Monday, October 31, 2005

Montreat: Preserving Southern church heritage deeply felt issue

Montreat: Preserving Southern church heritage deeply felt issue (Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required):
by Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook national reporter

"For some folks, sitting on a rocking chair on a front porch in Montreat, N.C. calls back a lifetime of memories and connections. They hear in those hills the footsteps of Presbyterians from their own families and others they know and revere, saints of the church who served God in congregations throughout the southern United States and on mission assignments around the world.

What’s the value of someone being able to come to the archives at Montreat and find her grandmother’s name listed as a Sunday school teacher in the records of her childhood church?

It’s hard to know how to put a dollar value on that. What’s the right amount to pay to preserve such memories? When does that price become too much?

That bone-deep love for a place and a heritage is whipping up a storm in Montreat, where the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) has decided that, for economic reasons, for the sake of other priorities in the financially-struggling Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Montreat Historical Society should shut its doors...."

I am a product of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, a predecessor denomination of the PC(USA). I have grown to appreciate the PCUS as it and the UPCUSA joined together in 1983, healing a wound that had festered far too long.

As much as I am a Presbyterian, I also am a person who values history -- family, church, country, and world -- and to risk losing that history or making it inaccessible to the people who made it is a matter of great concern.

I can understand why many Presbyterians out of the PCUS tradition are upset at this proposed move, and I hope some way can be found to keep these priceless historical records in the place where much of the history took place.

Reformation 2005

As a teenager I was privileged to live in Germany for three years as a military dependent. Heidleberg was my home, and the Patrick Henry Village Chapel was my place of worship. Our choir director was German, and for special occasions, the chapel choir sang with the Hockenheim Evangelische Kirche choir in a combined group known as the Deutsche Amerikanische Kantorei.

One such occasion was the yearly observance of Reformation Sunday, held in the Protestant church in Worms, not far from Heidelberg. These services were conducted in English. In 1967 we helped celebrate the 450th anniversary of the 95 theses being nailed to the Wittenburg cathedral door.

The service was quite liturgical, and one part has stuck with me for nearly 40 years -- a setting of the 46th psalm to a hauntingly beautiful psalm tone. "A Mighty Fortress is our God", Luther's famous hymn based on Psalm 46 was also sung every year I participated.

So, in honor of the 488th anniversary of Luther's courageous call for debate, following is the Psalm that was so important to him:

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

Ps 46:1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Ps 46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

Ps 46:3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.


Ps 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Ps 46:5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Ps 46:6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

Ps 46:7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Ps 46:8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

Ps 46:9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

Ps 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Ps 46:11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.



Saturday, October 29, 2005

Gruntled Center: Family Values: Rap vs. Country

Gruntled Center: Family Values: Rap vs. Country:
"Today I looked at the top five rap songs versus the top five country songs, according to the Billboard singles charts. I was looking for what they had to say about love, sex, marriage, and children...."

Head on over to Gruntled Center for a thought-provoking review of themes in two very different genres of popular music.

I have to issue a bit of a disclaimer here: My tastes in music are eclectic, but they tend more to 60's and 70's rock and classical music. The closest thing to rap that I listen to are the "patter" songs in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and the closest I generally get to country is Creedence Clearwater Revival and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Beau Weston's take on the differences he noted was that this is "telling us more about the audience than the performers." Both audiences are mostly white (a fact that I did not know).

Go on over and read the whole posting. You may not agree with all his points, but you will certainly have something to think about.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

21st century mission: Shifting center, growing diversity

21st century mission: Shifting center, growing diversity:
"ATLANTA – With the center of Christianity shifting south in the 21st century, what can North American Christians learn from what’s happening in Africa, Asia and Latin America?

What are the implications of the new alignments – with pluralism and secularism increasing in Europe and the United States, while evangelical Christianity is booming in many places in the southern hemisphere?

There are many ways to answer those questions, but one common denominator is this: North American Christians need to be ready for change. Things are shifting all around them, whether they’re prepared or not, and some of these realignments amount to dramatic reconfigurations. And with every change comes both some pain and new opportunities...."

