Thursday, July 13, 2017

The need for confessions of faith to address sexuality

(This is a revised post in light of the clarification today [July 13] by Eugene Peterson that he does not support same-sex marriage.)

I have not read anything by Eugene Peterson, retired pastor and well-known author of The Message paraphrase and many other books. Many evangelicals I respect testify they have benefited greatly from his writings.

In an interview published Wednesday (July 12), Peterson is quoted saying he now supports same-sex marriage. A day later, he issued a retraction and clarification, saying he does not support same-sex marriage. By doing so, he removes his name from being likely the best known person identified with the evangelical movement to change his mind about this contentious issue. Instead, other individuals -- such as author/speaker Jen Hatmaker -- and churches such as GracePointe Church in Nashville, Tenn., continue to lead the way among those identified with evangelicalism in adopting a position on human sexuality contrary to the Bible and millennia of church teaching.

Undoubtedly, they will not be the last to abandon Scripture and Christ's church on this issue. It is possible theirs could eventually be remembered as the early faces of what turned out to be a wave of professing evangelicals who departed from orthodoxy on marriage and sexuality. I hope no such wave develops, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to withstand the cultural pressure to compromise.

For now, such desertions by people and congregations regarded as evangelical constitute part of the reason for churches to make clear what they believe about marriage and sexuality. That is why the members of our church, Covenant Community Church of Fredericksburg, Va., adopted last year a new article in our Confession of Faith to explain what we believe based on the Bible.

Here is our article on "Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality," with Scripture references included:

God has created each person as either male or female. Rejection of this biological state is a rejection of the role of each person in bearing the image of God. Marriage is the uniting of only one man and only one woman in a lifetime covenant, providing a picture of the union between Christ and His church, the exclusive context for sexual expression, and the means for procreation of the human race. (Gen. 1:27-28, 2:18-25; Ex. 20:14; Ps. 127:3; Prov. 5:15-20; Mal. 2:13-16; Matt. 5:31-32, 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 1:18-32; I Cor. 6:9-20, 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33; Heb. 13:4)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Corporate worship prep 101 (Redux)

(This blog post appeared for the first time in November 2015. I am reposting it in order to reboot, in essence, a series on corporate worship that went no where after the initial post. I hope this series will encourage Covenant Community Church -- and others who may follow this blog -- toward a deeper understanding of and commitment to corporate worship.)

To worship faithfully with other Christians who are part of the same church family is a battle -- a battle we seem to fight with our culture and ourselves.

Some of us are old enough to remember when our society carved out time from business, sports and other enterprises in deference to Christians who gather to worship. That time is long gone. The church is not dependent on the culture for its help. The church must be the church. Sometimes that means doing things that are counter-cultural.

Increasingly, worshiping publicly with a church family is counter-cultural. By merely leaving our homes Sunday after Sunday to worship a crucified and risen Galilean, we are giving witness to the value of Jesus the Messiah in our lives.

Yet, we struggle with ourselves, it seems, to value that corporate gathering and to esteem our fellow Christ-followers the way the New Testament demonstrates we should.

Much of this battle within the believing community appears to be in how we regard Sunday's corporate worship in comparison, or contrast, to other activities that cry out for our commitment. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves that I hope will stimulate Covenant Community Church and others in considering how to think about the gathering of God's people on the Lord's Day:

-- Do I and the other members of my household consider Sunday's worship as a church the most important gathering we will participate in during the week?

-- Do I recognize God awaits and desires my presence to worship Him as part of His redeemed community?

-- Do I realize Jesus has rescued me so that I might be one of the "true worshipers" (John 4:21-24), including in the weekly gathering of the church He has founded and is building?

-- Do I regard my brothers and sisters in the church as more important than myself, recognizing my presence is a first and indispensable step in the New Testament charge to encourage and "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24)?

-- Do I cordon off the time my church meets for worship to prevent other activities from intruding?

-- Do I schedule my Saturdays so that I will be rested for full participation in worshiping God with His people?

I realize there are exceptions to every general rule. This is not an attempt to establish rules for our church. Grace still rules in our fellowship.

Christianity is much more than corporate worship. But it is not less than faithful corporate worship.

* -- Photo attribution

Friday, July 7, 2017

News and Good News

This latest edition of "News and good news" arrives during the week we celebrated our country's birthday.

It is a blessing to live in a constitutional republic with its guarantees of such freedoms as religious exercise and speech. This country has benefited not only its citizens but those beyond its borders, extending a helping hand to many beleaguered people around the world. Yet, we also have failed to live up to our founding promises, and we continue to do so.

