Pastoral Letter — June 2015 SCOTUS Decision

On Sunday I read a pastoral letter to my congregation about the recent Supreme Court Decision.  I share it here in hopes that it will edify you as well.

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,

always being prepared to make a defense to anyone

who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

Pastoral Letter on “Obergefell v. Hodges” Supreme Court Decision June 26th, 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters of Grace Covenant,

This past Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a legal right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the slim majority (5-4) held that “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize [such] a marriage . . . performed out-of-State.”[1] In making this ruling the Supreme Court overturned the historically held, biblical boundaries of marriage.

While many are celebrating this decision publically and throughout social media, we ought to respond with thoughtful reflection, fervent prayer, clear talking points, and above all gracious interaction. Our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. It reads as follows:

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which illustrates the continued disregard for the biblical, traditional, Judeo-Christian values upon which the foundation of our nation was established. As a church, we continue to rest our faith in the sovereign God and the authority of His Holy Word. We pray faithfully for our nation and our leaders as so commanded by Scripture.

We bear no malice toward those with a same-sex attraction; in fact, we love them with the love of Christ. However, as a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.

We recognize that civil governments adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies must never require that people of faith abandon the clear teaching of Scripture, forfeit the right to proclaim those truths, or change their beliefs or practices.[2]

As your pastor, I offer the following points to clarify how we may continue to engage graciously and winsomely with people in the culture around us.

  1. Those who identify as LGBT are not hated by us.[3]  Dissent or even disapproval of a view or a life-style is not hatred. In fact, we renounce any person who speaks hatefully to fellow image bearers, or who acts in an unlawful manner toward people who claim LGBT as their identity. The Lord Jesus has taught us to love our enemies. While some LGBT advocates may stand against us as our enemies, we love them and pray for them.
  • Yet expressing Jesus’ love to who identify as LGBT does not mean condoning their practices or lifestyle. We are called to obey Paul’s words to Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24) Our role is to speak the truth in love toward the LGBT community.
  1. Christian love implies that we hold forth the gospel to all, including those who self-identify as LGBT. Through the gospel all who yield to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith are forgiven of all sin and then empowered to forsake sin in thought, word, and behavior. Throughout our entire lifetime, we must all fight the presence of indwelling sin, but we do so with the resources of God’s word, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and fellowship with other believers to help us live righteous lives.
  • “The gospel . . . is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) In Jesus Christ, “. . . the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
  • Furthermore, we ourselves should live out the beautiful vision of truth in our own lives first and foremost. As Mohler has written, “We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.”[4]
  • Also, we need to have great care and compassion when talking about the nature of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual practice. Regardless of what ones orientation is, scripture teaches that any form of lust toward a person who is not your biblically defined marriage partner is sin. The gospel helps us to mortify sin in our sinful nature.
  • As the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ we are called to provide a safe place through radical community where anyone, regardless of their sins or temptations, can count on others to speak the truth in love, pray for one another, care for one another, weep together over brokenness and sin, and look upward to a faithful redeeming Savior. It doesn’t matter what that sin is, whether it is sexual sin, or greed, or drunkenness, or any other sin, believers are always welcome to work on our common goal of sanctification by the power of the holy gospel of Jesus Christ in community.
  • “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) This is our responsibility as the priesthood of all believers.
  1. Followers of Christ are called to speak compellingly about the glorious vision of God-given human sexuality and the institution of marriage—even if unpopular or unwanted. If the previous point claimed that the gospel gives us a priestly calling, this point claims that followers of Christ have a prophetic calling.
  • The prophet’s role is often a lonely one. He or she is called to stand for the revealed truth of the Word of the Lord. Sometimes this means speaking to the civil sphere as Elijah did to King Ahab. Sometimes this means speaking to rulers as Nathan did when David sinned. Sometimes it even means speaking to religious leaders as Isaiah did to the people of Judah in Jerusalem. A prophet’s work is never pleasant, but when God speaks, it is like a fire in the bones and the Word must be delivered regardless of the consequences—censure, reproach, or even imprisonment. The example of the Apostles in the early church is a model as well. After being told by the authorities not to speak in the name of Jesus, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 HSCB)

The following are points are truths we affirm about marriage and sexual identity from scripture.

