May 02, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said:

There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture; that is, there is no reason to say that someone looking at Scripture by some particular method that did not include granting some authority to tradition would lead many people to come independently to this conclusion. What is in Scripture is this paradox: the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, there is only one God. Any number of formulations of the solution could be compatible with the Scripture, but one in particular is generally believed to be part of Christian dogma.

There were many good responses to this, but the one I want to talk about is these few lines from vangelicmonk:
I would posit that the doctrine of the Trinity of three persons and one substance is not a solution for the paradox, but just a restating of what the paradox is from scripture. I don't think Orthodoxy has gone too far from that. Just a restatement that we mostly accept as mystery.

I think the danger comes to when we do try to explain that mystery. Like modalism where we say that the Father becomes Jesus and then the Holy Spirit. Or JW answer which is Jesus is not God but something else and the H.S. is just a power. In this particular dogma, when the mystery is tried to be solved, it creates problems.

Now let me be perfectly clear here: I absolutely do believe and am convinced that God exists as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons in a single Substance or Essence. It'sjust that I'm not always sure what I mean when I say that, and I've recently had some doubts about where that doctrine comes from. It seems to me, as I said, to be a clear case of Christian dogma, but what do we mean by it? Is it just a restatement of the paradox from Scripture?

As I see it, there are two ways that we can treat this statement. First, we can say something like "we know from Scripture that God is three in one sense, and yet one in another sense; let's call the concept under which he is three 'person' and the concept under which he is one 'substance.'" If we do this, we are doing nothing but restating the paradox from Scripture, as vangelicmonk says. However, we can't be sure that we are using the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context in the same way we use them in other contexts. This is perfectly ok with a lot of Christian thinkers. For instance, Thomas Aquinas thinks that when we speak about God we are always speaking by analogy. So, a Thomist could say some thing like: "when we say that God is three persons in one substance, we mean that there is some concept roughly analogous to the concept of 'person' as we ordinarily use it, such that if we consider God under that concept we will rightly state that he is three, but there is another concept, one roughly analogous to the concept of 'substance' such that if we consider God under it we will rightly say that God is one." (I'm not a Thomist, nor have I studied a lot of Medieval philosophy, so I'm not saying that a Thomist would say precisely that, but merely someone who agrees with Aquinas on this particular point could say that sort of thing.) Now, this makes a good deal of sense. Furthermore, the part where the threeness is analogous to 'person' can indeed be supported, to some degree, in Scripture: the Father and the Son are pictured talking to each other (e.g. in John 17) not in the way we talk to ourselves, but in the way we talk to others, and Jesus seems to speak of the Holy Spirit as though he were at least "roughly analogous" to a person in these latter chapters of John as well. There are other similar examples throughout Scripture. The concept of 'substance' is a much more difficult one; sometimes I'm not even sure I know what a substance (in the metaphysics sense, as opposed to the chemistry sense) is, but we can just go with it for now. So, perhaps we should say that a statement like the one above is a matter of dogma, but there is room for a great deal of disagreement as to just how good the analogies are. This seems like a very defensible position to me.

Alternatively, we could say that when we say that God exists as three Persons in one Substance we mean these words in the same way we mean them whenever we use them rigorously in this kind of metaphysical context (and statements about God are metaphysical statements). This needn't make any particular metaphysical system a matter of dogma (in fact, it had better not), it would simply say that if you are an orthodox Christian and you have a metaphysical system, your metaphysical system had better be able to account for this in its definitions of persons and substance. Now, the Bible doesn't use this kind of language (in fact, it doesn't even use English), so this couldn't possibly come from the Bible, and therefore can't be dogma under the Protestant idea, unless we think that Protestantism has room for saying that a disputable interpretation of Scripture can become dogma due to the authoritative status of the Church (that is, the true spiritual Church, not any particular hierarchy) as an interpreter, provided we realize that the Church continues to be less authoritative than the Bible itself. In this case, we might say that the formulation in English "three Persons, one Substance" was a matter of dogma, since all legitimate Christian communities that speak English affirm this (if, in fact, the broad, sweeping statement I've just made is true). Alternatively, of course, it could be that the Council of Chalcedon is an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, which might make its formulation, in the original Greek, a matter of dogma. I am of the belief that the word choice in the Chalcedonian Creed comes from Aristotle, so I hope eventually to go through Aristotle's Metaphysics and look at how each of the terms is used and see what meaning I can derive from Chalcedon on that basis, but I have no time right now, so let's assume for the sake of argument that the English formulation "three Persons in one Substance," where Person and Substance are used in precisely the same sense as in other metaphysical assertions, is a matter of dogma.

If this is the case, what we will do is proceed with an inquiry into the meaning of these terms by the methodology of analytic metaphysics (or some such) and then apply the results to doctrine. Note that, in this case, what the results have to be is not proscribed by dogma, but merely that if we get our metaphysics right with regard to other persons and substances, then we can apply the same definitions to God. It doesn't say under what circumstances our metaphysics is 'right.'

Now, I have argued previously that persons are in fact events, or, more specifically, connected series of mental states. A common definition of substance in metaphysics is "a center of causal power." Furthermore, I believe that God is atemporal, rather than merely everlasting. If we combine all three of these claims, we can get a very clear picture of God as Trinity: God, we will say, is a single center of causal power, existing in three separate eternal complex mental states. This is roughly analogous (here we go back to analogy) to three minds controlling a single body, but always agreeing on how to move it. God is only one set of causal powers, so it is a metaphysical impossibility that any Person of the Trinity should will anything by himself, without the other two. They must all will in unison. Since they cannot, metaphysically, act other than in unison, only having one set of causal powers, they are a single Being or Substance, but since there are three mental states, there are three Persons.

Now, even this detailed explanation doesn't really solve the mystery, it merely speculates on the meaning of three Persons in one Substance. I hope that it falls within the realm of orthodoxy, because I sort of tentatively accept it, and I would like to think that I am not a heretic, but it is certainly closer to wild speculation than to dogma.

