GCI Update

Science, mushrooms & doctrine

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachI love science—especially when it benefits our health. A few years back, many of us were delighted when a scientific study was published showing the health benefits of drinking red wine (in moderation, of course). Then other studies showed the health benefits of eating dark chocolate and drinking coffee (as many as 4-5 cups a day, though many would find that a bit much!). I eagerly await studies that, no doubt, will show the health benefits of eating mushrooms (true confession: I’m a mycophile—a lover of mushrooms—I prefer them fried).

Various species of Asian mushrooms
(with permission, Wikimedia Commons)

Though there is disagreement as to the number of types of mushrooms (some say as many as 140,000) and the number safe for human consumption, nearly 100 types are currently being studied to determine their benefits to human health. A small number are proving to be immune-system boosters. You may recall that some of the most potent natural medicines (including penicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline) are made from fungal extracts.

Limited atonement?

For good or for bad, mushrooms are highly potent. This is due to a remarkable capacity to absorb, concentrate and thus reflect the medium in which they grow. The doctrines we hold to are like that. Consider the doctrine of a limited atonement, which states that God created some people to be damned and others to be saved, with Jesus dying only for those predestined for salvation. Believing this doctrine has significant consequences in the minds and hearts of those who embrace it—leading at times to hating some people (the damned) while loving others (the saved). Defending this doctrine takes some creative double-talk, asserting, contrary to appearances, that God loves both groups. But how can God’s love be the same for both groups if he predestined one to be damned? Like a mushroom grown in a toxic medium, the bad that flows from this doctrine intensifies, calling into question the character and nature of a God who would will two absolutely opposite things for the people he created in, through and to (to be inherited by) Christ—those whose very existence is being upheld by Christ moment-by-moment (see Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36 and Hebrews 1:2).

The Bible declares that God loves all his creation—including all people. In the beginning, God declared all his creation “good.” He then sent his Son to save, not condemn, what had fallen prey to sin and evil (John 3:16-17). How is this creation-redemption sequence to be understood? Some tried to explain it with the theory of a limited atonement. This idea arose, in part, from a medieval cosmology, which reasoned that for God to know everything and not have his will contravened in any way, he had to decree and thus ordain everything in advance. But this line of reasoning has both a wrong premise and a wrong conclusion, making God out to be the author of sin and evil. But remember what Scripture declares: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). It is contradictory to conclude that God, who is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17, KJV), is the author of sin and evil. The truth is that sin and evil came not from God but from creatures who, misusing their God-given freedom, brought about the opposite of good.

Those who defend the limited atonement doctrine try to get around these clear declarations of Scripture by saying that God allows sin but does not author it. They thus make a distinction between what God makes happen (his sovereign will of decree) and what he allows to happen (his sovereign will of moral command). While there is a moral difference between allowing something and causing something, making this distinction does not resolve the problem at all. If God in his sovereignty both wills the results and guarantees both outcomes, then saying that he wills but does not author sin (which he says he hates), is double-talk. If, as they assert, God wills what he allows, then the agency of others (those predestined for damnation) has no material bearing on the final state of things—no other agency than God’s is involved in the ultimate sense and thus no other agency than God is morally responsible for the final state of things.

The biblical teaching about salvation

We eliminate the need for any such double-talk when we embrace the biblical teaching that humanity was created by God for the purpose of eternal communion and fellowship with God. As finite creatures, we do not possess this eternal life, and thus we cannot give it to ourselves. Eternal communion and fellowship with the triune God can only be received as a gift from God—one he freely gives us, and one we must freely and continuously receive from him. Thus we understand that holy, eternal, personal relationship with God necessarily includes the need for freedom to receive it and to continually live in it. This freedom itself must be received as a gift given and maintained by God. This is exactly what God grants to us by his Holy Spirit, who delivers to us the freedom that was won by Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf. In his own divine freedom, God gives freedom to all humanity. In doing so, he does not decree or will sin and evil into existence (though he knew we would misuse and abuse our freedom—throw it away, actually). From the foundation of the world, God knew what he would do in love (at great cost to himself) to save us from our predicament.

Karl Barth

Karl Barth
Karl Barth

In critiquing the doctrine of a limited atonement, Karl Barth taught that neither the Father nor Jesus do anything behind each other’s back. Jesus explained that he was sent to reveal the Father and that he did only what the Father sent him to do, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture reveals that Jesus is one (homoousios in Greek) with the Father, and through the Incarnation is homoousios with all humanity. The atonement is thus the result of Jesus acting according to his own nature as the unique God-man to remove all the barriers standing between us and God. Who Jesus was (and is) and what he did (and does) secures our trust and gives us the ability to speak of God’s redeeming work on behalf of all humanity.

