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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Culturally Relevant Mission

I am becoming deeply concerned about the PCA. Last week, a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who shall remain unnamed, sent me a YouTube video of a Redeemer Church (I’m guessing in New York) that fully ordained a female Deacon. The pastor read all six questions from the PCA Book of Church Order 24-6.1-6 and, the female candidate answered them in the affirmative. Some might be thinking, “So what’s the big deal?”

If you’re PCA, you’ve taken an oath to play by Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and the Book of Church Order. In 7-2 of the BCO, we read “The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons…. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” (Emphasis added.) In addition, in BCO 9-3, the previous stipulation is reiterated: “To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.” (Emphasis added.) This is crystal clear and it is equally clear that this is an egregious violation of what the pastor promised on oath; by giving his word. Does this neither count nor matter in the PCA anymore? Is the blatant and obvious moral problem here not a problem? With all the talk of “connectionalism” in the PCA, if this act goes unanswered—immediately—we are just talking and not acting when someone crosses the line.

What I have mentioned in previous installments needs to be re-emphasized: I hold Dr. Roy Taylor in high esteem as a colleague and a brother. I am also committed to the PCA, having come from the Reformed churches, making a conscious and deliberate decision to join the PCA. That does not mean, however, that I am willing to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to those things that are out of order. Please understand well: I am not expecting perfection. I believe the adage that there is no perfect congregation and, if there were, I further believe that I would ruin it by joining. By extension, I hold the same to be true of the PCA. I did not join and bring the congregation I serve into it because I entertained some notion that the PCA was perfect. I did, however, very much appreciate its stance on Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and its Book of Church Order. I did then and I still do now, but there are some things that are giving me pause for serious reflection and Dr. Taylor’s attempt to assuage our concerns about the National Association of Evangelical’s October 2009 Resolution on illegal immigration and aliens is one of those things.

Thus far, we have noted that both the Evangelical Free Church and World Relief have spoken out of one side of their collective mouths about maintaining the sovereign U.S. laws of the land concerning—the euphemism is theirs—“undocumented workers.” World Relief went so far as to state unequivocally that these people that enter our country illegally are a blessing and are then sent out to plant churches. Ethically, this is unconscionable. I’m willing to wager that both the EFC and WR are both opposed to abortion, but they’d be hard pressed to explain why in light of their views on illegal immigration. We noted that at least World Relief is opting for blanket amnesty, even though Dr. Taylor says the NAE is not. World Relief is cited in the footnotes of the NAE Resolution with approbation and without qualification.

No one particularly wants to be the one saying, “Hey, look! The Emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” but someone has to do it. I categorically refuse to sit around wringing my hands about the state of the PCA—a church affiliation that I dearly love and am committed to—while the fox is in the henhouse. I am not certain if Dr. Taylor has read the “Sources” portion of the NAE Resolution, but if he has not, it would behoove him to do so. If he has read them and has no problem with them, then we definitely have a separate set of difficulties.

There are two more documents cited in the Sources that we need to investigate. The first is a position paper from the Vineyard churches. Since it incorporates—at times verbatim—the Methodist Wesleyan Church’s position paper on the same topic, I intend to combine these two into one. The second is the April 7, 2006 article, “Blessed is the Law—Up to a Point” written by Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today.

The Vineyard Church

While admitting that the Vineyard Community of Churches is quite diverse, the position paper of “Undocumented Immigrants” holds to certain core values. What might those be? In order, they are “Kingdom theology and practice, culturally relevant mission, compassionate ministry, reconciling community and experiencing God.” (p. 1.) Without the advantage of a clear-cut confessional statement, the statement could just as well come from the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. If it’s any help—and it is not—the resolution continues, “We underscore the fact that we are committed to offering extravagant, unconditional compassion and mercy to all people.” (Ibid.)

While this all sounds nifty and spiffy, it does not pass “reality” muster. The only being that offers this type of grace to people is God, and I’m not certain that the citizens of Ai would have voted for Yahweh’s extravagant and unconditional compassion and mercy. If God did not show unconditional compassion and mercy to Sodom and Gomorrah, it makes little sense for a church affiliation to make such an extravagant statement, especially since it neither comports with reality nor experience. I’m just sayin’. Finally, God does not offer unconditional compassion and mercy to those in hell, and I’m one of those mean-spirited Christians who believes since Jesus spoke the most about hell we might want to listen up. If this kind of statement is what it means to be on a “culturally relevant mission,” then I’m going to stay home and watch Monday Night Football. Maybe even Oprah, because her theology and this statement are on par.

In any case, the VCC is convinced that their “core values” will serve them well as they consider “the complex question of undocumented immigrants” in their respective congregations. (Ibid.) After a few more preliminaries, the VCC informs us that it is estimated that there are 11.6 million “unauthorized immigrants” in the U.S., which works out to one in twenty in America being “undocumented.” How convenient not to mention the word “illegal” twice. But why not, since the Evangelical Free Church and World Relief have done the same thing. In fact, there are even those in the PCA who are so PC that they will not use the word “illegal.” It’s almost as if if they don’t use the word “illegal,” the illegal immigrants might somehow miraculously become “authorized” or “documented.” I have written to Atlanta about this, especially to our Mission to North America organization, but in case you’ve forgotten, I don’t really exist until they want money. In other words, I received no answer.