The point that I'm trying to make is this: if God has in fact revealed that he exists as three Persons in one Substance, then he must expect us to understand something by the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context, and we should try to figure out what that is, as I did briefly above. If, on the other hand, God has revealed to us only that he is three in one, and we have simply plugged in the words 'person' and 'substance' as ciphers having no meaning external to the formulation in order to help us talk about it, then we should totally abandon this line of inquiry, because there is no way we can no anything about the internal nature of God apart from revelation. So this gives us basically three possible understandings of the formulation: (1) 'person' and 'substance' carry no external meaning into the formulat and are merely plugged in as a matter of convenience, (2) 'person' and 'substance' carry external meaning only by analogy to their ordinary usage, or (3) 'person' and 'substance' are used within the formulation in the same way they are ordinarily used outside of it. For each of these it is fair to ask whether the formulation is true under it, and also whether it is a matter of dogma under it. Each has problems.

Interpretation (1) can certainly be proven from Scripture, and is therefore certainly true and a matter of Christian dogma. However, if (1) is dogma and neither of the others are, then someone might refuse to say that God was "three Persons in one Substance," on account of the fact that it was misleading since these words had outside usages and we were here using them in ways unrelated to those outside usages. This person might wish instead to say that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" or some such, and we could not then consider this person a heretic. Does anyone else think this is a problem?

Interpretation (2) can be supported from Scripture, and I think the 'person' part can probably even be proven. However, I'm not sure the substance part can, but maybe I should ask someone who has a better idea what the heck a metaphysical substance is to figure that out. Besides this, you could still have someone insisting on saying that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" be orthodox, he would just have to acknowledge that a wizboon is sort of like a person, and a poobam is sort of like a substance. That actually doesn't seem that problematic to me, on the whole. I think interpretation (2) may be the best alternative.

I don't think interpretation (3) can be proven from Scripture, and the Scriptural support for it is very limited. However, it certainly doesn't contradict Scripture, and it may have the authority of the true Church behind it (though my Protestant ecclesiology makes that very difficult to determine).

So, to all of you who commented on the Church dogma post, and to all of you who didn't, which alternative do you take? Can the problems I've listed be solved, or are they not really problems? Or is there another alternative I'm not seeing?

Posted by kpearce at 03:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 26, 2006

Church Dogma

I've been thinking for some time now about dogma, and so I wanted to write a post to outline just what dogma is, and give some questions (but no answers!) about what it's content ought to be and where it ought to come from.

First, dogma is not dogmatism. I positively despise dogmatism. Dogmatism is the practice of holding to one's beliefs in such a way as to utterly ignore alll evidence and arguments to the contrary. Dogmatism is the death of intellectual growth, and of Christian faith. A faith that does not allow itself to be challenged, or that stops questioning, stops growing. Christianity as I understand it is utterly opposed to dogmatism. This is because Christianity is vitally concerned with truth and anything concerned with truth is necessarily opposed to dogmatism. The dogmatist cannot find truth. In addition to all of this, dogmatism is intellectually and morally lazy and irresponsible. I don't claim to be totally innocent of all forms of dogmatism, nor am I advocating that our beliefs ought to be in constant flux; I am merely saying that we ought to give all the arguments and evidences we are presented with as much rational consideration as they deserve, and not discount anything without an intellectually principled reason for doing so. This is an ideal to strive for.

Now that I've said what dogma is not, let me say what it is. 'Church dogma' is the name given to that body of doctrine (where 'doctrine' means any collection of teachings or beliefs) which forms the test of orthodoxy within a given church or denomination, or within the Church as a whole. So, for instance, the doctrines of salvation in Christ and the triune nature of God are both matters of Christian dogma in general. That is, they define orthodoxy for Christianity as a whole. On the other hand, papal infallibility is a Catholic dogma only; it defines Catholic orthodoxy, but for those of us who do not believe that orthodox Christianity is broader than merely the Roman Catholic Church, it is not part of Christian dogma. Now, the big question to me, just at the moment, is this: where does dogma come from?

In the Roman Catholic Church, dogma is formed by councils and ex cathedra papal statements. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, dogma is formed primarily by Scripture and ecumenical councils (seven councils are recognized as being ecumenical), but doctrines can become sort of unofficial dogmas through wide acceptance over time. I don't know if someone would really be branded a heretic in the Orthodox Church for denying something that hadn't been clearly proclaimed by Scripture or an ecumenical council, but had merely come to be taken for granted in the Church. There are a lot of grey areas in Orthodoxy.

Now, the Protestant Reformers reacted against this sort of thing, famously formulating the doctrine known as sola scriptura. For some time now, I have been wondering what the end of this sentence is really intended to be; in short, I want to know, 'Scripture alone ... what?' I suspect there are a wide range of answers to that question among Protestant theologians (and I intend to do some serious reading on the subject in the near future), but one piece of the formula is very common: that Scripture alone is 'binding' on the believer. That is, Scripture alone is the source of Church dogma. This way of finishing the sentence (by the way, I don't know of any Protestant theologian who says only this) seems eminently reasonable to me, especially in comparison with some other imaginable endings to the sentence (e.g. 'Scripture alone is the source of all our knowledge of God' - how then could we know the truth of that statement, which would in fact be a piece of knowledge about God? And how would this be compatible with Romans 1:19-21?) but is not without problems, as we shall see shortly.

This is played out in different ways in different Protestant churches. It seems to me that it is taken most seriously by the non-denominational 'Bible churches' and the other neo-Evangelical groups who are not in the habit of writing authoritative doctrinal statements. In these cases, the Bible is simply identical with Church dogma. To be orthodox is to believe the Bible in all things; to be heterodox is to disagree with the Bible at some point.

On the other hand, most traditional Protestant denominations do write doctrinal statements intended to be authoritative at leats in some degree, and therefore to define dogma (for that particular denomination). The difference here, however, is that unlike the council statements of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, these statements are considered valid only insofar as they can be seen to derive from Scripture, and they do not consider them to define Christian dogma, but only the dogma of that one denomination. (Note the "be seen to" - in Orthodoxy the decisions of ecumenical councils and all other matters of dogma are considered in principle to have their source in Scripture, but if some particular person or group is unable to see how they are derived, this is irrelevant because the councils are infallible.) That is, I understand (and I may be wrong, I am no expert) that the Presbyterian Church teaches something like: "we say that the Westminster Confession is a correct interpretation of Scripture, and in order to be an orthodox Presbyterian you must agree with this; however, our interpretation of Scripture is not infallible, and if our interpretation should happen to be incorrect, it doesn't particularly matter whether or not you are an orthodox Presbyterian. Our interpretation is fallible; the Scripture is not." Now, another question is as to whether someone who misinterpreted the Scripture on a matter not dealt with in the Confession would be considred heterodox. I'm not sure about this, but I suspect not. If, then, my understanding of the Presbyterian position is correct (and there's some extrapolation going on here, so I'm really not very certain), Presbyterian dogma is derived from Scripture but not identical with Scripture. If the Presbyterian Church doesn't actually teach something like this, I'm sure some other church does, which is sufficient for this discussion.