We Presbyterians have long taken pride in being a "mainline" denomination, even as it became obvious that our numbers have been shrinking while more evangelical denominations have been increasing their numbers. Our Mission efforts over the past century have born fruit, and we have a great opportunity to learn from the success of the these indigenous churches.

It is refreshing to see this interest in the shifting center of the Christian Church worldwide, and I hope these discussions serve as a catalyst for renewal in the Presbyterian Church.

Read the whole article as well as the PC(USA) news release on the conference.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fear Not the Disabled - Christianity Today Magazine

Fear Not the Disabled - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Imagine walking down the street and hearing a child say to his mother: "Mom, why does he walk that way?" Or, "Why is she in that wheelchair?" Or, "Why does he have that cane?" People with disabilities don't have to imagine such questions. They hear them regularly—at least those who can hear.

But it's not the queries of curious youngsters that bother those facing physical or mental challenges. It's the indifference, discrimination, or outright hostility that often comes from adults...."

This is a thought-provoking editorial in Christianity Today that makes me very uncomfortable -- because I see myself.

I grew up in an era when the disabled were not as publicly evident as they are now. My son, who is about to become a teenager, has been exposed to all kinds of disabilities from classmates in wheelchairs, to church members who are blind, to grandparents who suffered strokes, and has been able to respond to them first and foremost as people.

I think kids growing up today have gone a long way toward changing the atmosphere that the editorialist wrote about, and that has antecedents in recent history. I spent a few years going to grade school in the South. My elementary school was segregated, but it fed into an intermediate school that was integrated. The kids seemed to have little problem with it, but many adults did. After living in Germany for three years while my father was stationed there, I returned to the same school system for my senior year and integration had pretty much completed. There were a few tensions, but all in all things things had stabilized. Today we take it for granted.

The editorial ends with a reference to I Corinthians 12:22, and I think it is instructive to look at the rest of the passage. This can apply to race, disability, liberal, conservative, rich, poor, lovable, unlovable, and just about anything that separates us from each other.

1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Many collegians say they are spiritual; struggle with questions, alternatives

Many collegians say they are spiritual; struggle with questions, alternatives:
The standard litany goes something like this: Presbyterians go to church, bring their children, the children grow up, go off on their own, forget about church. Charles Wiley, who’s with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology and Worship, said recently that one test of Presbyterians’ commitment to ecumenism is that they’re ecstatic if their adult children go to church, practically any church, once they leave home.

But the stock wisdom only goes so far.
There are several good articles in Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required) this week.

Reading this article sugggests that while there is a strong "spiritual" awareness among college students, there are still many opportunities to tell the Good News.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Part 6 -- And the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world

How many of us have been told by parents, teachers or others in authority that “actions speak louder than words”? Ron Sider in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience makes this point in a stark way: Why is the divorce rate higher in the evangelical churches than in other churches? What kind of a message are we sending when our public behavior is so much at odds with what we profess on Sunday?

Why are our churches in conflict? Why do opposing groups in the PC(USA) publicly ridicule not only different opninions, but the people holding such opinions? If we are ambassadors of Christ; if our witness to others consists of how we behave toward each other; are we effectively exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven?

What did the early church do that was so compelling to those who saw them in action?

Ac 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – NIV

What was it they had that others did not? Perhaps we need to look at the theme which pervaded Jesus’ ministry and was a major part of the ministry of his followers:

1Jn 3:11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

1Jn 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

1Jn 3:21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. –NIV

If we dealt with one another in love and dealt with the world in love, the world would have a far better idea of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. And, as it was during the early years of the Christian Church, seeing such a loving, caring community can be powerful evangelism.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Part 5 -- The promotion of social righteousness

Early in Jesus'’ ministry, he read from a scroll in the Nazareth synagogue. In doing so he announced himself as the one whom the selection from the Scroll of Isaiah foretold:

Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Isa 61:2
to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor...

The Isaiah passage goes on a few verses later with a clear statement of where the Lord stands:

Isa 61:8 “For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity.
In my faithfulness I will reward them
and make an everlasting covenant with them. -- NIV

The Lord sides unequivocally with the oppressed.

