Palm Sunday in Montreal

This update is from GCI-Canada director Gary Moore.

My family and I had the pleasure of visiting the Montreal-area GCI congregations (French and English) for a combined Palm Sunday service. The French youth band (top picture below) did a superb job leading us in a bilingual worship. The service included a lovely potluck meal, and the fellowship went on for three hours. It was a great time of togetherness and worship.

Canada 1

Canada 2

Roger Lippross

This prayer request is from Anthea Lippross, wife of long-time GCI elder Roger Lippross, who was Production Director of Publishing for WCG from 1975-1988.

LiprossPlease pray for my husband Roger. On March 27 he had a stroke and is now at the Redlands Community Hospital in Southern California where he underwent tests. The latest tests showed that Roger had had previous strokes. He is progressing well and waiting to be transferred to a rehab facility that concentrates on physiotherapy. He thanks everyone for their concern and prayers and with Gods help will be up and back in the saddle.

Cards may be sent to:

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

Outside the Walls in Jacksonville

GCI’s congregation in Jacksonville, Florida, recently hosted an Outside the Walls training and community outreach event. Here is a short video, some pictures and a related cartoon.

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11069Church Multiplication Ministries (CMM) coordinates Outside the Walls training and events as part of renewal church consulting services provided by Church Administration and Development. Congregations receiving these services are trained in incarnational outreach, assimilation through hospitality, and other approaches to joining Jesus in reaching outside the church walls to connect with non-churched people, then assist them in becoming mature followers of Jesus within the fellowship of the congregation.

To learn more about these consulting services in the U.S., click here and contact your regional pastor.

Pastors, politics and social media

Rainer

As noted in the article in this issue by Joseph Tkach, there is great need to practice the “virtue of prudence” in our political discourse. In a recent blog post, Thom Rainer of LifeWay helpfully addresses this need as it pertains to political statements made by pastors via social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). To read his post, go to http://thomrainer.com/2016/03/ten-commandments-for-pastors-politics-and-social-media/.

Politics and the virtue of prudence

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joe and Tammy TkachWith the U.S. presidential election cycle in full throttle, I’m being asked which candidate I endorse. In replying, I remain neutral—I do not pretend to be able to guide others in their political decisions, though sometimes I remind those who ask of what is says in Proverbs: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2 NKJV).

Sadly, a large part of the U.S. population (including many Christians) groan merely because of the party affiliation of the person who is ruling (or running for office). It seems to me that this sort of partisan groaning is far more vocal (and polarizing) in this cycle than others in recent memory. But so goes our culture.

Along with the partisan groaning comes the sad fact that only a fraction of Christians vote. Of the millions of self-described evangelical Christians in the U.S., only about 25% voted in 2000, 23% in 2004, and 26% in 2008. The number peaked at 27% in the 2012 presidential election where 78% of the evangelicals who voted, voted for Romney and 21% for Obama. Though our system of government gives people freedom of speech (including the right to groan) and freedom not to vote, I think Christians have a responsibility to advance the common good—a responsibility which, in part, is fulfilled by exercising their right as citizens to vote.

The virtue of prudence

Christians have long recognized that when the church and its members aim to influence secular authorities (thus engaging in the political process) they should do so in ways that seek the best possible outcome for the common good available at the time. This approach is grounded in the hope that incremental advances will lead to greater opportunity to further the common good in the “next round.” This incremental approach to advancing the common good is enjoined in the New Testament and advocated in Christian theology and ethics. It has to do with exercising the virtue of prudence. [1]

Prudence

Seeking the most prudent outcome in government is not moral compromise—it’s political compromise that recognizes that an all-or-nothing approach to secular governance does not foster the common good and justice. Instead it undermines the limited good that a democratic political process is able to achieve among those who disagree.

Speaking of imprudence, some Christians circulate (often via social media) extreme right-wing or left-wing political viewpoints that sometimes include demonizing and even lying about political opponents. Given that effective politics in our democratic system is in large part based on compromise, such extreme, uncompromising positions tend to hinder rather than help the political process. Rather than reflecting prudence, these positions are, in effect, secular forms of self-righteousness and legalism.

I’ve been asked, “Who do you endorse?”

