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Theology Matters Jan/Feb-Nov/Dec 1998

The World Council of Churches: Time for Jubilee? by Alan F. H. Wisdom, Director of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, an arm of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Washington DC.   Wisdom does a thorough analysis of the World Council of Churches from their Eighth Assembly of the WCC in December, 1998 back to their establishment in 1948.  Wisdom looks at a Noble Vision; A New "Common Understanding and Vision"; Diverted into Political Crusades; Threats to World Peace; Global Poverty; Racial Injustice; Sex Discrimination; Environmental Degradation; Threats to Indigenous Cultures; the Next Political Crusade? Where the Crusades Fail;  Two Opposing Options for Change; The Perils of Macro-Ecumenism; The Promise of Reaffirming Christ; The Responsibility of Presbyterians; Means of Influence.  p. 1


The Problem With Marcion: A Second-Century Heresy Continues To Infect the Church by Randall E. Otto, Ph. D., is senior pastor of Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Deerfield, NJ.  Otto argues that the heresy of Marcion that was espoused in the second century continues to be promoted by some people today.  In the second century Tertullian wrote against Marcion's teachings about God, "A better god has been discovered, who never takes offense, is never angry, never inflicts punishment, who has prepared no fire in hell, no gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! He is purely and simply good."  Otto writes, "Marcion believed that the message of the gospel and the New Testament was simply love and grace, that there was no law or wrath in the God of Jesus Christ." Otto examines Marcion's View of God; Marcion's View of Salvation; and Marcion's View of Scripture. p. 1

A Consideration of the Proposed Contemporary Version of the Nicene Creed by Stephen Eyre, pastor at College Hill Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH and author of numerous books and articles. Presbyteries were asked to vote on whether to replace the traditional wording of the Nicene Creed in the Book of Confessions with the Contemporary Version.  Eyre did an analysis of the changes and their implications.  p. 9


Cooking Up Gotterdamerung: Radical Feminist Worship Substitutes Self for God by Donna F. G. Hailson and Karelynne Gerber. Hailson and Gerber quote radical feminist Naomi Goldenberg who wrote, "Jesus, cannot symbolize the liberation of women [because] a culture that maintains a masculine image for its highest divinity cannot allow its women to experience themselves as the equals of its men.  In order to develop a theology of women's liberation, feminists have to leave Christ and Bible behind them."  The purpose of this article is to show "how radical spiritual feminist practices diverge from Bible-honoring worship, ritual and prayer."  Hailson and Gerber look at Biblical worship of the Triune God; Radical Feminist Worship of Self; Examples of Radical Feminist Worship."  p. 1

Worship Has Its Reasons by Earl F. Palmer, senior pastor of University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, WA.  He is the author of numerous books and articles.  Palmer writes, "What is worship for a Christian? It is the coming together of the grand themes of discipleship in which we  bow before the Lord who has first stooped down to find us.  In worship we bring our real selves before God and claim his love in Jesus Christ.  Because of this claim worship is confessional both in our admission of our sins and our confession of God's redeeming love." p. 9


Church Renewal Brings Cultural Transformation: The English Revolution Of the Early Nineteenth Century by Dr. Herbert Schlossberg, PCUSA Elder and author of numerous articles and books including Idols for Destruction and A Fragrance of Oppression.  Schlossberg writes, "In spite of considerable progress in the last few years, there is a good deal of discouragement among those seeking renewal in the church and the society.  It is as if people are despairing of ever achieving real reform.  Is it really possible that a society and a church that have lost their way to the extent ours have done have ever come back to some semblance of health and faithfulness? illustrate this let us consider one particular period of history, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England."  p. 1

What Ever Happened to the Great Ends of the Church? by Dr. James R. Edwards, professor of religion at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA.   Edwards challenges the church saying, "We have ceased calling sinners to conversion, and church discipline is lax or non-existent.  We have been less than zealous for the truth of the gospel and purity of faith.  We have failed to teach our children the faith.  We have been indifferent to apostasy, mission and personal holiness..... What can be done? The answer, I suggest, is to recover a Biblical-confessional model for the church." p. 8


