The Significance of Anointing in the Bible

In Luke 4:18 Jesus claims that he has been anointed a Messianic Prophet:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (Luke 4:18 ESV)

What does it mean to be anointed, and why was Jesus anointed? Well, both the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible for anointing literally mean “to smear oil on something.” Yet the question arises, what does smearing oil on something have to do with preparing one for ministry? In the Bible we know that priests, kings, and prophets were all anointed. What is it about rubbing or smearing oil on someone that is beneficial for these tasks?

If we study ancient near eastern bathing practices we find that oil had a prominent place in bathing. Oil was used like we use soap, to aid the water in the cleaning process. Also, oil was used after the bath in order to protect the skin against the harsh arid climates surrounding the Mediterranean.  We see evidence for this in the Bible in 2 Sam. 12:20. Therefore we see that oil aides the water and oil protects the body.

What else does oil do? We also find in the Scriptures in Psalm 104:15 that oil makes the face shine. Shining faces speak of glory. When Moses went in to speak with God, he had a shining face. So rubbing oil on the head and face makes one glorious.

What else? We also find in the Scriptures and in other ancient sources that the weapons of warriors, and even the warriors themselves would be anointed with oil for battle. The purpose is unclear, but it seems to have served a protective purpose. Thus we see that anointing is for cleansing and protection, to aid in battle, and to give one a glorious shine.

Yet Jesus stands up in the synagogue and says: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me.” Now this removes the physical oil completely from the equation and reduces the anointing to its spiritual significance. Yet we must not forget what an anointing with oil does: it cleanses, it protects, it makes ready for battle, and it glorifies. Here we see that the spiritual reality of an anointing is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, this anointing which Jesus is proclaiming about himself occurred at his baptism, where he was washed with water, and the oil of the Spirit aided the baptism and was applied to Jesus in conjunction with the water. After His baptism, Jesus is now the Messiah, the Anointed One, and he is cleansed, protected, glorified, and made ready for his new ministry (battle) that is before him.

Maybe you bristled just now when I said that Jesus was cleansed by his baptism and his anointing. “Wait a second,” you say, “ wasn’t Jesus perfectly sinless? Why then did he need to be cleansed?” Well, I agree that Jesus was perfectly sinless. Yet he was made incarnate into our own fallen human flesh. It wasn’t his own sin for which he needed to be cleansed, but for the sins of all of us. Jesus was baptized for us so that we could follow him through the waters of baptism into the new creation that he is bringing into the world. The cleansing of his baptism and anointing, therefore, cleansed our fallen humanity and readied it to be able to “pass through the heavens,” (Heb. 4:14) to sit at the right hand of God as the Ruler and Judge of the entire cosmos.

The Christian claim that the omnipotent creator of the universe suffered himself to be born into our fallen, broken human flesh as a helpless baby in the humiliating environs of a cattle stall is quite ridiculous when you think about it. About as ridiculous as that same God suffering himself to be executed on a shameful Roman cross for the salvation of a humanity that would not receive him.

What is Advent, and why Should I Celebrate It?

Image
This Sunday, December 2, 2012 is the first Sunday of the new church year and the first Sunday in Advent.

But what is Advent and why should I as a Christian be concerned with observing Advent?

This question goes a bit deeper into questions of observing the church year in general. Should Christians be concerned with observing special dates and festivals during the cycle of the year?

I would argue, yes. There are many reasons in favor of observing the church year, but let’s consider just one of those briefly. Just reflect for a moment on our civil calendar. Every year we have a cycle that affects our lives, our decisions, when we travel, when we shop, what we eat, and more – based on the civil calendar of the United States of America. This calendar is designed to make us good citizens and remind us of the major milestones of our national history. It shapes and forms our hearts and minds. The US civil calendar disciples us. It makes us into good little American disciples.

Now, there is some value in this, and I’m not against having a civil calendar, but we are being completely naive if we think that this worldly calendar doesn’t need to have the necessary counterbalance that the church calendar provides us. The civil calendar teaches us to honor and remember, but it also breeds in us a nationalistic zeal that makes us myopic with regard to the world around us. We have to understand that if we shun the church calendar, the only calendar we will have is the civil calendar, and it will be the only annual rhythmic influence on our lives and on our children’s lives. That’s very significant to consider.

Seen in this way, the church year provides a balance to the messages we receive from the calendars that this world provides. In the church calendar, each year we are taught to hope for justice and long for the coming of a Savior (Advent), to celebrate that Savior’s incarnation as God in our own flesh (Christmas), to bask in the glow of the light that the Son of God shines in our dark world (Epiphany), to mourn our own contributions to this world’s brokenness and darkness and the fact that the Son of God had to die to fix it (Lent), to rejoice in the great victory that Jesus Christ won on the cross and the vindication of Him by His Father when He raised Him from the dead (Easter), to celebrate that this man Jesus is now glorified and ascended to heaven and now rules all the entire universe (Ascension), to ponder anew the great power and dignity that he has bestowed on us by sending His Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us (Pentecost), and to take up the mantle as the Church Militant to extend the glorious reign of Christ to all the reaches of the Earth (Trinity Season). Each year this pattern forms Christians and shapes them into Christian disciples.

