What positions do we take in the Evangelical Covenant Church? We are a non-confessional, non-creedal and non-doctrinaire denomination, having chosen not to be divided over issues of long-standing historical diversity. However we do affirm the scriptures as our rule, and that means we study them vigorously to shape conviction. Our denomination provides links to various statements that have been issued on human sexuality, criminal justice, compassion and mercy, and many other of the ethical hot topics that dominate the social and political discussions in the United States. For more information click here: http://covchurch.org/
At Elgin Covenant we will not hide the light of our convictions under any bushel or denominational banner; nor will we use a website and blog to mislead anyone. The positions articulated here are not doctrine, they are conversational starting points descriptive of the culture of our congregation. These will occasionally describe how views of the denomination are understood, however we are in charge of our own content on this website and therefore these “Hot Topics” are NOT to be construed as representing denominational viewpoints.
For some seekers to this website the positions we take at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin might be disagreeable. We believe that when we affirm that the Old and New Testaments are “the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct,” it sets us apart from the fault-lines of partisanship in pursuit of a much higher vision: The Kingdom of God. If you want to find out more, read on. Topics are arranged alphabetically. Would you like to submit a Hot Topic for Pastor Jonathan? Go ahead and use the response form below.
The denomination’s public statement is best characterized as “pro-life.” Elgin Covenant has sponsored Elgin’s TLC Life Center with special mission offerings and benevolence disbursements. In addition we have several committing volunteer hours in this key ministry whose holistic mission is dedicated to reproductive health from a life-affirming perspective. Political posturing on abortion is NOT a litmus test for membership at Elgin Covenant or in the denomination at large. Political opinions vary; our sponsorship as a congregation has been for the life-affirming efforts of TLC.
Afghanistan: War on Terror, War and Peace
We support our troops. The War on Terror is a vast and complex enterprise, and it has been prosecuted with better and worse skill. Although peace is always to be preferred and the peacemakers shall be called the Children of God, the Evangelical Covenant Church takes no pacifist position. As a denomination, we provide per capita more military chaplains than any other. (Related Issue: Israel)
Bigotry (see also Prejudice, White Supremacy)
A bigot uses external factors to determine another’s person’s relative worth, and then treats that other person using various passive or aggressive behaviors, whether visceral and subconscious in origin or conscious and premeditated. Bigotry is learned behavior, it is nurtured in the various environments of life including the home, the classroom, the work-place, entertainment venues, politics, and sadly in too many instances, the church.
Let us deal with the lesser dimension of bigotry first, which is, its political aspect and force in the United States. When the nation adopted, as a reason for existence, the principle that “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” it bound itself to the philosophy of the equality of the human family. This was almost immediately undermined, of course, due to the several interests of those owning captive African slaves and of those looking to expand settlements at the expense of the First Nations. Yet there is a case law upholding the humanity and citizenship and equal protection of the First Nations, for example, while the episodes of Abolition, Civil War, Segregation and Civil Rights are well-known. That “(w)e hold these truths to be self-evident” is a governing American principle. To cut against this principle, to subvert it, is manifestly UnAmerican. White Supremacy is NOT patriotism; it is a rank and reactionary social evil against which the best ideals of the United States is a bulwark standing on the promise, as stated much later in another of our national statements, of “liberty and justice for all.” In sum, if you are a white bigot, you are UnAmerican. There are no two sides to that issue.
Many white Americans have generous hearts but are embarrassed by what seems to them to be the facts that bear out an ethnic superiority for nations of European origin. The advance of technologies and philosophy and quality of life does seem weighted to that conclusion, and they don’t know what to do with that. I recommend Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. This award-winning book provides a socio-geographical explanation for the seeming disparities, and dispels all notions of inherent ethnic superiorities or inferiorities; furthermore Diamond writes from a secular, non-Christian, scientific perspective.
Now we come to the more important dimension, that of bigotry among Christians, which has historically had too much of a role in the global phenomenon of hostility and alienation.
The Bible’s Book of James chapter 2 verses 1-7 warns against discrimination in the congregation and the “evil thoughts” that are at the source of treating people with distinction from each other. Galatians 3:28 states that in Christ the former distinctions of status based on ethnicity, caste, and gender are dissolved; through faith in Christ we are all heirs equally of the promises of God.
At the same time the Bible presents a mixed witness to status and distinction, and some of its texts have been used by bigots who esteem themselves to be Christian. This does NOT mean that there is a legitimate point of view whereby Christians can be bigots based on scripture; rather, there is a confusion on the part of some, and that confusion is willful and prideful.
The Old Testament seems to set a hierarchy of nations at which Israel is on top, and then within Israel, sets relative value for the “redemption” of persons for the support of the House of God. The working Israelite male is thus the most valuable kind of person in the world. Looked at another way, in that early iron-age farm-based economy it is manifestly the case that the working Israelite male house-holder would have the most to contribute to the function of Israel’s religion.
Are these distinctions truly ethnic, that is are they genetic, or is something else taking place when we examine the Biblical data? When we find that Rahab of Jericho surrenders to the Israelites and marries into them, and later that Ruth of Moab marries into the Israelites, these could be viewed as violations of the law.
The laws against intermarriage with foreigners and the intrusion of foreigners onto the temple precincts were NOT given to preserve a pure gene-pool. Rather, these laws were designed to preserve the faithfulness of Israel to its religion. What was opposed by the law was marriage with foreigners by which the spouses would bring their gods into the marriage with them. Rahab and Ruth were examples of foreigners who “naturalized,” that is, they adopted Israelite values and faith and so took husbands, and both of them are direct ancestors to Jesus Christ! Jesus carried within his genes the deposit of Canaanite and Moabite peoples. To put it even more bluntly, his perfect, innocent blood shed for our sins includes these foreign heritages. And these are not alone among foreigners in his background.
Meanwhile, those Israelites who thought they were “in” with God just by being born into the gene pool, discovered through repeated Old Testament judgments that this was not the case. They were called to a faithful witness to the holiness of God. Falling short in that testimony meant God vindicating holiness by bringing judgment on them.
What we find then is that there are distinctions to be made in the faith community, but those distinctions are based on faithfulness to the will of God and not on genetic inheritance. Here are some conclusions:
1. All people of all nations share this alike, that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and need to repent. 2. It is appropriate and indeed necessary that a repentant attitude toward God and desire to follow Christ be markers of discernment and qualification in the community of faith. 3. There ought to be no hierarchy in the church based on national heritage. There are practical considerations for any faith community, such as dominant language in use, which will act as factors in terms of fitness for leadership in a particular congregation, but these things cannot be considered as distinctions in value or worth in the sight of God. 4. There is no such thing as exempting one kind of sin or another in order to raise a person up for qualification. On this point the world is in a flutter of confusion. Moral dispositions are now being given the benefit of the case law of Civil Rights: This is an inappropriate transfer of precedent, and how it will play out for churches in the United States is an issue of considerable suspense (this was written in August 2017). 5. On no grounds is ANYONE to be treated with hostility, or persecuted, or deprived of that which is needful to all. Humility, gentleness and patience is to be the Christian’s witness to fellow believers and equally to sinners and unbelievers. 6. Refusal to perform or participate in religious actions on demand is NOT bigotry, neither is it persecution. It is rather a witness to the faith of the Church that calls ALL people to repent, without distinction of race and without distinction of personal preferences and predilections.
No position prohibiting or endorsing birth control measures is taken. Some ponder the prospects of over-population on the one hand, others ponder the decline in birth rates among Christians compared to other world religions.
Black Lives Matter See also Incarceration, Law Enforcement, Police Shootings
This movement gained traction in 2015 in response to highly-publicized episodes beginning approximately 2013 in which unarmed black men have either been shot to death by police or died in custody as a result of restraining measures. In part because the Evangelical Covenant denomination is indeed a demographically diverse, mutli-ethnic denomination, the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated in Covenant hearts and has elicited various supportive responses. For more information please contact the website at www.covchurch.org.
Many congregations are part of local communities that tilt one way or another demographically, and tend toward political opinions that can be predicted accordingly. That said, many Covenant voices, including mine, want to see the concerns in Black Lives Matter addressed, but are hesitant to rush toward condemning police officers. Even so, Black Lives Matter should not be muzzled nor should its leaders try to dance on eggshells. Don’t worry about offending people — the issue is too important.
Candidates for Public Office (see “Voting as Christians”)
Biblical arguments cut both ways, and opinion in the denomination and in our church will be divided. What is known is that in Illinois the prosecution of death penalty cases has been a travesty and national embarrassment, causing all death sentences to be overturned. The Northwestern School of Journalism’s exposure of the mess awakened many consciences leading to this decision, proving that a free press is still indispensable to the proper function of a nation and democracy. Whatever one’s position, it is absolutely essential that if the death sentence will be an option in the state’s prosecution of crimes, such prosecutions must be conducted ethically and without material error.
Christmas and Culture
Christian Involvement in the Season
In Romans 14:5-6a the Apostle Paul states, 5.One person considers one day more sacred than another; another person considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6a. The person who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. “
The faith traditions of global Christianity vary widely on the ways that the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated. Individually, some who refuse to participate in Christmas festivities will articulate many reasons, whether or not these are officially part of their church tradition’s rejection: Much of the trappings date to the Winter Solstice and Samhain festivals of Pagan Europe; the date of December 25th was imposed by the Pope to “baptize” these pagan holidays with a Christian meeting; the commercialism is a compromise with the world’s values of consumption and envy. Others participate because they see it as an opportunity to show the world the importance of Jesus Christ and His story. By celebrating with and among unbelievers who are only engaged for the parties and the presents there can be a reminder of deeper levels of meaning for life. For some Christians it is indeed a time set apart to contemplate the profound mysteries of God’s love and grace revealed when the divine became wrapped in flesh. For all believers Christmas is a window to our witness; among those who do not celebrate, to share in faith why they do not; for those who do, to share in faith why we do.
1. Among some peace churches, some holiness groups and some Calvinist fundamentalists December 24-25 is officially a “day like any other” and do not observe a liturgical calendar.
2. Catholic, Orthodox and many Mainline Protestants have special liturgies, decorations, concerts, festivals and celebrations beginning with Advent, and a midnight communion vigil bridging Christmas Eve to Christmas Day.
3. Mainstream evangelicals, which describes the Evangelical Covenant, tend to emphasize the Christmas experience with celebrations throughout December even if they do not follow the Advent schedule in the Common Lectionary as such.
4. In western, consumer societies many communicants in Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and mainstream Evangelical churches will be “whole hog” celebrants all month long, including the office parties and dances and the alcohol, the hanging of mistletoe, extensive Christmas lists, and all that comes with it. Globally, there is much more diversity. In many nations Advent and Christmas are more solemnly observed. Among western nations the United States and Canada really do stand out with the excesses.
It is quite likely that an Evangelical Covenant Church will have a few individuals or families who, even if they participate in the religious observances, will choose as a matter of conviction not to engage in the cultural festivities of the season in terms of gift-exchanges, complicated travel arrangements and big feasts. Others will have decked out their homes with lights by Thanksgiving and be waiting in lines to shop on Thanksgiving night or “Black Friday” morning. Some indulge their children in the Jolly Old Elf myth, others do not. The continuum is as complex with as many options as there are families. Which is why, as it concerns Christmas, its celebration, and the convictions surrounding it, my watchword comes from the Romans text above, “Let each one be convinced in their own mind.”
