GCI Update

Creation vs. Evolution

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachThe ongoing creation versus evolution debate made the news recently when Ken Hamm, a prominent proponent of young earth creationism, debated Bill Nye, known popularly as “the science guy.” Though lively, I thought the debate was inconclusive.

ham-vs-nye-debateI’m often asked, “Does GCI believe in creation or in evolution?” While I appreciate the question, and mean no disrespect, I believe it’s the wrong question in that it implies that one must choose between the two. Behind this question is often the false assumption that theology and modern science are hopelessly at odds. But GCI’s view is that good theology and good science harmonize. Let me explain.

We uncompromisingly declare that God is the creator of all things and that in his divine freedom, he could have accomplished his creating in any way he chose. We also recognize that God created a universe that allows for scientific investigation. As a result of that investigation, evolution has become the predominant scientific paradigm to account for the diversity of life we observe in the universe.

Though there are many issues concerning the theory of evolution yet to be fully resolved, we can acknowledge that evolutionary processes were involved in the development of life. However, a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life is a much more complex issue and most scientists admit that they do not know how life originated. Creationists tend to seize upon this admission, declaring the theory of evolution to be hopelessly flawed and insisting that God created all things using only supernatural means. But what many people on both sides of the debate often overlook is that God’s supernatural involvement in the creation of the cosmos is outside the realm of scientific inquiry. Whereas science appropriately investigates the natural world, life’s ultimate origin falls in the realm of theology. When these distinctions are respected, there need be no conflict between the two disciplines. When conflict does arise, it tends to be because scientists are making theological claims or theologians are making scientific claims (or both).

Sadly, some Christians fall prey to the false belief that science is the enemy of faith. As a result, they feel they must deny that there has been any evolutionary development of life, insisting that evolutionary theory is in direct conflict with the Bible. Equally sadly, many scientists claim that because nature developed through evolutionary processes, belief in a creator God is wrong. But to believe that God created all things (however he did so), is not foolish or ignorant, and to account for the evidence of science concerning the natural world is not anti-God and anti-Science. Many theologians and scientists (including some of both in our fellowship) see no contradiction between what the Bible reveals about God as creator and what science can legitimately say about the development of life through evolutionary processes.

mapping the origins debateAs we read the creation accounts in Genesis, we understand that the main point being made is that God is the creator of all that is. This fact is much more important than the details of how or when he created. Given that the creation accounts do use poetic literary devices, they may be read in varying ways—including ways that do not conflict with the evidence that God has given us in the natural world. You can look at that evidence and come to your own conclusion. Doing so does not affect the gospel that we preach or the way that we live. Three books that are helpful in sorting this out are Three Views on Creation and EvolutionFour Views on the Historical Adam (both from Zondervan) and Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (from IVP).

Unfortunately, some scientists (like Richard Dawkins, who is part of a group known as the “angry atheists”) make strident claims against faith having little to do with science. If you’d like to understand more about their claims, I recommend two books. One is The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister and Joanna McGrath. It responds to Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. The McGraths are well-placed to refute Dawkins’ claims against faith. Once an atheist himself, Alister earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics before becoming a leading theologian.

Dawkins DelusionIn a review of the McGraths’ book, Michael Ruse, an atheist and a professor of philosophy at Florida State University, wrote this: “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.” Here, from Preaching magazine, are quotes from other reviews:

In their concluding observations, the McGraths ask: “Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer?”

Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently, while ignoring or trivializing counter evidence, will persuade the open-minded that religious belief is a type of delusion. Sadly, sociological studies of charismatic leaders—religious and secular—indicate that Dawkins may be right to place some hope in this strategy. For the gullible and credulous, it is the confidence with which something is said that persuades rather than the evidence offered in its support.

Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric rather than evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade, clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case. Ironically the ultimate achievement of The God Delusion for modern atheism may be to suggest that this emperor has no clothes to wear. Might atheism be a delusion about God?

