Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More News on the PCUSA

In the never-ending story of the comings and goings within the PCUSA, there is a new development on the whole "scruple" issue. For those of you who have not followed the earlier posts on this topic (or followed the story elsewhere), in 2006 the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church issued an "authoritative interpretation", adopted by the General Assembly, finding that a candidate for ordination within the PCUSA could declare a "scruple" to matters contained in the PCUSA Constitution. Basically, this means that the candidate can disagree with something in the Constitution.

Once a candidate expresses a "scruple", it is up to the ordaining body to decide whether the provision being "scrupled" is one of the "essential tenets of the reformed faith." If not, the candidate is allowed to be ordained in spite of his or her disagreement with that particular provision of the Constitution.

Some people have used this "authoritative interpretation" to express scruples to one of the ordination requirements. After all, the ordination requirements are part of the Constitution.

The specific requirement at issue is the one that requires an officer within the denomination to live either in fidelity within marriage or in chastity in singleness (i.e., if married, be loyal to your spouse; if single, live in chastity). The specific context in which this arose has been people who are openly practicing homosexuals seeking ordained office. In the eyes of the church they are not married to their partners. But they also do not want to live in chastity. At least two Presbyteries have allowed people to express scruples to this provision and permitted them to be ordained as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

On February 11, 2008, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (the closest parallel for explanation purposes would be the Supreme Court) decided three cases interpreting the "authoritative interpretation."

In those cases the Commission unanimously stated as follows:

"The constitutional process for amending ordination standards (or any other provision of the Constitution) is defined in Chapter 18 of the Form of Government. While the General Assembly and the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission may interpret these standards, the authoritative interpretation did not (and constitutionally could not) change any ordination standard, including the requirements set forth in G-6.0106b. Similarly, no lower governing body can constitutionally define, diminish, augment or modify standards for ordination and installation of church officers."

"G-6.0108a defines the limits of this freedom of conscience for ordained church officers. It first states the requirement that all church officers adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity as expressed in the Book of Confessions and the Form of Government. It next assures freedom of conscience, but only with respect to the interpretation of Scripture. Even then, freedom of conscience is permitted only to the extent that it (a) is not a serious departure from the essential standards of Reformed faith and polity, (b) does not infringe on the rights and views of others, and (c) does not obstruct the constitutional governance of the church."

"G-6.0108a sets forth standards that apply to the whole church. These standards are binding on and must be followed by all governing bodies, church officers and candidates for church office. Adopting statements about mandatory provisions of the Book of Order for ordination and installation of officers falsely implies that other governing bodies might not be similarly bound; that is, that they might choose to restate or interpret the provisions differently, fail to adopt such statements, or possess some flexibility with respect to such provisions."

My personal take of the "punchline" of these decisions is that while a candidate is free to have a difference of opinion on some theological or Biblical interpretation issue (as long as it is not one of the essential tenets of the reformed faith), that does not mean that he or she can refuse to comply with the ordination standards, in this case requiring a certain kind of behavior. In other words, you are free to say, "I do not believe that the Bible requires me to live in fidelity in marriage or in chastity in singleness," but if you want to serve in ordained office of the PCUSA, you need to actually live that way regardless of what you personally believe.

Evangelicals within the denomination (myself included) were obviously pleased with the decisions. However, there are a few overtures to the General Assembly (meeting later this year) that will seek to overturn these decisions (an "overture" is basically a request from a Presbytery asking the General Assembly to take some type of action).

The first is an overture from the Baltimore Presbytery that seeks a Constitutional amendment to remove the fidelity and chastity requirement from the Constitution altogether. This has been tried in the past and failed.

The other is an overture from John Knox Presbytery asking for a new authoritative interpretation that would in essence state that candidates can scruple anything in the ordination requirements, including issues of both belief and behavior.

It remains to be seen whether these overtures will reach the floor of the General Assembly or whether they will pass. All I can say at this point is to stay tuned and to ask for your prayers that the Holy Spirit will accurately guide the denomination in this time of potential serious division.