  1. Men and women are made in God’s image, as male and female (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 139:13-16) This means that sex is not merely assigned at birth, but is assigned by our creator. A person is born a male or female in their physical body and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their body is a good gift from God. Any aberration from this, whether real or perceived, is a result of our fallen condition.
  2. Marriage is a holy institution ordained by God at the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:18-25) and a picture of the relationship between Christ and his holy bride, the Church, both now and in the new creation (Revelation 19:6-9; 21:1-2) Marriage is not an invention of mankind. Marriage is God’s design and he has the authority to define it’s purpose, limits, and context. Furthermore, marriage matters because it is not only designed for human society, but is itself a picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Those who redefine marriage destroy a precious portrait that our creator has painted for his own glory. We should be grieved over any sin which harms any marriage: adultery, abuse, desertion, divorce, fornication, etc.
  3. Marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6) Contrary to popular statements, Jesus did explicitly and unequivocally speak against same sex marriage. His words could not be clearer. In answering questions about marriage, Jesus says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
  4. The Bible regulates that sexual activity may occur exclusively within the context of marriage, properly defined (Leviticus 18:1-23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-207:1-16).

Our confession states that human courts can and do err (see The Westminster Confession of Faith 31:3). In this case we believe that the Supreme Court has erred. For now it is the law of the land. But this is not the final word. This decision will be judged by history and judged by the Lord of history. In the meantime, we stand to speak the truth in love, in hopes that our faithful witness can honor God in all areas of life.

I believe that God in his sovereignty has ordained that we live in this time and place to bring glory to him in our church and truth in our culture. I encourage you to educate yourself about this ruling and the issues surrounding sexuality and marriage. In fact, you would do well to read the entire Supreme Court decision. It will equip you to answer questions and speak in an informed manner. As your pastor, I pray that this church can be known as a congregation that speaks the truth in love. I am always available to speak with you if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one who may struggle with same sex attraction. We believe that the gospel is real and that the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is one that helps us to live in God’s light.

Your Pastor,

Timothy A. Brown

[1] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf

[2] https://epcepnews.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/epc-statement-on-supreme-court-marriage-ruling/

[3] In this letter LGBT will be used for the entire range of LGBTQQIAA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allied, etc.)

[4] http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/27/everything-has-changed-and-nothing-has-changed-the-supreme-court-and-same-sex-marriage/

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He lifts you up – John 15:2

Someone in my congregation recently asked this question about John 15.

So I have been pondering this since Sunday.   Here’s the verse.

The Vine and the Branches ] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

It’s from John 15.  I always took bearing fruit to be leading others to Christ.  On Sunday Pastor Tim (and I’m hoping I heard this right) talked about bearing the fruit of the spirit, which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

I always thought I was not fruitful because I have not lead anyone to Christ and would therefore be cut off, which would be a bad and probably painful thing. 

So what exactly does it mean to bear fruit?  

Here was my reply: Great question!  I remember my very first Bible paper was on this passage.  I was so nervous about interpreting it right and got very confused. First of all, bearing fruit refers to both reproduction (i.e. our witness, fruits bear seed), and identity (i.e. what the spirit produces in us.)  So it is both-and. Secondly, there is a interpretation issue in this verse.  (I learned this one from Doug Greenwold of Preserving Bible Times.)  This doesn’t happen very often where most English translations miss it, but this is one of those cases.  When it says, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” the word rendered “cuts off” is actually the word “AIRO” (sounds like “eye – row”).  It would be much better translated, “lifts up.”  ESV and NASB get it closer with “takes away” but that is still not the point.  In Ancient Near Eastern Vine growing, the vines grew on the ground (without a trellis). To help it grow and bear fruit, a gardener would lift the vine or branch and put it on a rock where the cool evening air can help it breathe–then it can bear fruit! So the sense of this passage is: He lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit (so that it will bear fruit again), while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Wow!  that is awesome!  If you are a branch in Jesus, and you’re under performing, he doesn’t cut you off, he lifts you up.  He only takes out a knife to prune you and make your fruit be more focused. I hope that helps. Pastor Tim

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The Busy Church

It has been a while since I have posted on my blog, but I read this from Ken Priddy today. I think it is very challenging. I’ll be back to the blogging thing soon, with lots of thoughts and updates, but for now, check this out.

gcmatrix

Over the years I have learned that one of the biggest obstacles to Great Commission ministry is church work  – church busy work. Many Christians and their leaders are so busy filling slots in the church’s programming and structure that they can’t find the time to do the REAL work of ministry – reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The vast majority of American evangelical churches is in plateau or decline. Characteristically, the church in plateau is over-programmed and the church in decline is over-structured. Churches in plateau tend to be driven by their programming, believing that whatever success or effectiveness they are experiencing is the result of the menu of programs that is offered. Careful observation will reveal that any growth that such a church might be experiencing is transfer growth, not conversion growth, as Christians leave churches with less appealing programming to attend theirs. The kingdom…

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But at Least We Are Free…Prayer and The Supreme Court

The following was featured as a guest column in the Livingston County Press Argus Sunday morning.