At the same time let us all be mindful of Christ in our hearts this season. For those majority of believers who participate, excesses can be sinful or lead to sin, whether of drunkenness or gluttony or covetousness. For the minority who do not, there can be an excess of anger, argumentativeness and judgment rather than meekness, humility, and love. Being convinced each in our minds, as Paul writes, is to be guided by Christ in our convictions.
“Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas“?
Among some Christians, perhaps especially among evangelicals who celebrate the season, there has been a reaction to what they see as an agenda to make Christmas unchristian. Lawsuits to remove nativity scenes from public squares are answered by a push for believers to put nativities on their front lawns. Pushes by advertisers to speak of the “Holidays” and department store instructions to their clerks to greet customers with “Happy Holidays” is also perceived as a threat in the ongoing “Culture War.” The term, after all, incorporates non-Christian holidays and observances that fall approximately in December, which means there is an agenda, so to truck with it by saying “Happy Holidays” and purchasing greeting cards of that ilk, is to “compromise.”
The term “holidays” is a Christian term, introduced to the language as a compression of the words “holy days.” These “Holy Days” referred to the three seasons that celebrate the incarnation of God through Christ in Jesus: Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany. Christians do not need to allow this term to be hijacked by any culture war agenda. We can greet each other and those in line and the clerk with “Happy Holidays,” just like we did 30 years ago before people made it an issue.
There is no compromise. It does not have to be a conversation or a debate or even a “hot topic.” It is a non-issue as much as “non” can be. Evangelicals do not need to be painted into corners or manipulated into using words and phrases that, in terms of Christian observance, become empty of meaning. ”Merry Christmas” as a greeting is, technically, appropriate starting Christmas Eve and through the 12 Days of Christmastide. During our society’s over-heated, market-glutted, envy-driven shopping season, “Happy Holidays” is perfectly appropriate for Christians and evangelicals of every denomination and tradition, because for Christians, the “shopping season” that puts our society in such a tizzy, is actually “Advent,” a season of holidays (holy days) indeed.
I was first aware of the stir over “Santa Claus” in the early 1990′s. The same groups concerned about Heavy Metal rock bands recording Satanic messages backwards in their songs, also associated the public image of Santa Claus with the Devil.
Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) is just fine as a symbol for Christmas. When asked about him, evangelicals –whether they observe Christmas or play the make-believe game with their kids or not – should make this answer: “He was Bishop Nicholas of Myra, a city in what is now Turkey, during the days of the ancient Roman Empire. He was a delegate to the Council of Nicaea which affirmed the Two Natures of Christ, and was famous for his generosity to the poor, including his rescue of girls from the threat of enslavement.” Few heroes of the church are more evangelical than Santa Claus.
Church (Why it Matters)
I have heard from various people that they are “spiritual” but not believers in any one faith, or that they are “Christians” but disapprove of “organized religion,” or that they worship by feeling close to God out in nature than with other believers. By virtue of all of these being authentic attitudes and experiences they are legitimate, however none of these attitudes conform to the discipleship that Jesus instructs his followers to conduct.
Of course many who profess such statements as above have been in churches and been harmed one way or another. They have seen or been victims of sin in all its ugliness, they have experienced hypocrisy in various forms and grown tired of it, they perhaps have come under a graceless judgment and have washed their hands of trusting any kind of structured religious environment ever again. Perhaps they have even “shopped around” and not found any faith community reaching a minimum standard.
The Church exists as the primary vehicle to release the mission and testimony of disciples of Jesus Christ into the world. This testimony is to the gospel, which is, of the grace of God manifest through Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Churches are “organized” in various ways, but the means of discipleship remain: Faith is taught in word and deed, learned in word and deed, and practiced in word and deed in a community of accountable relationships and mentoring. This community is most visibly manifest in Communion, when believers gather around the Lord’s Table at the Lord’s invitation.
When we are separating ourselves from the church, we are removing ourselves from our training in faith and the scriptures. We tell ourselves that “my faith is my own,” but the New Testament never designed faith to be that way. To participate in a church one must be meek, humble, patient and forgiving, for it is true that the church is filled with hypocrites and sinners. All alike need the grace of God, and churches are at their healthiest when its members are extending grace to each other. This does not mean pretending that sin is not sin, or that sin ought to be celebrated, and it does not mean that sin should be buried under secrecy and shame. Grace neither hides nor celebrates sin, it cleanses sin in Christ’s blood. Hopefully there is, near to you, a church where the hypocrisy is acknowledged in brokenness, and where sin is defeated in the lived gospel of the grace of God.
It is God’s will that you be part of a church. Keep looking, Be guided in prayer.
Creation Care: Environmental Concerns
The August/November edition of The Covenant Quarterly is dedicated to environmental concerns and ethics. The denomination’s position can be described as “centrist,” affirming the unique role of humankind in God’s Creation, and affirming the beauty and goodness of God’s Creation. We are neither to exploit Creation nor are we to worship it. At Elgin Covenant opinions on climate change and other issues will vary across the spectrum.
Creationism See “Young Earth Creationism” below.
Criminal Justice See the following headers below: Guns: Control and Freedom; Incarceration; Law Enforcement; Police Shootings.
The word “cult” is considered an epithet, that is, normally it is an insulting designation. It is often applied to a small group of people who are fanantical about a limited set of concerns. As applied to religious groups, the range of meaning is broad. In many societies around the world, including European countries, any small religious group that expresses doctrinal disagreement with the established religion might be legally designated as a “cult” or “sect.” Americans take religious freedom and toleration for granted; many of us might be surprised to discover that a mainstream Southern Baptist here might be considered a cultist in some European countries!
There is a range of theological definitions of cult which reflects a set of concerns that are different from societal concerns and legal definitions. “Cult” itself refers to any practice of a religion. Thus scholars speak in terms of the “Temple Cult” of Old Testament Judaism — that set of procedures for conducting the sacrificial rituals. There is also a negative theological definition, and this is how the term “cult” is used by this author, Jonathan Wilson, on this website. A cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious.” www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult.
Of course at one level evangelicals insisting that Jesus Christ is the only valid way to know God will regard all other religions as “spurious.” The key here to this negative theological definition is the term “unorthodox.” Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Earth Religions do not claim to belong to each other and they do not claim to belong to the Christian faith. The cult is that which claims to be part of a particular religious family, but due to its unorthodox doctrines, it is not owned by the religious family it claims. So we find that some groups claim to be denominations of the Christian faith: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), Christian Science, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all claim to be Christian denominations; due to their unorthodox doctrines the Christian faith holds them to be separate and sectarian, that is, to be cults.
Some cults are societal misfits, such as the group that gathered around David Koresh called the Branch Davidians, or the community that gathered around Jim Jones. Followers of Sun Myung Moon, the “Moonies” were viewed as societal misfits who used psychological “brainwashing” techniques on their proselytes. However, to be a cult does not require being ”crazy” or “weird” from a societal point-of-view, nor are followers of cults necessarily crazy or weird or isolated. In terms of society, many cult adherents are mainstream: Many are in the work-force, living among non-adherents, and offering service to the public. Some cult groups were regarded as societal misfits at their origins and sought to isolate themselves, as for example the Mormons, but by the 21st century Mormons have been part of mainstream American life for a long time. The societal distinction no longer applies. Theologically, however, the term still applies to any group that, through their unorthodoxy, are disowned by the religious family they claim for themselves.
How is it that in a movement so diverse as Christianity, where there are so many widely divergent beliefs, that Christians dare to set a boundary that excludes Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses? In many ways these groups would appear to have more in common with Protestants, evangelicals and fundamentalists, than they would with Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches. The decisive boundary remains what it has always been: The content of beliefs in Jesus Christ, where he came from and what he came to do. Believe it or not, the Southern Baptist, the independent fundamentalist and the Evangelical Covenanter have more in common with the high-church Roman Catholic than with the Mormon. This is because of the shared beliefs of all true Christians that: 1) Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, 2) that he made atonement for our sins through his blood in the destruction of his flesh, 3) that in his flesh he rose again from the dead, 4) and that he is now seated in heaven to make intercession for us with the Father. That is the gospel, that is the Christian faith, and it is here, in the beliefs about Jesus, that the cults run aground in their various unorthodox doctrines.
(See topics regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Also for further study I recommend Walter R. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults. Information is available online.)
Divorce is not celebrated or taken lightly in the Covenant Church. In view of the seriousness of the matter particularly as it touches a person’s own sense of self-worth and godly vocation, the Covenant seeks to be compassionate in providing restorative ministry. Although our nation’s laws now speak of “no-fault divorce,” severed couples know that the heart-rending decision to end a marriage is not made unless there have been significant problems. A “no-fault” divorce is usually a “both-at-fault” divorce.
All the ways that a marriage can fail are too many to be listed here. The following redemptive priorities speak to the many aspects of what produces divorce. First, divorce should be prevented where possible through the intervention of counseling, and through the repentance which, restoring a person to God, is necessary to restore the person to their spouse. Obviously when addiction, infidelity, or abuse are involved, there is a much greater responsibility for repentance on the offender than on the victim. This leads to the second priority: Safety First. Victims under physical threat should separate immediately, along with their dependents.The feelings of guilt haunting the victim must not be allowed to blind the victim to the threat to their own person or to their dependents. Third: When divorce occur, many churches have resources or referrals for recovery and redemptive healing. Fourth: Divorce among Covenant clergy is considered a grave matter in which the process of redemptive healing is pursued under the supervision of the Board of Ministry.
Elections (see “Voting as Christians”)
End of Life
Machines that pump oxygen do not pump life. Many people including in the Covenant have signed orders that drastic measures for resuscitation are not to be taken under certain circumstances. However, we must draw sharp ethical boundaries between these choices, painful enough as they are, versus euthanasia and assisted suicide. There is a crucial difference between drafting a living will that gives permission to turn off the respirator of a person already deceased, and administering a lethal injection. Euthanasia is abortion at the other end of life.
What does it mean to be “evangelical?” The term has taken on social and political connotations in the American media which are improper to a true understanding. (i.e. “Evangelical” does not describe a political movement characterized by a voting bloc of angry reactionaries.) Rather, the word “evangel“ originates in the Greek language, the language of the New Testament of the Bible, and it means “good news.” In an older form of English the word for “good news” was “gospel.” To be an evangelist is to share the good news of the gospel. To be evangelical is to have one’s life centered on the gospel and on the sharing of the gospel. The gospel is presented in the New Testament, that Jesus Christ came from God the Father to make atonement for sins and thus reconcile the relationship between humankind and God, the Creator of us all. This is done at God’s initiative for the sake of God’s love, a love which is effectively communicated to humankind as grace and mercy. Atonement and reconciliation with God cannot be earned by any human being or human community, and it does not occur through human initiative. It is good news that we, lost from God and unable to find God because of our sin, are not left to wander in darkness; the light of God is the light brought to humankind to show us the way to the Father.