We need this counter-formation. We as Christians cannot keep our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t need a Christian calendar to provide balance to the worldly calendars all around us. If we do not offer a counter-formation to the liturgies of the world, then we as the church will be producing disciples that are no different from those in the world around us. We will be self-centered, greedy, entertainment hungry, individualistic, sex crazed, bloodthirsty robots. And isn’t this who we are already? Aren’t these the kinds of disciples our churches are already churning out? Is this what we want to be like? What we want our children to be like?

Now, I’m not advocating that we should remove ourselves from the world, far from it! We as Christians need to be engaged in the world and in the culture so that we can have a voice to its direction and so that we can relate to our friends and neighbors as we share Christ’s love with them. And neither am I claiming that celebrating the church year is some kind of panacea that will cure all our ills and make us all perfect little Christian disciples. Yet, we must see that the calendar of this world is affecting us, and that we desperately need a counterbalance and counter-formation to the formation that the world provides. The church year is not religious formalism. It is not dead religiosity. No, when conceived of properly and with the proper pastoral leadership, observation of the church year can provide an antidote to the poisons that this world delivers to us and which we greedily lap up every single day.

You see, the church calendar provides a disposition. It provides an outlook, a worldview. It gives us something to carry us over from Sunday to Sunday and even to look ahead to weeks and months in the future. It gives us good gospel themes to consider and good godly  disciplines to practice. The church calendar makes us wait, watch, pray, and long before we dive headlong into the celebrations of the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. We must long for the coming of Christ and have instilled in us a deep frustration and desire that he would come before we revel in the joys of Christmas morning. It makes us consider the deep hurts and brokenness of this world and long for their restitution before we celebrate the victory that will lead to their banishment.

And this, in short, is the reason for Advent. Celebrating Christmas without advent is what theologians call having an over-realized eschatology: celebrating the victory of Jesus Christ (which is very true and real) without also mourning the fact that in many ways it is not yet reached its consummation. Celebrating Christmas without Advent is like skipping your vegetables and jumping straight for the luxurious chocolate cake or the sumptuous apple pie à la mode. Dessert is wonderful, and something that should be a part of our lives, but if we skip the vegetables and go right to the dessert we will be fat and malnourished.

That’s where we are as American Christians. We are fat and malnourished. We need to eat our vegetables. We need the expectation and patient longing of Advent before we dive headlong into Christmas.

A Collect for Reformation Sunday

Here is a collect I wrote for Reformation Sunday, which is this Sunday, October 28.

Each year the Reformed Churches solemnize the Sunday closest to October 31 in commemoration of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. I have composed this prayer in a manner that celebrates all reformations throughout all times in every branch of the Church, and prays for the Lord to continue that reform.

Heavenly Father,
You have set Your Son Jesus Christ as Head of the Church and Your Holy Spirit to guide her into all truth.
We give You thanks for our fathers in the faith who reformed Your Church in ages past,
and we pray that You would so guide her so that she is being continually reformed according to Your Word;
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord;
Amen.

Feel free to reproduce this prayer and use it in your worship and prayers this week.

to an athlete dying young

the time you won your town the race
we chaired you through the market-place
man and boy stood cheering by
and home we brought you shoulder high

today, the road all runners come
shoulder-high we bring you home
and set you at your threshold down
townsman of a stiller town

smart lad, to slip betimes away
from fields where glory does not stay
and early though the laurel grows
it withers quicker than the rose

eyes the shady night has shut
cannot see the record cut
and silence sounds no worse than cheers
after earth has stopped the ears

now you will not swell the rout
of lads that wore their honors out
runners whom renown outran
and the name died before the man

so set, before its echoes fade
the fleet foot on the sill of shade
and hold to the low lintel up
the still-defended challenge-cup

and round that early-laurelled head
will flock to gaze the strengthless dead
and find unwithered on its curls
the garland briefer than a girl’s

-A. E. Housman, 1896

Why Do We Say the Long Ending of the Lord’s Prayer?

A leaf from the Codex Alexandrinus, a 5th century copy of the Bible in the Byzantine textual tradition.

This question came to me from a parishioner: “In the Lord’s Prayer, why do we say, ‘For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,’ if it is not in the Bible?”

I thought it was such a good question, I wanted to share my answer here for everyone’s benefit.

There are basically two issues at play. One is pretty simple and the other is a little more complicated.

First the simple one. Though our modern bibles tend to omit the phrase, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” it has a very long history of being used in worship in the church. For example, the Didache is a Christian text written in the first century AD (around the year 90AD) shortly after the Bible itself was completed. Didache has quite a bit in it about worship, and it text has the long ending of the Lord’s Prayer in it. So we know that this line was used in worship from the earliest times.