You are welcome to post comments here at the blog or at the newspaper post here.

Tim

Public Prayer and The Supreme Court

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case revolving around the constitutionality of conducting prayer at the start of local government meetings.

It has been argued that after a 1983 ruling, Marsh v. Chambers, some recent prayer practices of the New York town of Greece are unconstitutional. To assess if the practices violate the First Amendment, as the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found, we must consider both the establishment clause and the free-exercise clause.

Yes, the First Amendment does say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but it also adds, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Our nation’s forefathers came to this land not merely to escape state religion such as Anglicanism (establishment) but also to leave behind the prohibitions against their religious conduct in England and Europe (free exercise).

Based on the First Amendment, how should prayers in the context of public government meetings be regulated? In short, they should not be regulated.

Let’s take a step back and evaluate which outcome would best maintain freedom of religion. If the Supreme Court rules to allow prayer to continue, will those who hold alternate religious beliefs (or even nonreligious beliefs) have their freedom curtailed? Hardly.

A dissenting mind might suffer indigestion through listening to a religious invocation with which he or she might strongly disagree. But their freedom is intact. The act of prayer at the outset of a government meeting does not establish religion. No law is passed, nor is there any consequence from the state when an individual expresses his or her liberty to silently stand by.

However, if any person is told that their prayer is no longer permitted in the United States and that he or she may not speak their conscience out loud, that person’s freedom to exercise religion has been prohibited. What consequence or penalty would be just for praying an offensive prayer? Who will decide what prayer was proper? Our founders paid a costly price to establish the freedom of religion in this nation.

Difficult question

If one grants, then, that prayer ought to be maintained, the more difficult question is, “In what manner should prayer be maintained?” Again, I say, in a manner free of regulation. Any regulation of prayer, toward which Marsh (1983) leans, will of necessity establish a law of what is proper prayer as a religious exercise in public.

This is something the court’s oral arguments demonstrated to be unresolvable. The Supreme Court strained to the point of hilarity about what would or would not be “sufficiently nonsectarian.”

In my opinion, the Supreme Court should continue to permit men and women to express their religious beliefs verbally in any context that they choose.

It will be argued, “Won’t some people be offended?” Yes, perhaps. But, aren’t we all going to be offended at some point in life?

As a Christian, I actually want to hear from those who differ with me. Even if we disagree, I keep an open mind, and I will not be offended that we’re different. I am even willing to relinquish my preferences for the sake of the preservation of liberty.

Our goal with regard to religious speech and prayer should not be to keep from offending some, but to maintain liberty for all. Ironically, trying so hard to prevent offense through regulation actually leads to intolerance.

So what should happen with prayer in public and at the start of government meetings? The same thing that has happened for 200-plus years in our land since the framing of the Constitution— men and women should be permitted to pray without fear when invited. Prayer should continue unregulated not because it is in our history, but because it is a principled practice of liberty.

At times, men or women may disagree with one another, but at least we are free.

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International Day (Week) of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

If you have not heard of Pastor Saeed Abedini, I’d like to introduce you to a pastor who needs your prayer.  He also needs us to apply pressure to American authorities for his speedy release.  I hope you’ll click through the link I’ve provided.

Here’s an excerpt from Jordan Sekulow in the Washington Post:

In a disturbing turn of events, an American Pastor imprisoned in Iran has been transferred to one of the deadliest prisons in the world, placing this U.S. citizen’s life in grave danger.

We have written before about the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini who has been sentence to eight years in prison because of his Christian faith. The ACLJ represents the Abedini family in the U.S.

For more than a year, the 33-year-old pastor, husband and father of two has been incarcerated in Evin Prison, one of the worst prisons in the world.  He has endured mental and physical torment – including beatings at the hands of his captors that resulted in internal bleeding and other serious injuries.

I’ve heard that others have come to faith in Christ through Pastor Saeed’s testimony in Evin.

Here’s the words of Paul to the Philippians when he was in prison:

Philippians 1:12-14  I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Three action points:

1) Pray.  Ask the sovereign God to influence the rulers of Iran to free Pastor Saeed

2) Tell others.  Use this post or the link to share on Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

3) Contact a representative or congressional leader.  Ask them to act on his behalf.

Grace and peace,

Tim

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/11/06/pastor-saeed-abedini-faces-grave-new-danger/

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by | November 6, 2013 · 6:56 pm

Marriage Retreat in August

marriage

Get away, get close, get refreshed.