Devils DelusionAnother book I recommend is The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions by philosopher and mathematician David Berlinski. A reviewer of the book wrote this:

Berlinski takes on the growing crop of smugly swashbuckling non-believers, including the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and teaches them a thing or two: namely, that dismissing religion doesn’t make you sound tough or “scientific.” It makes you sound small-minded and illogical. Believe what you will, argues Berlinski, a Princeton PhD and self-labeled “secular Jew,” don’t act as if atheism is superior to religious belief.

The world needs more believing scientists who can work within their disciplines while maintaining a firm faith in God. We need to teach our young people that it’s not an either/or situation that necessitates either/or decisions. They need to know that there is no need to hold a pre-modern, anti-scientific worldview in order to be faithful, Bible-believing Christians. And they also need to know that the discredited, recycled arguments of the angry atheists need not shape their worldview.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach signature

 

 

 

Jamaica Jam

In the video below, Annie (Fleming) O’Donnell tells about a mission trip to Jamaica conducted by several GCI-USA members with support from GCI’s Orlando, Florida congregation.

View on YouTube at http://youtu.be/TyLjUbgq_ws.

Stuttgart church 40th

Stuttgart MembersOn February 8, GCI’s Stuttgart, Germany congregation celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special worship service (pictured at right) and a meal (pictured below).

The service began with a welcome from Pastor Reinhard Wiedermann. Agnes Domes gave the sermon and elder Klaus Domes reviewed the congregation’s history, highlighting its remarkable transformation. During the service, Santiago Lange (pictured below, at right), GCI’s national director for Germany, told about a new GCI church plant in his hometown of Gemuenden.

Stuffgart restaurant

Tammy Tkach visit

Tammy Tkach, wife of GCI president Joseph Tkach, recently visited GCI’s Tucson, Arizona congregation, Grace of God Fellowship. She preached a sermon entitled, “Grace and Holiness.” A potluck meal after the service featured members’ favorite recipes.

Tammy
Left to right: Pastor Ted and Lila Millhuff; Tammy Tkach; Michelle and Pastor Tom Landess.

The kingdom of God, part 4

This is part 4 of a 6-part series by Gary Deddo on the important, yet often misunderstood, topic of the kingdom of God. For additional articles in this series, click on the corresponding number: 12356.

Last time we looked at how the promise of the yet-future fullness of the kingdom is a source of great hope for believers. Now we’ll explore in greater depth how we relate to that hope.

Our relationship to the coming kingdom of God

How should we understand our relationship, as believers, to a kingdom that the Bible says is now present, but is yet to come? Borrowing from Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance and George Ladd (others could be included) I think we can describe it this way: We are called to experience now the blessings of and embody a witness to Christ’s coming kingdom in partial, provisional and temporary ways.

Our present experience of the kingdom, including our actions, as they are joined to Jesus’ ongoing ministry in the power of his Spirit, stand as a witness or sign of the coming kingdom. A witness bears testimony not to itself, but to a reality of which the witness has first-hand knowledge. Similarly, a “sign” does not point to itself, but to another and far greater reality. As Christians, we bear witness to the thing signified—the coming kingdom. Thus our witness is important but has certain limitations.

First, our witness is only a partial indicator of the coming kingdom of God. It does not, because it cannot, bear the whole truth and reality of the kingdom. Our actions cannot uncover the depth and scope of Christ’s full reign, which, for now, remains largely hidden. Our words and actions may even obscure some aspects of the kingdom while pointing to other aspects. Our various acts of witness may, under fallen conditions, not seem to be entirely consistent with each other, or possibly even seem to contradict each other. A perfect solution to every problem may not be achievable by us, no matter how sincere or committed or skilled. In some cases, every available choice may involve some unavoidable combination of advantages and disadvantages. A fallen world does not always allow a perfectly ideal solution, not even for the church. So the church’s witness in this age will be partial.

Second, our witness provides only restricted vision that looks off towards the future and gives a glimpse of the coming kingdom. But it does not bring into the present an apprehension of its total reality. We see “dimly in a glass.” That’s what is meant by saying it’s “provisional.”

Third, our witness is temporary—what is accomplished comes and goes. Some of the things done in the name of Christ may remain viable longer than others. Some of our acts of witness may only be momentary and not be able to be sustained. However, as signs, our witness need not be permanent for it to do its job of pointing to what is permanent, the eternal reign of God through Christ in the Spirit.