Now, I mentioned that there were some problems with the Protestant understanding that 'Scripture alone is a source of Church dogma,' although, as I said, I think this formulation is, on the whole, quite reasonable. The first problem I want to point out is, from where do we derive the canon? The obvious step, as I see it, is to say that Protestant Church dogmatics takes the canon of Scripture and the authority thereof as an axiom of the system, and builds from there. Now, this may be a perfectly good system, but you will need some explanation outside the system itself for why we ought to accept this system and not some other, and this will be difficult.

The second problem is that there seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture; that is, there is no reason to say that someone looking at Scripture by some particular method that did not include granting some authority to tradition would lead many people to come independently to this conclusion. What is in Scripture is this paradox: the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, there is only one God. Any number of formulations of the solution could be compatible with the Scripture, but one in particular is generally believed to be part of Christian dogma.

This, I take it, is much more difficult than the first problem. One possible solution is for Protestants to 'bite the bullet' as it were, and say that only the paradox itself (and the statement that there exists some solution) is really Christian dogma, and someone who denied that God existed as three persons in one substance (but believed in some other solution to the paradox, or that there was a solution but we didn't know it) would not in fact be heterodox. This is a difficult thing for a Christian to say, but I suppose it's not totally absurd. Another thing that could be done is to invoke the proviso that many Protestant statements include to the effect that believers must interpret the Scripture in community with the Church (that is, the 'invisible' Church, not any particular hierarchy or institution), and to say that the Church has always and everywhere proclaimed this and, while the Church has less authority than the Scripture, it is to some degree an authoritative interpreter of the Scripture and as such where it has reached a concensus it cannot be wrong. Then we will have to ask whether this is really a true concensus (what is or isn't the Church? Is the WHOLE Church really in consensus?). At this point perhaps the statement that Scripture is the only source of Church dogma is a matter of purely theoretical interest, because in actual practice we have to look at other sources. Furthermore, in this case the Protestant view would differ from the Orthodox only in that Protestants are not convinced that all seven (or any?) ecumenical councils really represent consensuses of the Church.

So, as I said, I have questions rather than answers. Do other Christian groups have different views than those I have listed, as to the proper sources of dogma? Are there solutions to the problems in the Protestant view that I have listed? (I bring up objections to the Protestant view rather than to the others, because it is the one that I have accepted in the past and would like to continue to accept.)

Posted by kpearce at 10:00 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

A Quick Note on Church Government

Suzanne has posted some brief comments on my post on The Language of Athenian Democracy in the New Testament, wherein I have learned that the Exclusive Brethren denomination has used similar arguments for their decision not to name elders. I don't have time to deal with Church government in great detail right at the moment, but I do want to point out that I did not intend to deal with that question in my previous post on the 'democratic' nature of the Church. What I did mean to point out was that the early Church accepted everyone regardless of their worldly status, and, furthermore, that this worldly status was seen as being of no importance to one's status within the Church. We are all equal in our status in Christ. In fact the Greek concept of isonomia, or equality before law, which was regarded as the cornerstone of democracy, is very central to Christianity. All human beings are equal before God's law - equally condemned! However, we as Christians are likewise equally redeemed in Christ (Romans 3:23-24). None of us is less condemned without Christ, or more saved with him, than any other.

However, these 'democratic' concepts in no way undermine the idea of there being offices of Church government. The office of elder seems to have been around from the very beginning of the Church, and the office of deacon was appointed not long after (in Acts 6, I suppose). I do think that the New Testament uses elder (presbuteros) and overseer/bishop (episkopos) interchangeably. They come to mean two different things around the early third century, if I recall correctly. But the point is that the apostles themselves appointed people to these positions, and there is never any discussion of these people being chosen by a majority vote (although the people do put forward candidates for deacon in the passage in Acts, then have them confirmed by the apostles). I think the concept of electing spiritual leaders within the Church is contrary to Scripture but, as I said, I don't have time to make a detailed argument right now, so let me simply point out that the use of the words ekklesia and kerux is certainly not sufficient evidence to draw such a conclusion from, particularly in light of the evidence to the contrary, and I did not mean to suggest such a thing.

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April 12, 2006

The Language of Athenian Democracy in the New Testament

So I've just given a presentation on the workings of the ancient Athenian ekklesia at the Pnyx, and I thought I'd use up a little precious time which I ought to use reading about Plato and Aristotle on the role of tragic theater in society discussing the appropriation of the language of the Athenian democracy by the early Church, including the authors of the New Testament.

There are two particular words I am thinking of here: ekklesia and kerux. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that these words are consistently translated one way in 'Bible Greek' and another way in 'secular Greek' when Bible Greek and secular Greek are the same language! In secular Greek they are "assembly" and "herald" respectively, but in New Testament translations they are usually "church" and "preacher." Now, these are perfectly ordinary words in the Greek, but their usage by the Athenian democracy was so prominent in the literary tradition of Greece that I cannot imagine that the Greek speaking Christians in the first century who first began to use these words didn't have classical Athens in mind, so let's start from the beginning and have a brief discussion of the history of these words, and what the choice of these words might tell us about the early Church's self-understanding and its message to the world.

Ekklesia is a compound of the prefix ek, meaning 'out,' and the noun klesis, a calling. In ancient Athens, this term was applied to the democratic Assembly of the people: the adult male citizens were 'called out' from all over the city-state to attend the Assembly and determine how the city should be run. How were they called? By heralds (kerukes), naturally.