During the final week of Jesus'’ earthly ministry he taught his followers many parables and told them of what was to come. Among his illustrations was the following:

Mt 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 "“Then the King will say to those on his right, '‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Mt 25:37 “"Then the righteous will answer him, '‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'’

Mt 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'– -- NIV

It isn'’t enough to believe that Jesus is the Anointed One and to preach the Good News. Our preaching is measured by the practice to which we put it. An oversimplification of the difference between the liberal and evangelical churches is that the liberals tend to concentrate their efforts on social issues while evangelicals tend to concentrate on preaching the Gospel. My own personal sense is that this is not a useful distinction between liberals and evangelicals. There is a distribution of beliefs and practice in all churches, and I suspect that there is more overlap than people believe. What both sides need to accept is that this isn't an either/or situation; Scripture makes that crystal clear.

Isaiah spoke out on behalf of the Lord to the politicians of his day in terms quite harsh:

Isa 10:1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

Isa 10:2
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

Isa 10:3
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

Isa 10:4
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised. -- NIV

Not only are we called to work on behalf of the poor and oppressed, but when we see political structures that lead to oppression, we are to speak prophetically to our leaders. It would seem a little presumptuous to speak the way Isaiah did, but letters to legislators or governors or presidents are always appropriate. When the offenders are corporate leaders it is no less imperative that we speak from our faith and knowledge of what the Lord requires (Micah 6:8).

Our failure to do so calls into question our commitment to following Jesus.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Part 4 -- The preservation of the truth

2Ti 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. –NIV

By the mid first century doctrinal creep was starting to complicate the proclamation of the Gospel. The teachings of Jesus as passed on by the Apostles were starting to shift as the people found them inconvenient or just plain too hard to follow. The beginnings of Gnosticism gave Paul and John much to write about, and much of what would become the New Testament was being written to counter heresies.

Today we are dealing with issues not that much different than the early Church, but these issues are complicated by the vast increase in knowledge over the past 2000 years. We have people who do not believe that resurrection is possible, that the supernatural cannot happen, that sexual standards are outmoded in a modern society, or that the Atonement was unnecessary.

In an earlier posting I told of how the Resurrection is the basis of my faith. Without it, nothing else makes any sense, and I might as well sleep in Sunday morning. With it, though, comes more than I bargained for: The Incarnation, Sin, Atonement, Repentance, and a host of other things that I must also come to grips with – all because I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, defeating the power of sin and the grave for all time.

So how can we know what is true? As reformed Christians the Word of God alone determines what we believe – the written word and the Living Word – and they are in accord.

How can we know if what we are taught is true?

1Jn 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1Jn 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. --NIV

Since our beliefs are determined by Scripture, one should be suspicious of any doctrinal assertion that requires one to ignore the Word of God, or to set it aside as irrelevant, or even to dismiss it as outright fraud. Since the Reformation, the Scriptures have been available in our own language and are accessible to all believers. We are the first line of defense in the Preservation of the Truth and knowing Scripture is the key to sound doctrine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Senate Plan to Cut Food Stamps Dies

Senate Plan to Cut Food Stamps Dies:
[free registration required]

"Senate Republicans have dropped plans to cut the popular food stamp program, as the chamber's leaders scrambled to assemble a $35 billion spending cut measure to implement the budget plan it adopted in April.

After protests from Agriculture Committee members Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and James M. Talent (R-Mo.), panel Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) dropped more than $500 million in food stamp cuts from a farm and food subsidy measure coming to a committee vote today. The cuts could have meant a loss of benefits for 300,000 working families benefiting from more generous eligibility rules in some states...."

This was the subject of a recent urgent appeal by Bread for the World for letters and phone calls to prevent the loss of benefits for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Bread for the World is "a nationwide Christian citizens movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers." They forge bipartisan consensus in order to urge our lawmakers to ensure that no one need go hungry.