Our witness then, is not absolute, not perfect, not total and not permanent, though it has great and even indispensable value just because its value is gained by being relative to the coming reality of the kingdom, which is absolute, perfect and eternal.

Two false resolutions to the complex already-not yet kingdom

Some may ask, “What is the point, then, of our present experience and witness, if it is not the kingdom itself? Why bother? What good will it do? If we can’t establish the ideal, why invest any great effort or resources in such a project?” Others may respond by saying, “God would not call us to get involved in anything less than achieving the ideal and realizing perfection. With God’s help we can consistently make progress towards bringing the kingdom of God to earth.”

Responses to the complexity of the “already but not yet” kingdom have most often, down through the history of the church, resulted in divergent answers much like the two indicated above. This has been the case even though there have been consistent warnings against both of these approaches, declaring them to be serious errors. Their formal names are quietism and triumphalism.

Triumphalism

Some who are not comfortable with merely experiencing and enacting signs insist that we do indeed build the kingdom—although with God’s help. They insist, for example, that we can be “world-changers” if only enough people would become really committed to the cause of Christ and would be willing to pay the price called for. If enough people try hard enough and are sincere enough and know the right techniques or methods, then gradually our world will more and more be transformed into the complete kingdom. Christ will then return as the kingdom is gradually brought to completion by our efforts. This is to be achieved, of course, with the help of God.

Although not overtly put this way, this way of thinking about the kingdom assumes that what we achieve is based on the potential made possible (but not actual or real) by the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ. Christ has triumphed in such a way that we now work out—actualize, or make real—the possibility established by Christ.

The triumphalist response tends emphasize those efforts that bring changes in the spheres of social justice and public morality, over changes in private relationships or personal morality. Enlistment of Christians in this program is often promoted on the basis of indicating that God somehow is depending on us. God is looking for “heroes.” God has given us the ideal, the blueprint, the plan of his kingdom, so now all it takes is for the church to make it real and actual. The idea is that we have the potential to realize the ideal—if only we are convinced that this is true and are really, truly and radically committed and ready to show God how truly thankful we are for all that he has done to make our reaching the ideal possible. We have the potential to close the gap between the “real” and God’s ideal—so sign on right away.

Recruitment for the triumphalist program will often be fueled by the critique that the reason non-believing persons are not joining in, not becoming Christians or Christ-followers, is because the church does not do nearly enough to make the kingdom real and actual—to make God’s ideal way of life a present reality. The argument continues: There are so many nominal (in name only) Christians and outright hypocrites in the church who don’t love and pursue justice as Jesus taught, that unbelievers won’t join—and they have every right and reason not to! It is further claimed that the blame for why non-believers don’t become Christians is essentially because of half-hearted, compromised or hypocritical Christians. The solution to this problem, therefore, is to get all Christians “fired up,” turning into really committed and truly radical people who begin living fully the kingdom life here and now. Only then, as Christians exemplify to a much greater extent God’s will and way, will the gospel of Christ become persuasive to others as they come to see and believe in the glory of Jesus Christ. To back up the point, people often (improperly) bring in Jesus’ saying, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The implication is that if we don’t love enough, then others can’t or won’t come to faith. Their coming to faith depends upon the extent of our being loving as Christ was. [1]

Quietism

At the other end of the spectrum, the quietist response, some have addressed the already-not-yet complexity by deciding that there is nothing much that can be done now. They assume the glory is all in the future. Christ secured the victory in his earthly ministry, and he alone will bring it entirely to consummation at some time in the future. We are now simply waiting for Christ to return and to take us to heaven, perhaps after some years of reigning on earth. While Christians will experience some spiritual blessings now, like the forgiveness of sins, creation, including nature itself and especially all social, cultural, scientific and economic institutions, are simply fallen, captive to evil. These things cannot and will not be saved. They have no good purpose, as far as eternity is concerned. These things can only be condemned by the wrath of God and brought to a total end. People for the most part have to be removed from this fallen world to be saved.