Evangelicals are marked by priorities in the journey of faith. 1) Evangelicals take a high view of scriptures as God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). 2) The new birth is central to the regeneration of the sinner as a child of God (John 3:3). 3)New life in Jesus Christ is effective on the priorities and lifestyles of believers, often by analogy spoken of as “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26). 4) Evangelicals affirm the Trinitarian Oneness of God that is the hallmark of the Christian witness through the ancient councils to the New Testament itself (Matthew 28:18-20, John 14:1-14). Other doctrines tied to Trinitarian faith include: The Son (Christ) is co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit; the Son became incarnate, fully human, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary; the incarnate Son is Jesus of Nazareth who is the expected Christ of God and of Israel; Jesus Christ made atonement for humankind’s sins with God by virtue of his sinless life; God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and he has become our high priest in heaven, interceding for us with the Father; the Holy Spirit is sent to those who receive in faith that Jesus Christ has made atonement for their sins and has made reconcilation with God (see #2 above).
Evolution see also Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism.
Evolution is a deterministic model for the emergence of complex forms of life from simpler forms of life. It is taught by law as the only valid scientific model in public schools. On the legal and ethical issues of atheistic determinism, I recommend Ben Stein’s documentary movie Expelled. It is not argued from a Christian point of view, but it is a valuable resource for Christians.
Many in the Evangelical Covenant are immersed in the evolutionary model of scientific thinking as public school students and so accept the presuppositions of “Theistic Evolution.” This corollary of “Intelligent Design” simply accepts that God’s hand guided the process of evolution. Theistic Evolution as opposed to godless determinism, preserves the ethical basis of the sacredness of life, since it is still God’s gift from God’s hand by God’s design. Objections to Theistic Evolution by religious circles are grounded within Biblical hermeneutics and are really not theological objections.
I was also (Pastor Jonathan) a Theistic evolutionist until a friend challenged me to do some more reading. My objections to Theistic evolution are not theological, but scientific and mathematical, as are my objections to the Youth Earth view (see Young Earth Creationism below.) As a “hot topic” this can be envigorating, however, the Evangelical Covenant Church as a denomination and our congregation takes no position on the interpretation of Genesis 1-2. We have Young Earth adherents worshiping alongside Theistic evolutionists.
Forgiveness (of sins and enemies, and the atheist belief that this is immoral)
The atheist Christopher Hitchens in the book Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate makes the following statement to his debate opponent, the Rev. Douglas Wilson:
“(Y)ou apparently adopt the immoral and suicidal doctrine that advocates forgiveness for those who would destroy us. Please take care not to forgive my enemies, or the enemies of society. If I have to call such people “evil” (and I find I have no alternative), I do not deduce peaceful coexistence from that observation and do not want you being tender to them when it is my or my family’s life that is at stake” (p. 60).
This is the key ethical distinction made between scriptural revelation and the world’s philosophers. The sentiment expressed by Hitchens is not unique to himself, it was shared centuries ago by Thomas Paine, a “Deist” opponent to Christian faith at the turn of the nineteenth century and author of The Age of Reason.
I note the following contradictions in the world’s attitudes toward Christians, the Church, and the Bible’s message. First, the Church and the Bible are wrong for teaching that enemies ought to be loved, persecutors prayed for, and wrong-doers forgiven. Second, Christians are hypocrites and paragons of all evil when we FAIL to forgive our enemies, when we are harsh toward wrong-doers, when we advocate martial means to enforce justice and avenge wrong, and when we enforce our own church disciplines among ourselves.
The problem with the Church’s witness is in the second criticism, not the first. It is indeed because we fail to show the depth of the grace, forgiveness and love of God and instead choose to participate in the world’s strategies of retribution and recrimination, that we are justly accused of hypocrisy and are becoming irrelevant in our testimony to the world.
For our gospel is this: Our solidarity as sinners puts us all in the same place before God. I stand before God in the same place as the IS executioner of baptized babies. My prayer is that God will smite that IS executioner with a dream of the face of Christ, or a vision of a burning bush with an accompanying word to repent of evil and come to the living knowledge of God. Meanwhile that IS executioner stands at the real risk of himself being executed by an American drone or a Saudi sniper, and in truth should that happen I will not mourn for him, for God has appointed that hour of judgment. But neither will I dance in the streets, for I am also a sinner.
Hitchens and others will not draw their solidarity around all humanity. For Hitchens and others there is the circle of those who are contributing to society, and there are enemies of society and enemies to the advancement of human social evolution. For them the judgments are indeed harsh. I add nothing to the statement Hitchens has made himself.
The problem is that the statement by Hitchens sets up the world for conflict rather than peace. For in the case of IS there is no way around what the world has been calling the “clash of civilizations.” In fact the murderers and terrorists of IS think they are doing the right thing. Where is the basis for moving humanity forward? It lies only in drone strikes and the hope that the western society in which Hitchens lives will continue to hold the edge in technology. Otherwise, of course, the recriminations from IS followers will be heaped up against western nations. What is next in the escalation? Do we go nuclear to protect our own society? Whom do we target?
My chief concern is that more Christians and churches should be distinguishing our attitude from that of Hitchens in order to show the world that yes, we really do follow a different ethic, a Biblical ethic, of solidarity with all sinners and the need for grace from a merciful, patient God. It is not because America is a Free Country that IS is wrong. It is because God has commanded that murder is a sin that IS is wrong. Hitchens would say murder is wrong even without God making that statement, but then holds out no gospel except that of recrimination. For Hitchens murder is wrong and must be punished and also protected against in order for society’s sake (making room for a “first strike” ethics, see paragraph above). Of course the society to be protected is the one Hitchens and his family belong to at present, it is NOT the society IS or Al Qaeda are attempting to bring into being.
I have received God’s offer in Jesus Christ of forgiveness for my sins for myself. Who am I to stand in judgment over another? Who am I to declare that God withholds that offer from another? I speak of right and wrong according to our scriptures as a warning to fellow sinners, yet I am called judgmental by the world. When Hitchens describes something as right or wrong according to a philosophy that has evolved in humanity over time ( p. 59) he is lauded by the world.
To the extent that I can it is my responsibility to share the scripture’s warnings of what is right and wrong in the meekness of a sinner who has done wrong. I do this as a Christian in order to proclaim the good news that God saves sinners who repent. It is my responsibility to appeal to all the world including its murderers and terrorists that there is a God and a judgment on sin to be feared, and there is another way to live when we repent and receive God’s offer of the forgiveness of our sins.
Forgiveness is renewing and refreshing to the spirit. Even psychology outside of Christian frameworks understands that a victim of harm done by someone else is a slave to that harm within the mind and emotions for as long as bitterness remains. But when bitterness is released there is newness of life. For the Christians who have lost loved ones and possessions to the persecution of zealots of other faiths (IS and Al Qaeda) and of no faith at all (Marxists in various regimes of Africa and Asia) the tools for self-defense and recrimination do not exist. In Hitchens’ terms there is therefore no gospel. From Jesus Christ there is the word, “forgive others as you have been forgiven.” This is release from bitterness and into boldness of testimony that shows such butchers of humanity that there is only One to fear, the One who can forgive sin or destroy both body and soul in hell.
I am surprised that such a thinker as Christopher Hitchens would find himself missing out on the psychological brilliance of forgiveness. Is it impossible that the forgiveness of enemies and the pursuit of reconciliation constitutes the next phase in humankind’s emancipation and evolution? Suddenly the language of Christian faith as bringing about a “new humanity” takes on a new complexion. Hmm? On the other hand retribution and recrimination have been the order of society for over a hundred generations. I am referring of course to Hammurabi, since there is no use bringing up Moses to Christopher Hitchens.
So it is the failure of the church at being a forgiving, grace-filled community which is our greatest failure. It is precisely these ethics of Jesus that would set us apart from the world, if only more believers truly put them into practice. Then let Hitchens cry in dismay for our ACTUAL practice of grace and forgiveness, and let the world’s philosophers point to our efforts at reconciling enemies as being immoral and insensible. Then at least the lines between the mind of God and human reason will be clearly drawn.
(Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate. Moscow, ID: Canonpress, 2008.)
Fundamentalism is a theological movement that defines a few denominations, has strong representation in many evangelical denominations, and lends itself to the formation of non-denominational or independent churches, many of which will have the word “Bible” in their name. Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology is an exhaustive treatment of fundamentalism. Summary statements can be found in the doctrinal statement of Dallas Theological Seminary http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.
Fundamentalism goes beyond the principles, or adds to the doctrines, that are characteristic of evangelicalism (see “evangelicalism”). Many Fundamentalists will treat as confessionally binding certain not only the doctrinal truths described by evangelicalsm, but also the following: The “Five Points” of Calvinism, a dispensational view of God’s salvation history, the Young Earth model of a six 24-hour day Creation, and a fixed sequence of end-time events. This end-time sequence is as follows: the pre-tribulation “rapture” of the Church which will be followed by a mass conversion of Jews to faith in Christ, seven years of turmoil on the earth (called the Great Tribulation), the “second coming” of Jesus Christ to reign visibly on the earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years, followed by the last great battle with Satan and then the resurrection from the dead.
The historic roots and sources of Fundamentalism include the development of the Baptist churches in Puritan contexts, the writings of John Nelson Darby, and the Scofield study notes to the King James Bible. Fundamentalism will be strongest among Christians that identify with these streams of Christianity. It is not as strong among believer’s-baptism churches with roots on the European continent, such as the ”Anabaptist” churches, nor with evangelical churches similarly rooted in non-English-speaking European countries.
The Evangelical Covenant Church is non-confessional and has its historic roots in the 19th Century evangelical revivals in Sweden. It is not a Fundamentalist denomination, although some congregations, a few pastors and many adherents will have Fundamentalist leanings. Evangelical Covenant Churches do not require their pastors to adhere to Calvinist doctrine, dispensationalism, pre-millenialism, or a Young Earth interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Pastor Jonathan is devoutly evangelical, but is neither a Baptist nor a Fundamentalist.
Gay Marriage (May 2012) See Next Gay Marriage: Supreme Court Decision June 15
The day after President Obama declared “unequivocal support” for Gay Marriage, I posted on the main page of this site. As I write, in May of 2012, the opposition to Gay Marriage by the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination and of the congregation in Elgin whose site you are now visiting, is just as unequivocal. The opposition is a matter of faith and obedience to God’s revelation; it is not a matter of bigotry or fear or hate. We are not the sort of church movement that stages boycotts or protest marches along the partisan divides of our nation, nor will anyone speaking on behalf of the Covenant ever advocate acts of violence against persons or groups or organizations that are in disagreement with our stated views. Our gospel is for everyone: We call all people everywhere to repent and receive the love of God, from whom mercy is free.
I cannot speak for the future, but I will make some predictions. These are not prophecies, for I have not received visions. These are more along the lines of an actuarial regression based on historic patterns, except that I work with ideas rather than numbers.
My hope is that the freedom of the religious conscience will remain sacrosanct in the United States, so that religious fellowships will be able to exercise their teaching roles and membership requirements without interference. I further hope that freedom of speech and assembly will likewise remain sacrosanct, so that the preaching of the scriptures will not be construed as “hate speech” and prosecuted. Solemn warnings of the Divine Will as understood from sacred texts, is materially and categorically distinct from incitements to violence against any community or individual. I believe that these sacrosanct privileges will remain normative for several years. I do not believe that it will be this sitting President (2012) who unravels these constitutional guarantees. It is furthermore possible that test cases and so on will confirm these freedoms of conscience and speech as sacrosanct for the duration of my lifetime. It is very possible, in fact one might even say probable, that it will continue to be “easy” to be a Christian and an evangelical in the United States of America for the duration of the 21st century.