The Centrality of Holiness to Christian Faith: Why Holiness Has Become Irrelevant in Postmodern Religion by David F. Wells, Andrew Muctch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and author of numerous books including Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision.  Wells writes, "The greatest dangers to evangelical faith, I believe, lie as much in what we do know as in what we don't.  They lie not only in the doctrinal fog represented on many a church pew each Sunday but also in the great truths of Christian faith which are professed on those same pews but which, nonetheless, now lie dormant."   Wells examines the meaning of "the Holy".  He writes, What the holiness of God means is rather clear: it is what it means to us that is problematic and obscure."   Wells argues that we define life in terms of the therapeutic.  "We now translate many of life's wrongs into diseases; we focus these in the self; we think that our remedy can be found within; and,...insofar as there is a religious dimension to all of this, it takes the form of recasting God as the source of our inner healing."  Wells examines the "Disappearance of Sin" and the needed remedy of biblical preaching.  "The God of Calvin and Luther has, in these sermons, disappeared.  In his place is one far less transcendent, far more mellow, one who feels our pain as any good Boomer might, and who is so much more user-friendly."  p. 1

A Word of Hope for a Church in Pain: Biblical and Theological Dimensions of Ecclesiastical Discipline by Teresa M. McAnally, PCUSA pastor.  Examining the role of discipline in a believer's life and in the church's life, McAnally looks at, "A Necessary Component of Human Development" "The Act of a Loving God" ,"Ecclesiastical Discipline as Loving Legacy of the Holy Spirit" ,"The State of Discipline in the Church Today".   p. 6

When Everything is Permitted by Wolfhart Pannenberg, reprinted with permission from First Things Journal, February 1998, No. 80, pp. 26-30.  Pannenberg writes, "It may well be the case that the moral crisis of modern secular societies is attributable to the fact that God is no longer publicly recognized as the source of moral norms...Historical experience demonstrates that, for societies and for individuals, the autonomy of reason cannot successfully replace the authority of God. In this respect Rousseau is fully vindicated.  As is Dostoevsky, whose Ivan Karamazov observed that, without God, "everything is permitted."  Pannenberg's solution to the moral dilemma begins with a renewal of Christian morality in the Christian community.  p. 8

The Discipline of the Church: Its Chief Use in Censures and Excommunication by John Calvin, reprinted from the Institutes of the Christian Religion ed. by John McNeil (Library of Christian Classics Series.  Used by permission of WJK Press, Book IV, Chapter XII, 1-5, pp 1229-1234.  Calvin addresses the necessity and nature of church discipline; stages of church discipline; the purpose of church discipline, and the limits of our judgment according to church discipline,  p. 12


Engaging the World With Christ: Participating in the Royal Office of Christ by Scott R. A.  Starbuck, Ph.D.  Starbuck examines the three offices Christ was given: prophet, king and priest.  Starbuck continues, "once we receive the benefits of Christ's three-fold office, we directly become participants with Christ within his offices."   Starbuck then focuses primarily on exegeting and interpreting the participation of ordained officers in the royal office of Christ.  p. 1

An Analysis of the First Catechism by Rev. Stephen Eyre. Eyre critiques the proposed First Catechism for use in teaching children the faith of the church. Eyre concludes, "The First Catechism articulates a biblically defective understanding of sin.  It makes no reference to Word of God as a guide to conduct, (or revelation for that matter).  There is no need for repentance unto life.  There is nothing about regeneration.  There is no need for a doctrine of adoption, or justification or sanctification."  Note: The First Catechism is not a part of our Book of Confessions.  It was approved by the 1998, 210th GA as a study document but never sent to the presbyteries for a vote.  It can be found on the PCUSA website. p. 8

Renewal in the Mainline Churches by Rev. Susan A. Cyre, Executive Director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry and Editor of Theology Matters. Cyre argues that the paradigm for renewal should not be the postmodern table with every theology represented and accepted, but the plumbline which calls each one to repent and return to God's revealed truth.  Some principles of biblical renewal are: that spiritual warfare is the norm not the exception; that we need to love our neighbor enough to struggle for them; that we need to trust God and not just fight 'winnable battles'; that we need to give a consistent witness to Jesus Christ; that we must be concerned to vindicate the name of Christ; and that we must give God thanks for all his blessings. p. 11