Canadian pastor wed

We are pleased to announce the recent wedding of GCI-Canada Pastor Bob Millman and Shelley Bradford. The ceremony was officiated by Al Nordstrom and a reception hosted by the Edmonton congregation followed. As seen in the picture at bottom, our Eritrean members honored Bob and Shelley in their traditional way. These members, who recently resettled in Canada, attend the Edmonton congregation where Bob is lead pastor. Congratulations Bob and Shelley!

L to R: Shelley and Bob, Al Nordstrom.

Halloween outreach

This past Halloween, GCI’s congregation in Tipp City, OH (Grace Communion Tipp City), served 300 hotdogs, more than 450 cups of hot chocolate, and gave candy to about 600 children. The congregation’s church building is situated in the middle of the Tipp City trick-or-treat route, giving the congregation opportunity to reach out to most of the trick-or-treaters and their families. According to interim Lead Pastor, Rick Shallenberger, “Not only did we provide the hotdogs, hot chocolate and candy, but we also provided rest rooms and a place for families to warm up. It was great fun, and a great way to greet most of the children and families in the town.”

GC Ignite & GC Launch

This announcement is from Jeff Broadnax, national coordinator of GCI Generations Ministries (GenMin).

In order for us to see more young adults actively involved in GCI congregations, and in ministry leadership roles in particular, we will need to provide more effective “on-ramps” for this age group to participate in GCI at the local, regional and national levels. GenMin is helping provide these on-ramps in several ways, including sponsoring two events that will be held in the U.S. in 2018 (see below). We encourage you to let the young adults in your congregation and other church networks know of these events, then help them attend as you are able.

GC Ignite

The first event, called GC Ignite (formerly GC Next), will be held over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (January 12-15, 2018). GCI young people ages 18–30 will gather at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Camp near Dallas, TX, for worship, fellowship, equipping and challenge designed to “fan into flames” the gifts God has given them (2 Tim. 1:6), returning home to use those gifts in their congregation and region. For more information about GC Ignite 2018go to www.generationsministries/gc-ignite.

GC Launch

The second event, called GC Launch, will focus on leaders within GCI congregations who are high school juniors and seniors. It will be held in December 2018 at the GCI Home Office in Charlotte, NC. We’ll have more information about this event early next year.

Conference in Britain

GCI President Joseph Tkach and his wife Tammy recently travelled to England for a conference attended by GCI members. As seen in the pictures below (click to enlarge), Tammy gave the sermon at a church service held in Watford. The next day, Dr. Tkach was joined by Dr. Alan Torrance (professor of systematic theology at St Mary’s College of the University of St Andrews) in addressing the conference, which was held in Borehamwood.

Reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

The first Sunday of Advent (December 3 this year), begins a new cycle of worship in the Christian liturgical calendar. Together with Christmas, Advent proclaims a key point of Christian doctrine—the virgin birth of Jesus.

The Apostles’ Creed

In accord with Matt. 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-2:20, The Apostles’ Creed affirms that Jesus “was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” Though not written by the original apostles, the Creed was widely embraced as an accurate summation of the first apostles’ core teachings. The basic content of The Apostles’ Creed appeared as early as A.D. 215 in a document used by Hippolytus in preparing candidates for baptism. Restatements of this basic teaching then appeared over the next several centuries in multiple places, including a commentary on The Apostles’ Creed, written by Tyrannius Rufinus in about A.D. 400. The version of the Creed he examined is quite similar to The Apostles’ Creed that is used today by many churches (GCI included).

“Birth of Christ,” by anonymous 
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Though early versions of the Creed contained the same central doctrinal ideas (called the “rule of faith”), they varied somewhat, due largely to the need to defend against different heresies. Some of those early versions were quite long—here is the first part of one written by Tertullian:

Now, with regard to this rule of faith—that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend—it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is only one God, and that he is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through his own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called his Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ.

