When you can’t trust your Church bookstore

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I recently had the opportunity to check out a local Church’s church bookstore. Perusing their selection got me thinking;

What is the purpose of a church bookstore? Apart from being a small source of revenue, which undoubtedly must be the secondary or even tertiary purpose, I would have imagined that it would be a place where you honor and glorify Christ by presenting to your congregation the best books that they can read to build their faith. This should represent what the pastor, elders and church leadership recommend as being the most thoughtful, engaging, edifying, provoking, and biblically faithful resources that they can give their members in order to build their sanctification and help them understand the purposes and character of God.

As a pastors job is to shepherd the flock and feed them God’s word, a bookstore [or even a church library- they have the exact same purpose] can serve as a small part of that. During the sermon you should be teaching doctrine that will more or less agree the theology being espouse in a bookstore, and likewise the books compliment the messages being preached from the pulpit. Simply put; the very act of stocking certain books and authors is a implicit and tacit endorsement of that authors theology. The books in the bookstore function like little sermons and teaching lessons that you are unable to deliver, but would like to. When you carry certain books, you are telling your flock “we want you to read this books, and we agree with what is being taught.” Not only that, but you are saying that the book is safe, that the theology can be trusted, and that you support what is being written about. Unlike a for-profit bookstore, the motivations are a little different.

Given this, every book should be vetted by either the pastor, elders, or a qualified layperson who understands law and gospel, sin and grace, and knows how to properly handle the scriptures so that they can, in the words of Chris Rosebrough “Compare what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God.” You don’t have to agree with everything that the author says, in this book or in others they have, however.  The purpose is not to nitpick every tiny minutia that the book relates, but rather to determine if they authors are being faithful to the scriptures in their exegesis, interpretation, extrapolation and application, so that you can feel confident that you have your due diligence in caring for people’s souls.

So why do so many Church bookstores or lending libraries have such rotten books? And not to put too fine a point on it, but why do so many churches sell books from authors who are either heretics, flaming heretics, false teachers, bible twisters, narcegetes [narcissistic eisegeters] and every other variety of bizarre purveyors of theological poison?  These are books where it can be demonstrably and objectively proven that the authors are misusing God’s word, and that they are teaching things that can’t either can’t be found in scripture, or that scripture condemns.

They should be places where you can let your guard down, not have to raise it up. They should be places where you can learn about biblical prayer without being exposed to gnostic witchcraft involving a mythical figures named Honi and circlemaking practices. They should be places where you can learn to see Jesus in the Old Testament and not be a breeding ground for teaching you how to make the Bible about you so that you can narcisistically insert yourself into the text. They should be places where you can read about the glories and mysteries of heaven, as revealed in scriptures, and not have some five year old boy regale you with delusions and lies about how “for real” he thinks heaven is.

The bookstore is where you learn about how to manage your finances well so that you can give sacrificially to the Church and to your neighbour.  Its not a place where you should find yourself exposed to the health and wealth/prosperity gospel- the theological abortion that would feed on your greed and  lust of the world as it chains you to the lie that is the “american dream”.  The bookstore should be a places where you get a clear articulation of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins that Christ has provided for you on the cross through his death and resurrection, not where you die on the altar of self-esteem. Its not supposed to be a place that leaves you embroiled in “moralistic therapeutic deism” by enslaving you to Christless Christianity by a man with big shiny teeth who will drag you to hell as he smiles and talks about “your best life now.” The bookstore ought to build your sanctification, not your self esteem. Promote the sure word of the faith delivered “once for all”, not mysticism and spiritual whimsicality.

From a personal standpoint, when I see that sort of thing, it demonstrates to me that the church leadership is not acting with wisdom and discernment. It show they are failing to be watchmen and good shepherds over their flocks. This is because they are allowing and encouraging into their midsts purveyors of scriptural strychnine . How then can I submit to them and trust them to feed my soul on a Sunday morning when they’re giving the enemy the knife to slit my throat the other six days of the week? I’m not saying they don’t love the Lord or love people, but in a way they are showing hatred towards their brothers and sisters by exposing them to the worst that Christianity has to offer. I instinctually question how committed they are to be sound teachers and exegetes of the Word when they tolerate the sloppy molestation of that very same Word by other preachers and teachers in their own homes.

What say you? Do you trust your Church bookstore?

Commenting on a comment about McMurray Church Kids

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A few days [weeks? eep!] I wrote a post about a conversation with a kid in my town who attends a certain Church in the area. As they had been attending a while, I asked them some questions about their faith. The premise is simple; Christians should know the basics of their faith. I wasn’t expecting them to wax eloquent on the virtues of supralapsarianism soteriology, but they should know what the gospel is, right?

If they were indeed saved, then that means that Christ took them from darkness to light, ripped out their heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh. They went from being slaves to sin, to slaves of Christ.  Salvation is more than giving these lost souls a new change in perspective or a new outlook on life. You’re not just offering them a new god to believe in, or a few suggestions so that they might have a more fulfilling life, or even granting them validation to live a life of contented moral deism. Instead, real repentance and faith in Christ is a radical restructuring of their existence. It is the crumbling of their world and the rebuilding of a new and better one. It is the destruction of their previous worldview, the death of their spirit, and the regeneration of a new man. They are being ripped out of the life they thought they knew and are being born again.

To not understand this or be able to articulate this, even at its most basic level, is really, really troubling. If you can go through that whole process and not be able to even explain what role Jesus played it in you being saved, then something is terminally wrong. And for someone to supposedly experience this, and then not be able to tell anyone else anything about it, or be able to direct others to the freedom in Christ and the way of eternal life, is a damning indictment. It just is.

In light of my probing this question, I received this comment in the combox:

 “Its obvious you are trying to discourage the general public from attending this congregation. I am assuming you call yourself a Christian. In which case shouldn’t you be trying to witness to people not going about finding fault or do you think by doing this you are causing anyone to be saved. Pretending to be genuinely interested in someone’s opinion only to criticize them or their church openly is definely not Christian behavior! By the way this is a great church with people that love God.”