Now, there are obvious reasons for the early Church to choose this language to describe what happened. 'Heralds' (i.e., preachers) went throughout the world to call us together, into the 'Assembly' (i.e. Church) of the saints. This Assembly does not, of course, deliberate on matters of foreign policy, or anything of the sort. But it is 'political,' in an unusual, other-worldly sense. This Assembly is composed of the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Furthermore, although the idea of the Church being governed democratically is a post-Reformation invention and does not seem to have occurred in the early Church, there is something inherently democratic, as the Greeks understood democracy, about the Church: everyone is invited. Now the Athenians and the other Greek democracies invited a very limited 'everyone' to their Assemblies - excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners - but they nevertheless considered it to be everyone, and were very proud of this. They were especially proud of their inclusion of the poor, since these were the ones the oligarchic city-states excluded. The early Church was inclusive to a degree never seen before, including also slaves, women, children and even 'barbarians' (in this time period, this meant those who lived outside the realm of civilization, where civilization is synonymous with the Roman Empire).

Also, we know from the description of Church meetings in 1 Corinthians 14 that just as the herald stood before the Assembly and asked "who wants to speak?" at every meeting, so at the meetings of the early Church just any citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven was permitted to share his knowledge and experience of God. This too is very 'democratic.'

There are other words for gathering in Greek, but the New Testament uses them rarely, preferring this 'democratic' language, and I think it does this for a reason. I believe that that reason is connected with all of the similarities just listed, but above all with the idea of being 'called out' from among the world into the Kingdom of God. Paul writes, "But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher [kerux]? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15, HCSB) The Church (Assembly) has sent preachers (heralds) throughout the world to call everyone into the great Assembly (Church) of the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

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April 06, 2006

Christian Carnival

The latest Christian Carnival is now up at In The Outer with a link to my post on Biblical inerrancy. As always, there is a lot of interesting content. Highly reccomended.

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March 15, 2006

"Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy"

I have just posted on my writings page a new essay, "Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy." This served as my mid-term essay in my class on the Greek Orthodox Church here at DIKEMES in Athens where I am studying this semester. I have attached a short preface explaining the relationship of the views presented in my essay (realizing that the essay is supposed to explain the teaching of the Orthodox Church) to my actual beliefs and my reasons for deciding to publish the essay. Please post here with any comments or objections. If I edit the essay at any time in the future, I will document that here as well. The essay is located here.

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February 09, 2006

Cardinal Frances George Was Right

The New York Times is reporting that Cardinal Francis George of the Catholic Arch-Diocese of Chicago, is being heavily criticized after a local priest, Daniel McCormack, was arrested on charges of sexually abusing young boys. The allegations were brought to Cardinal George's attention last August, but no action was taken by the diocese at that time. In 2002, the Catholic Church instituted a policy that a priest should be removed immediately if "there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred." Cardinal George, it is alleged, failed to follow this guideline.

While I don't know the specifics of the situation or the history of Cardinal George or Father McCormack, I want to advance the controversial thesis that in this case, Cardinal George was right. The church's guidelines say that a priest should be removed when there is "sufficient evidence," and this with good reason! Anyone can accuse someone of sexual abuse, and pastors are often particularly embroiled in political struggles. If one unsubstantiated allegation of sexual abuse could remove someone from the ministry, then any controversial pastor would likely be accused. Because the allegation didn't have to be substantiated or come with any evidence, people could threaten allegations against priests as a sort of blackmail. In short, it would create an utterly ridiculous situation. Instead, very sensibly, the Catholic Church has decided that a priest should be removed only when the allegations are actually credible.

In this particular case, the family of the victim went to the civil authorities. The civil authorities were prohibited from giving any information to the church, and they determined that the evidence was not sufficient to press charges. The church had no way of pursuing its own investigation, as it didn't even know who the accuser was, and it had it on the authority of the police that there was not enough evidence to prove Father McCormack's guilt. So the church did the right thing: nothing. The family of the victim was given contact information for the ecclesiastic authorities, and should have contacted them, so that the church could determine the credibility of the allegations, but they did not.

Clearly, a terrible thing has happened here, and, if he is proven guilty, Father McCormack should be disordained, perhaps excommunicated, and certainly put in jail. However, even if the charge that an additional instance of abuse occurred after the arch-diocese was notified of the early allegations is true, I do not believe that Cardinal George can be held responsible for what has happened here. We simply can't destroy the life/career/ministry/etc. of every individual who is accused of this sort of thing. We must investigate the charges and find out whether they are true. Certainly, if the charges are even remotely credible the individual should be removed from contact with minors until the investigation is concluded, but in this case, the church had no way of judging whether the charges were remotely credible. The information was simply not released to them.

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January 19, 2006

Christian Carnival CV

Christian Carnival CV is up at Dunmoose the Ageless with a link to my post on musterion.

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January 11, 2006

Christian Carnival 104

Christian Carnival 104 is up at Random Responses with a link to my post on the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

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October 20, 2005

Christian Carnival XCII at Theology and Biblical Studies

So I just discovered this "Blog Carnival" thing and think its a fantastic idea. For those of you who don't know, it works like this: each period (the Christian Carnival is weekly, the Philosopher's Carnival is fortnightly) one blog hosts, and people from all different blogs submit entries on some theme or topic, which are then compiled into summaries with links. Christian Carnival XCII is now up at World of Sven's Theology and Biblical Studies, and has graciously accepted my late entry, this post on Leibniz's discussion of efficient and final causes, and its application to Christian thought on science and miracles.

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September 21, 2005

The Establishment Clause, The Vatican, and Diplomatic Immunity

I apologize for not having posted recently. I have been very busy reading Plato's Politicus in Greek at an absurd rate, and various other less time consuming classwork. Here I make time for a brief note regarding this article from today's New York Times discussing a lawsuit which names Pope Benedict XVI as a defendant in a conspiracy to cover up a sex abuse case. On the one hand, I am not convinced that what Pope Benedict (or rather Cardinal Ratzinger, as the incidents in question occurred prior to the death of Pope John Paul II) did constitutes a coverup conspiracy, per se, but certainly it wasn't particularly praiseworthy, and the Vatican should have reported the incidents to local authorities as soon as it became aware of them.

This, however, is old news. What is interesting about this case is the controversy regarding the "Holy See" (i.e. the Vatican) as a sovereign state, while at the same time a church. This makes for very complicated questions as to what constitutes exercises in foreign policy versus what violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The federal government, at the behest of the Vatican Embassy (yes, the Vatican has embassies), has filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds Pope Benedict enjoys diplomatic immunity as sitting head of state of the Holy See. An almost identical motion carried in a lawsuit against Pope John Paul about ten years ago. The lawyer for the plaintiffs, however, is arguing that diplomatic recognition of the Holy See actually violates the Establishment Clause.

