound by any rule that they deem non-essential.In August 2007, Capetz cited the PUP report in making a request for restoration as a minister to the presbytery’s committee on ministry. At that time, he said he was “grateful for this new authoritative interpretation of section G-6.0108 in our Book of Order that makes it possible for me to request reinstatement as a minister with a good conscience and for this presbytery to have the authority to determine my fitness for holding this office once again.” According to a November letter provided to commissioners by Stated Clerk Nancy E. Grittman, at the time he was released from ordained office, Capetz “was a member in good standing of the presbytery. … There were no charges pending against Paul, nor was there reason to believe that there might be. As Paul says in his letter, he acted in good conscience following the passage of Book of Order G-6.0106b. …” “Following the passage by the denomination of the Peace, Unity and Purity report and the authoritative interpretation,” Grittman wrote, “Paul has asked to be restored to the ordained office of minister of the Word and sacrament.” The presbytery’s committee on ministry voted 11-3 that same month to approve Capetz’s request, saying that his declared scruple to the “fidelity/chastity” clause did not constitute a failure to adhere to an essential of Reformed faith. A Dec. 1 special meeting to consider the issue was postponed, however, after presbytery commissioners at their November meeting directed the committee to provide the presbytery with “a clear statement of what the departure from the constitution is and what was the rationale of the committee on ministry to recommend his reinstatement.” That material was provided to commissioners for the Jan. 26 meeting.

In Belated Honor of Lee-Jackson Day

I am remiss at omitting a rememberance of two exemplary Christian Men and Patriots. Here are two worthwhile quotes for your to remember from Generals Lee and Jackson.

“One day last autumn the writer saw General Lee standing at his gate, talking pleasantly to an humbly-clad man, who seemed very much pleased at the cordial courtesy of the great chieftain, and turned off, evidently delighted, as we came up. After exchanging salutations, the general said, pointing to the retreating form, ‘That is one of our old soldiers, who is in necessitous circumstances.’ I took it for granted that it was some veteran Confederate, when the noble-hearted chieftain quietly added, ‘He fought on the other side, but we must not think of that.’ I afterward ascertained–not from General Lee, for he never alluded to his charities–that he had not only spoken kindly to this ‘old soldier’ who had ‘fought on the other side,’ but had sent him on his way rejoicing in a liberal contribution to his necessities.” from Part 8, Chapter 19 of “A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.” BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.” He added, after a pause, looking me full in the face: “That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave”Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson

Required Reading


I am a sucker for Banner of Truth Trust’s Puritan Paperbacks. I find the situation surrounding the early Puritan writers and our own to quite similar. We have much to learn from their wisdom. This work by William Perkins on Preaching is dynamite text for any preacher who really wants to understand how the Scriptures interact with your preaching. Highly Recommended.

Local 1,700 member Church Votes 664-25 to disaffiliate

Church splits off after tiff in court
Memorial Park Presbyterian joins conservative denomination
Monday, January 21, 2008

Memorial Park Presbyterian Church secured a court injunction last week to allow its congregation to meet this past weekend over the objections of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, and the McCandless church used the opportunity to vote overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a more biblically conservative denomination.

While Memorial Park leaders said their members’ 664-25 vote with three unmarked ballots means the church is now a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a presbytery official said, however, that under denominational law he still considered it part of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The ballots were handed out during one Saturday service and three yesterday to people whose names were checked against a membership list. The ballots covered four separate questions:

• Disaffiliating from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

• Affiliating with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

• Amending church bylaws to remove any mention of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

• Affirming all of its current pastors, elders and deacons.

The 692 ballots represented less than half of the church’s 1,675 members, but the number was close to its usual Sunday attendance in January. Memorial Park is the largest church in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, which has 155 churches and more than 40,000 members.

The votes this past weekend had been expected to be uneventful, given that the church’s session, or governing body, had voted unanimously earlier this month to disaffiliate, and the congregation had voted 951-93 in June to seek dismissal from the national church, believing it had strayed from biblical authority and no longer fully adhered to classical Christian doctrines.

But Tuesday, Memorial Park officials received a letter from a presbytery-appointed administrative commission that was formed, the letter said, to deal with “the destruction, disorder and unrest at our Memorial Park congregation.”

According to the letter, the seven-member commission of pastors and elders had the right to “remove, replace, restructure or dissolve the pastor’s relationship with the congregation” and remove all assistant pastors, elders, deacons and lay officers.

And the letter forbade the congregation from meeting or voting this past weekend.

On Wednesday, Memorial Park lawyers got an injunction from Common Pleas Judge Judith L. Friedman that prevented the presbytery from interfering with the vote.

On Thursday morning, the presbytery’s attorneys responded in court that they feared Memorial Park’s vote would affect the disposition of its buildings and 71/2-acre property on Peebles Road.

After the church agreed not to take any actions to transfer or dispose of its assets, the presbytery withdrew its opposition to the injunction.