Speaking to you directly; I don’t think its obvious that I’m discouraging anyone from attending this congregation.  If I were, I would name the congregation publicly and tell people that very thing. Furthermore, because I am a Christian, I believe it is incumbent upon me to do so. I take my lead from these verses

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

It would seem that you have no tolerance for those who would do this, even though this is what we are called to do. Nor do you seemingly believe there is anything wrong with not knowing anything about the faith, or if it is wrong then we definitely don’t want to point that out, right?  It would be one thing for these kids to simply not know- which is terrible in and of itself, but its another thing to ignorantly tell people the exact opposite thing. In light of this shocking reality, for you to go on the offensive and rail about “not criticizing” is misplaced at best and destructive at worst. It is not loving at all, in the true sense of the word, and it ultimately demonstrates that you are the one who doesn’t care about these kids, even though I would hope that is not your intention.

Is this Church a good church? I think so. Because I have not said which Church it is, you have no way of knowing whether or not they are a great church.  I listen to their sermons every week and I usually see Christ exalted and worshiped, but that doesn’t always work itself down in the ways that it needs to. Something is amiss here  and somewhere something is breaking down. This is an inescapable fact. If the three Church kids I’ve encountered have have no idea even what they are talking about and can’t tell you what the gospel is or who Jesus is and what role he plays in salvation, or even how to be saved, after attending this Church for years and years, then their spiritual maturity is not a priority, and they are letting these kids down.

Recent encounter with A Fort McMurray Church kid #3

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I was at a certain place recently when I saw a young man who was wearing a “Christian shirt.” That is to say, this shirt read “God is in control” and in fact, is the very shirt featured above. Naturally I found this very intriguing and struck up a conversation with him. The kid was about 15-16 years old, kinda scruffy and gangly, but was open to a bit of conversation. I know that when I was younger and I would wear such shirts, I could only have dreamed that someone would stop me on the streets and say “Tell me about the hope that lies within.” That was the ultimate fantasy, and if that kid was anything like me, then he would have been stoked to find himself in a bona-fide witnessing encounter.

Let’s see how he did. The following is a very, very exact approximation of what was said.

Me. “Hey, that’s a cool shirt. I like the Nintendo logo”

Him. “Thanks”

Me. “What does it mean, exactly?”

Him “Oh, you know, that God’s always watching out for you and looking out for you.”

Me. “Are you a Christian”

Him. “I am”

Me. “Do you go to a Church around here, or a youth group around here?”

Him. “Yes, I go to ____________________________ [name withheld to protect the guilty/innocent. However, let it be known that so far  all these kids have gone to the same  Church. Dun Dun Dun!]

Me. “I hope you don’t mind me asking this, but what do Christians believe?”

Him. “We believe in God and stuff”

Me. “Oh. I kinda figured that. But like…what is a Christian?”

Him. “A Christian is someone who follows God”

Me. “I see. So if I wanted to be a Christian, what would I have to do, or believe?”

Him. “You have to follow the Bible, and be a good person.”

Me. “Are you a good person?”

Him. “Of course”

Me. “Isn’t everybody a good person?”

Him. “Most people are, yeah”

Me. “So to be a Christian, I really only have to follow the Bible”

Him. “Yeah”

Me. “What kinds of things do I have to follow?

Him. “You have to follow the 10 commandments, like don’t steal and swear,”

Me. “And then I’ll be a Christian?”

Him. “Yeah, pretty much. And you have to love God.”

Me. “I see.  Can I just love God in my own way, and try to be a good person? Do I have to be a Christian to go to heaven, or can I kind of do my own thing, as long as God knows that I love him?”

Him. “I guess you can, yeah, but you want to be a Christian, because then if you have faith you can get blessings.”

Me. “What kind of blessings?”

Him. “Like a better life. Better relationships. More peace. Less problems”

Me. “So I could be a Muslim or a Hindu, and as long as I love God, I will still go to heaven.”

Him.  “I think so, yeah, but I’m not sure. “

Me. “Cool. One more question; what is the gospel? I heard that word before. What does it mean?”

Him. “The gospel is what I was talking about”

Me. “So the gospel is about following the 10 commandments and being a good person?”

Him. “Yeah, exactly.”

Me. “Ok. thanks. It was nice to meet you. Have a nice day.”

So how did he do? If you were this kids’ pastor or elder, would you be pleased with the teaching that he is receiving? How is that youth-group working out for him?” Drop a line in the combox.

Alliance Church Clothing Swap Shindig of 2013

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Last month the Fort McMurray Alliance Church had a clothing swap of sorts. The idea was that you bring some clothes to give to others, and then pick up whatever clothes you need for yourself. Everything was completely free. Nothing was sold. My wife and I went down after work and we dropped off four garbage bags full of clothing that we culled from our closets, and then then next morning we arrived bright and early ready to roll.

We are expecting our first child, and so we dove into the girl/infant clothing. My contribution mostly consisted of holding up different items, to which my wife either scrunched her nose at and shook her head, or beamed a smile and reach out her hand to put into her bag. After about 30 minutes,  we managed to grab two grocery bags stuffed with onesies, socks, receiving blankets, little skirts and dresses, and a host of other things. It was a bounty, and it saved us hundreds of dollars if we had to buy everything new.

[On an amusing note, my wife had a favourite shirt that she had purchased years ago. It shrunk in the wash, so she hardly wore it. But. Lo and behold.  Mixed in with the women's clothing, was the exact same shirt one size up. She snatched it up, was joyful, and spent the rest of the week talking about "what a good score" she got.]

But as a whole- what a wonderful idea. I had never heard of it before and found it to be a unique gift to the community When you actually got there, you were almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of clothes. It was pretty obvious by the quality of clothing that we got, that the ones giving were not skimping on what items they chose to donate.  And not only clothing, but toys, small appliances, household items, etc.

If I had one complaint its that there wasn’t enough room! The sanctuary was divided into different areas, and they took the time to label all the different sizes and kinds of clothing. You had 0-3 months baby boy clothes over here, men’s pants XXL over there, women’s medium shirts over here, belts against the wall, and so on and so forth. We were digging 12 layers deep, and even then we probably missed half the stuff. The volunteers who took the time to sort and divide and fold it all are to be commended- it was not an easy task.

I overheard several people talk about how great it was, and how there were so many wonderful clothes. It was bustling when I was there, and when I left there were still mountains of clothing.

The whole thing just struck me as a great way for the Fort McMurray Alliance Church to serve their neighbors and as a way to be practically mission-minded in the community. I don’t know what percentage were church folk and what percentage were just Fort McMurrayites who had heard about it. For their sake I hope the numbers were bent towards the unchurched, but it really was a phenomenal idea any way you cut it. I  left the event reflecting on how killer it was and hoping there is one next year. It was a great way to show love, and I think a lot of people definitely got that.