Karl Barth understood that the idea of a limited atonement contradicts the entire truth and reality of the Son of God’s assumption of our “flesh” (meaning in the biblical context our human nature and fallen condition) and the reality of Jesus being the new head (the new Adam) of all humanity, not just part of it (see Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). To believe in a limited atonement is to believe that Jesus is not for all (which he clearly is) and does not love all (which he clearly does), and to believe that Jesus and the Father, with the Holy Spirit, are not one in heart, mind, purpose, will, being and action (which they clearly are). Barth comments:

We cannot follow the classical doctrine [of the atonement] and make the open number of those who are elect in Jesus Christ into a closed number to which all other men are opposed as if they were rejected. Such an assumption is shattered by the unity of the real and revealed will of God in Jesus Christ (Dogmatics, II/2, subsection entitled, “The Determination of the Elect”).

Barth explained that there are people who know and live as the elect of God, and those who deny and live against it. The reality is that we are not given to know the number of people on either side.

Thomas F. Torrance

Thomas F. Torrance
Thomas F. Torrance

T. F. Torrance rejected both a limited atonement and univeralism, teaching that every human being will experience judgment (krisis in Greek, from which we get our English word crisis), in which it will be seen how each person responds to God’s loving forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption in Christ that is for all people:

God cannot hold Himself back forever, or rather the sinner cannot live forever entrenched in his independence, surrounded by all the defenses which he builds around his mortal life, in order to protect himself from God. So long as he lives on earth, he can hide himself in time, for as long as he is in time, God waits to have mercy upon him. But when he passes out of time in eternity, all his defenses fall away from him, and he stands naked before God. But in eternity he has no time for decision, for repentance, or for faith, for in time the voice of God calls to him and gives him time to make up his mind, and to answer. But when he passes from time into eternity, then all that has gone on in his soul comes to is ultimate crisis. Once that crisis begins, as so many of the parables of Jesus tell us, there is no time for preparation or action. It all happens in a flash, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye (from T.F.’s sermon “The approach to God,” in When Christ Comes and Comes Again, p. 133).


Because Barth and Torrance rejected the doctrine of a limited atonement, some mistakenly conclude they believed in a doctrine of universalism. They also reason that they were “light on sin,” teaching that it doesn’t matter what we believe or how we live. What these critics fail to see is the substantial difference between universal atonement (which is correct) and universalism (which is incorrect). Universal atonement means Jesus Christ’s atonement, which is not contingent upon human works, is sufficient for all humanity and efficient for all who respond to God’s love. Universal atonement does not mean that all will necessarily respond favorably and positively to God, receiving the free gift of relationship with him, entering with and through Jesus into eternal communion with the Father, Son and Spirit. All doctrines of strict universalism (and there are several) are biblically unsound, declaring that, in the end, all souls (human, and perhaps also angelic and demonic, even including Satan) will necessarily experience God’s eternal salvation. Some who embrace universalism even argue that repentance toward God and faith in Jesus are irrelevant.

Contrary to doctrines of strict universalism, the Bible teaches that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). In Christ (God’s elect One: the Messiah, Chosen One, Son of Man), all humanity is elect. God, who desires that all come to repentance, has created and reconciled all humanity for true fellowship with himself. Moreover, in Christ, God has already made gracious and just provision for all—even for those who at death appear not to have yet believed the gospel. But this reality of universal atonement does not necessarily mean that every person ultimately will accept God’s free gift delivered to them by the Holy Spirit. Eternal communion and fellowship with God cannot be forced. The Bible teaches that all who remain hostile to God (blaspheming the Holy Spirit) by their own choice cannot experience or enter into that fellowship (salvation). What they freely, personally decide in response to God, makes a difference in what they will experience. However, that personal response does not change the reality of who God is and what he has done on their behalf in and through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

Stay out of two ditches

There are two ditches we must avoid. On one side is the doctrine of a limited atonement, which mistakenly views God as creating some to have a loving relationship with him and others to be punished eternally for not loving him (despite the fact that he has not granted them the freedom to respond to his love). On the other side are the various doctrines of strict universalism, which mistakenly view God as not giving anyone a meaningful choice in the matter. Note that both ditches involve coercion, and thus are not the result of a loving relationship. It is just as coercive to say that God is going to make the entire world love him, as it is to say that he is only going to make a limited number love him.