Now, compare what Tertullian wrote with the opening lines of The Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth; I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Though The Apostles’ Creed is more succinct (which I appreciate!), both statements establish three key points of Christian teaching concerning Jesus: 1) that the eternal Son of God began his earthly life as a special act of God the Father, 2) that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and 3) that Jesus was genuinely the son of a human mother (Mary) who, at the time Jesus was born, was a virgin.

“The Annunciation” by Jean Hey
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus

There are, of course, those who deny the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus (and thus reject The Apostles’ Creed along with the Nicene Creed). Then there are others who misconstrue that doctrine, claiming that Mary somehow is co-redeemer with Jesus in our salvation. However, as the Gospel of John declares, our salvation (which involves being “born of God”) is not a matter of “natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will” (John 1:12-13). T.F. Torrance comments:

The virgin birth… excludes the idea that God and man are co-equal partners [in salvation]…. What took place [in the virgin birth of Jesus] is an act under the sovereign will of God, in which God alone was Lord and Master, so that the birth was grounded in the sovereign will of God alone. (Incarnation, the Person and Life of Christ, p. 99)

Through Jesus’ virgin birth, God, by his own sovereign decision, joined himself with our humanity. Mary is thus not co-redeemer, though as T.F. also points out, she is an admirable model of obedient faith in response to the grace of God:

Grace takes a form in the birth of Jesus which we may take as a pattern or norm for all our understanding of grace. Here God takes the initiative and approaches Mary through the word of his angelic messenger—the word proclaimed to Mary is the word of election or grace: she is chosen and told of God’s choice. She has nothing to do in this matter except what is done in her under the operation of the Spirit. What Mary does is simply to receive the word, to believe, which she does not in her own strength but in the strength given her by the Lord, and she is blessed because of that, not because of her virginity…. The Word which Mary heard and received and obeyed became flesh of her flesh. That is the normative pattern for the believer in his or her attitude toward the Word announced in the gospel, which tells men and women of the divine act of grace and decision taken already on their behalf in Christ. (Incarnation, the Person and Life of Christ, p. 101)

Celebrating God’s work on our behalf

As the apostle Paul states in Ephesians 2:8, we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works. It is the gracious work of the Triune God on our behalf that saves us. Our works (and the works of any other person, Mary included) do not bring about that salvation. Instead, by faith (also God’s gift), we are born of God, receiving, through the Spirit, the salvation that has been accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. Note this comment from T.F.:

What happened once and for all, in utter uniqueness in Jesus Christ, happens in every instance of rebirth into Christ. Just as he was born from above of the Holy Spirit, so are we born from above of the Holy Spirit through sharing in his birth. (Incarnation, the Person and Life of Christ, p. 102)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a similar perspective on the miracle of the Incarnation that we celebrate during the Advent-Christmas season:

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken. (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, p. 22)

To T.F.’s and Bonhoeffer’s words, I add my hearty, Amen.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Advent-Christmas season,
Joseph Tkach

Update on 12/6/17: for more on this topic, click here.

David Sheridan

Prayer is requested for GCI-Canada Pastor David Sheridan who suffered a massive heart attack on November 24. Thankfully, his daughter, a trained medic, was with him at the time, and gave David CPR while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Though David was clinically dead for nine minutes, he revived before being rushed to the hospital where it was determined that David’s aorta was 100% blocked. A catherization was performed and the doctors say David may now need a triple, or even quadruple, bypass operation.

Cards may be sent to:

David Sheridan
101 Cramond Close SE
Calgary, AB T3M 1C1

Cecil Pulley

Cecil and Senior Pulley

Prayer is requested for GCI-Bermuda Pastor Cecil Pulley. He recently suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized and then released. This week he is scheduled to fly to Boston for additional diagnostic work that will likely lead to treatment related to his heart condition. Senior, Cecil’s wife, reports that he is feeling pretty well, under the circumstances. The couple is grateful for the outpouring of love and prayer from their GCI church family.