Part 3 -- The maintenance of divine worship

There are many passages in Scripture that describe aspects of the worship of God, but not much in the way of a comprehensive list. One of my favorite passages is in Micah:

Mic 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Mic 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. -- NIV

Micah, speaking for the Lord, clearly states that the Lord is more concerned with what is in our hearts and the way we follow His law than he is with the outward trappings of worship. Does this mean that we don’t need to worship God in a corporate way? Not at all. God requires our worship and devotion, but all the offerings we make, all the prayers we say, all the hymns we sing, and so forth mean little if we fail to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

We Presbyterians, who love decency and order, describe what should take place in worship in Chapter II of The Directory for Worship:

  • Prayer
  • Scripture read and proclaimed
  • Baptism
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Self Offering
  • Relating to each other and the world

This list is a pretty good distillation of what corporate worship should consist, and with the exception of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, could characterize personal, family, and small group worship experiences.

In the second of the Great Ends (shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship) I did not dwell much on fellowship, but the last of the main elements of worship as defined in the Directory for Worship seems to cover that nicely. In fact, corporate worship should also provide shelter and nurture to the family of faith, although the second great end should not be limited to the Sunday worship service.

Presbyterians leave the responsibility for providing worship to the pastor, with the concurrence of the session. The pastor has sole responsibility for the choice of scripture, preparing and preaching the sermon, the prayers during the service, the choice of music, and whether or not to use art, drama, or dance during the service. (Book of Order W-1.4005) All other aspects of worship, including the approval of the sacraments, rest with the session.

The one thing the pastor and session have little control over is the most important aspect of worship – what is in the hearts of the worshippers. The challenge is to order worship so it nurtures an individual and corporate sense of justice, mercy, and humbleness in the presence of the Lord.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Part 2 -- The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God

Sheltering the children of God, to me, is not protecting them from the world or keeping them safe from controversial ideas. But it IS providing a place where believers with robust faiths as well as believers who have more fragile faiths can be together as a community, learning, worshipping, fellowshipping, and mutually nurturing each other.

I was baptized at the age of 10 in a Presbyterian Church. I remember my parents promising to bring me up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Our denomination dropped that phrase along the way, but baptisms today still involve not only the parents making promises to bring their child up in the church, but the congregation also making a promise to support the parents and teach this newly baptized member of the family of God.

How are we nurturing our fellow Christians, especially those who are still searching? Too many times and in too many places I have heard visitors asking “What does this church believe?” and being told “Well, we tend to be all over the map when it comes to beliefs, so don’t worry about it.”

Beau Weston, a professor of Sociology at Centre College in Kentucky, as well as a Presbyterian elder, had this to say in the April 2004 issue of Presbyterians Today:

Weston says Christians always tell pollsters that what they want is "good music and good preaching," but "what they really want from religion is religion."

"Liberal churches that work hard to accommodate the secular world by offering a refined, intellectual, reasonable faith," Weston told Christianity Today, "keep losing people to the even more reasonable pleasures of the newspaper, the golf course, and the warm bed."”

This article is about the growth of evangelicism in congregations of the PC(USA). The title is “Presbyterian Evangelicals – They just might be on to something.” I recommend you read the whole article.

Dr. Weston (who is also a blogger) spoke at my home church on the characteristics of growing congregations. He noted that strict churches tended to grow while non-strict churches tended to lose members. “Strict” in this sense does not refer to harsh discipline or requiring members to “toe the line”, but rather telling prospective members up front that “this is where we stand as a church.”

You don’t nurture a beginning swimmer by tossing them in the deep end and seeing how they perform, any more than you nurture a new believer by telling them to come up with what works for them in terms of theology. The “nurture and admonition of the Lord” applies not only to children, but those who are young in faith and even those who are mature in their faith. If they are seeking answers, we should be able to provide them with answers. If we truly shelter, nurture, and fellowship with the believers in our home congregations then we provide a place where faith can flourish.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Part 1 -- The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind

This is the first of the six Great Ends, and it may be the most controversial. Our evangelism efforts have been neglected over the years, and many have gone so far as to discourage evangelism efforts among non-Christians in general and Jews and Muslims in particular.