Podcasts I listen to, with a brief snippet on each one.

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In case anyone was wondering who I am listening to, and what podcasts I am influenced by, Here is my setlist that I listen to every week.

1. The Dividing Line

Fantastic apologetic resource, as well as my source and inspiration for proper exegesis and handling of the biblical text. This is my favorite podcast and the one I look forward to the most. I admire James White’s keen mind and it seems near encyclopedic memory of…well…..everything. This is clearly a man who has thought through things many times, and who has such a wonderful understanding of the doctrines of grace and is able to articulate them and defend them the best.

2. Fighting for the Faith

Another favorite of mine. This is the flagship of Pirate Christian Radio, helmed by the captain himself, Chris Rosebrough. This is a good apologetic podcast as well, but I like it primary for the way he addresses current issues in Christian evangelicalism today. It’s all about discernment with this one, and how to discern. While I’m not a Lutheran, I definitely value the framework that he approaches things through, whether its dealing with seeker sensitive churches, wacky charismatic, dominionists, free spirited William Tapley sorts, emergent church players, and everything else in between. The whole idea of “compare what people are saying in the name of the name of God to the word of God” is fantastic, and it doesn’t matter who you are- if you abuse scripture in your sermon, you’re going to get a flag on the play.

3. Berean Bible Church

This one is the odd man out. David Curtis who is the pastor of this Church is a full-blown Calvinist preacher, which I like, but he is also a full-preterist, which I actively don’t like and consider it heresy. It’s an odd combination, and can often be unnerving. That being said, its impossible to listen to any sermon without being deeply challenged and without learning something. As long as you can be discerning about it, this one will get under your skin, in all the best ways. I particularly like how he does verse-by-verse exegetical preaching, and his sermons always stay very close to the text.

4. The Village Church

Matt Chandlers Church. This is one of the first podcasts I listened to which got me into reformed theology. Matt is an amazingly charismatic guy who has the most impressive gift of communication I’ve seen from a pastor. Very funny and occasionally provocative, he is one of the most quotable pastors I know. He has a way of taking biblical concepts and speaking about them in a way that everyone can relate to. It is contextualization in the best possible way.

5. Dr James White Sermons

This is the Sunday school sermons playlist from the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, which James White is a co-elder. They’ve been going through the book of Hebrews now for years, and are currently talking about the sacrifice of Issac. This is a deep, extremely thorough handling of the word, routinely going into the greek and into textual variants in the texts, and everything else. It’s impossible to listen to without thinking “that’s about the deepest and most direct handling of the text that I’ve ever encountered.

6. No Compromise Radio

The Brain child of Mike Abendroth and guest starring Tuesday guy, their motto is “always biblical, always provocative, always in that order.” You have a mix of interviews, discussions on current issues, various zany interactions, clips from his sermons, and also most commonly are the topical ones, where they discuss controversial topics. The one downside is that this podcast is recorded weeks if not months and advance, and so it’s arely current when they are discussing current events, but its a snappy 22 minutes a pop, and cover my drives down to work and back.

7. White Horse Inn.

Great Podcast. You have four men from  different denominational backgrounds having fun discussing culturally relevant theological matters, helping Christians “know what they believe and why they believe it.” You have Michael Horton,  Dr Rod Rosenbladt, Ken Jones and Dr Kim Riddlebarger. I like the interaction and hearing about the agreements and disagreements with four men who are passionate and educated on a subject.

8. Issues Etc.

I don’t visit this one as often as I should I mainly use it for the topics that stand out to me. But this is Christ-centred, cross focussed radio by Todd Wilken, from a distinctly Lutheran perspective. Tons of special guests and guest speakers, and a good potpourri of topics.

9. GTY.

An oldie but a goodie. I’ve been making my way through 40 some years of sermons from John MacArthur, and this is the vehicle by which I do it. You have verse by verse preaching through the entire New Testament, with an emphasis on verse by verse. You’ll get some messages where he discusses just 2 or three verses. You’re talking about a guy who spent 10 years going through the book of Luke, from 1998 to 2008.  Trust me when I say that this is thorough as they come. I’m not there in Luke yet- I’m still in 1986, but I look forward to it, as Luke is my favorite Gospel.

10. JD Hall Sermon Podcast

Just started listening to this one in the last few weeks. This is one passionate man. Right now we’re doing something called “66 Gospels” where he talks bout salvation from Genesis to Revelation. JD Hall is a guy that I really respect and have come to appreciate, and while I haven’t got a good idea of the flavor of his podcast, his sermons have proven to be fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one.

11. I also listen to all the weekly sermons from the MGA, Alliance, FBC and the FCC.

Can Fort McMurray congregants articulate the gospel and other basic tennants of our faith?

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I wrote a post recently about my encounter with a local Church kid [two posts down]. I had the opportunity to speak to him about his faith and about the gospel, and he made a mess of things. In response to this story, one of my commenters wrote this

“The reality is that the MAJORITY of the adults that attend these Institutional Churches have no real understanding of the Gospel or the Cross.

I challenge any of your readers with this: Ask 5 grown adults in ANY Institutional Church, it wont matter what denomination it is, to clearly articulate and lay out for you the basics Tenants of the Faith.”

I think that’s a pretty bold challenge, and one I’ve often thought about. While we know that having an intellectual knowledge of Christian doctrines does not necessarily translate into having a love for God or of having a saved soul, it’s also true that having that intellectual understanding often is  a mark of a deep love for God and for his Word. I think it’s a sign of sanctification and maturity that people know at least the basics- otherwise what on earth are they being taught?

I wrote in a previous post “mush before milk before meat” that it seems that many churches will spend 10 weeks preaching on leadership, or 4 weeks on a sex series sermon, or 12 weeks on finances and 8 weeks on interpersonal relationships, all the while three quarters of their church members are theologically and doctrinally ignorant.

They can tell you all sorts of mystical, magical things about listening to the still, silent voice of God, but they have no conception of how to answer a basic apologetic question, like “where did we get the Bible from, how do we know it’s true, and who decided what books should be in it?”

They can probably tell you about the amazing way they felt during worship, and how God “showed up” this one time, but couldn’t tell you how the Old Testament relates to the New, couldn’t name a single church father, and couldn’t tell you anything about the first 400 years of Church history.