The text of the Establishment Clause reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Note the strength of this statement: Congress cannot make a law that has to do with religion; to encourage it, to prohibit it, to treat religious organizations differently from non-religious ones, etc. Laws of Congress cannot talk about religious organizations! Now, I don't know anything about the history of jurisprudence on the subject (well, maybe I know something, but it isn't much), so perhaps I make this overly strong, but at any rate, we should note the difference between this and the "separation of church and state" doctrine so often confidently asserted to be present in the Constitution. According to my reading, which I think is the obvious one, it seems that Congress is also prohibited from saying "no, we won't deal with you because you are a religious organization."

Now, as to diplomatic recognition: the issue remains complicated. Does recognizing a country diplomatically amount to making a law "respecting" it? If so, then it would seem that since the Vatican is also an "establishment of religion," in addition to being a nation, we are prohibited from diplomatic dealings with it. Certainly Congress could not pass a treaty with the Vatican. However, as I understand it, Congress does not pass individual laws recognizing or not recognizing individual countries. Rather, this is handled by the executive branch (specifically the State Department). If this is the case, then Congress would be prohibited from making a law that singled out the Vatican from other nations, whether it did so positively or negatively. The Vatican would have to be treated the same as any other nation. I suspect that this latter interpretation is closer to correct, and in fact is very similar to a series of court rulings regarding religious student groups in public schools (the courts have consistently ruled that such groups must be treated identically with other student groups, including in matters of funding and facilities reservations).

I would kind of like to see this issue make it to the Supreme Court as I would like to see what they have to say about it.

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August 31, 2005

Ecclesiology in Swinburne's Revelation

I've just finished reading Richard Swinburne's Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, in which he strives to create a rational foundation for belief in (a particular understanding of) "the Christian revelation" (which, on Swinburne's account is not exactly equivalent with the Bible, but we'll get there). The beginning of this book is very good. Swinburne argues forcefully that if the God of traditional Western monotheism exists, then there is good reason to expect that He would reveal Himself to mankind, and, of course, if we have an a priori expectation that there is probably a revelation out there somewhere, then much less evidence is required to identify some specific item as that revelation than if we had a view of the world which makes such a revelation unlikely (note that Swinburne establishes the authority of the Bible on the basis of the existence of God, not vice versa). However, as one moves on further in Swinburne's book, into the specifics of his theory of revelation, his statements become increasingly problematic (read: false). Swinburne's departure from sound doctrine is not due to flawed philosophical reasoning, but rather to correct reasoning from a false premise. The departure occurs at a very definite point and comes from a very definite cause: the horrible ecclesiology assumed, not argued for, in chapter 8. Some hints of this problem occur earlier, but so far as the course of Swinburne's argument is concerned he does well up to this point, but as soon as he allows this false premise to enter he departs from the "straight and narrow" and the rest of his argument, following this premise, moves him farther and farther away.

Now, let us be clear here: this is not so much a (theologically) liberal/conservative dispute as a Roman Catholic/Protestant dispute. Swinburne does ultimately allow some rather liberal conclusions about the proper interpretation of Scripture, but these are well argued for (I do not know the Roman Catholic tradition well enough to tell if they are established or if he is omitting crucial evidence) and stem from proper conservative Catholic doctrine.

The crucial assumption is this: that the Church is an earthly institution, with a unified human authority structure, with buildings, meetings, etc. Since Swinburne's argument shows that Jesus of Nazareth (whose life and teachings are taken to be the "original Christian revelation") established the Church and that the resurrection, which Swinburne takes to be God's "signature" on the revelation (I like that part, by the way - Swinburne argues that, just as human beings sign letters so others will know they are legitimate by performing and action easy for the real author but impossible or nearly so for others, God would authenticate His revelation by performing some act which is easy for Him but impossible for anyone else. This act was the resurrection of Jesus. Again, Swinburne establishes the authority of Scripture from the resurrection as an historical occurrence, not vice versa), validated the church as the body God had appointed to interpret the revelation. Swinburne does have arguments which show that, due to the culture- and language-specific nature of human communication, a once-for-all revelation would be likely to have an interpreting body to make it accessible for future generations, and the New Testament itself does seem to have such a conception, but we are getting to that. Now, because of Swinburne's ecclesiological assumption, it becomes necessary to find the church (or churches - he leaves open the possibility that due to splits there may be more than one) which is the true successor of the Church which Jesus founded with His twelve disciples, i.e. the one that has true apostolic succession, and to believe the teachings of that church. Of couse, apart from Swinburne's (in my view false) assumptions about the sort of Church Jesus founded, why should there be such a church, in our modern sense which gives us options like (to name a few) the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, Calvary Chapel, or some combination of the above. Why should we suppose that ANY of these are the sort of thing meant by "the Church" in the New Testament? All of the Protestant denominations can be traced to founding by a distinct human individual. Nothing recognizable as the Roman Catholic Church existed AT LEAST until the Council of Chalcedon gave (honorary only, according to the Eastern Orthodox Church) primacy to the patriarch of Rome (later called the Pope) over the other patriarchs in 451, and probably not really until the Great Schism permanently separated it from the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054. It is my view (based on my limited knowledge) that, although I do not believe in apostolic succession per se, if any modern institution church has a legitimate historical claim to it it must be the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, once again, I see no reason to suppose that that is at all the sort of thing that the "one holy catholic [i.e. universal] and apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed is.

As I suggested previously, the Bible has a different view of the ekklesia, or Church, which it often refers to as "the Body of Christ." Firstly, the word itself has the primary meaning "assembly," but more particularly it is etymologically related to kaleo, "I call". It is "the assembly of the called." In the Athenian government, it was the assembly of all citizens, which was called together by the town crier. In this case, it is the assembly (gathering together) of all those who have responded to God's call to the world. It may very well be significant that the early believers used this word rather than the word "synagogue" (Greek: sunagogos), which also means "coming together" but did not have the idea of being called or chosen in its connotation (note that ekklesia is cognate with the English "eclectic"). Take into account Jesus' own words in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together [Gr. sunegmenoi, from the verb form of sunagogos] in My name, I am there in the midst of them." THIS is Jesus' concept of the Church. Furthermore, we know that in the first century new believers were inducted into the Church by baptism (see e.g. Acts 2:38-39), and in Paul's discussion of baptism he says, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13), and that body is clearly the Church in Paul's thought. That is, Paul identifies the members of the Church as those who have received the promise of baptism "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16), and this is not a matter of membership in some specific earthly institution. After all, consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). What earthly institution did he join? After baptizing him, Philip disappeared! Did he even know about the (lower c) church in Jerusalem, or anywhere else?