The Great Commission places no limits on where and to whom we proclaim the Good News:

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – NIV
The Presbyterian Church, in the newest of its confessions, “The Brief Statement of Faith”, mirrors scripture with its clear statement on evangelism and social responsibility:

“…The Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” -- Book of Confessions 10:4

The Witness and Evangelism Among People of Other Faiths page on the PC(USA) web site acknowledges the fact of our calling and provides some compelling reasons why we need to take this call seriously. The International Evangelism page has this to say:

“Through modern technology, the world has become a Global Village. However, many people still have not heard the Gospel and a significant number of ethnic groups still do not have a self-sustaining Christian church. PC(USA) partners around the world continue to ask us to join in their evangelism and church development efforts.”

Scripture, the Book of Confessions, the Book of Order and the PC(USA) website are in accord regarding evangelism (as it should be!), so why is the idea of evangelism so difficult to accept?

During Marj Carpenter’s year as General Assembly Moderator in 1995, she came and spoke in Jefferson City, Missouri. Her talk was on Mission (no surprise there…) and she told of mission 100 years ago. Presbyterians have historically had a three-pronged mission strategy involving evangelism, medicine, and education. Since then our mission efforts have diminished overall, but the evangelistic efforts have diminished the most. Her call to the PC(USA) was that it was time to reclaim our historic role in evangelism. Ten years after Marj Carpenter was moderator, mission budgets are still inadequate and as individuals and as a church we are just as uncomfortable with telling the Good News to the unchurched.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Great Ends of the Church -- Introduction

In 1997 the Office of the General Assembly, the General Assembly Council, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Board of Pensions, the PC(USA) Foundation and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Corporation recommended to the 209th General Assembly that the denomination enter into a 6 year study of the Great Ends of the Church. The web site is somewhat difficult to navigate when it comes to past General Assemblies, but the 210th General Assembly began a two year celebration of the Great Ends of the Church:

“The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” – The Book of Order G-1.0200

The Presbyterian Church in North America adopted the Great Ends in 1910, according to the Book of Order. In 1958, when the Presbyterian Church in North America united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, giving rise to the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, this statement was incorporated into the new constitution and when the UPCUSA united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1983, healing a rift that had lasted since the Civil War era, the Great Ends were made part of the Constitution of the PC(USA).

These six statements describe a healthy church – one which realizes that not only must the Gospel be preached to all, but that the people who have responded need to be nurtured, that worship correctly done is as important as preserving the truth, that justice for God’s people cannot be ignored, and that our individual lives and our corporate actions should show the world what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

What will follow in the next six postings is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the Great Ends of the Church, but rather my own personal feelings about aspects that particularly move me.

What would Jesus blog? - Tech News & Reviews -

What would Jesus blog? - Tech News & Reviews -
"...Many bloggers are now putting less emphasis on hot-button issues such as abortion, homosexuality and assisted suicide and are instead writing about religious oppression, poverty and world hunger, said Andrew Jackson, a seminary professor and pastor at the Word of Grace Church in Mesa, Ariz., who blogs daily at

"I think there is more and more a voice in the blogosphere against partisan politics and a voice toward public policy, social action issues and justice issues," said Jackson, who was a panelist at Biola, a small Christian university about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

That change is in part because bloggers are realizing the tremendous influence they can have — and how that influence can be misdirected and misunderstood, he said.

"There is a voice of caution and that is even coming from those who would self-identify as Republicans. Partisan politics is not what informs our faith, the Bible is what informs our faith."
(emphasis added)

I mentioned this a few days ago and reacted sharply to a quote that indicated many participants saw their blogging as an extension of one political party, and that their efforts were in support of that party.

Now that the conference is ending, it seems that a reasonable understanding of what Christians are to believe and do emerged. This is good to hear, and reinforces my gut reaction that these efforts will make a positive change in how we talk about our faith, and share it with others.
"...During one well-attended workshop entitled "When Non-Christians Read Your Blog," Biola University professor Timothy Muehlhoff instructed people on how to write about their faith without alienating nonbelievers.