It is also possible that within fifteen years, under a future administration, I will be jailed for hate speech because I preach to my own religious community and those who wish to join it the sexual righteousness that the Bible commands.
It is possible that as incorporated churches currently claim tax exemption and are served by clergy with special tax status who are able to perform weddings under state authority, that future administrations will begin to require religious clergy to perform same-sex weddings based on “equal access” laws.
It is possible that many denominations, under this pressure, will shift their stance to accommodate the public view. I cannot speak for the future of the Evangelical Covenant under such hypothetical conditions. All I can say is what is true everywhere and throughout history: The privileges of the Church in society and the Church’s stake in property has, historically, caused many Church denominations to conform to government ideologies under pressure, and to justify their actions for the sake of institutional preservation. I hope we’re different in the Covenant. I hope when we included the Barmen Declaration in the back of our 1995 hymnal, that we weren’t just identifying with the past but with the future.
My own position will not “evolve” under these circumstances. This very post might be what gets me arrested in 15 years. Whatever the case, there will be some denominations that will divide according to the tax exemption issue. Some churches have already formed that do not incorporate, for whom donations are not tax deductible, and whose clergy do not take advantage of their special status. Should the governments at local, state or federal levels begin to exert the pressures to conform religious practice to their ideology, I will suggest to the church I serve that we discorporate. If that decision is rejected by those who want to preserve the tax benefit of their donations, I will resign, form a house church and go “underground.”
It would be great if whole denominations, including the Evangelical Covenant, made such decisions. But it might never come to that. After all, this is all hypothetical. Right?
(see also: Gay Marriage Supreme Court Decision, Heterosexual and Homosexual Orientation, Marriage, Marriage: Supreme Court, Sexuality)
Gay Marriage Supreme Court Decision June 26, 2015
The post above was written three years ago in response to a statement by President Obama in 2012. Obviously the Supreme Court’s Decision made in 2015 indicates the path of the society at large and is in keeping with the general predictions that I discussed in 2012. The Supreme Court decision does not change the convictions of the Evangelical Covenant denomination, of this church, or of me. I do believe that many evangelical and charismatic churches will struggle with the issue, and some might experience schism as a result as some evangelicals embrace the culture’s values as now expressed by the Supreme Court. Other evangelical and charismatic Christians, as well as many Catholics and conservative (traditional/confession) mainline Christians, will hold to what society calls the more “traditional” or “conservative” views. Congregations and denominations I serve will be those that continue in the traditional and conservative view.
Here is a fresh angle on how churches might experience the new legal environment:
In 1973 the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision when it legalized abortion nationwide. In the forty-plus years since then many churches and their members have worked hard, on the basis of First Amendment freedoms, to argue for the protection and sanctity of life. The two have existed side-by-side: The legal environment, and religious conviction. Occasionally different issues regarding one side or the other have been settled in various ways at various jurisdictions. Elgin Covenant was on the margins of a First Amendment dispute regarding a local ordinance that curtailed a Life clinic’s effort to counsel and support life for women and girls in crisis pregnancies. That case, in which our church was NOT named, upheld the First Amendment. All of that is to say that while churches and governments might occasionally disagree regarding the limits of the First Amendment, and churches might have tough seasons as courts sort out various local ordinances, it is possible that on the whole what the government permits for private individuals and what churches teach for their members will be held as distinct, separated from each other, and legally tolerated according to the First Amendment. That is my hope, my wish, and my desire.
The complicating factor is the Supreme Court decision rendered several years ago to identify LGBTQ as a minority status under equal protection laws. What that will mean versus the Church’s First Amendment rights might be the next set of legal wrangles. Decisions will go one direction and then another, but IF the First Amendment is left intact, a status quo will develop on all sides of the issue as it has in the case of the abortion issue.
Grace (and why it is so amazing)
The premise of the Bible is this: That God is good and has created all things good, that sin is a corruption that spoils good things and make them damnable, that sinners who sin deserve to die and be damned, and that God in love desires to rescue sinners from the death of damnation. If we do not accept that sinners deserve to die and be damned, we do not understand what grace means, what is all about, and why it is amazing.
(see also: Church, Keys, the Forgiveness of Sins)
Guns: Control and Freedoms
Evangelical Covenant people will span the political spectrum on issues of Gun Control and constitutional rights. Gun violence is, of course, universally deplored. Strategies on addressing gun violence will appeal to different persons according to their backgrounds, experiences, and convictions.
As it concerns the strategy of the “right” to conceal and carry, I (Pastor Jonathan) am inflexible on one point: No church I serve will permit guns in its sanctuary, concealed or not. The sanctuary is not to be violated by Christians who pack weapons out of fear. Yes, there have been mass murders in churches as part of an epidemic spiritual disease in our wider society, however it is up to Christians as a gathered people to set apart a different witness. If I die for my conviction, then I die. What can a shooter do to me? Am I not looking forward to eternal life? Sancutaries as weapons-free zones are a long tradition of the Church dating to the early Middle Ages when blood-soaked barbaric violence was even worse and less punished than it is today. Sometimes, even in those old days, sanctuary was ignored –by Viking raiders, for example. The importance of sanctuary is not the safety it creates as such, but the testimony that the notion of sanctuary makes to a higher hope and expectation.
Interpreting the Second Amendment Concerning Guns and Freedoms
I am personally all for the Constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights. I LOVE that First Amendment, and I only hope it continues to be interpreted for the maximum freedoms permitted and intended. Regarding the Second Amendment, there seem to be shockingly few people who have actually read it. For the purpose of preventing the government from infringing on the right to bear arms, is stated in the first clause: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”
So the purpose is to make us MORE secure, not LESS. This greater security is established in that gun-owners are intended to be well-regulated as first lines of domestic defense. How are those regulations to look? It seems to me that the expectation that guns are regulated in view of the broader safety of the public is PART OF LOGIC OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT. I could pose some suggestions, but in no way would I ever preach public policy from the pulpit. One suggestion I might make as a private citizen, is that when a gun is sold the buyer is registered with the state government for militia duty, including required training and “drills.” Another suggestion is that the state government sets up criteria for who is competent to serve in its militia, and prohibits the sale of weapons to any other who is deemed incompetent to serve the state in that manner. Do read carefully, I am not proposing that this be taken under the auspices of the federal government. The logic of the Second Amendment is for each state to have a line of defense against the growth of federal tyranny. I don’t think I’m reading the Constitution like a revisionist. At least to me a “well-regulated militia” is plain as day.
Heterosexual and Homosexual Orientation
To understand the position of the Evangelical Covenant on these hot topics, one has to remember our theological foundations: We believe that sin is a spiritual birth defect with terminal consequences for 100% of all humanity. In previous centuries this condition has been called “original sin” by Augustine of Hippo, total innate depravity by John Calvin, and the bondage of the will by Martin Luther. (See “original sin” below.)
As this relates to our sexual inclinations, orientations, and preferences, the Evangelical Covenant stands with the Reformation by affirming two truths: 1) Sexuality is given to human beings as a gift from God as a stamp of God’s image, so that as male and female bond in a marriage relationship they more completely render that image in the word. 2) Sexuality is a root area of brokenness for many, probably most, human beings.
Where bigotry is also an area of sinfulness for many people, many hurtful and ignorant things have been said about those whose inclinations, orientation and preferences are toward same-sex intimacy; these ingorant statements can be reduced to the sentiment that such an orientation is “unnatural.” It is my conviction that homosexual orientations and behaviors are perfectly natural, and that persons can be and indeed are born with these inclinations and preferences, precisely because of the Biblical doctrine that all sin is natural to the human being in the sinful state. Thus the homosexual who sins homosexually is no worse a person than the heterosexual who sins heterosexually. And there is lots of heterosexual brokenness and sin. The rate of divorce testifies that all is not well in the institution of marriage spoken by God; God’s gift of sexuality is corrupted and tainted by sin. All human beings are depraved by original sin.
See the topics “Gay Marriage, Ordination, Original Sin, Marriage, Marriage: Supreme Court, Sex, Sexuality.”
From its origins the Evangelical Covenant has striven to be a community of mission and hospitality. Xenophobia (fear of or hostility toward strangers) may have been characteristic of certain congregations at certain times, but on the whole people of all ethnic backgrounds have been welcomed. Many congregations have actively sponsored refugees at times of crisis. The “hot topic” concerning immigration has to do with “undocumented immigrants.” The denomination’s stance is one of compassion and hospitality, and the justice that workers are worthy of their hire. The need for reform of the Immigration Code is obvious and it is a national sin that self-interest has turned such an urgent need into a political football.
Too many vulnerable people are trafficked into slavery by unscrupulous smugglers. Too many have died in shipping containers. Too many are denied their wages. There is a demand for justice as well by victims whose identities have been stolen by those entering the country illegally and forging numbers on applications, and among victims of hit-and-run accidents caused by uninsured drivers afraid of being deported. (The author, Jonathan Wilson, is also the victim of such an episode.) The upshot is that the current legal environment fosters these conditions and the system is broken. It needs to be fixed. In the meantime, victims on all sides of this broken system need to deal with one another humanely, honorably, and in solidarity.
The United States is a free and open society, yet we lead developed nations with per capita rates of imprisonment, exceeding even China. This speaks to deep problems in our society. We want people who are dangerous to society to be isolated from the rest, and as a father of young children I resonate with that desire and priority. Yet it is in the interests of society at large to want those who can be reformed, to be reformed, and hopefully to rescue those at-risk from entering the punitive, life-damaging system of imprisonment.
Statistics can be cited here to show the ethnic distortion in the prison population versus the population at large. The wounds of our nation’s racial divides are hidden in this way, behind the mask of law enforcement and our assumption that only bad people go to jail, and whomever is in jail belongs there. Penetrating questions need to be asked about our society. The issue of incarceration is going to be increasingly important in the dialogues on racial reconciliation, and it will touch nerves and be very difficult.
Meanwhile, there is a call to the People of God. Imprisonment breaks up and poisons family systems, creating self-sustaining cycles of brokenness. The Church as a whole must look past moral bigotry and fears and begin to reach out to lives broken by the system, to intervene and to intercede, especially to prop up the single mother and the children bereft of their Dads. This can be done in many ways: With mentoring for help in life-skills, for networking employment, healthcare, and other social services, for providing alternative communities and environments that raise families in hope rather than despair.
At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries the insights of scientific exploration along with technological development had increased to the point that millions of urbanized people in western civilization could no longer relate to the lifestyles and technologies of Biblical characters. This lent itself to a controversy about the Bible’s ongoing and practical validity in a rapidly changing world. The argument was conducted on the terms of enlightenment philosophy.
