Progressive Christianity

Twisting the nose of Jesus

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I am neither an untrue man … nor a mere nose of wax to be twisted this way and that

Sir Walter Scott

True north in the confusion over human sexuality and marriage is what the Scriptures teach. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 19, affirming Genesis 1-2.

This is what Christians have always believed. Until recently. What changed? Western culture changed.

When I make this point, the response is sometimes, well it is more complicated than that. We have to balance what Jesus taught on marriage with what he taught about love.

So now we have loving Jesus versus Jesus the authority on marriage in the 1st century. In the 21st century, we prefer the loving Jesus. And we get to define the true nature of love.

These are attempts to create Jesus in our image. Jesus is Lord, his words are the words of the living God. For all time in all cultures.

Disciples are those who are learning to obey his teachings, not avoid them (Matthew 28: 18-20).

So the real Jesus has a problem with sexual sin in ALL its forms. It’s better to pluck out an eye than give yourself to sexual sin and find yourself in hell (Matthew 5:29). God will judge us if we give ourselves over to sexual sin. To be silent about this is not an act of love — unless Jesus got it wrong. But then you wouldn’t be his follower, obeying his teaching.

The real Jesus welcomed the woman who wept at his feet (Luke 7:36-50). He announced to a room of men who were judging her, “Her sins are many.” And her sins are forgiven. Her faith saved her from God’s judgment. She went home at peace with God.

Who is this man, who welcomes sinners and forgives them?

Jesus took sexual sin seriously, warned against it, and gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He died so we could be forgiven and know new life through the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our sexual brokenness and sin. There is a Savior.

So don’t twist Jesus’ nose. He is the one hope we have of being rescued from our brokenness, our shame, and our sin — in all its forms.

Gotta Serve Somebody


You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody


Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody 
 

I was saddened to hear recently of Eugene Peterson’s on again, off again support for same-sex marriage.

He’s written some great books on spiritual formation. I particularly recall his reflections on Jonah: Under an Unpredictable Plant.

His writings are a great help in learning obedience to God's word. He wrote as a man under God's word. That's where he should have remained.

For thousands of years, the Jewish-Christian scriptures have clearly spoken on the nature of marriage. Jesus made it clear he stood in that tradition (Matt 19). One man, one woman for the whole of life, forsaking all others.

No Christian scholar has questioned that teaching, until recently. The cultural wind has changed and now influential leaders are taking advantage of it. Or at least remaining silent for fear of alienating the people who attend their churches and conferences, buy their books and read their blogs.

Jesus warned (Matt 24) that in the time before his return false prophets and false messiahs would emerge and attempt to deceive God’s people. The love of many will grow cold. Despite this falling away, the gospel will be preached throughout the world. God will triumph.

Paul warned the Ephesian elders that after he left, "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock" (Acts 20: 29). We’re at war. Expect incoming missiles, expect casualties. Why then did Paul leave? What resources did the Ephesians have to remain true to what they had received? Just two—Paul committed them to the Word and the Holy Spirit.

Ask yourself, whose word is supreme? Ours or God’s? Progressive or liberal Christianity places human experience, culture and rationality above Scripture. Start there and anything goes.

The incarnate Son of God submitted his life and ministry to the living Word of God, we must do the same. Place culture above the Word and you’ll live a peaceful life, accepted by those around you as enlightened. The pressure to conform is enormous. You won't be a target if you remain silent or even better, bow the knee and sacrifice to the Emperor. Get your certificate of approval.

In 250, the Emperor Decius ordered everyone in the Empire to sacrifice to the Roman gods and to the well-being of the Emperor. The sacrifices were to be performed before a magistrate and a certificate issued confirming the act. The religious motivation was minimal. The Emperor wanted to know that his subjects were loyal to the state. Yet Christians died rather than bow to the demands of a pagan culture.

A disciple is someone who is learning to obey what Jesus commanded (Matt 28). No matter what the price. In the end, we all have to choose. Has God spoken? Do we place our lives under the authority of his Word? Do we follow the example of Jesus who went the Cross rather than disobey the Father?

Satan offered Jesus the world if he would bow. Jesus chose instead "It is written!." He preferred the Cross to expediency.

Defending a Scandal

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Southern Baptists have passed a resolution defending the truth that Christ died for our sins, in our place, taking upon himself God's just judgment on sin.

Why the need?