He stressed that God blogging has the potential to be a "train wreck" because done wrong it can reinforce stereotypes of evangelical Christians as angry and close-minded "pit bulls of the culture wars."..."

Ever since the dialup computer bulletin board systems (BBS) of the late 1970s to the mid 1990s it has been obvious to me that people often present a different personna in email and chat sessions than they would present in face-to-face conversations. As a BBS SysOp for several years (until DSL made dialup less attractive) I found myself needing to moderate the message boards constantly, putting out flamewars. We also met every month at a local pizzeria so we got to see the faces behind the messages -- and I can attest to the fact that the differences in personnas are real.

Blogs are, in a sense, the heirs of the BBS in that they allow commenting on postings, some wide open to the public, others limited to registered users. We are, in a sense, ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we need to keep that in mind when we post our articles.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

J.S. Bach: For the Glory of God - Christianity Today Magazine

J.S. Bach: For the Glory of God - Christianity Today Magazine:
"As a conductor and composer, I am constantly asked the question, "Who is your favorite composer?" The truth is that my answer changes every day. If we've just performed a Beethoven symphony, then he gets my vote. If asked after a Brahms concerto or a Mozart opera, then I lean their way. But what if someone asks, "Who is the composer who has influenced your life the most?" That answer has always been the same: Johann Sebastian Bach...."

Patrick Kavanaugh writes about one of my favorite composers -- one whose music I can listen to for hours on end without tiring.

Read the article for an informative and inspiring view of a composer who gave all glory to God.

Thursday, October 13, 2005 - Politics - Bloggers Seek to Mix Faith and the Internet - Politics - Bloggers Seek to Mix Faith and the Internet:
"WASHINGTON — When Johann Gutenberg's printing press began churning out Bibles in the 15th century, the new technology helped usher in a new era of religion in Europe.

Nearly 600 years later, some think that increasingly popular Web logs — the Internet's version of personal journals, pamphleteering and issue forums all wrapped in one — combined with traditional religious beliefs could once again take people on a new, uncharted course.

In what appears to be a first of its kind, a small evangelical Christian college in Southern California on Thursday will open the God Blog Convention, a conference on Christian blogging...."
So, by mentioning this article, am I blogging about blogs blogging about God?

Seriously, It seems that blogs are starting to do for Christian discourse what they have done for political discourse. And that is not an unmixed blessing as blogs represent the good, the bad, and the ugly in us. I hope I make a positive contribution without resorting to the ad hominem attacks and outright lies that have characterized many political blogs.

This article quotes a blogger as stating that Christian-oriented blogs can serve to bolster the Republican party. Is this what we are about?

I don't think so.

The main-stream media already think that Evangelical = Right Wing, but they fail to see that evangelical Christians are all over the political spectrum. For what it is worth, I range from "conservative" to "liberal" on particular issues which is why I do not have a party affiliation (nobody wants me). The last time I voted for a presidential winner was in 1972, and the last time I voted for major-party candidate was in 1976.

No, I do not blog to support either party. I try as best I can to follow the Lord, and that leads me away from the nastiness of American politics and towards trying to exhibit "the Kingdom of Heaven to the world". (Book of Order G 1.0200)

Enough ranting. I was amused by the assertion that "...most popular Christian-oriented blogs find themselves counting their readers in the tens and hundreds of thousands, not millions."

In my two-month-old blog, I can probably count my readers in the tens.

To end on a positive note, we are a small, growing community and there is much opportunity to learn, fellowship, and share in a Christian Community, many or most of whom have never met face-to-face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Embryonic Cells, No Embryo Needed: Hunting for Ways Out of an Impasse - New York Times

Embryonic Cells, No Embryo Needed: Hunting for Ways Out of an Impasse - New York Times (Free registration required):
"If there were no controversy over human embryonic stem cells, Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of M.I.T. and Dr. George Daley of Harvard Medical School would probably never have started some unusual, and difficult, experiments...."
These experiments, driven by the financial and ethical realities of creating embryos so stem cells can he harvested, involve transferring genetic material from an adult into an egg, but eliminating or blocking the genes that cause an undifferentiated mass of cells to develop into an embryo.