They can tell you about how to narcissistically insert themselves in the Biblical stories as if somehow these stories are about them, but they would run for their lives if asked to explain the Trinity, or God forbid offer even a basic refutation to the theistic challenges of a Muslim, Oneness Pentecostal, or a Jehovah witness.

They can tell you about the awesomeness of the latest books from Joel Osteen,  Joyce Meyers, and any other spiritual lunatic that comes around, but they can’t speak with authority on what the five solas [Fide, Gratie, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria] are, why they matter, and how the relate to each other.

They can tell you about a lot of things, but can they articualte a clear presentation of the Gospel? And how many of them would not only not know, but rather would actively argue against fundamental Christian doctrines like the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation, issues of biblical sexuality, the nature of God, the nature of sin and mankind, and a host of other things? How many of them, when pressed, would reveal to have some really bizarre and idolatrous views of Christ and his work and his means?

Its a good question, and speaking from my experience alone, one worthy of deep thought and reflection.

That comment does reveal a pretty good question- namely how many pastors in the local Fort McMurray area would feel confident and comfortable that if they asked ten of their churchgoers five or six questions on very basic doctrinal issues, that their members would give clear, biblically sound responses? How much more so if we asked the teens?

If you’re not a pastor- how do you think your peers and the teens in your own church youth group would do?

How then should we view the Fort McMurray Alliance Church? Part III of III.

The last few weeks I have been working through Brad Jersak’s January 15th sermon at the Alliance Church. As has already been documented in the prior two posts, [Part I and Part II]Brad introduces and argues several heterodox and anti-biblical positions to the congregation, and every indication seems to be that he was able to do so without correction or reproof. I contacted the Alliance Church with a few questions about the sermon. I’ve been listening to their podcasts for several years now and there was no indication that the Church believed or taught these things, and I wanted to ask whether or not they agreed with Brad Jersak and were in the process of advancing these theologies and biblical hermeneutic. They chose not to respond back and as they don’t believe there can be such thing as a godly critic, they don’t intend to ever.

In light of this, the last part of these posts is some points to ponder, as well as the thought of how should we treat the Alliance Church in light of them giving a platform and a voice to what I would consider an extremely toxic and poisonous sermon.

1. I still don’t know how the Alliance Church views this sermon and whether or not they agree with the content. The Alliance Church kept the sermon posted for over a month. It was only in the last week or so, after I posted part II of my review, that they took it down. It you go and look for it you’ll see it missing from their website. This suggests to me that either they do not ultimately support it, or that they do support it and removed it to minimize the controversy. If something is false teaching and heresy, you don’t leave it up for a month. If you don’t agree with it, you don’t post it in the first place! This demonstrates a severe lack of wisdom.

I also note that even though the sermon was preached and posted publicly, that there is no public confession of error. There is no accompanying sermon, message, blog post, or update indicating why they removed it or whether or not they are against it. Have they apologized to their congregation after the fact? Did they take the time the next Sunday to do the research I have done, and set the congregation straight on the Trinity, Church fathers, view of heaven, hell, the character of God and the atonement of Christ? Did they teach on this as a rebuttal to Brad Jersak? It does not seem so, and this is a problem. If you post something publicly, you should denounce it publicly. The fact is that they have not done so, which may lead many conclude that they do indeed support this message and the theological content.

2. The Alliance Church leadership showed a lack of wisdom in inviting Brad Jersak to speak in the first place. Assuming they do not agree with it, they should have done better research on this individual to see what he teaches and confesses. The preaching of the word of God is a sacred duty, and it must be done correctly. It took me only an hour or two to do some preliminary research on the man and the red flags were coming fast and furious. The fact that they exposed the flock to this false teacher without knowing his theological proclivities and idiosyncrasies is extremely troubling and suggests a lack of care for the pulpit and the sermon.

3. The fact that no one stood up and said something is a damning indictment. The Alliance Church still has Brad’s weekend seminars up, and listening to them should have been an adequate precursor to let them know that the sermon wasn’t going to be good. I have not reviewed them, and will not do so unless specifically asked, but when you have 45 minutes of a man teaching about mystical, esoteric spirituality with lots of stories and no bible verses, that’s a problem. But as bad as that was, it was no match for the sermon which was theological cyanide.

So why didn’t the pastor stand up and say something? Why didn’t the elders stand up and say something? What a horrific abdication of their duties to their flock and their responsibility towards Christ. They should have interrupted him 5 minutes in, publicly rebuked him, asked him to leave, apologize to the congregation, and used this as a teachable moment to display humility, confession, and discernment. It’s not rude, it’s their job! That would have been extremely commendable. Instead they demonstrated their tolerance for wolves and we get 50 minutes of slaughtering the sheep while the pastors, elders, deacons and even laypeople stayed silent and shut up. This is a complete failure and breakdown on their part and suggests a systematic cowardice that is not in line with their call to be shepherds and watchmen.

In any case, this mess leaves us with two possibilities and one hope. The first is that the Alliance Church and their leadership Terry, Bonnie, and Val support this man, message and new theological direction. If this is the case, then I cannot recommend the Fort McMurray Alliance Church as a good and safe Church to attend, and would desire that everyone attending get out as fast as they can.

The second possibility is that they don’t support the man, message and theological direction. If this is the case then the lack of discernment that they have demonstrated in their handling of this whole affair is so great that it has penetrated and tainted the very ethos of the leadership team and the fabric of the congregation. For this reason I don’t believe they can be trusted to soberly bring the word and rightly divide the word of truth; that they cannot be counted on to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” in a way that befits a congregation supposedly dedicated to Christ and his truth. In light of this, I believe it would be best for Church members look elsewhere for spiritual instruction, as I cannot recommend them.

And lastly is my hope. I would hope that the Alliance Church repents of this little stunt and would return to faithful, biblical preaching. I would hope that they would publicly confess that having Brad Jersak speak was a mistake, that the beliefs he eschewed were dangerous and unorthodox, that he was guilty of just being factually wrong and having poor logic in many of his arguments, and that they failed in their duty to protect the flock.  If this were to happen,  I would reconsider my conclusions that people should cease going, and would suggest that they would be restored as a congregation in which people ought to attend.