Every generation must choose whether to affirm what the Scriptures have always taught. Ours is no exception. In the 1960s mainline liberal Protestantism turned its back on orthodoxy. Now progressive evangelicals are repeating their error. 

Red Letter Christians — following the spirit of the age and French Catholic philosopher Rene Girad — reject the notion of a God who requires the sacrifice of his Son for sin.

At a popular level, William Paul Young (The Shack) has said the idea that Christ died as a substitute sacrifice to save sinners and satisfy the just wrath of God the Father — is a “monstrous,” “evil,” and “a terrible doctrine.”

So well done Southern Baptists for affirming what the Scriptures have always taught.

Movements decline and decay when they drift and deny their core beliefs. They remain dynamic when they stay true to core beliefs and adapt their methods to reach a changing world.

Want to learn more?

 

Did Jesus believe the Bible?

I stumbled on a blog post recently that compared the cool rebel Jesus with the faithful Bible-believers who handed him over to be crucified.

Here's how the writer described Jesus' opponents,

They aggressively studied apologetics so they could argue publicly to prove him wrong. They were sticking to the Bible. They were faithful believers who knew the Bible. They understood the Bible. They understood the character of God. They were the only group of people on Earth who had the holy scriptures and writings that documented the promises and the law of the one true living God. They were the believers. They were believers, and they nailed the heretic to the cross.

Strong words that pit Jesus against his opponents and characterise the Pharisees and Sadducees as first century Bible-believers.

The problem is, Jesus believed his Bible. According to Jesus, the Scripture cannot be broken. He came to fulfil its promises.

In the wilderness Satan used the Bible against Jesus, yet Jesus countered each time with, "It is written. . ."

Jesus' authority was based on the true meaning of Scripture.

When his opponents asked him about marriage, he replied “Haven’t you read…” and went on to quote the Old Testament and equate the words of Scripture with the words of God (Matt 19:4-6).

Jesus replied, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matt 22:29).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted his teaching with what his audience had heard.

You have heard it said
But I say to you

Was Jesus overturning the authority of Scripture and replacing it with his own words? 

The key is the phrase, “you have heard it said”. According to Ellis, this phrase is never used to introduce the writings of Scripture. Instead Jesus is contrasting the true meaning of Scripture with the traditions and interpretations of his opponents.

For the sake of your traditions you nullify the word of God (Matt 15:6).

Jesus’ teachings did not overturn Scripture but brought out its true meaning. God is not just opposed to murder, he’s opposed to hatred. He’s not just against adultery, but he rejects lust. That's the true meaning of Scripture, not a new meaning of Scripture.

Jesus brought out and intensified the true meaning of Scripture.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus reject the authority of the Old Testament. He came to fulfil the Scriptures, not overturn them. The God of the Old Testament is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.

That's why in the days following the resurrection Jesus was careful to walk his disciples through the whole of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi. He was preparing them for their world-wide mission. The mission of the risen Lord is founded upon a right understanding of the Old Testament—the Bible Jesus read and believed.

Beware of those who would have you believe otherwise. They may be 21st century opponents of Jesus, placing their word above God's word.

[ed. With some help from: Earle Ellis, How Jesus Interpreted His Bible.]

Theology Matters

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Why do progressive/liberal/mainline churches decline?

For years academics and church officials have denied that decline has anything to do with beliefs. Decline resulted from external factors, not internal factors.

Former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, claimed that since Episcopalians were better-educated and cared for the earth, they had lower birth rates than other Christians.

Recently a Canadian study has concluded that theology does matter.

The authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy surveyed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, and conducted interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants.

Some of the results:

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches. 
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches. 
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches. 
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

About two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

Why study the decline of the Protestant mainline? We watch and learn, or their future will become ours.

If this is the future of the United Methodists....

If this is the future of the United Methodists, they have no future.

The right has the prosperity gospel. The left has the green gospel.

When will we learn that there is no “other gospel”. There is no other foundation.

PC USA collapse picks up speed

PCUSA membership chart 2014

The PCUSA is a church made up of vibrant congregations doing their best to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities and in the world. Membership declines continue, but on a whole the denomination is settling into the new thing God is creating.

Gradye Parsons, top official of the PC (USA)

The PCUSA has announced it’s largest ever percentage decline for the year 2014. The denomination has lost a staggering 645,895 members since 2005, 28% of the denomination’s members.

Every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.

UPDATE: It's not all bad news for the Presbyterians...