Ethically, several groups who have historically been opposed to the use of embryos to acquire stem cells have endorsed the techniques under study here. A representative of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia saw this as being a solution rather than a compromise.

Financially, since federal funding can only be granted for work on cell lines that existed prior to August 2001, the paucity of private funding has provided an incentive to look into non-destructive ways to come up with stem cells. Such research can be funded through federal sources, which funds around 95% of all research.

It is good when bioethicists, research scientists, and politicians can work together on solving ethical issues with scientific research. Just to acknowledge that an ethical issue exists and to be willing to address it is a hopeful step.

Monday, October 10, 2005

COGA report recommends closing Montreat historical facility

COGA report recommends closing Montreat historical facility:
"SACRAMENTO – A feasibility study considering the future of the Presbyterian Historical Society has concluded that it’s unlikely enough money could be raised to create a new center to study Presbyterian history in Montreat, N.C.

So the plan now is to consider creating such a center at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. – it would be less expensive there – and to close down the Presbyterian Historical Society office in Montreat, which some Presbyterians have fought passionately to save over the last year...."

Our shared history as a denomination is always an emotional issue. The records Montreat has collected and maintained include records of over 1000 Sessions, Prebyteries, Synods, as well as private journals and family histories. These records come primarily from churches out of the PCUS tradition.

On thing that caused me to wonder was the expectation that some records would be stored in Philadelphia while others would be maintained at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Shouldn't such records be archived at one location?

Religious groups cite ‘moral duty’ to stop Darfur genocide

Religious groups cite ‘moral duty’ to stop Darfur genocide:
"(RNS) Religious groups on Sept. 21 stepped up pressure on the Bush administration and Congress to help end the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, saying the United States has a “moral duty” to intervene.

The “Save Darfur Coalition,” an alliance of 134 religious and humanitarian groups, said Washington must provide increased aid to African Union troops who are on the ground in Darfur and impose economic sanctions on the Sudanese government in Khartoum. Leaders met with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and members of Congress and delivered a letter to President Bush as part of the “National Day of Action for the People of Sudan.”..."

This religion News Service release echos recent calls for Christians to become engaged in speaking on behalf of the victims of genocide in Darfur.

Pressure exerted by the Bush Administration brought a halt to genocidal acts in one region of Sudan, but now the Sudanese government is turning its attention to Darfur, and we cannot fail to speak up with our collective voices.

Friday, October 07, 2005


"SMSBible allows you to send Bible verses of your choice together with your own personal message (up to about 150 characters total) to groups of people...."

Presbyweb (subscription required, free 30 day trial available, and well worth it) found this link to the Bible Society of Australia's download page for the SMSBible.

It's a free download, so if you are so inclined, go for it. It is a 7.7mb download coming from the other side of the world, so it might take a while.

[Update 10/8/2005]

I downloaded the SMSBible and gave it a try. My Motorola phone with Bluetooth failed to initialize, but when I switched to the USB cable it worked fine.

The user interface does not permit browsing, but you can go to a particular verse and start adding until you reach your limit of characters (about 150).

For me, this is a solution looking for a problem, but I have no doubt that others may find it useful.

4now cu l8r - Bible group spreads word by SMS - Oct 6, 2005 - Bible group spreads word by SMS - Oct 6, 2005:
" 'In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth,' according to a new version of the Bible translated into the text message language of cell phone users.

The Bible Society in Australia launched on Thursday its translation of all 31,173 verses of the Bible in the modern, abbreviated language of text messages, or SMS...."

I can just see these people entering text on their cell phones using only a thumb....

They may be on to something, though. Cell phones are ubiquitous and can reach into areas where the printed Bible is inconvenient due to persecution.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dine for America: A restaurant industry benefit for hurricane relief

Dine for America: A restaurant industry benefit for hurricane relief:
"On October 5, 2005, restaurants across the country will band together in a "Dine for America" day, a national fundraising effort for the American Red Cross to help the survivors, victims, their families and other arising needs from the Hurricane Katrina and Rita disasters."