Now, as to Swinburne's assertion that the Church is the interpreter of revelation, this is true, but not in the way he thinks. Paul says, "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). The Church is just that group of people that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16 teaches that the Holy Spirit testifies to each believer that he is a "child of God", i.e. a member of the Church), and, therefore, just the group of people capable of understanding and interpreting "the thing of the Spirit of God," which includes the Bible. Also, John 16:13, which Swinburne cites to this effect on the last page of his book, specifically discusses the Holy Spirit guiding us into "all truth." Thus the putative revelation, the Bible (which Swinburne says is merely a correct interpretation of the true revelation, the life and teachings of Jesus - let us concede that point, as I simply don't think its worth arguing about, provided "correct" is understood strongly enough), actually tells us what the interpreting body will look like, and therefore if such a body exists and the revelation is legitimate then the body will be the proper interpreter.

What does that mean? Baptists have traditionally affirmed the right and responsibility of each believer to interpret the Bible for himself within a community of believers, and I think this is the correct direction to take. The Bible is, primarily, a tool by which God the Holy Spirit reveals the same truth to different people at different times in different ways, but the tool is public because of the dangerously subjective nature of individual revelations. Thus the Holy Spirit makes special revelation to each individual in the Church, but He does so through a public tool which admits to a degree of objectivity so that there is a means of distinguishing the true revelation of the Spirit from the wishful thinking or invention of the individual. It takes time to learn to hear God's voice and follow Him as our Shepherd (John 10:27), and in order to do this we need "training data", so to speak, for our "spiritual sense" - that is, we need well known, public examples of things that God has said so that we can learn to discern his voice from our own (or that of the devil). Thus the Bible contains the revelation which is universally applicable, communicated in such a way that it can be properly interpreted only with divine guidance, but nevertheless admits to publicly verifiable analysis. This is what it means that the Bible can only be properly interpreted by the Church. Swinburne may even be right that it is the Church's status as interpreter of the revelation which came in the life and teachings of Christ, signed by God with the resurrection (but do not read either Swinburne or myself as claiming that this is the SOLE purpose of the resurrection - God never does anything for only one purpose), that tells us that the canon of Scripture is a further revelation (or correct interpretation of the original revelation, or whatever).

It follows then that an individual currently outside the Church seeking to understand the Christian revelation, must consult the Church. But how does one find the true Church? Jesus tells us "you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16), and this is clearly the central criterion. Swinburnes other criteria, continuity of organization and purpose, are also important. Swinburne says that one criterion is in fact that the true Church will have sound doctrine, continuous with the teaching of Jesus, but since we are, in this case, attempting to find the true Church in order to figure out what Jesus taught, this is only helpful for what little we can determine by normal historical inquiry, without treating Scripture as a revelation. Clearly the modern Church will in some sense "look like" the Church in the first century. However, if the central definition of the Church is "the gathering together of those called out of the world by God and filled with the Holy Spirit" then the primary characteristics will be those the Bible associates with this change, which includes "signs following" (Mark 16:17-18), power to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8), changed lives (see esp. the change from the frightened disciples before Pentecost, to the fearless preachers after), and, above all, the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the crucial mark of the true Church, the gaurdian of the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is not a human institution, nor need it have a central human authority structure; only Jesus Himself is its head (Colossians 1:18).

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August 22, 2005

On the Independence of Calvary Chapel Congregations

GetReligion is running a story on two recent clergy termination scandals in California Calvary Chapels. While these stories are clearly tragic, I think that tmatt's discussion misrepresents the organization of Calvary Chapel. First, as one of the cited articles points out, there is a disciplinary measure available to, and used by, Costa Mesa: disaffiliation. Churches who do not subscribe to the beliefs and practices of Calvary Chapel are disaffiliated and prohibited from using the Calvary Chapel trademark. Calvary Chapel pastors, generally, are accountable to the pastor of some "parent church." For instance, my pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King's Highway is one of several who meet with, and are unofficially overseen by, Joe Focht of Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia. These overseeing pastors can report back to Costa Mesa if there is a problem and the pastor in question can be disaffiliated if necessary. Also, problems like those in Laguna Beach are created by compromises to the Calvary Chapel philosophy of church government which are made due to regulations of state goverments requiring non-profits to have boards (see here). Part of the point of Calvary Chapel's organization is that pastors should not be "hirelings" (see John 10:12-13). No one within the local congregation should have the authority to fire the pastor, because this undermines the authority relationships that are supposed to exist. But a pastor must have accountability somewhere, and therein lies the problem that Calvary Chapel and similarly organized churches must struggle with. Calvary Chapel's answer is an accountability structure that amounts to an unofficial episcopacy, backed by the threat of disaffiliation.

What has happened in the cases reported clearly represents a breakdown in this system. I don't understand why Costa Mesa did not step in sooner. For instance, based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, these lawsuits ought not to have been permitted. The disputes should have been settled by binding arbitration before pastors and elders of Calvary Chapel, and if either party refused to submit to arbitration, that party should have been AT LEAST disaffiliated (if not excommunicated). Now this is a slippery slope, when there is money involved. A panel of clergy orders you to pay some kind of settlement to another church member in binding arbitration and if you refuse you are excommunicated. What is to stop corruption? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to another related problem that you may have noticed above: Calvary Chapel can only disaffiliate pastors, it cannot remove them from their local churches. Presumably no one has the authority to do this. The answer, in both cases, is that Calvary Chapel is not (and none of us should be) afraid to let a church collapse when that is what is needed. I personally think that we must be prepared to let even whole denominations collapse in order to make way for God's next move; the longer and institution exists, the more it forgets its original purpose and the institution exists to preserve the institution. If abuses of power occur in a church, people will leave. If a pastor is disaffiliated from Calvary Chapel, his congregation will decide for themselves whether the disaffiliation was just, and if it was they will leave.

