Posted by: gmscan | June 17, 2010

How I came to Christ, Part Four

We had recently moved to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and decided to look into the local Presbyterian Church. That was our tradition and we were familiar with the liturgy.

On the other hand, I have heard a lot about how “mainstream churches” have changed in recent years, to the point where many of them seem to have less to do with salvation and teaching the Bible than with advancing a liberal political agenda. Nancy and are politically conservative. We are staunch believers in individual freedom and believe that the American Constitution is the best defender of that freedom on the face of the Earth.

But we weren’t interested in joining a church to advance conservative politics, either. The whole point of a church, it seemed to us, is to transcend the momentary secular disputes in society and to focus on more eternal truths. There are plenty of political organizations to join. We don’t need a church for that.

We drove by the Waynesboro Presbyterian Church to check out the times of services and anything else we could find out from the outside. One of the things we noticed was a sign that said it was “a confessing church.” Uh, oh. What does that mean? Have they adopted the Roman Catholic practice of confession to a priest? Yikes! Well, let’s attend a service and see what the deal is.

Nancy and I started attending the Sunday morning worship and found it to be pretty much what we were looking for – a focus on the Bible and no political agenda. Plus, the pastor, Brian Gawf, impressed us a lot. He seemed friendly and approachable yet his sermons were intelligent and demanding. He obviously put a lot of work into writing them and we gave them the concentration they deserved. Plus, the congregation was welcoming and made us feel at home. One of the ladies of the church even visited to welcome us with home made bread.

A while after we started attending, our son-in-law committed suicide. On New Year’s Eve, no less. He had always been a troubled man, but it was still a shock. And we were especially concerned about how our 11-year old grandson would cope with it. It was a great comfort that we were able to ask the congregation for their prayers for our son-in-law’s soul and strength for his grieving family.

We also asked the pastor to visit us. We had a lot of questions about the church, its theology, terminology, and requirements for membership. He explained what a confessing church is, and answered our other questions (like what does it mean when Presbyterians talk about saints?) I told him I had never actually read the Bible except for selected passages at Christmas and Easter and he recommended the Reformation Study Bible. We prayed with him, and felt again that we had gone to the right place at the right time.

Next: Reading the Bible.

NOTE: I have since looked into this “confessing church” idea and discovered exactly what I had feared. Not about Catholic confessions, but about the political orientation of the larger denomination. An article in “The Layman” says the confessing church movement came about after, “the Rev. Dirk Ficca, keynote speaker at a Presbyterian Church (USA) peacemaking conference declared that much of the discord that fractures humanity is fomented by groups that hold exclusive religious convictions. His solution was to declare an equivalency among many faiths. After all, asked Ficca, “If God is at work in our lives, whether we’re Christian or not, what’s the big deal about Jesus?”

“WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT JESUS?!?!” This said by a Christian  pastor???? As the keynote speaker at a national Presbyterian conference?????

Apparently, since then many churches have adopted resolutions declaring themselves to be “confessing churches,” by which they mean – “1) Jesus Christ is the world’s singular saving Lord. No one comes to the Father but through Him. (2) The Bible is God’s holy Word. (3) Christians are called to live a holy life, which includes the Biblical standard of chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage.”

Thank God (literally!) Who wants to be part of a Christian church that doesn’t see Christ as “a big deal?” Small wonder these churches are losing members in droves.

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Responses

  1. Jesus is a big deal. A woman sitting next to me on a plane was discussuing how she was traveling to place stones on a grave which is the custom of her Jewish faith. I asked about her opinion of Jesus. She said they believed that he was a good man and a fine teacher. I responded that if he indeed was not God’s son and the promised Messiah than he was actually a liar and a fraud.
    I agree with you. We cannot be politically correct and say that there is more than one way to heaven as Oprah and others have declared while calling ourselves Christians.

  2. Greg, have you investigated the links between the “confessing church” of the Nazi German era with leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller, and the confessing churches of today? They were resisting the politicization of the Christian church, in Bonhoeffer’s case to the point of martyrdom.

    It seems to me that all Christians are called to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, thereby running their flag up the pole and deliberately declaring who and what they are.

    John Stuart Mill famously said that men are generally right in what they affirm but wrong in what they deny (for example, Dirk Ficca denying the uniqueness and necessity of Jesus). Confessing ought to involve saying what we are for, and what we are against. In our politically correct age, that is the (only) unpardonable sin.

    I suppose the confessing church is standing against post-modern ways of thinking about Christianity.

    • Thanks, David. Yes, I am looking into the church’s resistance to the Nazi Regime. In our church we are currently studying Galatians. Paul’s comment that he wasn’t interested in pleasing man, but in serving God is pertinent.