Also, there is certainly nothing wrong with the phrase. The words themselves come from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV)

So, there’s certainly nothing wrong with praying this part of the prayer. It is theologically sound and it is biblical. Furthermore, it has a long tradition in the worship of the church (as long as can possibly be).

So, what is the conclusion? It is fine to pray this part of the prayer and it is also fine not to. It is simply a matter of choice. The one who does not pray it is fine not to do so, and the one who prays it is likewise fine. This is what we call in theological discussions a matter of adiaphora, which is Greek for a choice which is left to one’s discretion.

Now to the second, more complicated, issue. This part of the discussion involves the history of the texts of the Bible as well as the history of the Protestant Reformation.

You ask, “Why do we pray [it] when it is not in the Bible?” Well, the fact that this is not in the Bible is not certain. This is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Granted most biblical scholars will say that it is not original to the text of Matthew. But this is a guess on their part. A very educated guess based on solid scholarship, yet a guess nonetheless.

You see, the text of the New Testament you hold in your hand is based on two different families of manuscripts. One family is called the Alexandrian and the other the Byzantine. On 99% of New Testament these two families agree. Yet they differ on some points. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is one of them.

First let me tell you about these two families of texts.  By far, most of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that we (and by “we” I mean the scholarly community) have are of the Byzantine family. The oldest of the Byzantine texts dates back to the 4th century. That’s about as far back as we go with complete texts of the Bible. The Byzantine family is also the basis for the text used in the King James Bible.

Then we have the Alexandrian family. There are far fewer texts of the Alexandrian family and they weren’t discovered until the 19th century or so (when I say discovered, I mean that Western scholars didn’t know about them). Biblical scholars like the texts of the Alexandrian family because they are cleaner (meaning there are fewer variations between them) and they omit some of these section of the bible (like the ending of the Lord’s Prayer and the long ending of Mark). For biblical scholars, shorter = simpler = less contaminated = closer to the original. Almost always when the Byzantine differs from the Alexandrian, biblical scholars will go with the Alexandrian. This is a generalization, but it is normally the case.

So the New Testament you hold in your hand is mostly of the Alexandrian family, while the King James is of the Byzantine. Thus there are the differences.

Now for the Church history part (if you are still with me I commend you!). The Greek version of the New Testament was not copied very much in the West (by “West” I mean Europe, for the most part), because the Western Church relied on the Latin Vulgate as their main biblical translation. St. Jerome translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek in the 4th century. Jerome was an excellent scholar, and his translation is pretty good, as long as you can read Latin.

The Reformers understood that most people couldn’t read Latin and their emphasis was to get the Bible into the language of the people. Some of the earlier (before the Reformation) translations of the Bible, into English for example, were done from the Latin Vulgate, which isn’t a horrible thing, but it is one step removed from the original.

At the time of the Reformation there was a parallel academic movement called “humanism” and one of the tenets of humanism was ad fontes, which means “return to the source.” Thus the humanists, whether they were Protestant or Roman Catholic, were seeking to produce a text of the Bible in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Erasmus was one of these humanists who became a Roman Catholic. Luther was another who, of course, became Protestant.

In search of Greek texts of the New Testament the humanists were forced to go to the Byzantine family, because it was all they could find. Thus the earliest modern versions of the Greek New Testament were of this Byzantine type and subsequently the English translations coming out of the Reformation were also of Byzantine type. As a result, they all uniformly included the long ending of the Lord’s Prayer.

We also have to appreciate the church politics going on here. The Roman Catholic worship service did not include the long ending of the prayer. Imagine when the Protestant Reformers discovered that the exclusion of the long ending in the Roman version of the Prayer was not biblical! They certainly were going to include that version of the prayer in their Reformed worship services, now weren’t they?

Also these Byzantine texts were coming from the Greek Orthodox Church. That’s because they continue to use the Greek text of the New Testament as their Bible to this day. The Reformers had some affinity to the Greek Church because, well, they weren’t Roman Catholic. Furthermore, the Greek Church represented a church that was every bit as old as the Roman Church and was at odds with the Roman Church just like they were. So you can imagine why the Protestant Reformers would have some reason to side with the Greeks on this issue. If you read any writings from the Reformation era you will see how bitterly at odds they were with each other.

So, as a matter of liturgical history, the long ending of the prayer was not used in Roman Catholic services but it was in Protestant ones. This is still mostly true to this day.

Fast forward to the 19th century. In the 19th century Western scholars discovered some biblical texts that were different from the texts they were used to. They began to see similarities between these newly discovered texts and saw that they formed a family of texts. This is when they began to call one family Alexandrian (because it comes from Egypt) and the other Byzantine (because it comes from Greece).

Now the picture of the history of the Bible became a little clearer. What seems to have happened with the Lord’s Prayer is that in the Greek East the longer ending was added to the prayer. This did not happen in the Western churches because Jerome (who was based out of the Middle East) likely used an Alexandrian text type for his translation into the Latin. So we have two strands of liturgical history: the Western churches not using the long ending, but the Eastern churches do use it. Thus we see that at a very early date (as far back as we can go) the Byzantine texts have the long ending, but the Alexandrian texts do not.