I’m often asked to endorse a candidate for U.S. president. Christians tend to want me to endorse one they consider “most Christian.” But coming as I do from a supra-legalistic background, I don’t think it would be prudent for me to sit in judgment of whether or not a particular person is or is not a “true Christian.” Four of the five main candidates (all five are pictured below) say they are Christian: Ted Cruz (a Baptist), Donald Trump (a Presbyterian), John Kasich (an Anglican) and Hilary Clinton (a United Methodist). The fifth main candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a Jew. I’ve learned to leave the determination of the genuineness of a person’s faith to Jesus who alone is our judge, for he knows our hearts.

http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/article/2016/mar/27/final-five-truth-o-meter/
The five remaining candidates for U.S. president (photo source)

Some notable Christian leaders have endorsed and others have vilified presidential candidates. For example, Donald Trump has been endorsed by Robert Jeffress (Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas), Jerry Falwell, Jr. (President of Liberty University), and Pat Robertson (Chancellor of Regent University). But Trump has been vilified by Michael Horton (Professor at Westminster Seminary) and Max Lucado (Pastor in San Antonio and popular author). It is my policy (in keeping with GCI’s policy for church leaders) to not publicly endorse an individual candidate or political party. That being said, given that celebrities have done well in past elections, I’m not surprised Donald Trump is doing well. I am surprised by the popularity of Bernie Sanders, a self-professed democratic socialist. Apparently the U.S. population is shifting in its understanding of our nation’s founding documents, and how they relate to our current social and economic situation.

In case you’re wondering, I’m registered to vote “no party,” which means I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. However, given my views concerning the sanctity of life, I lean toward conservative candidates. That being said, there are some conservatives I wouldn’t trust to be a baby sitter (and I can say the same about some liberals). I think each candidate must be evaluated on their own merits, knowing that their inner (private) character will tend to be seen, over time, in their public acts. As Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20).

The biblical injunction

The Bible tells us to desire good leaders. We conclude that this means, when possible, we will involve ourselves in choosing those leaders. However, we are never dependent on these leaders. As noted by the psalmist, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8 NKJV). So we prayerfully make the best selection possible, which typically means choosing the one with the fewest problems along with the greatest strengths. Of course, we always bathe that choice in prayer, then having voted, we pray for the one who is elected.

Many of my friends voted in 2008 and 2012 for President Barak Obama and many did not. While I was not elated when he was elected, my response was to pray for President Obama and for his choices in appointing leaders in his administration. That is not only the best we can do—it is what we are told to do in Scripture. Note Paul’s words to Timothy:

I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Timothy 2: 1-2 NKJV)

I plan to follow Paul’s exhortation, no matter who is elected U.S. president later this year. Let’s all be in prayer and let’s also love all the candidates as God’s children, no matter their party affiliation. Even as we vote, let us put our trust not in politicians or in political parties, but in Jesus who is Lord of all and oversees all. He alone is the one who can and will, in his time and way, change things for the better.

Eagerly anticipating what Jesus will do, through this election and beyond,
Joseph Tkach

_____________________

[1] Concerning the Christian virtue of prudence, Gary Deddo recommends two books (both published by IVP)—click on the links below to preview these books:

Last call for Converge West

Celebrate-the-grip-graphic-no-background-compressedGCI Generations Ministries (GenMin) is hosting the Converge West event in Encino, California, on April 15-17 (click here for details). With the theme “Celebrate the Grip,” Converge West is open to people of all ages, with a specific focus on those age 16-30.

Registration closes on April 1. Please consider sponsoring emerging leaders in your congregation. To register, click here.

The reviews from Converge East (held in Ohio in early March) say this event plays an integral part in gathering young adults, teens, pastors, camp directors, ministry leaders and others who want to be an effective expression in their local area of Christ’s love for all people. Here’s what you’ll find at Converge West:

  • Jeff McSwain sharing the life and theology behind the 2016 GenMin camp curriculum “Celebrate the Grip.” He also will share details about the GCI Intern Program.
  • Susi Albrecht talking about the GenMin 2016 theme, “The Year of the Child,” which addresses ministry to elementary-aged children in churches and camps.
  • Susan McSwain, Executive Director of Reality Ministries, sharing how ministry to people with disabilities forever changed her outlook on compassion and service to others as she helps us “see the unseen” in society.
  • GCI’s interns in the western part of the US having a significant role in the weekend.
  • A theology forum answering important questions the young people have.
  • Greg Williams providing a glimpse into happenings around the GCI landscape and how we can get involved
  • Brad Turnage, a veteran youth pastor and part of a GCI church planting team, sharing insights on incarnational ministry—getting “outside the walls” of the church and camp to connect with young people where they are.
  • Inspiring stories of what people are doing, around the region, to engage people in their communities.

