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Category Archives: RCA

Thoughts on Rob Bell (part four).

 

Evangelicalism’s Doom and the Phoenix that is Mainline Protestantism:  A response (sort-of) to David Fitch and Scot McKnight

 

{DISCLAIMER:  Post (and especially picture captions) are not for the easily offended.}

 

Faculty David Fitch

David Fitch and Scot McKnight are both evangelical theologians of the highest caliber, both with better-than-average communication skills in a field that’s not exactly known for its sublime prose. 

Fitch has a new book out, that you can learn all about here.  I’m excited to get a chance to read it soon, and as you can see for yourself on his website, you can get a copy at a 40% discount.  What a guy. Smile 

[See “our conversation” (in a manner of speaking) after the jump.]

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in church, emergent, future, RCA, theology

 

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a 2-second note re: belhar.

Hey everyone…. Many of you may not be aware of this, but the end of the month is the deadline for all classes of the Reformed Church in America to take their votes on whether or not to pass last year’s General Synod vote to make the Belhar Confession our fourth Standard of Faith.  There are still just a handful of classes that have not yet completed their votes, and perhaps you are in one of them.

I would just like to plead, on behalf of one relatively young, incoming pastor into the denomination, to please vote YES to the Belhar.  In my opinion, it has the enormous potential to guide and shape our worship, our faith, and the focus of our mission to a broken and dying world in the new century–which is what our confessions are meant to do.

I encourage you, also, not to just read the Belhar Confession with critical eyes (although we should criticize it… and think it holds up against the critique).  Read it also with prayerful eyes. Also, please do not make any decisions based on the Belhar until after reading the accompanying letter that has gone out with it.   It is excellent.

I am just one person, but there are many others like me.  I would be more than happy to discuss the Belhar with anyone who is still “on the fence,” to hear your concerns and to exchange thoughts, and perhaps even dreams.

You can respond to this blog; you can use Twitter @jlundewhitler and direct message me, or you can email me at belhar@harrison04.endjunk.com .

Thanks.   Shalom and Blessings.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2010 in belhar, RCA

 

Video and thoughts on Haiti, from those who truly know.

1.

Within hours of hearing about the Haiti quake last week, I was amazed and mortified to learn that the president of the RCA (my church family)’s General Synod (our big annual gathering), James Seawood, was in Haiti at the time of the quake, scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince at the time, alongside an entire delegation of RCA lay and ordained leaders. (I had the privilege of meeting and conversing with Rev. Seawood just before the Synod meeting last year, after he had met with the Seminarian Seminar of which I was a part. I believe I also met there Rev. Andres Serrano, a Dominican pastor who was also part of the Haitian delegation.) Soon word got out that the delegation had survived and had made its way to the Dominican Republic, and was en route to return to the U.S.

The RCA has posted video and thoughts from Rev. Seawood accessible from their main web page… he had taken video footage just moments after the quake… it is remarkable footage of the confusion, fear, and anguish that survivors felt in those initial moments… and it also places you into the shoes of the delegation as they struggle to try to find a route amidst the chaos.

Moments after Haiti Earthquake from Phil Tanis on Vimeo.

Read his reflections on the entire ordeal here, also found on the RCA website. Amazing stuff.

2.

Wyclef Jean, one of the world’s most famous Haitians, has an organization called Yele Haiti through which he has long been trying to provide hope and healing to a nation devastated by poverty. Now devastated by the erratic and inexplicable forces of nature (no, NOT by a curse, Mr. Robertson…), Yele Haiti and Wyclef are leading a public charge to take necessary action to bring hope and healing yet again.

Earlier today Wyclef hosted a live press conference… it’s being recast right now, and they might play it a few more times, so see if you can catch at least pieces of it….

“This is the only time people are going to see my country”

“We (Yele Haiti) has always been on the ground…”….

“There’s a problem that we have to solve…in the next few days… the security issue amongst the people… where the communities are hostile because of the (lack of) food… so on Saturday…we’ll be leaving again for Haiti….the reality is that you have at least 400,000 people underground ….. for every success story that you see, there are another 40,000 that are buried…”

He calls for a massive exodus outside of Port-au-Prince, to facilitate the cleaning process of the city and to take care of the people… and calls for another countries to help lead this, and to provide tents that will eventually develop into new, 21st-century communities… fascinating stuff.

3.