But who is to say if the Byzantine ones added it, or the Alexandrian ones somehow lost it? Who’s to say that there weren’t two copies of Matthew circulating? Who’s to say which one is correct? We are supposed to confess and believe that the academicians hold the key to the truth on this matter. Yet their own method directly privileges one textual tradition, the Alexandrian, over another and almost always goes with the shorter reading (which almost always is the Alexandrian). They say, and this is not a bad argument, that textual corruptions naturally enter into a text over time. Thus the Byzantine text has more corruptions. Yet because the Alexandrian texts were hermetically sealed in a vacuum they were free from corruption for something like 1,500 years. Think of the woolly mammoth frozen in ice. You can see why they prefer the Alexandrian if this narrative is true.

At first glance this sounds good. Yet what are we to do with the church for 1,500 years that had this particular “corrupted” Byzantine text? Was the Spirit absent with the church during this time? It is a complicated question.

In my Bible (an ESV) the footnote says, “Some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” And in the study note (it is the ESV Study Bible) it says, “This is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is why these words are omitted from most modern translations,” (emphasis added).

Now, I think I take issue with that. The oldest? Well, technically maybe. The two oldest and best (and by best here I mean complete) examples of the Alexandrian tradition, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, both date to the 4th century. The oldest and best examples of the Byzantine, the Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Washintonianus, date to, wait for it… the 4th or 5th century. Oldest? Not by much.

What about “most reliable”? That’s a judgment based on the “hermetically sealed” and “shorter = better” parts we were talking about above. Yet if both the Alexandrian and the Byzantine were circulating at the same time from the earliest of dates 300s-400s (Which is, by the way, when the making of books as opposed to papyrus scrolls became more of the norm. Codex is another word for a book.) who’s to say which is better? What about the argument that the text that “won” should be privileged in a reading like this? There’s no debating that up until 100 years ago the Byzantine text had won, at least among those who actually spoke Greek. The Alexandrian text had for all intents and purposes disappeared and was not a version of the Bible that was actively being used. It was a museum artifact. We have to ask ourselves why the Byzantine came to be privileged over the Alexandrian. What was the role of the Spirit in all of this? Again, complicated questions.

So, you see, the “fact” that this is not in the Bible is not a certainty. It has been in the Bible in the East for 2,000 years. It was not a part of the Bible in the Latin West for 2,000 years. It has been in the Bible for the Protestant West for 500 years. It has recently been again removed from the Bible in the Protestant West.

Back to my point on adiaphora. Whether or not this is in the Bible, it is certainly fine to say it. It is a Protestant tradition to say it, and this tradition connects with the oldest traditions of the Church.

My preference is to say it because it is the more catholic (universal) thing to do, in other words, more Christians over the scope of Christian history, and even today, have said it, so I’ll go with saying it.

But if the church across the street does not say it, it’s OK too. It’s not something to worry a whole lot about, in my opinion.

I bet that was a whole lot more than you ever figured you would get out of that question!

Tim’s Low Country Boil

I love shrimp. Low Country Boil is just another shrimp delivery device (and one not mentioned by Bubba IIRC) that combines the key male necessities of eating with one’s hands, quick preparation and cooking, cooking outside with large propane fueled contraptions and huge pots that may or may not be converted beer kegs, delivering a large amount of tasty food for little cost and trouble, something do to while drinking beer and shooting the breeze, removing the need for things like plates, utensils, and the cleaning thereof, an occasion to use a small towel as a dinner napkin, and adding to the opportunity to eat shrimp other things men like to eat like sausage, taters, and corn on the cob.

I have found that the ladies also enjoy partaking of the Low Country Boil.

Here’s my recipe that will feed 15 or so adults.

Ingredients:
4 pounds raw de-veined shrimp, peeled or not (as an aside, y’all know that’s not a vein, right?)
2 14oz Polish Kielbasa Sausages, cut into two inch pieces
3-5 pounds new (small) red potatoes, washed and cut in half.
2 packs of 12 frozen mini ears of corn (shucked and de-husked)
1 can of Old Bay seasoning
4 lemons, halved
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
butter, salt, ketchup, and cocktail sauce
3 gallons of water
1 big honkin’ pot and the means to cook with it

OK so prepare all that food.  Make sure you have a heat source that will boil a bunch of water. Here’s mine:

Big honkin’ Bayou Classic Banjo burner. Beer can shown for scale.

Throw all your taters and onions in that pot and then add 3 gallons of water and dump the whole container of Old Bay in there. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. After you get to a boil wait five minutes, stirring periodically. After five minutes add the sausage and the corn. After you return to a boil, wait another 10 minutes, stirring as the Spirit leads. After 10 minutes check one of the taters to make sure it’s done. They are done when they are good and soft. Now add the shrimp and boil for 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp are pink.

Next you have to get rid of all the water. My “pot” is fitted with a spigot on the side (it doubles as a brewing kettle). Some folks have specially made colanders that they can lift out of the boil. Before I added the spigot, I fished out the food with a colander that has a handle on it. However you can manage.