Rescuing ‘the lamb that was slain’ from Brad Jersak. Part I of III


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Sermon Review. Brad Jersak. January 15, 2012. The Gospel in Chairs

I’ve been aware of the ministry promulgations of Brad Jersak for a while now. I first came across it when I read his book “Can you hear me? Tuning into the God who speaks” and then later on when I was looking into all the speakers who would be at Breakforth 2011, I became familiar with and eventually read  “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem” and “Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ”.  I hadn’t thought much about him in the last few years, but then I saw that he had delivered a series of lectures and sermons at the Alliance Church. After listening to the sermon and all of the lectures, I became profoundly disturbed at what I heard. For this reason I have devoted a great amount of time ferociously reading all that I can about him in order to understand him better and attain a better grasp of his theology and the implications of his theology. This includes the entire six years of his blog, a dozen sermons, most of what he has written at the Clarion Journal [including several articles he had written that the site had purged and deleted] , as well as the writings and youtube videos of his close acquaintances and ideological partners  Brian Zahnd and Archbishop Lazurte.

For that reason, this will not serve simply as an isolated sermon review, but hopefully may be a resource to serve the greater body of Christ for anyone interested in this man and the progressive missives that he is promoting. Because of the length of it and the copious amounts of verbatim quotations I have done, I will be splitting this up into three parts. The first two parts will be a sermon evaluation of the message itself,  and the last part will be an assessment of how we should now view and treat the Alliance Church in light of their choice to give a platform to this man and promote the theology of his sermon.

INTRO.

Brad Jersak begins the sermon by sharing his desire to speak on the dimensions of God’s love. He commences by offering a translation of the biblical text that he has done, with the hope that it will be “fresh”. In analysing this particular verse, He states that Paul’s point is that we can’t comprehend how big God’s love is for us, that even as we can’t understand it- we need to. And so Paul prays for supernatural power to receive the good news.

“I’m on my knees, praying to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose family in heaven and earth is named after. I’m asking Father to make a withdrawal from his heavenly bank account and to make a deposit of supernatural power of his spirit into your spirit. Why? So that by faith you would find the living Christ filling your heart with his love. And I’m praying God would sink your roots deeply into the rich soil of  capital “L”  love. Then you’ll have the capacity of saints to know in your knower that Jesus’ love is wider, longer, deeper, and higher than you ever imagined. If you only knew the dimensions of Jesus’ love, the fullness of God would fill every corner of your life. So lets raise a toast to the name of Jesus, the one who hears what we ask for and sees what we imagine and then massively exceeds those expectations. And you won’t believe this part. He does this work through human partners, so let’s be the radiation glory of Jesus who shines through us evermore brightly year after year, and for all time with no end in sight. ” Ephesians 3:14-21.

This segment is the only thing resembling scripture we will hear for the next 25 minutes. In this case we can see it is a poor paraphrase of the actual verse, which reads from the NASB

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen”

I don’t understand the purpose of offering his own paraphrase there. Its certainly not a translation as he has claimed, as no actual translation of the original text is apparent. He also changes and tweak much of the meaning, to the point that it does not actually resemble what Paul has said, but rather a self-interested paraphrase.  Why is this a good thing? This sort of thing was satirized in a post called “I‘m writing my own bible version“, but the reality is that you are not getting our best scholarly approximation or exactations of what  Paul said, rather you are getting one man’s “fresh” understanding of the “gist” of what Paul said. Which one is better to have? If its the former, why is the latter so readily accepted?

But despite that, he states that the purpose of this sermon is to speak on  how we can’t comprehend the love of God- that God’s love has been misunderstood and hijacked, and so the intent of this sermon is is that we have a new perspective on that love.  Brad states

“My understanding is that all of your real problems…. come from not knowing how wide and long and high and deep is his love for you. If you knew, you’d  never sin. All my sinful behaviors, all my struggles inside- the suffering of my soul that causes me to stumble, all of that would be solved forever, eternally if I just knew how much he loved me. So we’re working on it, right? It will not help me to try harder, and to put more religious hoops up to jump through, and to grit my teeth and scrunch my forehead. What will help me is that he loves me.  Period. Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And this is not a new message, obviously. Paul preached it “

Where in the bible is that taught? Is is neither a biblical concept or category that our flesh would stop sinning and that we would be walking in perfect obedience to the father if only we could grasp the extent of his love for us. Where does Paul preach it, as he alleges? Is it really obvious that all desire to sin would dissipate and we would stop sinning if we understood God’s love? Using this line of thinking, our problem is not that we have a sinful nature, but rather we don’t have enough knowledge, and that our sin problem would disappear if that knowledge could ever be acquired.

Second of all, what is the purpose of squeezing half of Romans 2:4 into that at the very end “Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance”. Romans 2:3-5 reads Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.  It’s to note that he is not using his bible snippet in a contextually accurate way. Realistically, a proper exegesis would show that on multiple occasions the Jews had experienced God’s patience and  forbearance. They supposed that such blessings showed that they were right with God and had no need to trust in Christ, but Paul says the opposite is true: God’s blessings should have led them to repent of their sins. Nowhere does Paul teach that it would enable them to stop sinning if they just understood his love. That is a concept utterly and completely foreign to that verse and to the scriptures.

Brad Jersak then reads the hymn “There is a wideness in God’s mercy”  and says that the love of God is deeper and wider than we thought “Longer, think it terms of time, and how his love can outlast anything , even death.” [Its to note that this is an allusion to his belief as a hopeful inclusivist, and the idea that even after we die God will still call people to him and it should be our eschatology hope that they can and will still be savedIn essence, we’ve made the love of God for this universe way too small.

He lays out his reasoning for using the gospel in chairs,

“Because it’s going to demonstrate what I think has been an anointed gospel message that we’ve taught since the 1500′s or so,  and that many people have come to Christ through it, and its too small and we need an upgrade. Way too small. So I’m going to contrast that with a second version, I think more powerful, more deep, but also more ancient. 500 years is too young for the gospel message because our gospel came through Jesus Christ. And so what I want to do is contrast what I call the  the legal version of the gospel with the more ancient biblical version that I think we could call the restorative version.”

He states that the modern legal understanding of the atonement  was established by John Calvin in 1536, who was an angry young man.

“His version pictures God as an angry judge and that he actually said God’s primary disposition towards you is that you’re his enemy and as an angry judge his wrath must be appeased by a violent sacrifice. And we used to use the word propitiation for that. When I learned that word, its a bible word, when I learned that word I was told its sort or like when the pagan religions would take and throw a virgin into a volcano to appease an angry god.”  