      Greg

  3. Oh, I forgot…

    This quote is from Martin Niemoller. Seems applicable to today, doesn’t it?

    “THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    THEN THEY CAME for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

  4. Greg:
    An incredibly wise person once told me (recently) a story about witnessing a neighbor kid decimating a bird nest that contained eggs and that he was shocked at the destructive nature the boy had displayed while performing the act. And, as one would expect, he immediately felt compelled to offer his distaste of the boy’s bad behavior. Of course, his better sense prevailed and he quickly realized that scolding the boy would more than likely backfire on him so he held his tongue and decided to wait for a more appropriate time to discuss the situation with the boy. So that he may, in a calm fashion, convey his sense of outrage over the bad behavior and even possibly get the young lad to understand what a terrible thing he had done and why it would be wrong for him to repeat the offense.

    I am relating your blog entry to this real life story because I think this all has to do with how tolerant we have become, especially in our Christian, American (western culture), to the notion that being tolerant means accepting. Accepting and tolerating are two very different things.

    I too like the fact that the Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro is a confessing church. I never realized what this statement actually meant until reading your blog entry so thank you for helping me to understand what this is all about. In my opinion, accepting the notion that it is ok to believe in our Heavenly Father without recognizing his Son, Jesus Christ, as our rescuer, is just plain unacceptable.

    I suppose the only thing we can do is try and keep the peace and tolerate the lack of faith in the world but I pray that we never allow ourselves to become so complacent that we accept this as being correct. I will continue to politely argue the Fact the rest of my earthly days while maintaining a peaceful approach (through tolerance) while always keeping in my mind that acceptance is an entirely different notion. In other words, I probably won’t be able to keep my mouth shut.

    Just one final thought…I read Rev. Dirk Ficca’s comment as quoted in your blog several times over. Do you think he really meant what he said at face value, or was he trying to provoke a response from those to which he delivered the speech? Wouldn’t you agree that many of the largest changes in world history occurred because of the collective conscience of the masses and the resultant attempt to make something so apparently wrong, right once again? Maybe we should thank the Reverend for his help in cementing our belief in Jesus in the same way a suitor might thank the former boyfriend for behaving badly and thereby pushing the gal right into the new suitor’s arms. If anything, I had a good time contemplating the idea!

    • Wow, John, I don’t know about Rev. Ficca’s intent, but his words certainly seem to have inspired a new appreciation for the foundation of the faith. One way or the other it may be God’s hand at work, yet again.

      Greg

  5. Folks:
    I admire your standing up for distinguishing yourselves from non believers.
    It is important to draw the line between the profane and the holy.
    The problem is that many people disagree as to where to draw the line.
    But, make no mistake, there is a line.
    I am a Jewish fellow who was brought back to Judaism through my study of Christianity.
    I don’t spend time trying to decide if Jesus is who he said he was.
    Instead, I take his teachings very seriously, why?
    Because they have stood the test of time.
    Jews are not concerned about eternal life.
    We are concerned about this life.
    We are commanded to be holy like God is holy.
    We do so through the 613 commandments.
    We are obedient not to be saved, but to reflect God’s image more clearly while here on earth.
    If we get eternal life, fine.
    But, that is not part of the bargain for being holy like God is holy.
    Shalom,
    Don Levit

  6. Please notify me of comments and site updates.
    Thank you,
    Don Levit

  7. Greg,

    It has been a while since we spoke. Thanks for the blog heads-up. Interesting that you would contact me today. Just last night I traveled to Dickson Tennessee where the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination was holding their annual meeting. It is their 200th birthday. They broke away from the Presbyterian Church over several issues, ironically related to the issues you just mentioned. Many of those have been overcome but there are still significant differences. I and two friends wrote a musical based on this story about eleven years ago. Bethel University performed the musical last night for the group. I was honored that they used our work. It clearly tells the story of tension that arises when religion becomes it’s own end and legalism becomes the god.

    I have been following this denominational thing for some time (along with my other distraction-healthcare.) I wrote a book about it called, “The Little Brown Church in the Vale, when did the lights go out?.” If you would like to read it please go to http://www.wheatmark.com and type in the title or my name. I am still very active in this search and am currently working with two small congregations bringing them together in new ministry. It is exciting.

    Thank you for your unashamed testimony and God bless you in your search. Let me know if I can help or pray for anything specific.

    Bob Shupe
    http://www.shupecenter.com

  8. Greg,
    Thanks for the e-mail which directed me to this blog. I appreciate all four of your “How I Came to Christ” posts. I think you illustrated quite well that, indeed, He came to you. “You did not choose me, but I chose you …” (John 15:16). Of course, if you’re reading the Reformation Study Bible and listening to the guys at the White Horse Inn, you already know that! Your fellow pilgrim,
    Brandon Dutcher


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