Next, pour all it all out on a table covered in newspaper, spray that lemon juice all over it, and eat that mess of food. Do your corn up right with butter and salt, and dip your shrimp in the cocktail sauce and taters in the ketchup if you like. Be sure to have lots of towels handy to wipe your hands.

This recipe will feed 15 or so but if you have a large pot you can feed even more. We are going to do a church picnic soon feeding 50+ people. Lot’s of fun.

Don’t forget to drink beer and play washers or cornhole or something while you wait and after you eat.

Thoughts on 40th General Assembly, Part Four: Intinction

This is part four of a four part series. Part one can be found here. Part two here. Part three here.

The fourth part of my series on this year’s GA deals with the issue of intinction. Inctinction is a mode of administering the Lord’s Supper whereby bread is dipped (Latin: intinctum) into the wine and that dipped bread is given to the communicant to eat. This dipped bread suffices for receiving both the bread and the wine.

The practice of intinction has become more common in PCA circles these days. The reasons given are practical and theological. On the practical side there are arguments that state that the practice is quicker (for certain situations that require a quick communion service, like the military) and easier to consume (for situations where hospital chaplains are administering the Lord’s Supper to the sick and elderly). Then there is the theological argument that states that partaking of one common cup is both theologically and aesthetically more fitting for the rite of the Supper than all the little plastic cups. Then, these men move from this theological rationale to a sanitary concern that many people find it revolting to drink after others for fear of disease. Thus dipping bread into the common cup and then eating is found to be more palatable.

Many folks in the PCA are uncomfortable with the practice of intinction. In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally against the practice for both theological and biblical reasons. Yet there are a sizable group in our denomination who not only oppose the practice, but want to make it illegal to practice. I am not a member of this later group for reasons I will explain below.

What occurred at this GA is that an overture came from the Savannah River Presbytery (Overture 30) proposing an amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) that would make the practice of intinction illegal in the PCA. In committee this overture was actually answered in the negative by a vote of 49-37-2. This means that the overtures committee were against banning intinction in our denomination. That the committee decided this is significant and leads to a certain prognostication about how this will be received in the presbyteries. More on this below.

In the same way as the recommendations on paedocommunion and the creation of Adam,  the minority on the committee composed a minority report on this recommendation by the committee. Under our current rules, a minority coming from either the RPR or the Overtures Committee is allowed to make a minority report and make a substitute motion on the floor of the General Assembly. The substitute motion was, of course, to answer the overture in the affirmative, which would start the process of amending the BCO. More on this process below.

A few words should be said about the debate on this issue. First of all, the debate on this issue occurred in the Thursday night session, the last session of the GA. This session was held after dinner and worship, starting at 9PM. As you might imagine, attendance for this session was low, some 100 votes or more lower than the earlier sessions. You may draw your own conclusions as to who might be more likely to remain out at dinner and not make it back to the late night sessions.

Debate went on for a good while, but not for the entire allotted time of one hour. Those who spoke for the substitute (for the ban on intinction) made sweeping claims of “liturgical anarchy” (ed. note: what liturgy?) and stated that since the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of our church, we shouldn’t mess with it. They argued largely form scripture, from the institution narratives, especially 1 Corinthians 11.

Those who spoke against the substitute (against the ban) had several reasons. There were those practical and theological reasons stated above. In addition there were those, like myself, who do not believe that banning the practice is necessary. They argued that we should not be fighting over such relatively trivial matters, and that this strong armed maneuver would be injurious to the unity and peace of the church. Several who spoke against made the point that many of our churches already do not follow the letter of the biblical account nor our Confession by partaking of grape juice instead of wine. On a personal note: I felt that this was a very good point. How can people who do not obey the bible and instead use grape juice hold others to the fire for doing intinction? It just doesn’t make any sense.

After about 45 minutes the question was called and we proceded to vote. The vote was very close, and again, as with paedocommunion and the creation of Adam, a standing count was called for. When the dust settled, the substitute motion passed by 14 votes. Fourteen votes, my friends, out of 1,000 commissioners, that is all the majority could muster. Remember, there were 100 or so commissioners still out at “dinner.” I wonder how the vote would have broken down among them? I guess we’ll never know.

So what does this mean? First of all, it does not mean that intinction is now illegal in the PCA. The process to amend the BCO is a three step process and takes two years to complete. The first step is that it must pass GA. The second step is that it must pass 2/3 of all presbyteries by a majority vote. The third step is that it must pass the next GA.

I do not believe this will pass 2/3 of the presbyteries. My reasoning is twofold. First, because of the close nature of the vote on the floor of GA. The majority could not even muster a majority that would suffice as a statistical difference in any intro to statistics course. In other words, it may have passed, but it does not express the opinion of the majority, statistically speaking. To use election polling lingo, 14 votes is within the margin of error.