Registration is now open for the Cornerstone Marriage Retreat at the beautiful Miracle Camp on August 9-11.  This exciting weekend will focus on keeping your relationship strong through life’s challenges.
Here are the fast facts:
  • Date: August 9 – 11 (Friday through Sunday)
  • Theme: desire
  • Topics include:
    • God at the Center, Roles in Marriage, Sexual Intimacy, and Renewal
  • Speaker: Pastor Tim Brown (that’s me)
  • Cost: $235
  • Registration Deadline: July 3
  • Scholarships Available
A $100 deposit reserves your spot.  Visit www.cornerstoneforlife.com for more details and to print off a registration page.

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Have you ever read the Apocrypha?

Have you ever read the Apocrypha?  Do you own a copy?  What if you should?

Recently a friend from church asked me about the Apocrypha.  Here were her questions:

  • Why were the books of the Apocrypha (I’ve read that’s what the Catholic books are called) removed from the Protestant Bible?
  • I’ve also read that it was Martin Luther that removed them.  Since they were there since the canonization, how does that not run afoul of the book of Revelation warning us not to add to or subtract from the bible (or is that just referring to the Book of Revelation itself)?
  • What is in the books that is found not to reach the level of God-breathed truth? (I’ve never read them)
  • As a protestant, are they also something I should study, once I understand whatever issues there are?

While this isn’t cutting edge cultural stuff I usually write about, it is important to think about in terms of what is the Bible and how do we know it came from God.  The Apocrypha is an interesting case study.

Here are my answers:

First, the Reformers clearly did pass over the Apocrypha as being worthy of Biblical inclusion.
  Here are the words of Westminster about the Apocrypha:
 
WCF 1.3  The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.(1)
(Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:21)
As for the warning from Revelation.  It reads:

Revelation 22:18-19  18 ¶ I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,  19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

This warning was, I believe that one should not tamper with the book of Revelation alone, not necessarily to the whole canon, since it says “this book” and “this prophecy,” and the Canon was not collected yet.  These verses have been misapplied to refer to the whole Bible.
How are books identified in the cannon?  
The process of Canonization is a process not of making something become the Bible, but of recognizing them to the be the Bible.
The Apocryphal books are not quoted in the NT (only alluded to in the book of Jude).  It seems the Apostles did not quote them and view them as scripture (one of the reasons to believe a book was inspired).  Jesus, for example quotes Deuteronomy and Isaiah, a lot, but has nothing to say about Tobit or Judith.  At most He celebrates Hanukkah (Rededication of the Temple.)
Perspectives on the Apocrypha:
The books of the Apocrypha are writings mostly of the inter-testamental period (some historical–Hannukah/Maccabean Revolt for example) and some apocalyptic (predicting the future–following Daniel’s lead).
There is nothing wrong with reading them, but the Reformers disagreed with the view that they were inspired as the rest of the OT or NT.   The Roman Catholic Church preferred them, in part because they fill in historical gaps, and because arguments for purgatory can be made from some passages.  Purgatory/indulgences was the pivotal issue that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

According to Tobit: Tobit 12:9-10  9 For alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin. Those that exercise alms and righteousness shall be filled with life:  10 But they that sin are enemies to their own life.

Brief synopsis of the first two books (and comment about the rest):
Tobit is the autobiography of a man during the exile who goes blind after sparrow dung goes in his eyes, but is healed 8 years later.  Tobias, whom Tobit writes about, travels to Rages with the angel Raphael who tells him to have his new wife sleep on perfumed ashes with the heart and liver of a fish on their marriage bed to send Satan away.  (I know that’s a little weird right?  Kind of hard to preach that one.)
Judith. Holofernes, the Captain of the Armies of Nebuchadnezzar marched against the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the days of Joacim the High Priest.  The people pray fervently and God raises up a woman named Judith who is something of a combination of Esther (beauty) and Jael (assassin).  She uses her beauty and wiles to become accepted by Holofernes and then beheads him in bed and then sings praise to God like Miriam after being commended by priest and people.   There are many works of art depicting this event named “Judith and Holofernes.”  A google image search will reveal some gory scenes.
Wisdom is a book of Proverbial statements.
Sirach is a book of wisdom and history of Israel.
Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees are also part of the Apocrypha.
Also included are: Esdras, Second Esdras, Epistle of Jeremiah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, Prayer of Azariah, and Laodiceans.
So should a person read the Apocrypha?  Sure why not?  But I believe that as one reads it he or she will see a qualitative difference between those books and Holy Writ.  I’d be interested to know what you think.

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