As usual, the Fourth of July found evangelical churches responding to our country's birthday in a variety of ways. Some may have ignored it; others celebrated it with patriotic services. The choir and orchestra of one Southern Baptist mega-church even performed a "Celebrate Freedom" concert July 1 at the Kennedy Center at which they premiered the new song "Make America Great Again" with President Trump in attendance.

In our worship as a church last Sunday, we had no patriotic service or sermon. Our acknowledgment of the Fourth of July came in prayer. I expressed thanksgiving for our country and prayed for our leaders, especially our president, during a prayer of intercession. During our corporate time of sharing and prayer, we prayed again for God's guidance for our governing leaders. As we do each Sunday, we sought to indicate in all we did Jesus is the Head of the most important government and reigns as Lord, while we live under the human authorities God has placed over us.

In all the messages I came across in recent days regarding evangelicals' thoughts about our country's birthday, this tweet by Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Mich., was my favorite: "Jesus didn't come to build a Christian nation, he came to build his church as a refuge & witness to the nations."

Here are some recent news articles of interest to us as evangelicals:

1. Child caught in battle between parents and hospital -- This heart-rending case of a British infant has gained worldwide attention. So far, the parents of Charlie Gard have lost their battle with a hospital and the courts to gain experimental treatment for him or take him home to die. Today (July 7) brought some hope the hospital might change its position. Evangelical ethicists discuss the issues involved here.

2. New survey shows generational divide among evangelicals over same-sex marriage -- A new public opinion poll shows nearly half of white Gen X and millennial evangelical Christians (those born after 1964) support gay marriage, far more than evangelicals of older generations. Is that support by younger generations "paper thin," as a Focus on the Family spokesman contends?

3. Will the separation of sex from procreation be complete in two or three decades? -- In a prediction that seems to be out of the movie "Gattaca" or the book Brave New World, a Stanford professor says babies will be made out of skin and other stem cells within 20 to 30 years. This will not only further transform the meaning of sex but raise ethical questions about genetic screening and other issues. Even the professor acknowledges: It implicitly suggests that some traits, and thus some people, are preferable to others. This article opens and closes crudely, but it raises questions the church must confront.

4. Supreme Court delivers important win for religious liberty -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 a state violated the free exercise of religion when it prohibited a church from participating in a government-run, playground-resurfacing program. Despite the specific issue, the opinion could ultimately be far-reaching in its effect. This article assesses what its impact could be on school choice programs.

As usual, some of the news is encouraging, some discouraging. Regardless, the good news remains gloriously the same: Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Preach this to yourself: Death is defeated

(One of the most important exercises we as Christians can participate in is to preach the gospel to ourselves. Even as those who have been rescued by God, we can fail to understand fully -- or we can even neglect -- the message, the meaning and the manifold benefits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. This series is intended to provide some reminders of what Christ has accomplished for His people by His saving work so we would think and live as intended in light of the gospel.)

"Death is stalking me."

This thought crossed my mind hours after my medical check-up nearly two weeks ago. That doesn’t mean I received devastating news about my health. I didn’t.

And this reality is nothing new. Death has been stalking me ever since I entered the world. My latest doctor's appointment – which doubled as sort of a welcome-to-Medicare session – served to help me recognize this life-long truth a little better. My doctor and I discussed things about my health and my future we hadn’t discussed before. As a result, I became aware of my vulnerability in a way I had not.

What I came to understand better was something we all live with as human beings: Death stalks us. And it will get us if our Redeemer doesn’t came back for us beforehand. For those who have been rescued from sin but aren't rescued from death, there is great news. Death is a defeated foe.

Death is our reality, because sin is our nature. Death came through sin (Rom. 5:12). We all are sinners, so we all will die.

The gospel of Jesus doesn't prevent death. It defeats death, which the Bible describes as "the last enemy that will be abolished" (I Cor. 15:26).

That same chapter opens with the gospel. By the end, the apostle Paul declares the verdict on death in light of the gospel -- which has the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at its center: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54b-55).

Those in God's family are not immune to devastating grief in the face of death, whether we are the ones staying or departing. Yet, we can be assured death is not the final victor. The gospel tells us death is defeated and an even more glorious life awaits us who are in Christ, the resurrected Lord.

Todd Billings, a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., is living with incurable cancer. He told The Gospel Coalition in an interview published today: "I’m incredibly grateful for life and breath now, but I’m also getting more and more expectant for the age to come — to see Christ face to face, and to be made like him, with the whole church, in ways I can only faintly imagine now."

That is our future as well because of the gospel. Let's address our fear at least in part by preaching this gospel-centric message to ourselves before death comes for us or our loved ones: Death is defeated.

Photo credit: Slavik Gurmeza