Sometimes in accord with this quietist approach, a kind of separatism is taught—we must remain apart and be disconnected from the earthly endeavors of this world. For other quietists, the fact of the hopelessness and helplessness of this world means you can take advantage of it in many ways, since in the end it won’t matter—it’s all going to come under judgment. For yet others, a passive or quietist approach means that the best that Christians can do is be an example set apart, individually or in community. The emphasis is often on personal, family and church morality. But direct attempts to influence or change things outside the Christian community are for the most part discouraged or sometimes even condemned. It is held that directly engaging the unbelieving surrounding culture could only amount to compromise and ultimate failure. So personal devotion and moral purity are the dominant themes.

Often, in this mode, the end of history is regarded as the termination of creation. It is destroyed. Created time and space are no more. Some people, those who believe, will be rescued from its dissolution and be taken away to the ideal, purely spiritual reality of an eternal heaven with God.

These two extremes are representative of tendencies. Many sub-variations and in-between positions operate in the church. But most operate somewhere along this continuum and tend to lean toward one side or the other. The triumphalist side tends to attract optimistic and “idealistic” personalities, while the main appeal of the quietist is among those who are more pessimistic or “realistic.” But again, these are large generalizations and are not meant to identify any particular groups that strictly conform to one extreme or the other. These are tendencies that in effect, one way or another, attempt to simplify the complexity of the already-not-yet truth and reality of the kingdom of God.

An alternative to triumphalism and quietism

But there is a more biblically and theologically viable alternative that not only avoids either extreme, but regards the very idea of such an either-or polarity as false—as not doing justice to the whole of biblical revelation. The triumphalist and quietist alternatives, and the debates between their respective representatives, both assume that the complex truth of the kingdom puts us in a situation in which a tension needs to be resolved. Either God does it all, or we make it real. These two views make it seem we have to choose between being activists or being relatively passive, or figure out how to reside somewhere in the middle.

The biblical view of the already but not yet kingdom is complex. However, there is no tension that needs to be resolved. There is no balance to be achieved or some middle or moderate position between the two poles to be found. The present age is not in tension with the future coming age. Rather, we are called to live in this already-fulfilled-but-not-yet-consummated situation. We are situated now in a state of hope that, as we saw in part two of this series, the image of inheritance seems to represent quite well. We live securely now in confident possession of our inheritance, even though we don’t have access to the assets we will one day fully benefit from.

In the next article in this series, we’ll explore more of what it means to live now in hope of the consummation of the coming kingdom

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[1] This saying of Jesus (John 13:35) does not declare that others will become believers, only that they will identify these disciples as belonging to Jesus since they love like he does. He’s indicating that our love can be useful in directing others to him. That’s wonderful. Who would want to miss out on that? However, this saying does not assert that the belief/salvation of others depends on the extent of the disciples’ love. On the basis of this verse, it is logically false to turn it into the negative claim that if the disciples do not love, then others cannot know they are disciples of Jesus and so will not believe in him. If that were the case, then God could never be more faithful than we are. It would not be true, then, that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13). All those who have ever come to faith have realized there are some inconsistencies and imperfections in the church as a whole and its individual members. They entrusted themselves to their Lord because they also realize the distinction between the One who is worshiped and the ones who worship. Simply consider your own faith and see if this isn’t so. God is greater than our witness to him. God is more faithful than we are. Of course this is no excuse to be unfaithful witnesses to the perfect love of Christ.

CNT-west

This update is from Church Multiplication Ministries (CMM) leadership team member Glen Weber. 

CNT 2Eleven people from four states gathered recently at GCI’s home office in Glendora, California to participate in CMM’s Church Next Training (CNT)-west. Attending were church planters Angie and Saddie Tabin (who recently planted a GCI church in Southern California) and GCI pastors and members working toward starting other GCI churches.

Randy Bloom, Heber Ticas (pictured at right, standing) and Glen Weber led the training, which addressed these topics:

  • What is a church planter?
  • Core values, vision and mission
  • Focus groups/demographics
  • Creating a Discipleship Pathway
  • Fundraising
  • Launch teams and gathering people
  • Launching a worship service

The training along with informal discussions over meals helped participants gain focus concerning their church planting plans. The group left believing that out of this group will come at least two new GCI congregations. Please pray for their progress.