Its to note that he disparages Calvin’s charcater as an angry young man, for no reason and without any evidence. Furthermore, the modern legal understanding of the atonement may have been laid out systematically by Calvin, but it is far more ancient than that, with its roots in the early centuries of the faith.

“The idea is that Jesus saved you from God. Now like I said, there’s an anointing in that preaching. I preached it….I saw people come to Christ and I saw the Spirit honor the message, so I don’t want to be too quick to slam it, but I am saying maybe we’re due for an upgrade.”

Interestingly enough, that’s twice he’s said this modern view of the gospel is either anointed or that preaching that message is anointed, and that the Spirit honored it, and yet later on he emphatically states that its a false gospel. This is patently dishonest. If he truly believe its a false gospel, how can he believe that it is anointed? Why play coy in this manner and give lip service while despising it?  Paul states that those who bring another gospel are to be anathematized, so why say that it is anointed while at the same time seeking to demolish it and casting it as a modern, fanciful, unbiblical postulation?

In fact, Brad Jersak edited a book called “Stricken by God” where he assembled the essays of an ecclectic mix of Christians and pagans and offered their articles as a counterpoint to the idea that God’s wrath was being poured out on Christ at the cross, and that a violent sacrifice was taking place. This is important to note. I would argue that its clear from even a basic lexical understading  that “violence” can refer to the use of great physical force even as  its legal sense is “the unlawful exercise of physical force.” From the standpoint of  Brad Jersak there appears to be no lawful exercise of force.

And yet here’s the reality of the situation. If violence is, by definition, always negative, it is obviously inappropriate for God. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand the biblical narrative if such is the case. To use “violence” to describe any exercise of force [lawful or unlawful] leads to unfortunate hermeneutical hoop jumping. How one uses the Bible is a key as to how one will understand the atonement, and it is precisely here that the consequences of making nonviolence the primary hermeneutical lens for reading Scripture become problematic, particularly when “violence” is defined as intrinsically evil.

The place of the Old Testament and its depiction of God in the construction of Christian theology is a very important issue. When you listen to Brad Jersak’s sermon you should be struck by how little the narrative of the Old Testament informed the reflections on the life and death of Jesus, especially as it pertains to justice, wrath, and anger at sin.  Jesus pursued his mission as one who fulfilled the promises of the old covenant [being a prophet greater than Moses, a priest greater than Aaron and a king greater than David], it is cause for concern that a pre-commitment to God as nonviolent produces such disjunction between the Old Testament scriptures which were Jesus’ own Bible and the New Testament scriptures, which unpack for us how God’s old covenant promises were realized in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

Brad Jersak views this as “too small” and considers it our responsibility to reinterpret the character and heart of God, from that of violent to anti-violent. But from where does this “responsibility” arise and how will we tell when such
reinterpretations become invalid? The goal can be to upgrade our atonement belief by reading scripture through the lens of a peace-loving, anti-violent God, but from what canon is that lens derived as the essential hermeneutical criterion for the bible and its interpretations? It’s not. 

If preserving the absoluteness of nonviolence requires us to ignore the old covenant context of Jesus, too great a price has been paid and the Trinity itself may be at risk, for YHWH of the Old Testament comes to look very unlike the Jesus portrayed in these nonviolent constructions. Certainly, Jesus is the supreme self-revelation of God but the God he reveals to us is essentially continuous with the God who revealed himself to Israel in his great acts of deliverance from Egypt and later through judges and kings and by powerful direct acts, such as interventions of the Angel of the Lord in Isaiah 37:36.

THE BODY

As it were, Brad Jersak continues by saying he wants to upgrade this small idea of God we have into what what he considers the more ancient, biblical version that the Church fathers taught and believed. He says that the Church fathers were the disciples of John, and their disciples, and their disciples that occurred with the first few centuries of the church, which he calls the restorative version.

“God comes not as an angry judge to be appeased, but he comes as a great physician who wants to heal us at the very root of our problem- who can see even beneath our sin into the sorrows that cause our sin. And he comes there, and he treats sin not as lawbreaking that needs a spanking, he treats sin as a disease that needs to be healed. Sort of like meningitis. What if its not just about getting babies to stop crying, what if its about healing them at the root of their problem and what if that’s how Jesus sees us? “

If one starts with the presupposition that violence is always wrong, strange and obtuse readings of Scripture are often necessary in order to absolve God of any involvement in the use of force. Such an approach, for instance, leaves no room for the wrath of God which is viewed as antithetical to divine love. Coupled with the contention that divine justice is always restorative and never retributive, these commitments to nonviolence require us to reject much biblical teaching concerning God’s attitude and action toward sin, which we see Brad Jersak doing. In his case, sin is a disease like meningitis, or maybe like herpes,  and the cure is understanding God’s love. That is an extremely sub-biblical proposition. It furthermore removes the possibility of any divine punishment of sin, particularly of the eternal divine punishment that is generally understood by Christians to be at work in the assignment of unrepentant sinners to hell, and so it could lead to complete universalism , or in Brad’s case, hopeful inclusivism. 

Notice how he claims that this is an ancient belief that the Church fathers taught, emphasizing how it is old and biblical and that these disciples of John and Peter taught this, and yet gives NO evidence for it. He talks it up and goes nowhere with it, and in fact never once offers any evidence or attestation that his understanding is more ancient or even that it was believed by any church fathers, which is extremely deceptive.

Contrary to his assertion, I would suggest that substitutionary atonement was the basis for all of the major models of atonement theory in the early church, including the ransom theory, moral influence theory, deification and recapitulation theory, the atonement from the perspective of the mimetic anthropology theory, the satisfaction theory and penal substitution theory. For this reason almost all patristic literature speaks of some form of substitution, [the majority holding to a ransom theory with substitutionary overtones and underpinnings] with Anselm and later Calvin really centering in on the penal aspect of it, using the exegesis of the scriptures for their basis. I would suggest and argue that an author can be held to teach the Penal doctrine if he plainly states that the punishment deserved by sin from God was borne by Jesus Christ in his death on the Cross, which I would argue that even Justin Martyr did in one of his Letters to Trypho.

It’s clear that his restorative theory is another name for the “Christ as example” theory. [more on that later] But the point ultimately is not what the “Church fathers” wrote- many of them writing several hundred years and a dozen generations after the disciples, but rather what the most careful, best systematic exegesis of the scriptures reveals. Its to note that Brad Jersak doesn’t even attempt to back up his claims biblically, and instead resorts to emotional appeals with a decidedly lack of scriptural basis. In any case, the fact  is that he makes a point about saying its biblical and ancient and that the early church believe it, and yet doesn’t back it up.