One more tangential remark: I do not unconditionally endorse all Calvary Chapel doctrine and government. My ideal church would, I think, be about halfway in between Calvary Chapel and the Presbyterian Church in America, as far as both doctrine and practice are concerned. For instance, I think that Calvary Chapel's single pastor government ought to be replaced by a small board of elders (the Church of Jerusalem in Acts had a congregation of over 5000, and only 12 elders) who share the authorities and responsibilities Calvary Chapel now gives exclusively to the pastor, but these elders should not be elected by and subject to removal by the congregation, as this undermines the authority relationships that are supposed to exist here. Also, theologically, although I am an Arminian and a premillenialist, I am not a dispensationalist, and so sometimes find myself at odds with Calvary Chapel eschatology, etc. I also greatly appreciate the Presbyterian church's emphasis on intellectual pursuits, an emphasis increasingly lacking from American Evanelicalism.

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May 31, 2005

Blind Mind's Eye on Christian Libertarianism

Christian blog Blind Mind's Eye has a great post on the compatibility of Christianity and libertarianism. Worth a read.

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May 07, 2005

The Future of This Blog

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been awefully sparse for the past few months. I had an extremely busy semester and not much time for blogging. It is now summer (that is, the spring semester of school is over), and working 40 hours a week and having Saturdays and Sundays off and not taking work home in the evenings is sounding restful. So, in this post I'd like to give some idea on what sorts of things will be influencing my topics over the course of the summer, and then comment briefly on a few issues I missed.

  • This summer I'm going to try to dive back in to some serious intellectual Bible study. I'm currently in the middle of studies on Isaiah and John the Beloved (covering his life and the four books that bear his name, but probably not the Revelation), so I'll be working (and perhaps blogging) on those.
  • I'm going to try to read as much of the New Testament in Greek as I can. I've gotten through about 4/5 of Matthew already (over the course of the last year), and I'm hoping (optimistically) to make it to the end of the gospels by the end of the summer.
  • At present, I have a list of philosophers whom I dislike without ever having read. This is bad. I'm going to try to eleminate it by reading them all. The names on the list are Wittgenstein and Hegel (for whom I have a mild distaste) and also Nietzsche (whom I rather despise). So I will be reading Wittgenstein's On Certainty and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, and probably also something by Hegel (haven't determined what as yet).
  • I'm also going to try to eliminate what I see as some important holes in my knowledge of philosophy by reading Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Locke's Second Treatise on Government (and probably the first while I'm at it).

I may be blogging on any or all (or none) of these things over the course of the summer. Now, here (as promised) are the important issues I missed:

  • Terri Schiavo: This was a complicated issue; I don't think it was nearly as cut and dried as most of the Evangelical bloggers I read seemed to. We can't keep people alive on life support forever, it just doesn't make sense. If they are really gone, we have to let them go. On the other hand, removing a feeding tube is much different than turning off a heart and lung machine. The big issue, I thought, was that her "husband" fathered children by another woman while she was in the hospital. This, I think, should have invalidated the marriage leaving her in the custody of her parents. I don't believe that the ends ever justify the means - I am a non-consequentialist - and so I must condemn the actions of the Republicans in Congress on this issue as they flagrantly disregarded the Constitution.

  • Pope Benedict XVI: What a great guy. I'm enthusiastic about the new Pope. He seems solid. From what I can tell, he takes Scripture seriously and views the Church councils as a tradition of Biblical interpretation rather than an independent authority. Good stuff.

  • Beth Stroud (momentarily) Reinstated: (See the great interview at WesleyBlog). What a mess. I can't understand why there is any question about this. If an individual who claims to be a Christian and is a member of the church is unrepentant about sexual practices that do not conform to Biblical standards we are required by Scripture to excommunicate him (see 1 Corinthians 5). In fact, this is one of only two cases where the New Testament contains explicit instructions to excommunicate an individual (the other being Titus 3:10-11, "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.") This is a paradigm case for Scriptural excommunication. Note, however, that excommunication is rarely, if ever, practiced properly. Jesus views it as a way of motivating people to repent, not as unlovingly excluding them (Matthew 18:15-20). The point is for the Church to show quite clearly that it does not condone the individual's actions, and in so doing to hopefully motivate the individual to repent, at which time he is to be admitted back into the Church, preferably to a celebration along the lines of the Prodigal Son. Why is this not being practised? a) People don't read the Bible, and b) people don't believe the Bible. The Church needs to start taking Scripture seriously again and practicing what it says.

I think those are all the critical things I've missed. Hopefully I can keep up on events as they happen from now on (at least for the rest of the summer)!

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December 16, 2004

More on Christianity and Homosexuality

For those of you who don't know, there was a major controversy recently over a United Church of Christ ad which the major networks rejected, advertising the church as "open and affirming" (i.e. pro-homosexual - one of my goals in life is to discuss highly sensitive political issues without resorting to the fallacy of emotional language). A post at Wesley Blog quotes the following statement from a UCC pastor, which was published in the Charlotte Observer (reg. required):

"What concerns me about the commercial is the implication that gays and lesbians attending UCC congregations can expect that their sexual desires and practices will be excused from examination under the light of Scripture. The ad's bold message is that because homosexuals have been excluded and victimized, we will offer a blanket indulgence.
No sinner should be excluded from hearing and responding to the gospel or from joining the journey of faith in Jesus Christ. But no area of life should be cordoned off from scrutiny. All sins must be exposed -- the sins of homosexuals and heterosexuals, of whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians, of the rich and the poor, of liberals and conservatives. Until every thought, word and deed is captive to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, no one gets an exemption from self-examination and repentance."

That's what I said. It's great to see that even in the more liberal denominations we have clergy who place a high value on remaining true to the Word.

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December 07, 2004

An Internal Critique of the Beth Stroud Case

You may have seen in the media a recent tumult in the United Methodist Church over the disordination (the New York Times article refers to it as a "defrocking" - is that even a word? Do Methodists really call it that?) of a Lesbian pastor at a church in Germantown, here in Philadelphia. Rumor has it a Daily Pennsylvanian editorial on the subject, authored by an uber-liberal friend of mine, will be published on Wednesday (shh! I didn't tell you). So here I am responding with an internal critique of the matter. Internal, that is, to Christianity. Before I start, allow me to point you to a critique internal to the United Methodist Church over at a site I just found called Wesley Blog.