Secondly, I believe that the vote of the Overtures Committee better expresses the will of the PCA on this issue. The reason for this is that the Overtures Committee is a delegated body, meaning that only one elder and one pastor may come to that committee from each presbytery. The General Assembly, however, is not a delegated assembly. Every pastor and two elders from each particular church in the PCA may attend. Thus presbyteries that are closer to the Assembly, or who may have a greater proportional desire to engage on the GA level will be disproportionally represented in the GA. For this reason, I believe that this BCO amendment will not pass the presbyteries.

Lastly, what are we to make of all this? I said before that I was against the practice of intinction, but not for banning it. Why is this? Well, I am not for banning it because I do not believe that we should force our brothers to cease a practice that they of their own biblical and theological study and pastoral wisdom applied to their particular contexts have deemed is best for them and their congregations. I do however believe that we should engage in a debate and a discussion on this matter. My preference is that we would attempt to persuade our brothers, in love, and not to strong arm them. This is not the way of love. The world sees this and thinks, “Same old Christians. Same old junk.”

Yet, my overall impression is that entering into this first step of amending the BCO to ban intinction is a good thing. Why is that? I believe this because for the first time on the floor of GA I saw men taking out their bibles and making arguments from the scriptures regarding ritual and liturgical theology. I believe that this issue will force us to have rich conversations about what the bible has to say about ritual, liturgy, and sacramental theology, and I believe that that can and will be a good thing. I would encourage brothers in their presbyteries to have official colloquia at their stated meetings and invite men who are knowledgeable and studied on issues of biblical ritual, liturgics and sacraments to debate and discuss these issues. To be frank, our denomination has not reflected on these issues of ritual, liturgy, and the administration of the sacraments in a mature biblical way. If this forces us to do that, then I’m all for it.

Ultimately though, I hope that the amendment does not pass. I urge our brothers to discuss, debate, and dispute, in love, but not force our brothers against their will. Thus the same principle rings through all four of these major issues before the GA this year. In all of these a group wanted to force at least half of their brothers to do something against their will. The other half wanted the PCA to remain broad and inclusive for the sake of the kingdom and the gospel. Which side will ultimately win? The future of the PCA is at stake. I pray that we will all learn to understand that just because a brother across the country, or even across town, does not do everything exactly the way I do, it does not mean the gospel is at stake. On the contrary, if we make everything into an essential of the gospel, we have turned the gospel into pharisaical legalism and made the word “essential” meaningless. Furthermore, we have broken the commandment the Lord gave us on the night he was betrayed: ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

These issues are important issues. We do not simply stand by idly and not debate and discuss these important issues. But we must do it in love. We must bear with each other in love and trust that Christ will rule over his church. I think many times we do not obey the command to love simply because we do not trust Christ. We don’t think he really meant what he said, and we don’t see how the church could possibly governed in love. Brothers, let us take this commandment seriously, and let us love one another and trust that our Lord Jesus, King of all and Head of the Church, knows exactly what he is talking about.

For further reading see this post on Vintage 73.

Thoughts on GA, Part Three: Paedocommunion

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This is part three of a four part series. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.

The third significant issue that came before the GA was related to the issue of paedocommunion. Before we get too deeply into the details of what happened at GA this year on this issue, I would like address two  common misconceptions about paedocommunion in the PCA.

1. No one in the PCA who holds paedocommunion (hereafter PC) practices paedocommunion. There is a misconception, which was repeated on the floor of GA this year, that advocates of PC are practicing it in PCA churches. This is not the case. We must not confuse the admission of young children to the Lord’s Table by the procedure laid out in our BCO with the practice of PC. Strictly speaking, PC is when baptized children are given the Lord’s Supper without any formal admission process. The BCO gives latitude, as it should, for the discretion of individual churches and sessions to decide when the proper time for coming to the Lord’s Table should be. Neither the BCO nor the Westminster Standards proscribe an age for coming to the Lord’s Table, only a method of admission. It is up to each individual church and session to decide when a child is ready to come. The practice of admitting young children to the Table is not paedocommunion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate.

2. There is this other misconception, perpetuated on the attack blogs, that ministers in the PCA who hold to PC advocate force feeding nursing infants intincted bread and wine. This is manifestly not the case. The Reformed version of PC is not the Eastern Orthodox version. Reformed who hold to PC believe that children who are able to take solid food and who are expressing a desire to the table should be able to come by virtue of their baptisms, without having to be examined. Now, there are variations of the Reformed PC view, but the Reformed do not hold to the intinction of infants as the E. Orthodox practice.

With these two items clarified let’s get into the details of what happened at this year’s GA. What occurred this year was actually only one step in a multi-year process. The first step began at last year’s meeting of the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR). RPR is a committee of the General Assembly that meets several weeks prior in order to read and review all the minutes of all the presbyteries in the PCA. This may sound like a very boring and tedious job, and it is. What has occurred over the last several years is that RPR has become a jumping-off-point for the doctrinal purists in the PCA to launch their campaigns on various issues. The issue du jour for the past two RPRs has been paedocommunion. This is how it happened.