The main illustration he uses is the gospel in chairs illustration, where he has two chairs that face each other. In the modern legal version, when Adam sins, God turns [his chair] away from them and kicks them out of the garden.

“They are expelled for all time because he is holy and pure and righteous and cannot look on sin and he turns away from man. In this state, man cannot work his way out of sin. All our efforts to please God and justify ourselves and make ourselves righteous are filthy rags, we’re totally depraved and desperately wicked. But God in his love sent his Son to stand on behalf of humanity, who turned toward God himself and walked in perfect fellowship with his Father, preached good news,  healed the  sick and was perfectly obedient to the father. At the end of his life Jesus is put to death and the father puts all the sins of the world on his Son and he who knew no sin became sin, [on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ] he became a curse, And while he was on the cross God poured out all his wrath on his son in our place. He appeased the fathers wrath and anger. Jesus then rises from the dead, and those that believe in him can have a relationship with the father. At that point the chairs are again facing each other. “

Where does it say in the Bible that the reason God kicked them out is because he could not look upon sin? It doesn’t. God states in Genesis 3:17  that he was kicking them out  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ and in verse 22lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”. There’s nothing about God kicking them out because he couldn’t look upon sin.

He quotes Martin Luther who he says said “When God looks at you he doesn’t see you. You are a snow covered dung” That’s not true. None who have made this claim have been able to document precisely who originated the phrase, or where it occurs in Luther’s voluminous writings. I would ask for a primary source but he would not be able to provide one, as it does not exist He says that its the idea that God doesn’t really see you, because you’re a mess, but in Christ he sees Jesus.

“For me that’s small comfort. If he could see what I’m really like he would still reject me, he would still turn from me, but lucky me he sees only Jesus,  and the other side of it is if we don’t  believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with  us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell

“What bothers me about this version is how fickle God is. He is the God who turns from us and turns towards us and turns from and and turns toward us and also he’s a little bit like…. you know…. the one who has to torture his own Son in order to get his anger off his chest. I shared this with Archbishop Lazaure of the Eastern Orthodox Church.. and he goes “that’s not Yahweh, that’s Molech. Molech  was the god who [the] Israelites would try to appease, they would try to suck up to him and try to get his blessing by sacrificing their own children so that his wrath would not come against them. And when in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah says ” that’s not ok”. He says this; ” God would never even think of such a thing. It would never even enter his mind.”  That’s odd. what would enter his mind?”

All right. Lets do some comparative biblical work. First of all notice how there is absolutely no exposition of the Bible, and he has been preaching for twenty minutes and making some radical claims. He has not provided any scriptural or textual evidence for what he has said. Its also important to note that neither Brad Jersak nor the Archbishop believe in a literal hell that unbelievers ultimate go to. He will develop this a little bit later, but he has a visceral hatred for the idea that God punishes people in hell for their unbelief, and so the idea of God pouring out wrath on his son is not just an issue of soteriology, but rather effects and affects his hamartology, eschatology,  theology, christology, his view of the afterlife, etc.

That is why he is so against the belief that “if we don’t  believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with  us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell” for Brad that is a blasphemous false gospel that must be undone.

Brad Jersak also believes that “God is not angry with you and has never been”  That is not limited to Christians, but to humanity as a whole. Let that sink in. God has never been angry with you.  Which is strange, because we hear mention of the wrath of God and the anger of God all the time in the scriptures, particularly in Jeremiah and Ezekial. To offer a brief survey;

Nahum 1:2:  A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

Leviticus 26:27-30. Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me,  then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins. Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat. I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.

Ezra 5:12 But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.

Jeremiah 7:20  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.”

New Testament?

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Romans 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”

Romans 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 

Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

So how can he say that God has never been angry at humanity? You can’t, and you must question the hermeneutic he is using to say that he hasn’t. Furthermore, who is painting this idea of a God who is constantly turning back and forth as if he were some bi-polar deity? It is a caricature that Brad Jersak is propping up so that he can tear it down. I don’t know anyone who believes that, and in fact no significant believer in penal substitution would portray the Father’s act as done for selfish satisfaction to get his anger of his chest. The description falls into the common error of ignoring the Trinitarian unity in the willing and execution of the Son’s atoning work. Father, Son and Spirit purposed to bring about salvation and no one imposed or demanded anything of another in this or any other work of the Trinue God. 

Rejection of penal substitution is sometimes put in terms of a choice between either/or when those who affirm penal substitution characteristically affirm both/and. Brad Jersak might say that the cross was a manifestation of God’s love rather than his wrath, but this is a false disjunction from the standpoint of penal substitution, which sees God’s work of appeasing his own wrath against sinners as the supreme demonstration of his love. In responding to caricatures such as these, it’s important not to assume that punishment presupposes an emotionally unstable deity who flies into fits of rage. Penal substitution does not require such caricatures.

There is also a category error in his comparison of Yahweh to Molech and saying that it would never enter God’s mind to kill Jesus. And yet what do we see in the scriptures? Acts 2;22-23. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men “

In his sermon Peter combines a clear affirmation of God’s sovereignty over world events and human responsibility for evil deeds. Although Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, showing that God had both foreknown and foreordained that Jesus would be crucified, that it was planned, that still did not absolve of responsibility those who contributed to his death, for Peter goes on to say, “you crucified and killed” him.  Notice how he also includes the phrase “by the hands of lawless men.” Peter also places responsibility on the Gentile officials and soldiers who actually crucified Jesus.

We also read Acts 4:27-28: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

We are able to affirm both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The term Whatever” includes all of the evil rejection, false accusation, miscarriage of justice, wrongful beatings, mockery, and crucifixion that both Jews and Gentiles poured out against Jesus. These things were predestined by God. They were part of his and Jesus’ sovereign decree from before the foundation of the world.  And yet the human beings who did them were morally “lawless” and were responsible for their evil deeds for which they needed to “repent” . This prayer reflects both a deep acknowledgement of human responsibility and a deep trust in God’s wisdom in his sovereign direction of the detailed events of history.