Ok, so here goes: The United Methodist Church did the right thing ... Sort of.

First, let's recap what actually happened, and dismiss some misinterprettations that are bound to circulate: A jury of 13 eastern Pennsylvania UMC clergy members voted 12 to 1 to convict Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud of "violating church law by living in a lesbian relationship" and voted 7 to 6 to "defrock" (what a bizarre word) her. However, her church, the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, has decided to keep her on staff as a lay minister to continue her youth ministry.

What the church did right: Churches are groups of people who come together because of common beliefs and the common goals and practices associated with those beliefs. One of the beliefs associated with Christianity is the authority of Scripture. Scripture has a lot to say on the subject of ethics, and, while the Bible teaches love and mercy and inclusion, it also teaches that there are absolute standards of right and wrong, and if we are to teach the Bible we must hold at least our leadership to those standards. Some of the Bible's moral standards deal with sexual ethics. Scripture defines marriage as between a man and a woman only, and any sexual activity outside of marriage as sinful. Period. Regardless of what anyone says, Ms. Stroud was NOT condemned for "who she is" or the temptations she experiences, or the way she was born. The church took the steps it did because of her actions. I sincerely hope and truly believe that the church would have acted in exactly the same way if it was a boyfriend, rather than a girlfriend, she was living with. However, I fear that there actually would have been less division in the church were that the case, which is positively ridiculous. In the Biblical view, fornication is fornication, regardless of the genders of the persons involved.

Another thing the church did right is to "welcome practicing gays to the pews but not the pulpit," as the Times puts it. Anyone is welcome (and strongly encouraged) to come to church and hear the message of Christ. That message may (does) include things offensive to some (many) people. This message says that none of us are good enough, that we all screw up, that we all do the wrong things sometimes, and furthermore that it's NOT just ok for us to screw up, but rather that divine justice demands a price beyond what we can possibly pay for our sins, and that in order to save us from our sins an innocent Man was tortured to death. Everyone who hears the message of Christ should be convicted, because everyone is a sinner. We shouldn't shrink back from mentioning specific sins, in order to avoid offending certain groups of people. Conversely, we shouldn't focus on any one sin, harping on it constantly and making people who struggle with it feel like they're worse than the rest of us, as though Christ's sacrifice weren't enough for them too. No one should be told that he can't sit in the pews. Everyone should be accepted and loved. But by the same token, no one should be exempt from being brought by the church to the knowledge that he is a sinner and needs to be saved. In the words of a longstanding Evangelical cliche, "the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints."

What the church did wrong: You left her on as a lay minister to continue her youth ministry? What?! Can you imagine the kinds of mixed messages this sends to parishioners? "She's a bad role model and she engages in a lifestyle the Bible says is wrong, and she claims that what she's doing is morally acceptable, contrary to the Bible, so we're not going to let her serve communion, but she can still BE THE FACE OF CHRISTIANITY to a group of kids and TEACH THEM HOW TO LIVE THEIR LIVES." This is ridiculous. By the way, the above statements about being open to all notwithstanding, there is a Biblical precedent for excommunication. See Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5 for instructions. There are also a couple of examples elsewhere in Paul's epistles, which I don't feel like taking the time to locate right now (but please don't just take my word for it, this is the Word of the Living God we're talking about: Look it up! If you can't find it I'll be glad to help you out). Note that I've never actually witnessed a church perform an excommunication in the proper Biblical fashion. Most who do practice church discipline do it wrong. The biggest mistake is the belief that excommunication is forever. As you can see from the Matthew passage, excommunication is a disciplinary tool used in the hopes of convincing the individual to repent.

Secondly, the Bible isn't actually in support of having female clergy in the first place, but that's another post. Perhaps if these few lines of text actually get read and generate a bit of uproar I'll take the time to write justifying this view. On the whole this second thing is not particularly important, I just had to bring it up because it seems to be somewhat relevant to the situation I'm talking about.

Thirdly, how did it come about that 6 clergy members believe that what she did was wrong, but she should be allowed to continue being a pastor? She has no remorse, she doesn't believe she's doing anything wrong, and she is going to continue to live with this woman and commit homosexual acts. If a pastor is doing anything which his church believes to be immoral and he does not agree that it is wrong and has no interest in repenting or changing his behavior, he should not continue to pastor that church, and there shouldn't be any debate about it. What's the deal?

In conclusion: I applaud the United Methodist Church for standing up and being counter-cultural and not politically correct in our time the way the authors of Scripture were counter-cultural in theirs. However, they don't go far enough. For the record, a pastor friend of mine was nearly disordained by the United Methodist Arch-Diocese of Washington (state) some years ago for siding with the national organization in opposition to homosexuality over and against the diocese. He ultimately switched denominations (his conference in the other denomination recently split over the issue. The Church universal is in a real mess over this issue.). The United Methodists, and most major denominations, could do much better by consulting the Bible FIRST and everything else LATER. And that's all I have to say about that.

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March 06, 2003

Youth Bible Study!

The youth Bible study I have been asked to teach is on for Thursdays at 7:00 PM beginning March 20, 2003 at Palouse Community Chapel (on Church street in Palouse) in the "Berean Room" (upstairs, just behind the sanctuary). I have not yet determined what we will be studying. I would prefer to go with either James or the Sermon on the Mount, but if no one likes these I also have notes ready on Ephesians and I will be finished studying 1 Timothy by the time the bible study starts.

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March 02, 2003

Teen Center News

I'm going to miss the next three weeks of teen center. This Friday I will be up at Ross Point having student leader training for the upcoming Spring Retreat. The following weekend I will be on a Chrysalis, and the weekend after that is the Spring Retreat at Ross Point. This Friday Bobbi and Tim and Courtney will be there (Shelly is going to be gone too). Mark Sawyer will probably be around one of the other weeks, and Shelly should be around for the other two. I'm hoping to find one more person who can fill in.

In related news, a band called PUREjOY should be down from Mead, Washington some time in May. Disciple (get their mp3s here, and be sure to buy their new album, "Back Again", that came out last Wednesday!) may be coming next fall. I still haven't heard from Lystra's Silence, but I'm working on booking them also. Should be fun!

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