God bless.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana

My 5 year old daughter is (as most little girls are nowadays) a huge Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus fan. We couldn't afford tickets to the concert when it came here to Baltimore (at least not at the scalpers' prices), but she did recently get to see the 3D concert movie.

Anyway, Miley Cyrus was interviewed last night on the Barbara Walters special, and Barbara Walters asked her a very good question. She asked her whether she worried about going down the destructive path that so many other teen sensations have of late, including many who were Disney Channel stars (for those of you who don't know, Miley Cyrus' TV show, "Hannah Montana" airs on the Disney Channel). In answering the question she expressed deep sympathy for people who have gone down that path (apparently she knows Jamie Lynn Spears), but also talked about her Christian faith.

Many people have asked me if I worry about Miley Cyrus having the same downfall other teen sensations have had, and the example that may set for my daughter. Yes, of course I worry. But I can't stop her from looking up to people, and so far at least, Miley Cyrus seems to be setting a good standard.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lesson 12 is available

I have successfully posted podcast Lesson 12: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 4) on the Ten Minas site. That's everything that has been recorded to date. Hopefully I'll manage to get the next few lessons out soon. God bless.


New Podcasts

Two new podcasts in the "Argument for Christianity" series are now available on the Ten Minas site:

Lesson 10: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 2)
Lesson 11: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 3)

I hope to get Lesson 12: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 4) (the last podcast on this subject) posted later on tonight. It is already recorded, I just need to upload it. Unfortunately I will be in a meeting this evening, so it just depends on how late it goes.

Either way, I will write another post here to let you know when it is available.

By the way, I obviously survived my procedure yesterday. :)


Monday, February 18, 2008

Prayer Request

Those of you who have followed this blog long enough may know that I have a condition called "spondylolisthesis" in my back. Basically one vertebrae is slipping off the one beneath it. Anyway, I go in for an outpatient procedure today at 4:00. It should be relatively routine, but any prayers would be greatly appreciated.

If you don't hear from me for a while, you'll know it didn't go well. :)

Just kidding.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Many lessons in life can be learned from children. My daughter is in Kindergarten, and they had their Valentine's Day party today. It seems that Valentine's Day today is synonymous with romantic love. But obviously in a Kindergarten class, there is no romance involved (I haven't heard my daughter actually complain about "cooties" yet, but it can't be too far away).

But despite this, they still celebrate Valentine's Day. Every single child in that class gives a Valentine to every other child. Boy, girl, it doesn't matter, because there are no romantic implications.

God wants us to love our fellow people. After all, when we look at others, we should be seeing the image of God. This isn't a romantic love, but it is love nonetheless. We should genuinely care about the well-being of other people, both for this life and the next.

So on this Valentine's Day, I want to encourage you to follow the lead of those children in my daughter's Kindergarten class and show love to everyone around you, not just your immediate family or those you are romantically involved with. After all, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, and second to that is to love your neighbor as yourself. Valentine's Day can serve as an excellent reminder to us, and have us looking for opprtunities to show this love.

God bless.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New look

Don't be alarmed. You have not arrived at the wrong place. I decided to re-vamp the look of the Ten Minas blog. I wanted to include the logo and a more obvious link to the main ministry website, but once I got going I just couldn't stop. I hope you like it. God bless.


Another interesting blog discussion

Just letting anyone here know about an interesting little discussion I have been participating in on someone else's blog. It deals with the relationship between what we see here in our physical world and metaphysical truth. It also talks about the whole "first cause" issue, and whether God, as creator of the universe, would require a cause for Himself.