Sojourners’ blog today features a post from Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners–another organization committed to helping Haiti for years, and has lived for many years himself in Haiti. He addresses the feeling that many of us have… “Why Haiti? Why a country already devastatingly poor?, suffering for years already….” He even references the psalmist who famously addresses this sentiment with the words, “How long, oh Lord?”

His response to this is both difficult and wise– we (as those who do NOT know what it is like to be there, to be from there, or to have lived there) would do well to hear it:

“Finally, I’ve been asked often, when working in Haiti and then during these past few days, how do you keep any hope? My answer, which is burrowed deep in my bones through the privilege of living with, being friends with, watching the courage of, and working alongside many Haitians, is that if they haven’t given up hope, we have no right to. Today I saw on CNN Haitians walking the streets of Port-au-Prince singing hymns and praying.

We’re people committed to be on the side of God’s hope, even on seemingly hopeless days. We’re people committed to be on the side of people in Haiti–not just right now, but for the longterm. “

Ways to spread the hope:

1) Text donations: Text YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti
Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross
(no, neither of these are scams.)
2) Donate:
-to Red Cross
UNICEF
World Vision
To Reformed Church World Service

3) Make medical and hygiene kits and submit them to the RCWS. Find a guide on how to make them here. Right now relief and life-saving are still the focus, and water and medical supplies are among the biggest needs… but as Annan reminds us, we also need to think about how we can CONTINUE to help Haiti head towards recovery in the months and years ahead… so let’s not forget about them. Just as people in Louisiana are still recovering from Katrina in many instances, so it will be in Haiti, only on a much larger scale.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2010 in haiti, justice, mission, RCA

 

Belhar adopted.

Still needs to be accepted by 2/3 of the classes (regions in the RCA).

Click here for the RCA General Synod blog on the adoption.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2009 in belhar, church, RCA, theology

 

Why You Should Vote Yes on the Belhar

As a part of the Seminarian Seminar, while I have the privilege to watch the proceedings of the General Synod, I do not have the power to vote (some of us have the power to speak, but that doesn’t include me). So, I am submitting here a few reasons why I think YOU (that is, any of you delegates who are checking this blog) should vote for the acceptance of the Belhar Confession today.


1- It says something crucial about God and His identity that is not explicit in the other confessions.

God is a reconciling God, who reconciles the whole world to Himself through his Son (2 Cor 5), who has conquered sin and death by his resurrection. Therefore as the body of Christ, we must be a reconciling people (Eph 2:11ff). In this we must be fundamentally concerned with our unity as a body (1 Cor 12), and with matters of justice for the poor and oppressed (Amos 5): these things are what make us distinctive, and our voice distinctive, as a witness to the world. This is the heart of the Belhar, and understanding this is critical to understanding the Gospel, and well as God Himself. Yet, as revered as the other three standards are, they do not make this critical piece of the Gospel explicit in the same way that Belhar does.

We need the Belhar for the sake of being a more thorough witness to who God is, and consequently who WE are, as well as what is God’s hope for the world. Justice and reconciliation are INSEPARABLE from the Gospel.


2- Its use in worship and study will help us become a more confessional church again.

I have heard a few times now that the issue of the Belhar is relatively insignificant, because today, primarily, the RCA is no longer a confessional church. However, since I’ve been here, I’ve heard (from pastors and students) of the Belhar being used in churches around the country, in a variety of ways, both in liturgy/worship and in study. Is it possible that the Belhar’s passage might actually lead to a revival of the usage of confessions in our churches? Is it possible, also, that the use of the Belhar will also lead us to rediscover our other confessions?

We need the Belhar because confessions need to be revived as a part of our worship, and the Belhar contains the necessary immediate relevance that make it viable to do so.

3- It will also help us become more ecumenical.

The other American denominations are watching us this week. The rest of the world is watching us, the RCA, this week.

We need to fully embrace the Belhar so that the rest of the world can see this as our commitment to both internal unity (within the RCA), and external unity (through ecumenical dialogue). In doing so, and being the first U.S. denomination to fully accept it as a confesion, I believe other denominations will quickly follow suit (and give us another point of connection with other Christian bodies)….but someone must take the first step!


4- The arguments against the Belhar are based on a faulty understanding of what confessions are.