Intelligent Design is a catch-all for Theists and Deists who believe that an all-powerful Creator God who stands outside of time, created matter, energy and all its properties and set the universe in motion. This is implied in the order of pattern and function, and has as its premise two or three arguments: First, the dilemma of “irreducible complexity” suggests that certain processes cannot have been randomly concocted by simpler functioning processes being combined; the interdependence of function is too complex and greater than any sum of its parts. Second, this complexity suggests design. Third, design presupposes a designer.
Beyond that, at its most narrow definition, Intelligent Design proponents are careful not to wade into the morass of doctrinal disputes on the one hand, or to seek to establish any one particular religious viewpoint. Rather it is a scientific observation based on the flaws and evidentiary gaps in the model of evolutionary determinism. Even so, courts have upheld that public schools cannot be compelled to raise elements of intelligent design, and must be compelled to cease and desist any discussion of intelligent design.
See also “Young Earth.”
The Evangelical Covenant Church and its institutions of higher education have been deeply engaged on “Israel” as a theological issue and an ethical issue. For example one of the few “heresy” trials to take place in the last fifty years centered on a North Park professor’s insistence that Jews did not need to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. He was exonnerated, not on the basis of majority opinion, but on the basis of recognizing that historically this has been considered a valid point-of-view in protestant and evangelical scholarship. The Evangelical Covenant Church as a denomination and in our congregation values freedom of conviction on many such points that have been historically divisive throughout The Church, and issues surrounding Israel certainly fit this bill. So if you are looking for doctrinaire positions of Israel’s role in eschatology or its absence, you will be disappointed.
Pastor Jonathan teaches that Jesus Christ is the judge of the whole world, and that no other name is given under heaven by which we must be saved.
Pastor Jonathan teaches that Biblical Israel encompasses the Church; the Church neither encompasses nor supersedes Israel.
Regarding the modern secular nation-state of Israel: Politically, it puzzles Pastor Jonathan that any American can think it would be a good idea to abandon the only open society and functioning democracy in the region. Ethically, it puzzles Pastor Jonathan that such carte blanche support is given by some evangelicals to a nation which is pro-abortion in its legal apparatus. Historically, it puzzles Pastor Jonathan that Arab states invented just as arbitrarily from the post-colonial withdrawal can be offended that a strip of swampland and desert smaller than New Jersey is given as a homeland for Jews in the same post-colonial framework. The nation-state of Jordan is Churchill’s betrayal of the Balfour Declaration; therefore what do these modern dynasties, each one of them born out of the largesse of Europe’s imperial states such as England and France, possibly have to complain about? What is Iraq, anyway? A line drawn in the sand. Kuwait? The same. Further afield, Pakistan, Kashmir and that whole battle among non-Arab Muslims in Central Asia has to do with the same thing; a power struggle following the vacuum when the sun set on the British Empire. If Israel has no right to exist, neither does Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. This is a straight-forward judgment based on the same international laws that brought these other states into existence, which anyone of sound mind from any faith or no faith at all can readily discern given the historical perspective.
This cult (see “Cult” above) formed during a period of intense apocalyptic expectation around the time of World War I. The “witnesses” refer to the “Sealed 144,000″ from the 12 Tribes of Israel, in the Book of Revelation. Jehovah Witness doctrine had to be revised considerably after the group exceeded that number and still Christ did not return. Congregations are often called Kingdom Halls, and their scriptures are called the Watch Tower Bible. As is true of most heretical groups trying to claim Christian affiliation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinitarian framework of Christian faith, deny the full co-quality of Christ the Word of God with God the Father, and rely on a system of merit-based works to bring the individual to the state of grace. Adherents in Germany distinguished themselves by being an early group under Nazi persecution: they refused to offer the Caesaresque-style tribute of the arm-extended “Heil Hitler” salute. As a result many died in concentration camps.
Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate in human flesh, very God of very God, fully divine and fully human. Much has been written and movies have been made with many theories about Jesus being secretly married and having children and so forth, and of his presentation by a scheming all-powerful Church. Pastor Jonathan published an article in The Covenant Quarterly, an academic journal, debunking these views not on the basis of scripture but on the basis of history. I chose this approach for two reasons: First, because other evangelical pastors had already taken the Biblical route, including Moody Memorial Church Pastor Erwin Lutzer. Second, because those who were spreading the lies about Jesus don’t agree with evangelicals about how to read the Bible. So instead I took the historic claims and demolished them. For more information on debunking the lies about Jesus– that he was a pagan, that Mary Magdalene was his wife, that his descendants became the kings of France but now live in Scotland — please respond with e-mail to email@example.com.
Jesus the Christ (Messiah) of Israel is the Son of God
No other legitimate way to understand Jesus exists. Some have tried to invent an “historical” Jesus that rips away his divinity and with it most of the four gospels and New Testament witness. The alternatives are these: believe the apostles who recount their testimony in the New Testament, or don’t. (Related Topic: Messiah)
Justice is a huge hot topic. Indeed many of the hot topics here related have to do with how people perceive what is just: What is fair, what reflects the righteousness of God, what makes reconciliation possible, what sets the conditions for peace. If God is not concerned about justice, God is deficient and not worth our faith. If Christians are not expressing justice in our priorities, words and actions, we are blurring and darkening our testimony to the heart of God living through us. This does not mean, however, that we accept carte blanche the various definitions, platforms and agendas set forward in a polarized, partisan culture. Christians believe that justice is not an abstraction to be discovered by reason alone; justice is revealed in the Word of God, lived in Christ and spoken through the scriptures. The following headings for justice try to unpack several dimensions not already covered in other hot topics: Justice as God’s wrath on sin, Social Justice, and Theodicy –how can God allow the innocent to suffer.
Justice (God’s Wrath on Sin)
How can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen? How can a good and loving God command bad things to happen, as appears to be the case in the Bible? One of the main objections to traditional Christianity by philosophers, especially from the Enlightenment to the present, is that the Bible depicts a God that is jealous, selfish, angry, and unloving. This is the key objection of the Deist Thomas Paine at the turn of the nineteenth century, and it is also frequently returned to by today’s atheists such as Christopher Hitchens.
We need to understand first of all that scripture is not rooted in a philosophical premise, but in a person. Scripture is not guided by Plato’s shadows on a cave wall, nor is it guided by Aristotle’s ethics. Scripture is the revelation of the mind of God through the prophetic voices that preached it and the prophetic hands that transcribed it. It reaches deeper than philosophy to disclose God’s heart for the world.
The premise of scripture is that 1) God is Good. God is righteous and holy and created the world as a reflection of his character. 2) Sin is a spiritual plague attacking and spoiling the goodness of Creation, but not the goodness of God. 3) As participants in sin, sinners deserve to die. 4) Every human being is a sinner, suffering the effects of sin from others and perpetrating sins that harm the self and others.
These premises are absolutely crucial to understanding the Bible’s message for you and for the world. Unless you understand that you deserve to die, and unless you understand that every person apart from Jesus Christ that the Bible writes about also deserves to die, you will not understand grace, the love of God, the stories in the Bible, or the Bible’s overall message.
It is easy to get caught up in the world’s confusion: “Why did God command the Israelites to kill everyone in Jericho and exterminate the Caananite culture?” When we start off with a question like that, putting God in the defense box while we make accusations, we end up missing the good news. Not everyone in Jericho died. Not every Canaanite was killed. One has to read the STORY in order to find its gospel, and the gospel is present. If you are patient in reading this, we will get there in a few paragraphs.
When readers of the Bible start from some other philosophical premise, for example that Jericho and the Canaanite cultures had intrinsic value, they get tripped up. At one level we can say that all cultures have intrinsic value and all people have inherent worth and dignity; indeed this is a distinctively Christian message, one that obviated and restrained the xenophobic and genocidal practices of pagan barbaric cultures. But if we hold up as the first premise a philosophy about humanity’s intrinsic value, then the Bible becomes confusing indeed: either God is in the wrong about Jericho or the Bible’s authors are wrong. Many choose to say that the Bible is wrong, and God never commanded such a thing as the war on the Canaanites. Then they go on to say that the Bible “contains” the Word of God but also contains a lot of distorted stories and images of God, such as the story of Jericho’s destruction.
But begin with the premise that 1) sinners deserve to die and 2) everyone is a sinner, and suddenly a whole lot more of the Bible makes a whole lot more sense. For even in the story of Jericho there is good news. Thank you for your patience. Here it is:
A woman named Rahab did what everyone in Jericho ought to have done when faced with the armies of Israel. She surrendered. And that is the point! By surrendering she assimilated into Israel’s culture, married an Israelite of Judah and became the direct ancestor to Jesus Christ! There was another Canaanite group, called the Gibeonites, who surrendered to the Israelites. And they were spared. Not only were they spared, but Israel fought a war to rescue them. Later, when a bigot king named Saul took charge and began a pogrom against the Gibeonites, God punished Israel.
All humankind is under the judgment of Jericho and of Canaan. We are all sinners. We all deserve to die. Now we can hide behind our walls of self-justification and call God a bad person or the Bible false, or we can follow the example of Rahab and the Gibeonites, we can surrender to God and find life.
This is the grace of God. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, accepted the death of his flesh in order to defeat the curse of death. All of us deserve to die and be permanently separated from God, but instead we can surrender to Jesus Christ and allow his sinless life to enter into our own, so that we too can rise from the dead and live forever with God.
If we don’t think we’re sinners, if we think we have some kind of right to live the way we want, if we assume that we are alive by some random biological function apart from God’s grace that gave us life, then the justice of God’s judgment on sin will seem unfair to us. After all, who is GOD to call ME a SINNER? But if we accept the premise that God is good and that sinners deserve to die, we are able to fall to our knees as Rahab did.
A related issue might fit under the discussion of Justice (Theodicy) however a complete answer on this topic requires that we deal with the children in the story, for they also were condemned by the declarations of war. Also, the Passover itself commemorates that God caused the first-born of Egypt to die on the eve of the Exodus, including children in the cradle. How can God be good in causing that to happen?
There are several aspects to this question. If you are patient, please prayerfully consider these comments. To begin, sin is really that bad. Sin has consequences on families and nations. The death of the first-born was the tenth plague of warning to fall on the Egyptians, each plague was forewarned in advance, and pharaoh broke a promise numerous. It says further that “the Lord hardened pharaoh’s heart.” That was not until after the first several acts of rebellion from pharaoh. In other words, pharaoh made a habit of rejecting God’s Word and breaking his own word. If you are set on philosophy and psychology and other models for understanding life and ethics, then you are already well-informed by Aristotle that habit determines character, which predicts destiny. It is in the nature of our Createdness that we are creatures of habit; thus God as creator took ultimate responsibility for the hardening of pharaoh’s heart, even though it was the habit pharaoh himself formed that led to the hardening.
How are children harmed today by the hardness of heart and habits of their parents? Addictions lead to neglect, or even birth defect. War among grown-ups who refuse to get along visits destruction, famine and want on the non-combatants, including children. You have seen for yourself the heart-breaking images of children in refugee camps. Yes, sin is that bad. To have read a Bible that ignored the suffering of children in consequence of the sins of adults, would have robbed it of all credibility. Since when does a city fall and children not suffer? Then the critics and skeptics would be telling us that the Bible describes a fantasy world where the harmful impact of sin of children is simply ignored.