The common error in these opposing ditches is in viewing God as a coercive “lover” who uses impersonal, mechanical or causal forces and legal maneuvers to bring about his two divergent wills. We avoid these ditches by staying well within the limits of the biblical revelation. Doing so allows us to hope for the salvation of all humanity (because of the universal extent of God’s grace) without presuming to know something that God has not revealed, namely, that all people necessarily will confess their sin and need for grace and thus receive their salvation from Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior.

Joyfully living in Christ, now and forever,
Joseph Tkach

Myanmar and the Middle East

Here from GCI Mission Developer Rod Matthews are updates on GCI ministry in Myanmar and Dubai.


MyanmarGCI Senior Pastor Wong Mein Kong (pictured at right), who lives in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, coordinates GCI’s work in the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma). In May, Mein Kong visited Myanmar to meet with GCI pastors and ministry leaders of other groups interested in our fellowship and work there. One group based in the Chin State in the north of Myanmar whose leader is Chan Thleng previously broached the subject of joining GCI. They were advised to take more time to study our theology and to discuss its implications with their elders and members. Chan Thleng also has a congregation near the main city of Yangon in the south.

Mein Kong and his wife, Chew Yeng, returned home excited and encouraged because Chan Thleng had come with the news that his group had definitely confirmed that they want to become part of GCI. Here is Mein Kong’s report:

On Saturday, May 2, we went to his church in a village outside Hmawbi, about 50 km from Yangon. Chan Thleng and four elders from Chin State and a group of his church members came for the meeting and discussion. It lasted three hours as they asked about our teaching and various doctrines. I also briefed them on GCI’s history, theology and mission. This was the third time I had visited and spoken to them in their church. They were very pleased with our sharing. One of the elders declared that they want only to learn from GCI and not other churches! They had been praying for several years for a church that could provide them spiritual understanding and leadership. They believe God has led them to GCI. I must say I feel the same way.

On Sunday we attended their worship service with about 40 people and I gave the sermon. After the service there was a women’s meeting with Chew Yeng. A few of their leaders continued to ask me questions. On Monday, Chan Thleng came to our hotel and continued discussions with us. I suggested that his group change their present name of Myanmar Bible Presbyterian (BP) as there is already a BP church in Malaysia and Singapore. They are very happy to use the GCI name. I asked Chan Thleng to look into applying for membership for the local GCI in the Myanmar Evangelical Christian Fellowship (MECF) which is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance. The MECF is recognized by the Myanmar government.

The present BP church that wants to be a part of GCI comprises seven elders overseeing 180 members in the Chin State, plus Chan Thleng and his assistant, who pastor 34 members in Hmawbi. The churches are self-supporting, mission-oriented and active in church planting. Only Chan Thleng speaks English and he translates the material I give him into Matu Chin for his fellow elders.

The group requested GCI’s help in erecting a church building in Matupi, Chin State, where most of the elders and their congregations are located. Chan Thleng has started his church building on his land and is using it as a focal point for outreach into the surrounding community. He hopes to send one of his leaders as a church planter in another township in Yangon. I have told Chan Thleng and his elders that GCI would be happy to welcome them into our fellowship.

Mein Kong has also developed a close friendship with Nyein Thu, a well-educated young man who teaches at an international school in Myanmar and who appreciates our theological understanding and loves our literature. Nyein Thu has finished translating our booklet, “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ,” into Burmese, and is looking into the cost of printing it in Yangon. We are awaiting further information so we can offer another item of literature in Burmese.

On his return to Malaysia, Mein Kong told the Klang church of Chan Thleng’s desire to join GCI. The entire congregation is excited with this growth and are happy to support him and his church in mission and church planting.


North Indian Regional Pastor, Daniel Zachariah, was invited to teach in a training program entitled “Leadership and Theology” for about 200 pastors held in Dubai. It was sponsored by Person-to-Person Institute for Biblical Counselling in Hyderabad in conjunction with the Chaplaincy of Dubai and Sharjah with the Northern Emirates. Dan was told that as many as 150 denominations were represented.

Middle East 1

Dan facilitated six sessions involving a Survey of the Old and New Testaments, with a focus on explaining “Who is the God of the Bible?” Dan said, “I had an opportunity to present God from a Trinitarian/Incarnational perspective. I was pleasantly surprised that there were shouts of “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” when I concluded. Perhaps they just wanted an affirmation that we worship a God who loves us, rather than a God who constantly makes demands on us to please him. There was some aggressive questioning though, especially from some African pastors (I presume they come from a prosperity gospel background).”