At the 2011 meeting of the RPR the committee reviewed the minutes of Pacific Northwest Presbytery and officially noted an exception to one of their candidates being approved for ordination though he expressed a difference with the Westminster Standards on the subject of paedocommunion. Now, the use of this word “exception” is very precise, and means that the view is “hostile to the system of doctrine or strikes at the vitals of religion.” This basically means that the view is either not Reformed and Presbyterian (hostile to the system of doctrine) or a greater charge that the view isn’t even Christian (strikes at the vitals of religion). These are serious charges.

There was a great deal of debate at last year’s RPR but the committee came to last year’s GA with the recommendation to cite the Presbytery with an exception. The presbytery responded and this came back to the RPR this year. There was again a great deal of debate, with parties reporting that the debate went on for four hours. This year, the RPR voted by a count of 29-18-1 to approve the response of the Presbytery as satisfactory. But this was not the end of the matter. Under our polity as it now stands, a minority report may come from the RPR and make a substitute motion on the floor of General Assembly. If you read part two of my series on the creation of Adam, you may recall that something similar happened there.

This minority report came to the floor of the GA on Thursday morning. The substitute motion coming from the minority stated that the PC view was in fact hostile to the system of doctrine (not Reformed) or striking at the vitals of religion (not Christian). They did not specify which they believed PC fell under. Further, they moved that the entire Pacific Northwest Presbytery be cited to appear before the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) for consistently approving men with PC views over a period of many years.

Debate on this substitute went on for quite a while, and the original time allotted of one hour was extended once by the Assembly. Those speaking against the substitute argued that there was latitude within the bounds of Reformed theology for men to hold this view, but not to practice it. They argued that there were many men who came to this view through an honest exploration of Reformed theology and the scriptures. They argued that the men were not practicing the view, and that they were not being disruptive in the church. They further argued that many ministers,for many years, have been faithfully and peacefully ministering in the PCA who have openly and honestly expressed this difference to their presbyteries. To now make this particular view unacceptable in the PCA would reverse many years of precedent and would be an act of bad faith. Men who spoke for the substitute argued that the view was dangerous because it led children to eat and drink unto judgment. Some even warned that children may become sick or die if they partook unworthily (citing 1 Corinthians 11).

Ultimately the vote was very close, but the substitute motion failed. The General Assembly did not want to cite the entire presbytery to appear before the SJC. Yet the puzzling thing is that the RPR’s recommendation to approve the response as satisfactory also failed. This was followed by a procedural motion to recommit that case along with two other cases regarding PC back to next year’s RPR for further deliberation.

Now what are we to make of all this? My personal view is that this was a win for the denomination. The GA decided that it was not appropriate to cite an entire presbytery for allowing ministers with the PC view. This is a very good thing. The status quo of the PCA is one of tolerance and broad inclusion (within the bounds of orthodoxy). In this case, maintaining the status quo is a good thing. While this is true, many were discouraged that these PC cases were recommitted to the RPR again, especially those brothers who serve on the RPR. While this is, in fact, discouraging, we can pray that those brothers on the RPR, on both sides of the issue, can come to an agreement that will allow both sides to live peacefully together in the PCA. Please make it a point to pray for that over the next year.

What we also saw is that there is a major divide in the PCA over the issue of PC. Half of the pastors and elders in the PCA are fine with PC existing as a view, the other half are not. This is significant because if there is such a split in our denomination, then either we must settle the matter as an allowable difference, or settle it as not an allowable one. Yet we must realize that setting it as not allowable will be a major blow to the unity and peace of the PCA and  may even lead to its rupture. This is a serious issue of disagreement. The policy of war and prosecution against views that are not like our own must cease if we are to  maintain a denomination that is already, by the standards of the global church, very small.

Is the PC view un-Reformed? I do not believe so, though men may disagree. To me it seems that the PC view is one of the most Reformed developments of doctrine that has come to be over the past 100 years. Every consideration with regard to PC is steeped in Reformation thought and appeal to the scriptures. I do believe that it is Reformed, though good men may disagree.

Yet the other question, is it Christian, should we even allow this question to stand? To assert, brothers, that this view strikes at the vitals of religion means that we believe that it is no longer Christian, and that those who hold it are no longer teaching the Christian faith. The mere thought of this should be revolting to us, and I urge us to comprehend completely what we are saying when we assert that something “strikes at the vitals of religion.” Something that strikes at the vitals of religion is a damnable heresy. PC is not a damnable heresy.

Let me close by making a broad appeal for reasonable  and peaceful men to be involved in the RPR next year. We need the broad middle of the denomination to be represented on these GA committees. If you do not really care about reviewing minutes or PCA polity or procedure, then you are the exact person we need to be on that committee. Be active! Be involved! Your denomination is at stake.

The last installment in this series will come on Friday.

Thoughts on the 40th PCA GA, Part Two: in thesi Statement on the Creation of Adam

This is the second of a four part series. Part one can be found here.