Festival this summer in Italy

hotel

Daniel Boesch, national director for GCI in Italy, announced recently that a worship festival will be held in Italy this summer (August 25-28, 2016). The event will be held at the Commodore Hotel (pictured above) in Montegrotto Terme, a resort-spa near Venice. Guest speakers will be James Henderson (from the UK) and Greg Williams (from the US).

For information, download the flyer at https://www.gci.org/files/Italy_festival_2016.pdf.

GCI mission and vision

GCI globe1smallIn an article on the GCI website, GCI president Joseph Tkach addresses our shared mission and vision as churches journeying together by the Spirit in Grace Communion International. The article begins with this statement:

Though churches must embrace certain business practices, the biblical model for leading the church is that of a shepherd or farmer rather than a business executive. This does not mean that we are called to sit back and do nothing. However, it explains why my approach is not to cast a vision but to gather a vision.

To read the full article, go to http://www.gci.org/aboutus/mission2.

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joe and Tammy TkachAs foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, justification and sanctification are loaded with meaning and historical significance. However, they often are misconstrued, resulting in misunderstanding the related doctrines of salvation by grace and the Christian life. Though we can’t explore these doctrines in depth in a single letter, I want to point out here an error often made in explaining justification and sanctification.

All aspects of salvation are in Christ

Let’s begin by noting that the doctrines of justification and sanctification belong together and, like all aspects of salvation, are related entirely to the work Jesus Christ does as our representative and substitute. According to theologian Karl Barth, justification and sanctification weave together three vital topics: 1) divinity (that Jesus is fully God), 2) humanity (that Jesus is fully human), and 3) the uniting of divinity and humanity (two natures) in the one person of Jesus Christ. The core Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation tell us that justification and sanctification, as two related aspects of the one event of salvation, take place entirely in Jesus Christ who, in his vicarious (representative and substitutionary) humanity, acts on our behalf and in our place. Therefore when we think about these doctrines, as illustrated in the painting below, we must look to Jesus and nowhere else (and that includes our own works).

Grunwald
Centerpiece of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.
Note John the Baptist at right—as the last of the old covenant prophets,
he points to Jesus as the one source of salvation. 
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Justification in Christ

It is common to believe that though God justifies us in Christ, justification only becomes actual for individuals when they profess personal faith in Christ. Only then, it is believed, will God forgive and reconcile them to himself. The mistake in this line of reasoning is believing that our personal decision for Christ triggers a change in God’s mind toward us, thus changing the way God relates to us. But that thinking turns our relationship with God into a sort of contract wherein God sets out certain conditions for him to extend to us the benefits of Christ’s justifying work.

According to this faulty reasoning, our personal response to God (our faith) conditions God’s response to us. The net result is to view God as having two minds concerning his human creatures. Which mind he has depends upon our human response to a potential—with God being for some (and their salvation), and against others (wanting their damnation). Who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, then, only represents God’s mind, heart and purposes toward a few, namely those who respond appropriately to God with faith. Though perhaps unintentional, this reasoning misconstrues faith as a human work, with one’s response of faith becoming the central concern.

The nature and place of faith in our justification

To see faith as a human work misconstrues both faith and Jesus Christ. Faith is our response to the truth and reality of who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus. Because of who Jesus is (the God-man) and what he has done and is doing, God is for us, God is merciful, God is forgiving, God is saving. In Jesus, God has removed every obstacle to his being reconciled to us. In our place and on our behalf, Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Faith, then, is our response to this truth—our response to a reality that has been accomplished for us already by and in Christ. Faith is the way we receive all the benefits that Christ has secured for us already.

Placing our faith (trust) in God is good and proper. We are obligated to trust in God since he is trustworthy and has clearly demonstrated that trustworthiness in Jesus Christ. To refuse to trust God for his grace is sin. But some will ask: “What if I don’t have sufficient faith?” The answer is that God, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, gives us the gift of sharing in Jesus’ own faith in his Father. When it comes to salvation, we do not count on the strength and purity of our own faith. Instead, we trust Jesus, who as our great high priest, offers his perfect faith to the Father on our behalf. By the Spirit Jesus draws us up to share more and more in his perfect response to the Father.