In Isaiah 53:10 we readYet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;  he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,  he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Again, we see that it was the purposeful intent of the Lord to crush his son. Some versions read “It pleased the Lord to crush him”. “Pleased” does not connote joy or pleasure or happiness, but rather it was the deferential desire and will of the Lord to do so.  We further see that servant’s sacrificial death compensated for human sin by setting sinners free from their guilt before God, and in fact the Septuagint translates “offering for guilt” as “offering for sin,” which explains why Paul could say that Christ’s death “for our sins” was “in accordance with the Scriptures”

In any case, I hope to not be so verbose next time, but I imagine the next post which will go up Wednesday will be similar in length and scope. This post functions primarily as a primer for more truly horrific theology and beliefs which we will review shortly, but for now I would welcome any feedback that you guys might have.

Waiting and Praying Until The United Church of Canada Implodes

The National Post in their religion section, had this article. It is slightly long, but offers a compelling read into the decline and demise of the United Church of Canada. Much of it revolves around Mardi Tinda, the recently elected new moderator of The UCOC who is essentially the voice and face of the United Church of Canada. The Church itself was formed less than a hundred years ago as an amalgamation of four different protestant denominations in Canada, with the hopes of creating one strong, unified denomination.

To that end, instead of creating a strong unified denomination, it has been reduced to a ragtag bunch of irrelevant  rebels whose only conviction is their insistence that inclusiveness reign supreme. As the face of the Church, we read that her passion and mission is to “help heal creation” by reducing humankind’s “carbon footprint.”  She says the United Church is fighting for “climate justice” and in fact, she just returned from a leg of her Spirit Express, a series of town hall meeting across Canada to talk about environmental issues. This, it seems, is little more than an exercise in missing the point. When I think of Christ and his apostles,  their mission seemed to be one that was focused on seeking and saving the lost- of calling all men to repentance and faith and for the latter preaching Christ and him crucified for our sins. I think creation care is as important as the next person, but what a striking, damning indictment against this woman and her Church that when asked what is her passion and mission as the public face of the church, that is her response.

When asked what are the minimal requirements for church membership in the UCOC, she seemingly balks at the idea that there would even be requirements, or that she has the right to foist them upon others. She personally believes the Jesus rose from the dead, but she would not demand that other people believe that in order to be a part of her Church. She states “I’m of a faith tradition that would say we are humble in knowing we carry partial truths. Truth is always God’s truth. It’s always being revealed to us more fully. And as we live in this life it seems to me there are enough religious voices that would say I have all the truth and in my experience that does not open us to greater understanding.”

This type of response is typically known as a humble hermeneutic, which when stripped down is anything but. In fact, I consider it arrogance in its highest form. Under the guise of humility and the reluctance to make any sort of definitive doctrinal statement they effectively dismiss the scriptures, ecclesial traditions, the church fathers, the ecumenical councils, and two thousands years of historical Christian orthodoxy. That is why they suppose there are no easy or definitive answers to questions like “Does God exists? Was Jesus God? Did he rise from the dead?” They don’t have anything they can point to to back up any of those questions. In fact, someone can answer “No” to all three of those questions and yet still be considered a Minister in the Church of Canada.

Case in point would be Reverend Gretta Vosper, an avowed atheist and a UCOC minister in Toronto. [Yes, you read that correctly] While she would be considered a two-fold son of hell  and  excommunicated by any other denomination, she is tolerated and even celebrated in the United Church of Canada. Mardi Tindal points out the positive side of having an atheist in the pulpit.  “I celebrate Gretta and others like her who cause us to think more deeply about the nature of our faith…One of the things we’re seeing is a greater tolerance for paradox. What Gretta has done has ignited a fresh conversation and invigorated the discussion. This is in the DNA of our Church: to invite this open, deep broad conversation to be the body of Christ…Besides, you can’t talk about post-theism without talking about God.”

This should not come as a surprise though, as one of their prior moderators, Bill Phobbs, stated. “I don’t believe Jesus was God, but I’m no theologian,” David Giuliano, the most recent moderator before Ms. Tindal, stated “I don’t remember Jesus requiring anyone to subscribe to a doctrine before he healed them. To suggest that one needs to subscribe to a narrow understanding of who God is and who Jesus is seems antithetical to the understanding I have of Jesus revealed in the Gospels.” As it were,  the root of all this nonsense comes down to two simple facts: These people hate the Bible and they hate Jesus.

In the UCOC, the Bible is not regarded as inspired or even particularly useful. Rather it is a collection of stories, oftentimes comprised of myths, contradictions and falsehoods that is meant to inspire people, but not mean to reflect or communicate any standard of truth or morality. This creates bizarre situations where people pick and choose certain parts of the bible that they agree with and discard others. For example, they would applaud Jesus sermon on the mount, as recorded by Mathew, but would reject other statements of Jesus, also as recorded by Mathew. The only filter seems to be what seems good to them to believe, which then lets them free to embrace illogic,  paradox and contractions while being humble and spiritual about it. It is a mad way to live and view the world. The fallout from this is evident. Words and meaning don’t matter. Post-modern notions of truth and reality are championed and lauded. Its hard to wrap my head around it, exactly, but the conclusion is that God, the Bible, Christ, Creation, Love, Hate, Belief, Faith, Life, Death are all defined and determined by the person experiencing them. The standard is themselves.

As for the provocatively titled blog post, I do mean that quite literally. Her erosion of membership has been a breathtakingly beautiful sight to behold, coming fast and strong and gaining in momentum over the years.  I think the best thing would be for the Church to wholesale repent of her idolatry and blasphemy, but barring that, I would actively pray that her membership dwindles as fast as it possibly can, so that the denomination ceases to be no more.. The United Church isn’t even a “Church” anymore. They have become a religiously-themed social/political advocacy group, pushing an agenda that most other Christian denominations would be horrified at.  They can point to other “progressive Christian” figures in the past as the inspiration for their slide away from Christ, but it definitely doesn’t help their cause. They bite the hands that feeds them because they hate the historical, Biblical Jesus, all the while begging for scraps at their imagined, idolatrous Jesus. It is pathetic, and the sooner this monstrous, blasphemous, satanically- inspired entity disappears, the better.

*Note, there is a United Church of Canada Church here in town. I do not know anything about them, as they have not returned my calls and have no website that I can visit and glean more information about them. I would suggest that they are innocent until proven guilty, and scriptural sound until proven unsound. Its possible they are a minority in the wider denomination that are still faithful to the word and to Christ, even as their denomination is leading tens of thousands to hell. If anybody knows anything about them, please contact me and let me know.

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 1For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18.  

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead atHis appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 2:1-4