If the Egyptians had been smart and heeded God’s Word after nine plagues, they would have seen what the Hebrews were doing and painted the blood of the lamb on the door-posts of their home. The Egyptians did not believe. But when Rahab surrendered she rescued her entire family. If Jericho wanted to save its children it should have done what Rahab had done and surrendered. The Gibeonites surrendered. All their children were saved.
One more comment about children relative to God’s justice: nothing in the Bible says the children of Canaan or of Jericho or of Egypt went to Hell. Speculations about limbo and purgatory are extra-Biblical accretions that have not been doctrine or articles of faith in Evangelical Covenant circles. There is a word from Jesus that implies that until a child attains moral responsibility they are viewed as innocent in the eyes of God (Matthew 18:10). A consoling word from the prophet Isaiah states that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil (Isaiah 57:1).
The main problem is not that God is unfair or that God is misrepresented in the Bible. The main problem is that we are rejecting the premise of God’s Word that we are sinners who deserve to die. We are accepting other premises from other philosophies about innate human goodness and virtue, and then we go back and read the Bible and scratch our heads in confusion, thinking that God is a monster or that primitive ancient minds misunderstood what God was about.
Sin is that bad. It is WE who sin in lust and greed and use violence to construct our societies, and we train our children to continue in sin: in the schools they attend, the movies and programs and games we allow in their screen-time, in the musical messages they download for their ear buds. Then we wonder what the world is coming to, and we fuss and fume that God is mean or the Bible is irrelevant.
The premise of the justice of God’s wrath on sin is that God is patient and kind and loving, not willing that anyone should perish; but when the wrath finally falls it overtakes the ethically lazy along with the outright rebellious and, sadly, their dependents. Repent! Why will you die? (Ezekiel 33:11)
Many of the hot topics speak specifically to social justice issues. (See Abortion, Capital Punishment, End of Life, Gay Marriage, Immigration). One hot topic among evangelicals is the degree to which social justice concerns should drive mission, outreach, evangelism and discipleship. The Evangelical Covenant from its origins has held the two priorities together, the Great Commission to evangelize the nations and the Great Commandment to love our neighbors. Social activism is fairly common among Covenant people; causes will often break along partisan lines, so that those who volunteer in ministry for the unborn might not be the same people as those advocating an end to capital punishment. It doesn’t have to be this way, but there is no use to denying the reality either.
Justice (Theodicy: That God allows the innocent to suffer)
According to Martin Luther one of the marks of the True Church is that Jesus Christ has given the Church the office of the keys. Luther understood that to mean the declaration of forgiveness; that it is within the community of faith that the person makes confession and receives absolution in the promise and power of Christ’s atoning work. Recent Biblical scholarship also acknowledges that “the keys” refers to rabbinic language for interpreting scripture. The keys to the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are in the Christ-centered interpretation that sees the Old Testament promising the coming of Christ, and the New Testament testifying to the fulfillment of those promises.
Law Enforcement (see Criminal Justice, Gun Control and Freedoms, Incarceration, Police Shootings)
Once again, I resonate with the desire for safe streets, and I resonate with the need to lift up those involved in all phases of law enforcement, because it is not easy, and becoming over-political only serves to put the lives of first-responders at risk. I am not one to tell those in Law Enforcement how to do their jobs: How to identify threats to their own safety, how to diffuse a tense confrontation, how to maintain control. The professions involved are steeped in centuries of practice and theory, and are also constantly evolving new models, approaches, and tactics.
That said, there have been strategies and attendant tactics that I support, such as, that of resident police-officers who actually live in particular crime areas and begin to leaven the neighborhood for safety and wholeness. Perhaps one facet to the issues besetting Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at this time (early 2016) is that local policing may tend to follow the political priorities in that locale. That is, police respond tactically to the overall strategic vision of the elected civilians to whom they report. If a civilian is elected who has promised to “clean up the streets” that will create a particular law enforcement atmosphere, as politicians funnel tax dollars to SWAT Teams and high-powered fire-arms instead of Police-in-Residence programs. Those who are elected who are determined to address causes rather than symptoms will set a different kind of priority: Community groups will meet with Police Captains; tutoring centers and recreation facilities will be opened and staffed with flexibile evening hours; officers will become first-name familiar with residents; efforts will be made for police forces to demographically represent the communities they serve.
I hope it is clear that this is a pastor’s advice to municipal-level and county politicians, and not blame or criticism for any particular group of police officers or other first-responders.
Liberal Christianity is a cross-denominational theological movement; ”liberal” in this terminology is not a political or philosophical designation. Most Liberal Christians are clustered in “mainline” denominations. These are Protestant churches with cultural, theological, and institutional ties to state-controlled Protestant denominations in Europe. Some Liberal Christians will be found in mainstream evangelical denomination such as the Evangelical Covenant, the American Baptists or the Evangelical Free Church. However, evangelical churches will tend to attract at least as many dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists as they do liberals.
Liberal Christianity tends to elevate critical deconstruction of the scriptures, such that: 1) Emphasis is made on separating the “historical Jesus” from the “Christ of faith” (one must first assume this is possible). 2) Miracle stories are either explained away (everyone had secretly brought their own lunch so Jesus did not REALLY feed 5,000 people) or discounted altogether. 3) The Bible is a compilation by many human hands and there is actually no independent validation for its veracity. 4) It is better not to treat it as the Word of God per se, but rather as the response of ancient, primitive minds within their socio-economic contexts to the profound issues of ethics and human dignity.
The diminishment of the authority of scripture among liberal Christians has led to new conclusions about the ethics the Bible teaches. This is most plainly evident in terms of what the Bible’s authors have to say about human sexuality, the meaning of marriage, and qualifications for ordained leadership. Whereas the preponderence of prophetic scripture decries idolatry and false worship, Liberal Christians tend to elevate the minority prophetic witness to justice, which is then redefined in terms of fostering the equitable distributions of material opulence in an industrialized global economy. Meanwhile idolatry and false worship become the subjects of appreciative interfaith dialogue toward the view of finding common ground.
There is an emphasis on the “Christ of Faith” for the sake of maintaining the liturgical unity of the body. Often liberal Christians prefer and emphasize the high-church orders for the sake of the continuity of community. However, liberal scholars teaching in liberal seminaries turn out liberal pastors who recite “born of the Virgin Mary” because it is part of the creed, not because this belief has any actual historical substance.
In practice, the separation of the Christ of Faith from the “historial Jesus” recovers the “Two Persons” heresy of Nestorius, who was anathematized by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Theologically, the rejection of the divinity of the “historical Jesus” as he traversed the Holy Land preaching (and performing miracles) is a return to Arianism. Institutionally, however, the mainline churches have continued to hold to their historic confessions, all of which affirm the distinctive doctrines of the Christian Faith, that God is One in Three Persons, and that Jesus Christ is one person indivisible in personality, possessing a fully human nature and a fully divine nature. As long as these mainline churches hold to these truths confessionally, they do not cross the line into becoming “cults” (see “Cult” above), despite the abundance of error of those within these churches for whom these confessions are for the eyes and lips only, and are not reflections of the faith abiding in the heart.
See “evangelicalism” above.
The denomination affirms and Pastor Jonathan preaches that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. Divorce is inappropriate except on the grounds of unchastity (Matthew 5), which breaks the heart of God in any event. Unchastity can include adultery but has a broader meaning, to include behaviors which betray fidelity to the spouse or which put the spouse and family in danger. Covenant people are no strangers to sin and brokenness in marriage as well as in all parts of life. For example Pastor Jonathan once counseled a spouse to permit a divorce that was being sought by an abuser. I based my discernment on the nature of the abuse, and, on the spiritual condition of the marriage according to the Apostle Paul’s suggestion in I Corinthians 7.
The good news is that even in the circumstances of unchastity or adultery, reconciliation can still happen! (Related topics: Marriage: Supreme Court, Ordination, Sex and Sexuality) Do you need support for your marriage? Call (847) 888-2302.
Marriage: Supreme Court Decision of June 26, 2013
Some voices from within The Church have, in a misguided effort to be ecumenically sensitive, invented a distinction between the “Messiah” of Jewish expectation and the “Christ” described in the New Testament. This distinction is incoherent; it empties the claims of Jesus and his disciples of any semantic meaning. Many believe that Jesus and his disciples were wrong, and this very real separation in the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, Christianity) must not be white-washed out of ecumenical concerns.
In this section I am describing the Mormon Faith, institutionally represented by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as a “cult.” To learn more about the theological use of the term “cult,” please see the heading “Cult” above. To see Pastor Jonathan’s comments and concerns about the Fall 2012 decision by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to remove “cult” as designation of the Mormon Faith, please see, “Mormonism in the Politics of 2012″ below.
What makes Mormonism both non-Christian and a Cult:
1. The addition and elevation of other scriptures equal in status to the Christian Bible. The Christian Bible already has a lot of forms, some longer and some shorter. For example most Protestants no longer print the “apocryphal” books, a collection of various lengths depending on whether western or eastern traditions are received. None of this material is later than the first century. Mormons add the Book of Mormon and other materials to the scripture. These texts have their origins in the 19th century.
2. Mormon doctrines of Christ are not what Christians espouse. The New Testament faith believed by Christians is that Jesus Christ is fully God incarnate in human flesh. The Mormon doctrines diminish the deity of Jesus Christ by belief that many human beings can become gods as they claim happen to Jesus. This also changes the doctrines of sin and atonement cherished and evangelized by Christians for thousands of years.
3. Mormons claim to be part of the family of Christian denominations. It is this confusion that merits the designation of “cult” rather than a distinctive world religion. The best way to explain the differenc is by looking at a world religion that is not a cult, the faith of Islam. Whereas Islam also has doctrines of Jesus, and honors the Bible along with subsequent scriptures elevated over the Bible (the Koran), the religion of Islam does not pretend to be part of the Christian faith or just another denomination. Adherents to Islam understand that their distinctive beliefs about Jesus, about the role of their prophet to innovate new religious ideas (new to the sixth century), and the nature of their religious hope, make Islam and Christianity separate and unique faiths.
The representative structure for the Mormon Faith is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). As you can see by its formal title every effort is made to identify with the denominational Christian family: “Church, Jesus Christ, Saints” with the hint of eschatology “Latter Day.”
With thirteen million members world-wide it is a significant religious movement, and as such evangelicals have been in ongoing dialogue with Mormon adherents. Were the LDS to simply confess itself as another of the Abrahamic Faiths (with Judaism, Christianity and Islam) it might then be appropriate to lift away the epithet of “cult.” It is because Mormonism seeks to present itself as being grafted in with Christianity as just another denomination, that Christians especially have to know how to set the boundary.
For further study I suggest consulting Walter R. Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults. Information for this material is available online.
Mormonism in the Politics of 2012
Speaking of refusing to “white-wash” anything (see “Messiah” above) we have discovered during the Fall of 2012 that it is not only ecumenical concerns that motivate white-washing; there are political motivations as well.
To what ought to be the great embarrassment and alarm of evangelicals throughout the world and in the United States, the Chief of Staff of the Billy Graham Association Ken Barun released a statement (October 2012) which cast into doubt the religious status of Mormonism as a cult. This appeared at ABCnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/10/billy-grahams-website-removes-mormonism-from-cult-list.
