7/29/2014

Why I Accepted Ordination as an Elder in the PCA

I joined Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, in 2010.  I have officially made the move from my Southern Baptist (SBC) background after careful theological reflection.  I have also recently accepted ordination as an Elder in that church.  This post will outline the main reasons for my decision.

Justification by Faith Alone

Justification is the doctrine that we are legally credited with Jesus Christ’s suffering for our sin and perfect life lived when we place our faith in Him.  We get credit for being morally perfect when we place our faith in Him even though we do not become perfectly righteous in this life.  This justification is by faith alone in that our good works do not merit justification in any way.  Justification is something that is credited to us because we have faith, not something that is awarded to us because we are good in ourselves.

The Baptist Faith and Message, the closest thing to a confessional statement in SBC circles, implies that justification is by faith alone, but omits the word “alone” from it statements.  This leaves to much room for interpretation, as evidenced by the willingness of some SBC churches to cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church in matters of faith and religious practice. 

Salvation’s Description by Scripture Alone

The description of salvation and the process which leads to it is ultimately described by Scripture alone and not by the traditions of the church.  Church tradition has a secondary role, but Scripture is our ultimate authority.  (I should note that this is not a difference from SBC churches, it’s just something that is important.)

Liturgy

I am tired of an informal worship style that leaves out key elements of biblical worship such as confessing our sins, recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, and formal reading of the Bible. 

The PCA practices a more liturgical style of worship according to the regulative principle.  Briefly stated, the regulative principle says that worship should include only what is used by worshipers in the Bible and that worship should contain all of the elements used by people in the Bible. 

This worship style awakens passion for God in my heart like none other. 

Calvinism

God saves sinners.  God saved me.  I did not help Him do so. 

I once heard J. Vernon McGee tell a story on the radio that is important to relate at this point.  (I will get many of the particulars wrong.  I have not been able to find a written account.)

McGee tells the story of a young black boy who wanted to join a church. He presented himself for church membership and the elders asked the boy, "How did you get saved?" His answer was, "God did His part, and I did my part." They thought there was something wrong with his doctrine, so they questioned further, "What was God's part, and what was your part?" His explanation was a good one. He said, "God's part was the saving, and my part was the sinning. I done run from Him as fast as my sinful heart and rebellious legs could take me. He done took out after me till He run me down."

The only system that safeguards that sentiment is properly understood Five-point Calvinism.  God saves sinners all on His own without their help.

Infant Baptism

Either we are part of the same body of believers with the saints of the Old Testament or we are not.  If we are, then it makes sense to baptize infants since it made sense to circumcise infants.  

An excellent debate on this topic can be found here.

Plural Eldership

The authority in most Baptist churches does not lie with the congregation so much as it lies with the pastor or a set of committees made up of mostly un-ordained church members.  Both of these approaches have issues.
If there is only one pastor who controls most of the authority in a particular church, then no one can check the pastor if he falls into false teaching or begins to make unwise decisions.  Plural eldership, or the vesting of authority in more than one person, avoids these problems.

Vesting authority in a set of committees avoids many of the problems of dictatorial pastor rule, but it does two things: allow for those who do not have a firm doctrinal foundation to run the church and force a congregationally organized church government to become basically presbyterian in form.  As recent doctrinal strife in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations over the Bible’s truthfulness shows, any church can drift into false teaching on major issues.  Having ordained leadership that subscribes to a particular set of doctrines outlined in a detailed confession of faith helps to avoid this.

Most Baptist churches which reach a certain size (in my experience about 300 members) begin to delegate major decisions regarding congregational life to a smaller group within the church as a practical matter.  Everyone in the church cannot vote on every decision, as pure congregationalism requires. 

This can be done either with the Deacons or a set of church committees.  Either way, what you essentially form is a presbyterian church government where some decisions are delegated by the congregation to a smaller group of trusted leaders.

Last but not Least: Confessional Statements

I am tired of being a member of a church whose entire doctrinal summary can be placed on a single 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper, double spaced.  Most SBC Churches have drifted toward that lack of confessional detail in recent years, despite the existence of The Baptist Faith and Message. 

The WestminsterConfession of Faith and Catechisms provide much more detail in a better organized format.  These Westminster Standards make explicit doctrinal details that should guide the church to avoid error. 