A hearing is scheduled tomorrow before Judge Friedman to determine whether the injunction filed by the church will be dissolved or sustained.

Because Memorial Park no longer considers itself part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), church officials said it would not be bound by either decision.

“The vote [this past weekend] means we move forward with the ministry and the mission that we believe God has called us to,” said the Rev. Dean Weaver, senior pastor at Memorial Park.

But the Rev. Doug Portz, acting pastor of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, called this past weekend’s votes “unconstitutional” and said he would have preferred church officials meet with commission members rather than turn to the civil court.

“According to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, Memorial Park is still a member church of the presbytery,” he said yesterday. “We are saddened by their actions to take this vote.

“The vote that they have taken is an unconstitutional vote according to our constitution.”

Officials of Memorial Park plan today to hand-deliver notice of the church’s disaffiliation to the presbytery.

None of these maneuverings affects the lawsuit Memorial Park filed earlier this month against the presbytery, seeking to confirm its property title and avoid any threat of seizure of its buildings by the presbytery.

Memorial Park is seeking to become the second church in Allegheny County to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), following Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church, which was dismissed in October.

Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.
First published on January 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

Sermon: January 20, 2008, "The Ministry of the Word"

Scripture Lesson Isaiah 49:1-7

I would like this morning to focus specifically on verse 2 of the 49th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah that Jane read for us this morning. But before I do that I want to share with you a story of a Martyr of the Christian faith. I feel that it is vital that we understand that we exist in this Church not in a vacuum unaffected by those that came before us but that we owe our very presence in this sanctuary today to those who have been willing to lay down their life to give us the tranquility to Worship the Lord our God in peace this morning.

The Christian martyr William Tyndale was born in a small country town called Cheltenham near the English western coastal town of Bristol around the year 1490. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, the Yale and Harvard of England in those days. William Tyndale was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ, as it seems that many are, by the reading of Paul’s word to the Romans while studying at Cambridge. Tyndale was so moved by his reading of God’s word that he felt called by his Lord Jesus to translate the entire Bible into the English language. For we must remember at this time, over 500 years ago, the Scriptures that you use and that sit in the pew in front of you were not to be found in any language in the West other than the Latin of the Roman Catholic church. Now I do not know about you but I cannot read Latin. I once took Latin in High School and my teacher came to me about halfway through the Semester and said that I translated Latin about as well as an illiterate Roman soldier. Always the smart-alic I quipped back that well if I was a Roman Soldier why would I need to translate Latin anyway? The Priests, Monks, and scholars of William Tyndale’s day were the only ones who could read Latin. For the common man could barely understand English let alone read Latin. It is almost unimaginable in our eyes to think that the congregations and people in the pew in that day had no access to the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale however would find great persecution in his work; it was not legal in that day for the Holy Bible to be in any other language than Latin. He was exiled from England; Tyndale had to work on his translation while being hunted down by the authorities. Eventually Tyndale was able to finish a translation of the New Testament into English but unfortunately Tyndale would be caught before he could begin work on the translation of the Old Testament. He would spend the next six years in a dungeon prison, for the first four able to work on his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English. The last two he would spend with daily whippings and beatings. Finally in the year 1536 at the tender age of 52 William Tyndale was burned at the stake. William Tyndale died so that we may have the Word of God in our native tongue. William Tyndale endured great suffering so that we may have the Holy Scriptures by our side and with us as go about our daily life. So as we look at the passage today from the Prophet Isaiah keep in mind what the martyrs of our faith have done so that we may have this Scripture today.

Isaiah in the Scripture that we read for this morning speaks to the power that William Tyndale knew that was manifested in the Holy Scriptures. I would like for you now to open your Bibles or the Bible in the rack in front of you, open to the Word of God given to the prophet Isaiah chapter 49 starting at verse one, found on page of your pew Bibles and keep it open as we read the Word of God. Isaiah has been in the previous chapters speaking to the people of Israel, after having been delivered by the Lord our God from captivity in Babylon. Isaiah has been warning the Israelites that because of their sin they were cast into exile and it was not because of their own righteous conduct, rather in spite of it, that they were brought back to the land of their ancestors but only that the Mercy of God may be shown through them. Isaiah is also telling the Israelites that there deliverance from the land of oppression and subjugation is but an illustration for the greater liberation that is to come. If you take look back into Chapter 48 verse 17 we learn who it is that speaks the Scripture we read this morning, verse 17, “This is what the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says,” moving to verse one of chapter 49 “Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” The focus has changed, now the Redeemer has begun to speak to the Gentiles, to us today. Listen to Me the Redeemer says, but who is this Redeemer? Who is this voice that says the Lord our God has named him in his Mother’s womb? Saint Matthew writes in his Gospel that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” The Lord our God has named him from his Mother’s Womb, Our Redeemer has been named, his Name is Jesus Christ who has come to deliver us from the oppression and subjugation of sin, to redeem us through his work as the Son of the living God on the Cross at Calvary.