First, let us set the issue in its context of a federal presidential election. Many Mormons and evangelicals overlap on the issues of traditional morality. Many Mormons and evangelicals overlap in the priority concerns of the American middle class. Many Mormons and evangelicals share a belief that a Mormon challenger offers a better alternative to giving the incumbent President of the United States a second term. Many such concerns of traditional morality and middle class economic concerns may also overlap with Jehova Witnesses (a cult) as well as adherents to other world religions such as Judaism, Islam (in the Judeo-Christian heritage), Buddhism and Hindu faith.
This overlap in lifestyle priorities between many Mormons and many evangelicals does NOT make the issue of the status of Mormonism a “theological debate.” But these are the words of Ken Barun. The Billy Graham Association will not get into a “theological debate” about the religious status of Mormonism, since that has been “politicized in this campaign.”
None of this is meant to say that Mormons are “bad people” (the ones I have known personally are impressively moral and generous, as is also true of Muslims I have known personally). Nor is Billy Graham wrong to have met with a Mormon who is the Republican candidate for the presidential election. Christians will not be wrong to vote for a Mormon candidate for public office. Christians around the world have made the effort to be good citizens under the government of non-Christians. This has happened already in the United States and will happen again, perhaps more and more often. How and for whom Christians vote is NOT the issue being treated on this website or in any word preached by Pastor Jonathan Wilson.
Rather, Christians called to the gospel of Jesus Christ are accountable to know what is true faith and what is error, and are not to be afraid to name it no matter what “political” winds are blowing. Neither are Christians to compromise or waffle for the sake of political expedience. That Mormons can now point to the decision by the Billy Graham Association to change the dynamics of their own proselytization among true Christians is a real shame; for the Kingdom this constitutes, as Winston Churchill once said, “a complete and unmitigated defeat.”
Only Mormons claim to be Christians. Those who adhere to the apostolic faith of the New Testament in affirming the person, work, and promise of Jesus Christ, have known that Mormonism as a faith is heretical and promotes error. This is not a “theological debate.” Regardless of how we vote, this is the gospel truth on which all Christians must stand.
In the Evangelical Covenant Church ordination is for women and men who are set apart by the Holy Spirit to serve the church. (Related Issue: Women in Ministry.) The calling of the Spirit on a life might even happen in a dramatic or ecstatic way, however in the Covenant Church the ecstasy of the moment of call is not the qualification to serve. Rigorous academic study and field training under experienced mentors are required, normally through a graduate divinity school where programs require anywhere from two to four and possibly more years to complete. Exceptions to this policy are rare. The Evangelical Covenant Church owns and operates CHET for Spanish-language students in California, and North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, which offers degrees up through a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching. Masters degrees in ministry-related fields from other institutions are normally honored, however, an orientation process to the Evangelical Covenant is then required. (http://northpark.edu/)
Credentialed ministers are required to abide by the Biblical lifestyles affirmed as holy in the instructions of the New Testament. This includes chastity in singleness, and faithfulness in marriage between one man and one woman. Those who are practicing lifestyles out of profile with those here described should not hold ministerial office in the church nor seek ordination. (Related issues: Marriage, Gay Marriage, Heterosexual and Homosexual Orientation, Sex, Sexuality) Of course it is not only sexual transgression which disqualifies a minister. Sin is sin, and the Ministerium of the Evangelical Covenant seeks to discipline its ordained clergy constructively and helpfully, keeping in view the protection of the people and the redemption of the erring pastor.
The evangelical gospel is that all people in the world are sinners who need the grace of God to pass through death into eternal life. This grace is manifest through Jesus Christ, who bore the curse of death on his own body. Because Jesus was without sin from conception and through his whole life, the curse of death could not be impressed upon him. He rose again, this time to indestructible eternal life.
Thus the Christian faith affirms two truths in tension: First, that God created all of life and human beings “good” and pronounced our goodness (Genesis 1:31), and second, that when the first human beings fell into sin this goodness was tainted by the curse of death (Genesis 3:1-19). Sin and its curse are pervasive, tainting all human beings from conception (Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 51:3-6). This curse is operative throughout everything that exists, so that “all Creation groans” until the day of the redemption of the children of God (Romans 8:18-25).
Jesus Christ was without the taint of original sin because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:26-38). Being then for the human race like a “Second Adam” (Romans 5:5-19), he overcame temptations to sin where the first Adam had failed (Luke 4:1-12).
Original sin and Christ’s victory over its curse through his sinless death is the story of the New Testament. It is the good news that we proclaim, and there is no other gospel. Those who reject the premise of original sin and still speak of an innate goodness in humanity, empty the cross of Christ of its meaning. Those who are skeptical of the scriptures will reject the virginal conception and reject the resurrection and reject the divinity of the Christ of God, reducing Jesus of Nazareth to a mere martyr who was crucified for helping poor people. In the Evangelical Covenant Church we affirm that the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, are the Word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct. Without the guidance of scriptural revelation, what rule for faith is left? A voice in your head, the law of the land, the shifting fads of culture –none of these have the same reliability as God’s Word, but they all continue to pile up the evidences that we are conceived and born in sin.
A depraved person is not necessarily a mean or grumpy person, or greedy, or impatient. Many people in the world are “nice.” They lend a hand even to a stranger. Many people find it unthinkable that they would murder someone. Cultures affirm certain social graces and most laws seek a productive mien between the needs of one individual and the rights of another. Some of the greatest philosophers had no knowledge of the God of Israel and Christ. Confucius, Aristotle and Plato devised ethical frameworks that assist societies in their function. This leads people to the conclusion that therefore people are “good” inside. And this is the problem. Socially gracious productive citizens tend to think of themselves as “good people.” And then there are “bad” people who because of their inclinations and environments are anti-social, ungracious, or unproductive.
In the nineteenth century many social progressives took Plato’s view and called for education as though this would solve this situation. Yet as we build more schools we also build more prisons. Instead of education levelling opportunities, it has become a system that has widened and perpetuated the gaps between the privileged and the poor. Meanwhile, the more that good people try to work together, the more they find disagreement in their priorities. Good people take sides against other good people, and the result is a partisan divide in the United States that has deteriorated into ugliness.
When people are innately good and so many millions are just doing their best, where does this ugliness in politics come from? Where does the madness of school shootings come from? Where does the epidemic of pornography come from? Why has pro sports deteriorated into doping up for muscle building and paying bonusus for injuring opponents, and why are we still craving to watch?
The world needs God, and so do you. Being nice is not the same as being saved from the curse of death. Repent of your sins and invite Jesus into your heart.
Police Shootings (See also Black Lives Matter, Criminal Justice, Incarceration, Law Enforcement)
My discussion of this hot topic is really incomplete without those others. The situation of the rash of highly-publicized deaths of unarmed Black men by police gunfire or in police custody, is deplorable. It speaks to deep rents in a racialized society, and shows how far we have to go.
That said, I am hesitant to condemn anyone in any particular case. I simply do not have the facts or the experience, and I am not on any jury obtaining those facts. The dilemma with that too, of course, is that (in my lifetime starting with with the beating of Rodney King, who did not die) there have been times when the criminal justice system, so geared toward “cleaning the streets,” fails to hold to account those officers who use excessive and deadly force when it is uncalled for. On the other hand, when “hands are tied” politically, then those who die in the line of duty make the headlines, inviting us all to react the opposite way. The pendulum swings.
It is my heart and my prayer that policing tactics be explored, new tactics (perhaps) devised and current tactics (maybe) revised, under an overall strategy of community-building and reconciliation, as I have noted above.
I am glad that in the United States we have local, community, civilian police forces. I am glad for their work, and we often pray for them and first responders in our church. I am not competent to tell a police-officer how to diffuse a tense situation with a suspect anymore than I can tell a paramedic how to resuscitate a dying person; those are professional considerations in which I am not trained. As a pastor, however, part of our call is to address society prophetically, to instruct it in the heart of God. When something like this has gone wrong, in a plethora of local communities, it is time to do a soul-check in the community, and to begin to ask ourselves what we can do as a whole community to prevent those tense, explosive moments from happening.
Political Involvement (see also “Voting as Christians’)
The premise of my comment here is that political involvement is a separate issue from choosing a political party. As clergy and as this blog is on a church-hosted website I am constrained from advising people about political parties. Theologically, I am not all that inclined to do so any way. You have seen already by other Hot Topics that views here on Covenant priorities seem to coincide with one party or another based on the topic itself, without regard to any over-riding partisan agenda.
Political involvement, however, is inescapable for any church that shares the salt and light of the gospel with the world. Ministry to the homeless in cities that want to ignore or hide the problem, education for teens in sexual abstinence, advocacy for victims of domestic violence, legal aid to the undocumented immigrant worker, redemptive ministry including prenatal care and life-centered counseling for at-risk women and girls who are pregnant, rescue for those captive in domestic or sexual enslavement, racial reconciliation, peace, Creation care, all of these have political overtones. Those with partisan agendas are threatened by the very existence of ministries of redemption that force them to acknowledge the reality of the issues that are trumpeted by the “other side.” The church cares less, and should care nothing at all, for the partisan agendas that they scandalize when they shelter a homeless drug addict or help a girl carry her child to term. The church must simply be about the works of redemption, for these show the world’s systems of darkness the light of Christ.
While a related issue has to do with the free press, the fact is that Christians are set apart to live as witness to the love and character of God often IN SPITE of what society permits. There is nothing redemptive or spiritually valuable in sexually exploitive and demeaning material. Yet with the onset of internet availability, pornography has become a scourge throughout society including among evangelicals and their pastors. A word to the wise: The Evangelical Covenant denomination does not treat sexual brokenness by a double-standard, punishing some kinds of sexual sin but not others. When pornography is the discovered lifestyle sin, its content is immaterial; the pastor is removed from leadership and brought under constructive discipline.
Anyone who sets a date for the Second Coming, the Rapture, the End of the Age etc., is in direct violation of the scriptures (Matthew 24:36) and is a patent heretic. Do not follow such false prophets. They are insidious, doing far more harm than good to the witness of Biblical faith. They “add words to the prophecy of this book,” and for this sin they will suffer all the plagues described in Revelation. (Revelation 22:18-20)
Aside from such obvious error, various beliefs regarding the Second Coming have been genuinely faithful to the testimony of the scriptures. As such, the Evangelical Covenant denomination honors the diversity of “end time” beliefs and does not take a doctrinal position on what may or may not be taught and preached.
Sex is a gift from God, appropriately received and enjoyed within the context of a marriage between one man and one woman.
This is a big and complex issue, which will divide people by broad definitions and also by the narrowest shades of semantics. Clearly in the positions on marriage, sex and ordination, the seeker on this site realizes that same-gender sexual behaviors are not received and cannot be understood as God’s revealed intention. The Evangelical Covenant parses the distinction between tendencies (orientation) and behaviors (action). A person who struggles with some temptations is no different, no less a person, than one who struggles with other temptations. As the Bible states, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And also ”No one is righteous, not even one.”