If you are interested, the name of the post is "There is no God - Proving the negative" and it is on the following blog:


Please feel free to check it out. God bless.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Martyrdom of the Apostles

One of the strongest arguments for Christianity comes from the martyrdom of the apostles. It doesn't prove the "whole case", but it does establish a very important link in the chain. The basic premise is this:

Christian tradition holds that eleven out of the twelve apostles (Judas Iscariot killed himself, but he was replaced by Matthias, bringing the number back up to twelve) died a martyr's death for their faith. John is the one exception. We all know of people who have died for things that turned out to be a lie. Any number of cult followers die because they sincerely believe some piece of propaganda that their leader has fed them. But the position of the original Christian apostles is critically different. These apostles claimed that they personally saw the risen Jesus. They were not told this and just gullibly believed it. They claimed to be eye witnesses.

The claim that is sometimes lodged against Christianity is quite simply that these early church leaders made it up. In order to form this new church, they came up with a joint story and started spreading it around the world. Christians, though, respond that this is nonsense. What motive did these men have for making this story up? Would they get power? Honor? Prestige?

No. Instead they were ostracized, shunned from society, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. All these men had to do to avoid this fate would be to fess up; admit that the story wasn't true and renounce this new religion they were attempting to found. But in spite of the horrible fate that awaited them, they never changed their story. At a minimum, we can conclude that these men honestly believed that they had seen Jesus die, then come back to life three days later.

One objection lodged against this Christian argument is that there is supposedly no evidence that the early Christian fathers ever actually died for their faith. There is supposedly no evidence of anyone who ever claims to have seen the risen Christ who was then executed for preaching their beliefs.

So is there any evidence to support the Christian martyrdom claims? That is the point of this post. I will admit for starters that we do not have contemporaneous documentary evidence of the martyrdom of all the apostles. But I will argue that the evidence we do have makes it truly ridiculous to claim that these men did not suffer greatly and in all likelihood die for their beliefs.

Let's start with James, the brother of John. James was one of the first apostles to join Jesus. The two brothers were fishing with their father Zebedee when Jesus called to them and they followed Him (Matthew 4:21-22). It certainly appears that James was with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection because the only disciple mentioned who was not there was Thomas (John 20:19-31). Plus, the Bible references many other appearances to the disciples as a group.

Acts 12:1-2 records the following:

"It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword."

Keep in mind that the Bible is a collection of books written during the same generation when these events took place. You can't exactly go around spreading rumors that James was executed by Herod when there are still people around to say, "No, he didn't, he fell off a cliff." Or worse yet, "He's not dead, I just had lunch with him last week!"

So there's one of the early church fathers. How about others?

What about James, the brother of Jesus? He was not one of the twelve. In fact, when Jesus was alive James did not believe He was the Christ. But he became a believer after Jesus was resurrected and was soon the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 15:7, Paul records that Jesus "appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also." Because Paul records that Jesus appeared to James in addition to "all the apostles", he cannot be referring to either James the brother of John or James son of Alphaeus, as both of these men were among the apostles. The only other James intricately involved in the early church who would be worth mentioning was James, the brother of Jesus. So he clearly saw the resurrected Christ.

Did he die for his faith? Yes he did. And this time his death is recorded by someone who was no friend to Christianity.

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from 37-101 A.D. He was not a Christian. But he was writing during the time that Christianity was first spreading around the Roman Empire.

In his work "Antiquities", Book XX, Chapter 9, Part 1, Josephus made the following entry:

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

This isn't the only record of James' martyrdom. Hegesippus was a Christian historian who lived from 110-180 A.D., within a generation of the church fathers (some estimates have John the apostle living until approximately 90 A.D.). Hegesippus' works are unfortunately lost, but they were not lost yet at the time another Christian historian was writing. Eusebius lived from 275 - 339 A.D., and he quoted several passages from Hegesippus in his works. One quote comes from the fifth book of Hegesippus' "Memoirs", and it says:

"12. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: 'You just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.'

13. And he answered with a loud voice, 'Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.'

14. And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, 'We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.'

15. And they cried out, saying, 'Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.' And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, 'Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.'

16. So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat you, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
Eusebius, Book II, Chapter 23, Parts 12-16.

There is certainly more detail in Hegesippus' version, but both end up with James being stoned.