Middle East 2After brief remarks on the canonization, inspiration and interpretation of the Bible, Dan (pictured at right) focused on what the various sections of Scripture (Pentateuch, Historical books, Books of Poetry and Wisdom, Gospels, etc.) reveal about our God. Many pastors found that using an incarnational Trinitarian foundation was refreshing, with the head of the Chaplaincy, Fr. Ruwan, commenting that it was a unique perspective. Dan presented the Chaplaincy office with copies of a booklet we produced in India entitled, “Bible Prophecy – A Testimony to Jesus Christ.”

While in Dubai, Dan was also able to visit the home of one of our members for dinner, and share videos and a biblical message with the group.

GCI-USA update

In his video update for May 2015 (embedded below), CAD director Greg Williams profiles the youth-focused community outreach of the GCI congregation in Big Sandy, Texas.

Watch on YouTube at https://youtu.be/JtJQCKZ5MqQ. For an earlier Weekly Update post on GCI’s outreach in Big Sandy, click here.

GCI-Philippines update

Here are links to updates regarding recent GCI events and people in the Philippines:


The importance of spiritual disciplines in church revitalization

revitalizationIn a recent post on the Thom S. Rainer blog, Chuck Lawless, professor of evangelism and missions and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Seminary, wrote this:

Thom Rainer and I have talked often about the process of church revitalization. Both of us recognize, though, that knowledge of revitalization is hardly enough to turn around a church; the process cannot be separated from the personal walk of the leader who longs for church renewal. Below are ten reasons why spiritual disciplines matter in church revitalization.

To read the rest of Chuck’s post, go to: http://thomrainer.com/2015/05/28/10-reasons-why-spiritual-disciplines-matter-in-church-revitalization/.

Paul Smith

Prayer is requested for Paul Smith, a long-time assistant pastor in GCI’s congregation in Big Sandy, Texas. Paul was involved in an automobile accident on Thursday, May 28. He is sore following the accident.

Cards can be mailed to:

Paul & Freia Smith
P.O. Box 295
Big Sandy, TX 75755

Charles Taylor

Charles with his family
Charles with his family

In an earlier issue of Weekly Update we asked for prayer for GCI pastor Charles Taylor, who was badly burned in a home accident. Here is an update from Charles that came several days after being released from the hospital:

My family and I thank you all for your prayers, encouraging words, cards, texts, and blessings. By the grace of God I’m improving day by day. Therapy is hard, but great and helpful. Today I opened a bottle of Gatorade by myself with my recuperating hand and twisted a coconut off of a tree with two hands. I was overjoyed praising God!

Our love to you all!

Cards may be sent to Charles and his wife Keysha at:

Charles and Keysha Taylor
9650 Dunhill Drive
Miramar FL 33025

Marcia Fricke

Here is a prayer request from Dan Fricke, assistant pastor in Reno, Nevada, concerning his wife Marcia (Keith) Fricke.

I request prayer for my wife Marcia. A month ago she found a lump in her breast. It has been removed and was found to be cancerous along with three lymph nodes which were cancerous. Though primarily estrogen caused, it had 20% of HER2 cancer, which is an aggressive type of cancer. She will have a medical port implanted in her chest for nearly a year to help facilitate the six months of chemotherapy and then targeted medicine for the HER2. That will be followed by six weeks of radiation.

Marcia is now doing intense detoxification to help her body deal better with the chemotherapy. Though she knows the next year will be very challenging, as she also suffers with fibromyalgia, she is very positive and we both know that our heavenly Father will work his will in our lives. We prayed that he will be honored and that good will come from this. Already we have seen beautiful growth in a number of relations and encouragement to others in similar circumstances.

Cards may be sent to:

Marcia & Dan Fricke
4799 Herring Gull Way
Sparks, NV 89436-1655

Hans-Juergen Mittag

Hans-Juergen Mittag, long-time elder in GCI’s Munich, Germany, congregation and former director of GCI’s German church board, was hospitalized last week. It appears that he is wrestling with serious heart problems. The doctors are trying to get rid of the water that has been collecting in his legs and there are abdominal issues that need further examination. Hans-Juergen has not been in the best of health for quite a while now and his wife Rosl requests your prayers.

Tom Ecker retires

Please join us in congratulating Tom and Alberta Ecker. Tom recently retired from GCI employment having served in Canada and the U.S. in various capacities for nearly 42 years. Tom’s last assignment was as senior pastor of GCI’s congregations in Beaumont and High Desert, California. (For more information about Tom and Alberta, click here.) As shown in the pictures below, GCI’s Home Office in Glendora, California recently honored the Eckers at an employee meeting.

Alberta and Tom Ecker
Joseph Tkach recaps Tom’s career