Some are disposed to the sins of bigotry, and choose to respond to others with fear and hate. This is not the will or heart of Jesus Christ, nor does it reflect the view of the Evangelical Covenant Church towards anyone. For some, taking a drink of alcohol is a sin; for others, it is not because there is no temptation or weakness towards drunkenness. Sexual brokenness is practically universal; sexual fulfillment is as scarce among heterosexuals as it is among homosexuals. License does not pave the way to fulfillment. Only joyful obedience to the will of God, and the cross it brings, can bring fulfillment.
Therefore we cannot speak of any one dimension of life as an “entitlement,” but rather speak of all things as the gifts of God, including the crosses we bear in our dispositions toward sexual brokenness, and in our dispositions toward addiction, our dispositions toward bigotry, our dispositions toward fear, our dispositions toward gossip. We must not presume on ourselves and our own wisdom, but rather bear fruits befitting of repentance.
(See also: Gay Marriage, Marriage, Ordination, Heterosexual and Homosexual Orientation, Marriage, Marriage: Supreme Court, Sex)
Trump, Donald and Other Candidates in 2016 (see “Voting as Christians”)
Jesus stated “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) This is good news: First, Jesus is telling those who follow him that truth is not “abstract,” truth is personal–it is located in relationship. Since the 1970′s there has been a growing acknowledgment that truth does not exist in abstraction, and that therefore no one person can claim to know all truth. It is now acknowledged that multiple perspectives enrich understanding, including the points of view of those who lack power and voice in their political and social settings.
In Jesus Christ, God’s point-of-view is declared to the world. Jesus preached the gospel; the gospel is the narrative of God’s plan to save humankind from alienation and self-annihilation. To be saved from the self-annihilation that comes from our alienation, we received the offer of friendship from Jesus Christ. We come to an understanding of our alienation and its causes, and of the paths of redemption that are open through a life empowered by God’s Spirit.
The Truth that is found in Jesus Christ does bring us to conviction of sin, to repentance, and to an experience of new birth in the his Spirit. But none of these things are abstractions; they are all rooted in a person who was dead and buried, and whom God raised from the dead. The Truth that is found in Jesus Christ is the story of God’s love for you; and that becomes your truth through your relationship to him.
Voting as Christans
As a pastor blogging on a church-sponsored site I am neither permitted nor all that inclined to advise people which candidate for office they should back (see “Political Involvement’) or oppose. People will vote according to their perceived self-interests. Those perceptions will depend to a large degree on how they have experienced their world, on their personal ambitions, and on their sense of connectedness to larger issues and concerns. In the Evangelical Covenant and at Elgin Covenant the entire spectrum of party politics is included, from progressives to conservatives, as has been indicated on various Hot Topics on this site. No one is turned away from a Covenant Church on the basis of a political bumper sticker. The one who wears a “God Bless America” pin is no more nor less welcome to worship than the one wears a “God Bless the Whole World No Exceptions” pin.
That said, I would like to offer a comment on what crosses the minds of believers as they try to determine how they should vote. Some might be altruistic and vote for one or another party based on idealism. By far most will vote out of perceived self-interest in the assumption that what would be good for themselves would be good for everyone. For some the self-interest will have to do with securing the local industrial base for good jobs and an economic upswing, for others the self-interested concern will be for the competent management of water resources and overall ecological conservation. Still others will take a global view and consider the candidate’s in view of America’s strategic interests and/or the overall benefits of a peaceable global posture. “Let each one be convinced in their own mind.”
As to the persons being voted for, Christians do tend to regard their perceptions of a candidate’s character as at least somewhat important. For the Presidency of the United States, for example, there remains an expectation that the holder of the office will acquit oneself with dignity and balance American interests with an awareness of global demands in a manner that inspires confidence in the candidate’s gifts for state-craft. Public vulgarity, grotesque and inappropriate personal references, sexist and insulting comments, and the incitement and promise of a belligerent posture towards the world, likely disqualifies a candidate from a believer’s consideration. If it does not, perhaps it should. In addition a person’s integrity and character is measured by their past and achievements. Repeated bail-outs and bankruptcies, serial marriages, and involvement in the ownership of strip-clubs and related vices, are in and of themselves disqualifications, among Christian voters, from consideration for the highest office in the nation. The combination of all of these traits so noted makes such a candidate unthinkable. Were the presidential to feature such scoundrels, this would be a sure sign of the loss of the influence of Christian values in the American electorate.
Welcome: The Difference Between “Inviting” and “Affirming”
We welcome everyone in that we invite everyone. What we have is a gospel for everyone, a Word from God that everyone urgently needs, because everyone is a sinner. The person who feels that they are not a sinner, that they are okay according to the way they are born and the they way conduct themselves in society, might feel uncomfortable with the way the Bible is preached and taught at Elgin Covenant. This does not mean they are unwelcome or uninvited. When the Church is true to itself and its gospel we continue to present it regardless of hurt feelings. The gospel has a lot more at stake than hurt feelings. It is a gospel that transforms minds, that opens hearts to the function of the Holy Spirit and the seal of eternal life.
We affirm no one as innately good or superior to any other, we affirm no one as being somehow exempt from the conviction of sin and the call of Christ. Chauvinists of any kind who come looking to feel better about themselves in comparison to others, might feel uncomfortable with the way the Bible is preached and taught at Elgin Covenant. That does not mean they are unwelcome or uninvited. It means there will be spiritual growing pains.
In our welcome to all we invite everyone to church to hear the gospel. At the same time we affirm no one as exempt or okay apart from redemptive, life-changing faith in Jesus Christ. Denominations and congregations that are confused on these crucial points do their affirming and exempting in different places, and the result on both sides is a watered-down gospel hi-jacked by political agendas.
The Evangelical Covenant Church is a Believers Church. Membership is for people in whom is discerned a life-changing faith. Sins that are flagrant, flaunted and unrepented –regardless of what society makes legal or celebrates — are subject to discipline, including loss of membership if it reaches that point. We try to follow the guidance of Matthew 18. As in Matthew 18, it comes around again to treating the flagrant sinner as someone who needs to hear the gospel all over again. In that sense the public worship experience, at Elgin Covenant at 10:30 on Sunday morning, truly is open to all, welcoming all, inviting all.
Here are some concrete examples, just so we all know what is being said here:
1. If you are a married gay or lesbian couple you are welcome to worship here. The gospel you will hear will urge you to repent of your sins, your marriage and your lifestyle, and membership will not follow until this repentance is seen. Hopefully you will find a deeper redemption in the truth of Christ than you have found under the new permissions of the law. This is your welcome and your invitation.
2. If everyone in your life knows you are an alcoholic or addict but you are unable to admit it to yourself, you are welcome to worship here. The gospel that is preached will urge you to repentance and to seeking the reconstructive help that your soul requires. Consideration for membership will follow after your repentance and your known presence and commitment at recovery meetings.
3. It may be that the sins you struggle with are less public in view, maybe you are unaware of them as sins. For example, your avarice (but I deserve the new luxury SUV, I work hard); gossip, bitterness, gluttony. It is true that you might be received into membership with these areas of your life still unreconstructed. This opens the conservative family-centered Church as a whole to charges of “hypocrisy.” However where gossip, bitterness, and the avarice that comes with a sense of entitlement are rife, there the church is sick and unable to flourish. The fact is that churches are wrestling with these sins all the time, discipline and confrontation do indeed occur over such flagrant failures as gossip and bitterness. Elgin Covenant experienced three years of coaching from our conference leadership to help us through the fall-outs of those very sins gossip and bitterness.Some people left during that process and have not been back. So in my opinion the charge of “hypocrisy” is inexact. The hidden sins do end up coming to light, and we have to deal with them, and we do, or we die. A lot of congregations do not work productively on redemption from these sins and thus ultimately do not survive unrepented habits of gossip and bitterness.
Church functions best when all own our sins as sinners, rather than excusing ourselves for either being born one way or brought up another. (“I’m bitter because my mother didn’t love me as much as she loved my brother.”). Church functions best when we all seek under God’s grace to bear the fruits that fit repentance, including all the things beyond our control –what we were born with, what we were raised with.
Affirming nobody in their sin, we do affirm the love of God for everyone, and extend God’s invitation and welcome to everyone to repent and receive life. Being a church is a messy business. We frequently fail. Evangelical Covenant people own it that we are sinners, that each of us struggle with the old nature of flesh, and that only by God’s grace effective through the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to present any kind of witness to the righteousness God before our world. You are welcome, and you are invited, not because you are perfect and not because we are perfect, but because all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and need God in Christ for our salvation. That is what you will find at Elgin Covenant Church.
Women in Ministry
Women have been ordained in the Evangelical Covenant since the 1940′s. In 1976 the denomination officially endorsed the ordination of women.
Some traditions limit the role of women in church teaching and leadership. The Evangelical Covenant Church affirms the “equalitarian” position, which is, that no restrictions or limitations exist. Biblical arguments on the subject become lengthy and risk getting circular, however, Pastor Jonathan is equalitarian. If any limitation or qualification exists, it is only in this: that women as much as men should attire themselves to lead worship in ways that are modest and will not distract. First Corinthians chapter 11 commands that women be modest in culturally appropriate ways–but look at the text again: It assumes that women are preaching!
The injunction in First Timothy that women are to “keep silent in church” is not addressing preachers, but people in the congregation during the preaching event. In the ancient church it was deemed appropriately modest to separate the men and the women into two sides in the sanctuary. That Paul has to write commanding the women to be silent, tells us that chatting during worship was a bit of a problem–particularly on one side of the sanctuary.
Young Earth Creationism
Proponents of Young Earth Creationism believe that the only valid way to understand the Creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 are to interpret “evening and morning was the first day” as a 24-hour day. This is itself relativized in the scriptures (see Psalm 90), and it is by no means a consensus position among Bible-believing evangelicals. Scholars such as Gleason Archer and John Walton provide hermeneutical explanations that do not require 6 24-hours days. They do not do this out of any need to bow to the spirits of the age, but to be faithful to the Hebrew text as it was rendered and understood. To accept that the universe might be as old as 13.7 billion years (current calculations by astrophysicists) in no way suggests accepting evolution as a model for the origins of the universe and of life.
Hugh Ross of “Reasons to Believe”, a cosmologist, has pointed out the following flaws in the argument between Young Earth Creationism and evolutionary determinism. Evolutionary determinism requires a “static-state” universe posed by Isaac Newton. In other words, the universe must be eternally in its current shape for evolution to have the time, i.e. an eternity, to work life from simple to more complex orders. The Young Earth model stands in direct opposition to the static state theory; rather than the Earth being eternally hold, it is only 6 thousand years old. However, evolution as a theory was posed BEFORE Einstein’s model of relativity. Einstein’s elegant mathematical system remained academic and largely unproven for a long time, including through the Scopes Trial of the 1920′s (which made evolution a cause celebre’ for free speech and freedom of the state from religion). But as telescopes have continued gathering data, more and more predictions of Einstein’s model have been proven.
And then the discovery and mapping of the genome in the last 40 years has provided mathematical content to the life sciences. The real problem for evolution is scientific and mathematical. The problem for Evolution is Relativity. If the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that is not even remotely the amount of time required for complex life to form, much less human life. An earth four billion years old IS a “young earth,” still requiring the miraculous guiding hand of God to form humankind with the unique genius that separates us from all other life forms. The deternministic alternative of Evolution is, quite simply, mathematically preposterous.