Wow! At last a compelling reason to eat out!

Seriously, some of the restaurants are donating 100% of their profits to this cause. They could be on to something here.

Use the "FIND" link, enter your zip code, and see if your favorite restaurant is participating.

A wealth of faith (Presbyterian Outlook)

A wealth of faith (Presbyterian Outlook, free registration required:

"It was easy to feel sorry for them. The poor, displaced, battered citizens of New Orleans confronted us with the disparity of economic life in America.

But as the days turned to weeks, another subtext began to surface, showing an even greater disparity. A surprising number of the poor were, in fact, rich in spirit. Despite having little, they showed an enormous depth of spiritual understanding and a remarkable display of extravagant faith.

An elderly woman, finally pulled from her house after days of waiting, seemed surprisingly peaceful as television crews filmed her rescue. When a reporter asked if she was glad the rescuers had finally arrived she said, “Yes, I’m glad to see them. But I had the Lord with me whether anyone else showed up or not....”

-- Guest Viewpoint by Dale Hanson Rourke

Stories like this are not easy to find in the news, but that is not because such stories are rare. I have been on several mission work trips to areas where there is great poverty, yet the people whom we served were able to show us their great faith. It is a humbling experience.

It is easy to be faithful when life is going well, what if things go sour? How will I feel if everything I own is washed away? How will I show my faith if confessing Jesus places me in danger of my losing life or liberty?

Rourke ends with this:

"...But after days of seeing true saints, it is clear that America is greatly divided between the haves and have-nots. Spiritually speaking, many of those who started with little and lost even that still came out ahead of the rest of us. Their theology was not based on lines of credit or insurance claims or disaster plans.

Many of the poorest people in this country understood what the rest of us still struggle to comprehend: Faith is not based on circumstances, and true riches cannot be washed away by storms."

I hope we all can take this lesson and come to a greater understanding of what faith really is. It will be hard, since for most of us, our experience does not equip up to truly understand what the people in the Gulf Coast states went through. we all need to let God lead us in our struggle to serve Him and all his people.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Live Patients & Dead Mice - Christianity Today Magazine

Live Patients & Dead Mice - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Dennis Turner's Parkinson's disease had become so severe by 1999 that he could not use his right arm. That was the year he underwent an experimental treatment with his own brain adult stem cells. "Soon after having the cells injected, my Parkinson's symptoms began to improve," Turner testified in 2004 before the U.S. Senate. "My trembling grew less and less, until to all appearances it was gone."

This is certainly hopeful news for those who recognize the potential usefulness of using stem cells to reverse the course of certain diseases, but at the same time are concerned with the moral implications of creating embryos solely for the purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells.
"...For adult stem cells, the dogma has been that they are not as flexible, only forming the tissue from which they originated. They have been useful for decades at replacing bone marrow and forming blood, but it was thought that they were limited in forming other tissues.

Not so. Since the mid-1990s, a rapidly growing volume of scientific evidence has documented that adult stem cells possess much greater abilities than scientists imagined, and some show the same pluripotent flexibility as embryonic stem cells. Within the last four years, researchers from around the world have documented that adult stem cells from bone marrow, blood, amniotic fluid, placenta, umbilical cord blood, and nasal tissue show this same remarkable plasticity, but without the problems of tumors seen with embryonic stem cells..."
The term "dogma" in the preceding quote is a well-chosen word, considering the fervor with which many scientists defend the use of embryonic stem cells and eschew the adult stem cells as being far inferior.

For my part, I'll keep an open mind and hope that these latest developments lead to more effective, non-destructive therapy as well as contributing to the body of knowledge.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The ONE Campaign

The ONE Campaign:
“WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”

The ONE Campaign is a coalition of mainly religious groups who are joining forces to deal not only with the symptoms of poverty, disease, and injustice, but in a more comprehensive way with addressing the causes of these problems.

Bread for the World, Care USA, Save the Children, World Vision, Heifer International, and many denominations are partners in this coalition. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently joined this partnership.

Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God