But let’s follow the VCC closely because what they say next is pertinent and important. We are told that they are attempting to give us some guidelines of “undocumented Vineyard members” and how their current pastors should “respond when these members continue on to become leaders and eventually desire to plant a new church.” (Ibid.) These are precisely the kinds of “lead by example” leaders we need, right? Who is your leader? Oh, it’s Jorge. He’s in the country illegally, but he will lead you along the right path for making biblical ethical decisions—apart from the illegal alien thing, of course. What should any pastor say to an illegal alien about becoming a leader or planting a church? Why didn’t Dr. Taylor advise us that this was the position of the VCC in his article about the NAE 2009 Resolution on Immigration? Why didn’t he tell us up front that some of the member churches—and he sits on the Executive Board—advocate allowing illegal aliens to become leaders and possibly church planters?

Further to elucidate their position, the VCC offers eight “principles” lifted from the Wesleyan Methodist playbook. We’ll look at them in turn.

The Creation Principle

The VCC’s first principle focuses on man created in the image of God and the Arminian principle of “the vicarious death of Jesus Christ for all humanity.” (p. 2.) They cite the usual Genesis 1:26-28 and for their appeal to Jesus dying for everyone, head-for-head indiscriminately, they trot out Galatians 3:28. How odd and quaint that such an appeal is taken from a chapter where Paul deals almost exclusively with justification by faith.

The verse in question from Galatians 3:28 reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The VCC believes that this text clearly teaches the vicarious death of Jesus Christ for all humanity. But it really cannot mean that, can it? If we look at the immediate context—verse 27—there is a particular qualifier: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The German New Testament scholar, Theodor Zahn, believes that who Paul is addressing in verse 27 are those who are in union by faith with Christ.[1] The Dutch New Testament scholar, the late S. Greijdanus, teaches the same.[2]

In the translation of Herman Ridderbos’ commentary on Galatians, he informs us of the following concerning verse 27: “…Paul wants to indicate by his objective-sacramental mode of expression, and by appealing especially to baptism for establishing the sonship of the believers, that the reality of becoming one with Christ is nowhere so clearly revealed or so firmly founded in the Christian consciousness of faith, as precisely in this baptism (cf. Rom. 6:3ff. and Col. 2:12ff.).[3] The main point of verse 28, therefore, is that “In Christ there is no descent, rank, or sex.”[4] In addition, “From the point of view of redemption in Christ, however, and of the gifts of the Spirit granted by Him, there is no preference of Jew to Greek, master to slave, man to woman.”[5] It is as ludicrous for the VCC to attempt to derive a notion the vicarious death of Jesus Christ for all humanity from this text as it was in the 1970s for the Christian Reformed Church to use the text to substantiate their unbiblical idea of the ordination of women as Elders.

At the end of the first principle, the VCC appends a “Therefore.” It reads this way: “Understanding that all are made in the image of God, we will seek to treat all people humanely and with dignity, regardless of race, class, nationality, gender, legal status or any other distinctive.” (Ibid.) It is, indeed, a kinder, gentler VCC. Well, what could possibly be wrong with this statement? By being non-specific it says far too much. If there is an escaped murderer in my house late at night trying to harm my family I rather doubt that I will treat him with dignity irrespective of his legal status. Rather, I will do everything within my power to protect myself, my family, and my property (cf. Westminster Larger Catechism 135-136).

In our next installment, we’ll move through the remaining principles with greater rapidity. I took my time with this one to demonstrate how shaky the exegesis of the VCC is in this very important matter dealing with illegal immigration. This document is cited in the “Sources” of the NAE October 2009 Resolution on Immigration that Dr. Taylor commends to us.

[1] Theodor Zahn, Der Brief des Paulus an die Galater, (Leipzig: Georg Böhme, 19072), p. 186 where he states, “Dazu kommt, daß v. 27f. nicht von der Gottessohnschaft durch Glauben, sondern von Einverleibung in Christus die Rede ist.” (Emphasis added.)

[2] S. Greijdanus, De Brief van den Apostel Paulus aan de Gemeenten in Galatië, (Amsterdam: H.A. van Bottenburg, 1936), p. 250.

[3] Herman Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 148.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 149. Also see the Lutheran exegete, R.C.H. Lenski’s, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 19613), p. 188.



Blogger randy buist said...

From Ron: “We underscore the fact that we are committed to offering extravagant, unconditional compassion and mercy to all people.” (Ibid.)
While this all sounds nifty and spiffy, it does not pass “reality” muster. The only being that offers this type of grace to people is God..."

Let me ask Ron: So, when Paul states, "Follow me as I follow Christ," he wasn't advocating that we chase after the kind of justice and mercy that Micah the prophet suggested?

Since you're a good reformed pastor, our 'reality muster' is that we care only for ourselves and very little for others unlike ourself.

On this post Ron, you've faithfully passed the 'reality muster.' Thanks for so faithfully loving God and your neighbor. Please don't mind the biblical text where Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbor."

10:45 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

For whatever reason your comments about our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan being illegal aliens did not get published here.
Typically, combatants that are being paid by the U.S. government and receiving medical benefits from the U.S. military have not been considered illegal aliens in the past.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...


I'll take your constant carping about Ron minding the biblical text when you start minding more of it.

8:38 AM  

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