I have read and heard virtually every argument against the Belhar at this point… they usually come down to a concern regarding how certain phrases in it might be used to support a position that she or he may not hold (e.g., support of homosexuality)… as if accepting the Belhar will tie their hands and keep them from being able to speak from their viewpoint. Yet, NO confession is meant to function as a pillar, an unmovable, static repository of propositional truths (or, as a useless mausoleum of once important issues that are now irrelevant). No, confessions are a RIVER in which we swim… a stream that originates in a particular moment in time, yet flows into a context much larger than its own and still finds applicability, because something about it touches the very heart of God.

We need the Belhar because it is a uniquely rich river in which we can swim (that is, work, worship, and use to interpret scripture)… one that, while the other confessions were written to help us understand and be assured in who we ARE before God, the Belhar offers to help us understand who we should desire TO BECOME… it confronts us, rather than assures us. This makes it more threatening, but it is no less God’s will upon us… it is a prophetic text.


5- We are in a moment of crisis.

Forged in the fires of apartheid, which was certainly a “crisis” moment (as all creeds/confessions are written in such times), we stand today as the American church at a crisis moment of our own: an increasingly diverse and fragmented, individualistic world, that instills deep bitterness if not hatred for others, tribalism, and profound injustice (the divide between rich and poor being wider than ever). The church, rather than confront these things as contrary to the Gospel, ends up looking a lot like the culture instead, and the question becomes: does the church offer the world anything different than what the world offers?

We need the Belhar because with it we make a stand to the world to say what we believe God to call us to be… and as we live in it, we as the church will once again grow into a more viable witness to the world.

Regarding the two main contentions (as far as I can tell):

The “special way” clause (i.e., God is with the poor and broken “in a special way.”)— I would ask someone who contends with this phrase, first of all, to examine your own reaction when you encounter someone who has dealt with particular hardship. Do you treat them the same, as if nothing tragic has occurred? Doing so would be quite cruel in most cases. Does not God’s heart, therefore, ache abundantly MORE than ours, when he sees his people suffer? Would that be unfair to those who are not suffering?

Is not the primary defining characteristic of our God, according to John, LOVE?

Biblical themes also support God’s concern for the poor: God’s deliverance of slaves because he had “heard their cries,” the numerous provisions made for the poor in the Law, God’s condemnation of Israel when they refused to care for the poor, and of course, Jesus, who at the “inauguration point” of his ministry (Luke 4) read from Isaiah that the word of the Lord was upon (him), to preach good news to the poor….set the captives free, break the yoke of the oppressed, give sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus later said that it is MORE difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19, I think…?) And if that wasn’t enough, he later blatantly identifies himself with the poor in Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for the least of these (hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless)…. You did for me.”

The concept of God being with the poor in a “special way” is biblical. We need to be reminded of it and to confess it, for as Matthew 25 implies, our own souls depends on it.

The “natural diversity” clause– It appears to me that some people read this particular phrase and immediately read “homosexuality” into it… and at that point, stop reading and assume that the Belhar allows some kind of radical liberal agenda. They must not be reading the rest, for as the rest of the paragraph states, the rejection is of any doctrine where absolutizing this diversity leads to “hinder(ing) or break(ing) the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to…separate church formation.”

So, to violate Belhar, there must be a doctrine, which absolutizes categories of people, and leads to a breaking of church unity. Those three things must all be present, if you are reading the Belhar literally.

Basically, regarding homosexuality, to vote against Belhar means that you wish the church to reserve the right to a) form doctrines that permanently separate gays and lesbians from straight people and b) to kick them out of your churches. Is not wanting to give up these “rights” what the fear is really all about?

Actually, this section threatens gays and lesbians as much as those who are straight. It implies that to separate because of difference is wrong… the Belhar compels those who wish to split from a “hate the sin, love the sinner” kind of church…. to stay and work through their differences, as much as those who want to split from an “open and affirming” kind of church…. are compelled to do everything possible to stay unified.

The Belhar threatens all of us, because our natural, sinful tendency is to divide and categorize each other, and to either fight or flee when the going gets tough. To stay unified in the midst of diversity is what makes the church unique, and it is only possible because of Jesus Christ.

Okay, I have said my piece… now you vote based on your own conscience.

(Remember, as a delegate you are responsible to voting your conscience, not obligated to represent the people in your church/classis.)

In whatever happens today, Solo Deo Gloria.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2009 in belhar, church, RCA, theology