These are the primary issues which have motivated me to abandon the church I was brought up in and embrace a new denomination.  I present them in order to promote beneficial discussion.  

7/11/2014

Dr. D. James Kennedy on The Figurative Use of the Word “All”

“We all say “all” all of the time when we don’t mean it. No we don’t! Some people never say “all.” They speak Chinese. You don’t say “all” all of the time. Either when you mean it or when you don’t mean it. There are sometimes that you sleep. There are sometimes that you eat. There are sometimes when you say other things. You really don’t say “all” all of the time. Do you? And so, therefore, these people don’t understand the figurative use of language. There are almost over six hundred different species of figures of speech found in the Bible. And they are found in most any large novel, or even in a big newspaper you will find them. They are everywhere! No they’re not. They’re not everywhere. They’re here and there and the other place. You see we do that all the time and we don’t even realize that we are doing it. No we don’t do it all the time. You see if I called you every time you used a universal word and you didn’t mean it universally, I would be having to stop you all the time. No I wouldn’t!

The fact is that we all use this type of hyperbole, well, “all” the time. Newscasters refer to “the whole city” turning out to greet a World Championship team when what they technically mean is a very large crowd. We talk about the entire world being fixated upon the news of Princess Diana’s death. On and on it goes.

Well, if that’s true for us, might not the same principle apply when we find similar expressions used in Scripture? The simple fact is that most scholars would suggest that it’s even more true — that hyperbolic speech was very common within the Hebrew culture.

This is not to say that the words “all,” “world,” and “whole world” in the Bible can never be taken to mean every single person or thing. In some cases they can. But how we understand these words — like virtually every other word in the Bible — is based upon the context, when and to whom they were written, and then compared to other Scriptures.”  - D. James Kennedy

As quoted in: The Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism Study Guide and Workbook is the sole property of Reel to Real Ministries, Inc./The Apologetics Group. (© 2009, The Apologetics Group, All Rights Reserved), pp. 159-160.

6/09/2014

The Grammatico-Historical Method (Re-post)

(In view of the recent book by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters titled Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a DefensibleFaith for a New Generation, I am re-printing the following post.  I believe the article below addresses some of Holding and Peter’s concerns.  My local newspaper originally published the article.)



ARTICLE XV
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning that the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

So begins The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the science of understanding what the Bible says, and this statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the collective wisdom of many evangelical scholars on that subject. 

An international conference produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1982.  Leaders from many different branches of the protestant church signed it.  Those who signed the document included Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, James M. Boice, D. James Kennedy, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, Bill Bright, Paige Patterson, Josh McDowell, Raymond C. Ortlund, Adrian P. Rogers, Bruce Wilkinson, W. A. Criswell, John F. MacArthur, Luis Palau, and John F. Walvoord. 

Article XV, printed above, affirms that the Bible should be taken literally, but please note the care taken to define what “literal” means.  Literal means “normal” or according to the rules of grammar as normally interpreted by the person who wrote the material. It takes into account “figures of speech and literary forms” used by that author.  The “grammatical-historical sense” means, “the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Students of the Bible should think carefully about grammar and history.  (Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics by Norman L. Geisler)

The Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is the way we discover the grammatical-historical sense.  The GHM is a Christian method for understanding the Bible.  It “focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written.”  The aim of the GHM is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and as the original hearers would have understood. (Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul)

GMH assumes that the original biblical manuscript languages – ancient Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic in the Old Testament – were real languages that people used in a real period of history to communicate real, logical thought. This means that we must learn all we can about those ancient languages to understand how the Bible uses them.  (The amount of knowledge we have about those ancient languages is more than enough to help us understand the Bible.)   

GHM also makes us students of history.  It assumes that the Bible’s authors wrote according to the cultural, political, and religious norms of their historical periods. To know what a Bible passage truly means, we must gather information on the biblical authors’ cultures and the audiences who they addressed in their writings.

When people who want to understand the Bible put grammar and history together, they are likely to have a correct understanding of the Bible’s meaning. The Bible is literally true, and it contains no hidden message behind the words or between the lines.


Since the Bible contains all we need to know about how to get to heaven by grace and how to live life on earth by the law, it is very important to use the GHM to understand it.  Our eternal destinies might be at stake.

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