So contrary to some assertions, we do have documentary evidence of the martyrdom of both James the brother of John and James the brother of Jesus. And understand that this treatment of Christian leaders was perfectly consistent with what we know about how Christians as a whole were being treated at the time.

Take, for example, this passage from Tacitus, a Roman (non-Christian) historian who lived from 55 - 117 A.D.:

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace."

The "conflagration" Tacitus is referring to is the burning of Rome, for which Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and inflicted "the most exquisite tortures" upon them.

Nero was Emperor from 54-68 A.D., the same time period when the early church fathers were spreading the Christian gospel. So it is during the lives of the early apostles that these "exquisite tortures" are taking place.

Considering the violent hatred that was spreading against Christianity, it defies reason to believe that the early apostles were not, at a minimum, heavily persecuted for their beliefs, and in all likelihood killed just like church tradition says they were (For all the persecutions that Paul faced even before he was martyred see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

The point of the argument holds true. Even if these apostles somehow escaped personal execution (a proposition that seems extremely unlikely considering the evidence), they clearly saw Christians being tortured and killed all around them. They must have lived every single day of their lives in fear that they would be next. They had every incentive to recant this "lie" if that is really what it was. But they didn't. All records we have show them continuing to preaching the gospel without even one record of any of them backing down.

People sometimes die for something that is untrue. But it is extremely unlikely that such a large group of people would be willing to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed over something they KNEW to be a lie. That's because they didn't make it up. After Jesus' death, these men clearly saw someone who, at a mimimum, we can conclude they believed to be the same man they had followed around and learned from for three years during Jesus' earthly ministry.

God bless.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

When does life begin?

I noticed recently on the blog of an internet acquaintance of mine (i.e., someone I know only through the internet, but have interacted with quite a few times; an atheist by the way), that he questioned how anyone could say life began at conception (this is in the context of the abortion debate). He admitted that drawing the line at birth is arbitrary, but he felt that any other line, including conception, would be just as arbitrary.

That inspired me to explain one completely non-theistic argument I believe can be made for life beginning at conception. First, I agree that drawing the line at birth would be too arbitrary. After all, two children can be at the exact same stage of development in the womb, but one will be born one week ahead of his or her due date whereas another one comes a week late. Some children are born extremely prematurely, so that doctors have to hook them up to respirators in order to survive. Yet someone who willingly murders such a child outside the womb would be accused of being a criminal whereas anyone drawing the line at birth would have to say there is nothing wrong with aborting a child at that exact same stage of development but still in the womb. Being inside or outside the womb doesn't relevantly differentiate between how much of a "life" exists in that little body.

So why do I advocate drawing the line at conception? Because at conception a process of bodily change begins that does not end until our death. Left to their own devices, an individual sperm or egg will never develop into a human being. But once conception occurs, that zygote/embryo has begun the process of developing, aging and changing. This process never ends until we die. After conception we start developing body parts. We start growing. The body begins the never-ending process of undergoing changes.

Can this process be interrupted so that the child is never born? Of course. A dear friend of mine lost a child before birth. But the fact that the process can be interrupted is irrelevant. After all, it can be interrupted once we are outside the womb as well. Any number of diseases or other abnormalities can kill us, but that does not mean we are not human. It does not mean we do not have life. Can the development process be stopped in the womb? Yes. But it can also be stopped outside the womb. So this cannot serve to make any relevant distinction.

Once this process begins, our body never stops undergoing this process of change. You can not even make a relevant distinction by claiming that while in the womb we are developing whereas afterwards we are degenerating. After all, we continue to grow outside the womb (our ears actually never stop growing until the day we die). A baby's skull is not fully developed when it exits the womb. And who can forget puberty? That certainly is a new stage of development after birth.

My point is simply this. Conception is the only non-arbitrary line that can be drawn. Before that, this process of change has not begun. After that it has, and it never stops until we die. Any other line would be completely arbitrary. Therefore, the only logical conclusion would be to treat life as beginning at conception.