Moving to verse two of Chapter 49, “He made my words like a sharp sword; He hid me in the shadow of His hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; He hid me in His quiver.” The Redeemer here says four things about his character. The Redeemer first testifies to the power of his Word. His Word is like a sharp sword and a polished arrow. The Apostle Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 6 verse 17 when he describes the Armor of God that each believer and follower of Jesus Christ is to wear to protect them from schemes of the Devil. To remind each of us as to the purpose of these implements Paul says in verses 10-17 of chapter 6 that we are to gird our loins with Truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, wear the shoes that move us to proclaim the Good News of Christ, take up the shield of faith, place on our heads the helmet of Salvation, and finally Paul tells us to bear the Sword of the Spirit which is what? The WORD OF GOD!!! The Word of God that William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for translating. The Word of God that it is our duty to know and learn. For how can the Word be a sword for our protection if we do not even know what it says? How good would a sword be to a knight if he never picked it up and practiced with it? Brothers and Sisters we are called by Peter, the rock upon whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom to, “…Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give account for the hope that is in you…” The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear in the closing to the 6th chapter of Ephesians that we are in perilous times, times when we will need to have this Armor for our protection as the Apostle Paul says in verses 12 and 13, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this dark age, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” We have not reason to fear this world, for our Redeemer has come with his Word to protect us spiritually and this protection is what the Redeemer of Isaiah 49 speaks of next. Looking back again in verse two we get quite a different set of characteristics, much more Pastoral than the implements of War given in Ephesians. In reading these two distinctives we are reminded of the imagery of the Shepherd that holds the little lamb in his arms. The Redeemer says that, “He is hidden in the shadow of [the Lord’s] hand” and that “[the Lord] has hidden me in his quiver.” What does this mean? Why would the Redeemer need hidden by the Lord? What this expresses is not that the Redeemer needs hidden but think of the portrait that being hidden in the “shadow of the hand” of God the Lord and hidden in “the quiver” of the Lord articulates to us and for the Gentiles, to whom Isaiah is speaking. This communicates to us a picture that says both that the Redeemer is currently being prepared for his task because his time has not yet come and that the Lord our God and the Redeemer have such an intimate relationship that the Lord our God holds the Redeemer in his hand, protecting him from harm, like a Father protects a Son. Here the Redeemer whose Word is like a sword, whose Word is like an Arrow polished for precise work, says that he also needs the protection that his Father’s love gives. Brothers and Sisters if even our Redeemer, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ needs the protection and love of his Father how much more so do we? The Lord our God has sent his Son, His Word, our Redeemer to show forth his love for us.

Again we see this as we turn back to Isaiah chapter 49 and verse three. The Lord says to the Redeemer, “You are my Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show my Glory”, John Calvin in his commentary on this passage says this about the use of Israel here so we are not confused by it, “It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shows that [Isaiah] now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation…When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward so as to include all the children of God.” So if both Christ and the Church are being brought to the fore here, we know how God’s Glory is shown through Christ our Redeemer but how is the Church supposed to show forth this Glory? Well for the answer to that we need to focus on what the Church can do today, in the here and now.

First what the Church can do today is to remember the next four verses of Isaiah 49 and what they teach, read with me verses 4-7, “But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, “Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.” As I have said previously God has chosen to show his Glory through his Son, who is our Salvation, and through the work of his Church. Look at verse 4 again in your Bibles. What does it say? It says Christ’s reward is in with the Father. In other words though Christ has come, tarried among the people, shown wonders and signs, so much so that people traveled from east and west to see this great man, which is not where Jesus’ Glory is found. We like to focus on the miracle stories but that was not why the Redeemer was born of a virgin and died on a cross. His Glory is found in his Death and Resurrection because he knows that by his death he will bring his people to him. Christ says in John chapter 10 verse 12, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus’ reward is us. Again Jesus says this again in John chapter 6 verse 65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” We are this glory that has been promised to the Redeemer. Christ died and was raised from the dead so that we may be his.

As we go out into a world that has denied Christ. That seeks in all that it does to hide from the Word of God. Let us not forget to put on the Armor of God, let us not forget the example given by William Tyndale and Isaiah, and I dare say like Jesus and seek out the lost and downtrodden, the one who is despised, to the one abhorred by people, to the servants of rulers, and to the Kings themselves. Let us share the Word of God with them, so that they can be part of the reward given to the Son by the Father, so that they can be saved and brought into the flock, as we are in the flock, protected by our Redeemer, our Shepherd who is the Christ, the Chosen one of Israel, who has paid the price for his children, so that we can one day be with the Father in Heaven. For we abrogate our responsibility as Christian Men and Women if we do not have an answer for the hope that is within us. Let us be not afraid to be protected by the power of the Word of God. Let us not be afraid to be changed by the Word. For remember the opening verse of Johns Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”


Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.