Are you interested in starting a new church or helping an established church re-launch (re-mission)? If so, you are invited to participate in CNT-east, coming to Asheville, North Carolina on July 24-25, 2014. For details, click here.

Anthea Lippross

This prayer request is from GCI elder Roger Lippross concerning his wife Anthea.

Prayer is requested for Anthea Lippross concerning her heart problems. Tests determined that she has an unusual mass on the inside wall of her heart and her mitral valve has deteriorated. This is a very serious condition. She will be having open heart surgery on February 26 to remove the mass and replace the heart valve. This is a high risk operation.

Anthea and the family remain positive and optimistic. She has been greatly encouraged by emails and cards from church members and by prayers offered by hospital staff who are believers.

Please pray about the surgery and about her return to full health.

Cards may be sent to:

Roger & Anthea Lippross
1015 Coto de Caza Ct
Beaumont, CA 92223-8522

Broadnaxes’ first grandchild

Pastor Jeff and Karen Broadnax of GCI’s Columbus and Chillicothe, Ohio churches are pleased to announce the birth of their first grandchild, Kaiden David Lutz. Little Kaiden entered the world on February 17 at 7 lbs 5oz, 21 inches long. While Jeff and Karen are trying to find the appropriate “grand” titles, Kaiden’s mom, Jasmine Broadnax and his dad, Dan Lutz, are enjoying the first joys of parenthood.

Broadnax

Cecil Pulley

Cecil and Senior Pulley
Cecil and Senior Pulley

Cecil Pulley, pastor of GCI’s congregation in Bermuda, grew up in Bermuda’s Pembroke Parish where he attended Bermuda Technical Institute, majoring in building construction. After high school, he worked as a draftsman in a local architecture firm. Then in 1968, Cecil began watching The World Tomorrow telecast. He was fascinated by the presenter’s boldness in sharing his views concerning Bible prophecy and the gospel. Later, Cecil began reading the Plain Truth and other WCG literature. In 1970, he attended his first WCG church meeting when Caribbean regional director Stan Bass visited Bermuda. About a year later, Stan returned and Cecil was baptized.

Sometime later, Cecil moved to Boston to study architecture. There he was able to regularly attend WCG church services. The pastor encouraged Cecil to apply for Ambassador College. He did and was accepted to attend in Pasadena. About his experience, Cecil said this: “Attending Ambassador was tremendously uplifting. On my first day, I met and had breakfast with a young lady from San Francisco named Senior Grundy who would later become my wife. We were married in 1974 and graduated in 1976. After graduation, we moved to Bermuda and began serving in the local church.” The couple will celebrate their 40th anniversary later this year.

Cecil and Senior have one child, a son named Seth—their “miracle baby,” who was born three months early weighing only two pounds. Today, Seth is a healthy 185 pounds and nearly six feet tall. Cecil says that one of his most memorable moments as a pastor (and father) was baptizing Seth.

Cecil was ordained by Stan Bass in 1979 and became the full-time pastor of the Bermuda congregation in 1983 when the previous pastor transferred to another Caribbean island. Cecil says that one of the things he loves most about being a pastor is, “working with God’s people and helping them deal with life’s many issues. To watch the power of God’s love transforming peoples’ lives is awesome!” He notes that what he has enjoyed most about his time in GCI is, “the opportunity to participate in the journey from legalism to grace. Though it has been challenging, it has been gratifying to see where God has brought us, giving us a wonderful new relationship with our Triune God. I also love the camaraderie we all share as ministers of Jesus Christ.”

Several years ago, Cecil led the design and construction of the congregation’s own church building. He calls it a “two-year labor of love,” noting that “we have a first-class facility, which serves our members and local community. There is a nursery school on the premises, which serves area children. My passion is to share the love of God with people in the community, providing them with hope.”

Cecil notes that the times when he feels closest to God are, “occasions in the evening when I can sit on my front porch and gaze up at the stars and commune with my Creator one-on-one, remembering David’s words, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God: the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’”