It is vital to understand that our response of faith toward God is not on our own. In responding to God, we share in the gift of Jesus’ own response. The Torrance brothers referred to this as the dual mediation of Christ. Jesus not only mediates God’s blessings to us, but he, in our place and on our behalf, mediates our responses to God. Note this from T.F. Torrance:

Through union with [Christ] we share in his faith, in his obedience, in his trust and appropriation of the Father’s blessing; we share in his justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it—it is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ—“Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” That is what it means to be justified by faith. [1]

The gospel truth is that Jesus Christ himself is our justification. Our justification is the “once and for all” reality that has been fulfilled both objectively and subjectively [2] by Jesus, on our behalf, in his own human (subjective) response to the Father, by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV). Justification is thus not about what we do—it’s about what Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do as our substitute and representative. Therefore we rightfully say that we are justified by the grace of God in Jesus Christ—a grace we receive by the gift of faith.

Sanctification in Christ

In speaking of our sharing in Jesus’ own faith for our justification, we have already begun to speak of our sanctification. Sanctification is the process of growing up in Christ—of sharing more and more in Jesus’ perfect responses to the Father in the Spirit. By God’s justifying work, we are put in right relationship with God, and by God’s sanctifying work we begin to respond as we share by the Spirit in Christ’s responses for us. As we do so, we share more and more in Jesus’ sanctification of the human nature that he continues to share with all human beings.

You will recall that Jesus, who never sinned, was baptized, thus confessing sin on our behalf. As human, he also grew in wisdom and stature and learned obedience. In his humanity he overcame temptation. In the power of the Spirit he sanctified himself and prayed for our sanctification. Jesus then gave himself up on the cross as his final act of faithful obedience to his Father, by the Spirit. Jesus did all these things for us—for our sanctification. As Paul declares, Jesus not only is our justification (righteousness), he also is our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV).

Sanctification is no less a gift of God’s grace than is justification. Like justification, sanctification is God’s work that we, by the Spirit, receive as we trust God to do that sanctifying work in us. What Christ has done for us in his incarnate life, the Spirit works out in us. As Karl Barth wrote, God “sanctifies the unholy by his action with and towards them, i.e., gives them a derivative and limited, but supremely real, share in his own holiness.” [3]

To be sanctified is to be set apart as holy, and it should be obvious that we cannot do that of ourselves. It is God who sanctifies us. Paul noted that Jesus took upon himself our unholiness (sin), “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). It is Jesus’ own holiness that he imparts to us by his action as one of us and on our behalf. As the author of Hebrews notes, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 NASB). For emphasis, the author then repeats his point: “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 NASB).

Our sanctification (holiness) is Jesus’ own sanctification. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Holiness is not a result of self-willed moral effort but is a divine activity.” It is God’s presence and activity to express his holy character in man by his grace through Jesus Christ. We are always dependent upon God. As Paul explained to the church in Thessalonica, our sanctification is God’s will (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). When we realize that our holiness is not our own, but is from, through, and by Jesus, our conduct will be exemplified by humility (not a holier-than-thou attitude) as we follow the lead of the Spirit in sharing in Jesus’ own holiness.

From start to finish, it’s about Jesus

From start to finish, both justification and sanctification depend entirely upon Jesus—on who he is (the God-man), and on what he has done and continues to do, by the Spirit, in his human nature as our representative and substitute. Therefore we trust Jesus—we participate in his faith (faithfulness) as the “author and finisher” of our faith, including our justification and sanctification.

Delighted to be justified and sanctified in Jesus,
Joseph Tkach

_________________

[1] “Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life.” Scottish Journal of Theology, volume 13, no 3. pp. 225-246.

[2] Note here a subtle, yet important point: We must avoid the mistake of dividing justification into objective and subjective parts, with the objective being what Jesus does, and the subjective being what we do. That mistake implies that we, somehow separate from Jesus, respond to God on our own. Were that true, we’d be thrown back on ourselves apart from Jesus. Thankfully, the truth is that we personally (subjectively) participate in Jesus’ own (subjective) response made in his humanity on our behalf. Jesus does not just do the objective work in our justification and sanctification—his work is both objective and subjective, and in both cases that work is done in our place and on our behalf. So, how then do we talk about a “personal response” to Jesus without creating the problem mentioned above? The Torrance brothers did so by referring to Jesus’ subjective (personal) responses and of our sharing, through the Spirit, in Jesus’ own subjective responses.

[3] Church Dogmatics, volume IV, page 500.