The second major issue dealt with at this year’s General Assembly was a proposed resolution coming from three separate overtures (10, 26, and 29) to make an in thesi statement on the creation of Adam. An in thesi statement is a non-binding resolution passed by one particular General Assembly on a particular issue. These statements do not have the force of church law, and only express the opinion of one particular General Assembly.

The rationale given for passing an in thesi statement was motivated by concern for an increasing number of adherents to theistic evolution in broader evangelical circles. Theistic evolution is the view that, put simply, teaches that the earth is very old and the processes of evolution occurred more or less as modern sciences teaches, with the caveat that God sovereignly superintended and guided that process. There are some versions of theistic evolution that hold that Adam was created directly by God in an act of special creation, and others that hold to the standard evolutionary origins of mankind.

The three overtures were debated in committee and ultimately the committee decided to answer the three overtures by affirming a fourth overture, overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery. That overture stated that there was no need to pass an in thesi statement in the first place because the scriptures and the Westminster Standards are sufficiently clear on the matter. This overture passed the committee by a vote of 50-35, but there was a minority report and a substitute motion made by that minority coming from the committee to the floor.

I know this is all pretty boring so far, but bear with me and we will get to the importance of all this in a minute. The minority report given on the floor of the assembly argued that one of the purposes of the General Assembly is to weigh in on doctrinal matters, and that this issue was a sufficient enough of one for the General Assembly to weigh in on. They then moved to pass a statement that was the exact same as a statement that was passed by the PCUS General Assembly against evolution in 1886, 1888, and 1924. That statement is as follows:

The Church remains at this time sincerely convinced that the Scriptures, as truly and authoritatively expounded in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms teach:

-That Adam and Eve were created, body and soul, by immediate acts of Almighty power, thereby preserving a perfect race unity;

-That Adam’s body was directly fashioned by Almighty God, without any natural animal parentage of any kind, out of matter previously created from nothing;

-And that any doctrine at variance therewith is a dangerous error, inasmuch: as in the methods of interpreting Scripture it must demand, and in the consequences which by fair implication it will involve, it will lead to the denial of doctrines fundamental to the faith.

The General Assembly debated the substitute motion for about 45 minutes. There were plenty of speakers on both sides of the issue. It must be understood, however, that those who spoke against the substitute (including myself) were not speaking in favor of theistic evolution. I don’t recall that anyone stood up and argued that this should not be passed because they personally held to a different view. There were various reasons expressed against the substitute, the most common of which was that our Confession was already clear, and that in thesi statements in general are not helpful. Most of the argument for the passing of the substitute centered around the denomination needing to have a clear, contemporary statement to an important contemporary issue.

I was one of those who stood up and spoke against the substitute. I argued that it didn’t make sense for us to be answering a 21st century problem with a 19th century solution. The statement that we were presented with, in other words, was not contemporary at all. It contains archaic and unclear language that could be misconstrued as some kind of racism (I refer to the statement about “race unity”). Why in the world would we want to pass a confusing statement?

Furthermore, I argued that the PCUS passed the statement repeatedly (in 1886, 1888, and 1924) and this repeated in thesi fist pounding did nothing to stop the rising tide of evolutionary views in the old Southern church. By this same rationale, we should see that passing in thesi statements really does nothing to fix things, it only makes some people feel good about drawing a supposed line in the sand, as it were.

In addition to what I presented on the floor of GA, I am against in thesi statements in general based on philosophical grounds. We have seen that although these kinds of statements have no binding ecclesiastical authority, proponents have used these deliverances of the General Assembly as blunt objects to bully their opponents. We as pastors and elders in the PCA are required to give such deliverances (including the findings of study committee reports) due and serious consideration, but they are not a part of our constitution, and we are not required to submit to them.

The chairman of the Overtures Committee, Elder Jay Neikirk said it best, in my opinion. He argued that if we feel that the Westminster Standards are insufficient to address any particular issue, then we need to amend the standards. Now, that was a rare moment of sanity in the normal cacophony of parliamentary procedure. The problem with these in thesi statements is that they can easily be passed at any GA and then used as weapons with the force of law. We have seen this repeatedly in the case of the FV Study Committee report, which has no binding authority over any person in the PCA, yet is treated as if it is the second coming of Westminster.

In case you are wondering, the substitute motion failed, by a vote in the neighborhood of 475-325, a substantial margin. We will get the exact numbers of the vote eventually in the minutes of the GA because there was actually a standing count of the votes because the moderator initially ruled that the substitute had passed by his visual judgment.

In closing, I believe that the rejection of the minority substitute and the subsequent passing of the committee’s recommendation was a good thing. Though I am personally against theistic evolution, I do not believe that in thesi statements are the answer to the problem. I do believe that holding to the special creation of Adam is essential to preserve several of our fundamental doctrines (one of which being original sin), but I am not of the opinion that the best way to handle these issues is to beat our brothers into submission. Let us do the hard work to discuss these issues with our brothers and persuade them of the rightness of our view. There are certainly boundaries that cannot be crossed, but I do not believe that passing in thesi statements for the purposes of forming blunt weapons to be used in such battles is the way to go.

More on the 40th GA to come.