Skip Navigation

Theology Matters Jan/Feb to Nov/Dec 2010



Night at the Museum: The Secret Life of an Old Confession by John L. Thompson, Professor of Historical Theology and Gaylen and Susan Byker Professor of Reformed Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.   Thompson urges us not to place the Westminster Confession of Faith in a museum where although valuable, it is seldom visited.  Instead, he draws us back to the wonder and strength of the Confession.   He looks at: Soli Deo Gloria; what it means to Enjoy God;, Covenant; holiness.  He challenges us to reflect that museums can also be a place where we "ponder and reflect on things past, present, and future..."  They can be places where we "find a quiet place where we keep things too important to forget or discard--things that we preserve and publicize precisely because we believe that by doing so, we shape ourselves and keep these memories alive and active for the generations to come." p. 1

A Conversation with the Ecumenical Creeds by Leanne Van Dyk, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI.  This article is adapted from her article, "A Conversation with the Ecumenical Creeds" in Conversation with he Confessions, ed. Joseph Small (Louisville: Geneva Pres, 2005).  Van Dyk gives seven functions of the creeds:  1) they identify Christian believers in the faith;  2) they educate persons in their Christian beliefs;  3) they unify Christian believers;  4) they have an apologetic and polemical function;  5) they have a doxological function;  6)  they edify Christians.  7) They comfort Christians.  p. 12


Three Important Votes in the Presbyteries
A Fourth Issue Affects Every Congregation

 As a result of actions by the 219th General Assembly in July 2010, the presbyteries will vote on three major issues. We recommend a NO vote on all three of these:
1. Amend G-6.0106b to remove the specific ordination standards regarding sexual behavior, thus clearing the way for the ordination of those who engage in sexual relationships outside of the marriage of a man and a woman. Vote NO.
2. Replace the current Form of Government, found in the Book of Order in the “G” section, with the proposed Form of Government.   Vote NO.
3. Include the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions.   Although the Belhar was written in response to the racism of South Africa’s apartheid, the language of Belhar does not limit it to the sin of racism. Some people interpret the Belhar to affirm same-sex behavior. Vote NO.
In addition to the three items above that will be voted on in presbyteries, the General Assembly “urged” the Board of Pensions to cover same-sex partners of church employees using the mandatory pension and medical plan of installed pastors.   Every congregation will be required to financially support a behavior that Scripture, the Confessions, and the Book of Order call sin. Presbyteries will not vote on this. We encourage individuals, sessions and presbyteries to take action to prevent this from happening.

Articles in this issue include:
    Prayer of Confession by Mateen Elass, p. 2
    A Critique of the Proposed Replacement to G-6.0106b by G. Thomas Hobson and Sue Cyre, p. 3
    A Critique of the Proposed Replacement Form of Government by Carol Shanholtzer, p. 7
    A Critique of the Belhar Confession by Sue Cyre, p. 11
    Voting? on the Belhar Confession  by Jerry Andrews
    GA 'urges' the Board of Pensions to Extend Benefits to Same-sex Parnters by James R. Tony


Minority Report of the Special Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage (an excerpt) by Rev. Tracie Mayes-Stewart, Rev. Bill Teng, and Elder Lisa Van Riper. The Minority Report and supporting rationale uphold biblical and confessional standards. They emphasize that "our consciences are not free in every respect but rather we are called to bring them into captivity to God’s Word.”  They conclude:
We must use our bodies within God’s design. Because God’s design is rooted in creation, this design is not just for the believer but for humanity. Therefore, friendships, whether of same or opposite gender, which do not violate God’s boundaries of sexual expression as defined in Scripture, the confessions, and the Book of Order can be honored and encouraged. However, those relationships, whether the same or opposite gendered, that although committed and caring, which are outside of God’s design of sexual expression, cannot be encouraged or blessed. Pastoral care must be extended to all people within the body of Christ. Such care should always conform to the standards of the confessions as the church works to "gather and perfect" the saints.
A Walk Through the Woods by Mary Holder Naegeli, Minister at Large in San Francisco Presbytery and adjunct instructor of Christian Formation and Discipleship and Missional Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary (Northern California and Seattle). 
Naegeli gives a brief teaching on biblical interpretation in relation to the Trinity. The Trinity is One God, so Jesus does not speak a different word today than the Spirit spoke in the words of Scripture. Naegeli posits that “The church reforms by returning (repenting) to its biblical roots after wandering down bunny trials of false belief or scandalous practice.” “Scripture as God’s Word written imparts God’s will upon the Church through instruction, information, and correction, and thereby holds the Church and its members accountable to the will of God (2 Tim 3:16).  Footnotes. For a diagram that helps to understand the article, click here.
The Belhar Confession: A Failure to Confess Jesus Christ” by Viola Larson, elder, and Board member of Voices of Orthodox Women and Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry.  
Larson explains why the Church should not add the Belhar Confession to its Book of Confessions: it has an inadequate witness to the Lordship of Christ; its emphasis on unity could be used to support a homosexual advocacy agenda; it has been used by some to label Israel as racist; and it may be used to deny the uniqueness of Christ and promote pluralism.  Footnotes
How the New Form of Government Would Harm Congregations: A Summary by Elder Carol Shanholtzer.  Shanholtzer demonstrates that this proposed FOG would harm congregations by creating a “centralized, top-down governance, with the session at the bottom of the structure, following instructions from and sending required financial support to the higher governing bodies.”

Is Marriage Worth Defending?  Part II   by Alan F. H. Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).  The full paper is available on the IRD web site  Reprinted with permission from IRD.
"The modern era has profoundly altered marital patterns.  Several trends have shifted the emphasis within marriage and the relationships between the married couple and the rest of society.  In most cases, these trends have tended to weaken the marital bond."   Wisdom then explores two of these trends:  locating "the substance of marriage within the subjective feelings of the spouses...two people who love each other"  and seeing marriage merely as a legal contract where individuals "set the terms of their contract however they please."  Wisdom looks at how these two trends have weakened marriage so that today 39.7 percent of children are born out of wedlock. Divorce and cohabitation have had devastating effects on adults and children. Wisdom offers several options to consider and concludes that strengthening marriage is the church's call so that men and women might experience God's blessing and society might prosper.  


Is Marriage Worth Defending?  Part 1   by Alan Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).  The full paper is available on the IRD web site:  Reprinted with permission from IRD.
Marriage is under assault today. Alan Wisdom describes the state of marriage: "By many measures, marriage has weakened in our society over the past two generations. Fewer people marry. More people divorce. Increasing numbers of people move through a series of sexual relationships without ever forming a lasting marriage…Now pro-homosexuality advocates are seeking to radically redefine the institution, reducing it to a relationship between any ‘two people who love each other.’"

Wisdom continues: "The Bible teaches that God brought together man and woman in marriage for the good of all human kind. The love between husband and wife is a temporal image of the eternal bond between God and his unites the two sexes as ‘one flesh,’ provides the appropriate setting for childbearing and childrearing, offers a legitimate channel for sexual desire, and fosters faithful lifelong companionship between husband and wife."
Wisdom covers topics: Marriage in the Bible, The Church Changes the Culture, What Scripture does not say in Galatians 3:28, Arguments from Nature, and What's the Harm in Same-Sex Marriage.  The second part of this article will appear in the Mar/Apr issue of Theology Matters.
Is Marriage Worth Defending? Part 1
Is Marriage Worth Defending? Part 1