Cards may be sent to:

Cecil and Senior Pulley
P. O. Box MA 350
Sandy’s MA BX

Rod Matthews

Thanks for praying for GCI Mission Developer Rod Matthews (click here for the original prayer request). Here is a note from Rod concerning his progress:

Rod Matthews

I am deeply grateful for the prayers, encouragement and love that has come my way through communication from all over the world leading up to and following my cancer surgery on October 20.

Last week the surgeon said he was very happy with how my recovery is progressing. He also presented me with the gift of good news that the biopsy results on the lymph glands removed during the operation indicate that the cancer has not spread beyond the prostate. In early February, I’ll have the first of a sequence of three-monthly blood tests to ensure there continues to be no further indicators of cancer.

I feel privileged to know so many people who are my loving and caring brothers and sisters in Christ, and I give thanks to God for bringing us together into such warm and nurturing fellowship in the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Many thanks again, and all of God’s blessings to you and your families,

Living the redeemed life

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Dallas Willard was one of the visiting professors I enjoyed immensely while in my doctoral program. A professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, Dr. Willard had just finished writing The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. In the book, he goes through the Sermon on the Mount, addressing what it means to be an “apprentice” of Jesus. In doing so, he gives a clear picture of what it means to participate in the redeemed life that God gives us in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. In class, Dr. Willard would often address the topic of daily living, saying, “Winter comes but nothing beyond the redemption of God can happen to you—no matter how bad the sinful mess you might create, God is able to redeem you.”

Dr. Willard also often repeated a sentence I still find myself repeating: “Living an authentic Christian life is different from the consumer image of it in our popular culture.” He would then offer an illustration of someone doing something selflessly to help others, then say, “Now, that’s authentic Christianity!” His point was that we do not serve others to get something in return. His emphasis was always on authentic participation in the life that is ours in Christ—an emphasis found frequently in the apostle Paul’s writings:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Jesus, through his acts of redemption, purchased us and made us his own. Having affirmed that truth, Paul and other New Testament authors admonish us to live into that truth—to live the redeemed life.

Unfortunately, as the apostle Peter warned, there will always be false teachers who will spread “destructive heresies… denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). Thankfully, these teachers have no power to undo the reality of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us. Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14). This purifying, which comes from Jesus, through the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit, enables us to live the redeemed life. Peter explains it this way:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Pet. 1:18)

This knowledge enables us to appreciate the significance of the Incarnation by which the eternal Son of God came to us in human form, having assumed our human nature, which he then transformed, and now, through the Spirit, shares with us, enabling us to live the redeemed life. We live this life in grateful response to the truth that we belong to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The atoning work of Jesus is the center of God’s plan for humanity. While most New Testament writers speak of this work by proclaiming us to be children of God, only Paul speaks of it using the word adoption. Are these identifying labels referring to different things? The answer is no. Confusion on this matter likely comes from our modern use of the word adoption to signify what happens when a child, born in one family, is legally and physically placed into another. But this is not the way the Bible uses the word. In Scripture, adoption and regeneration (being born again, or born from above) are two aspects of the same redeeming work, that having been accomplished on our behalf by Jesus, is being worked out in us by the Spirit.

Through the indwelling Spirit, we are able to share in Jesus’ humanity, which means sharing in his sonship—his fellowship and communion with the Father, by the Spirit (Titus 3:4-7). The early church fathers put it this way:

He who was the son of God by nature, became a son of man, so that we, who are the sons of man by nature, might become by grace the adopted sons of God.

As we receive and surrender to the work of Jesus and the Spirit, we are born into a new life—the life that has already been worked out on our behalf in the humanity of Jesus. That new birth (adoption) does not merely place us into the family of God in a legal sense, leaving us with an unchanged (unregenerate) nature. No, via our adoption (spiritual rebirth), we share in Christ’s own humanity, and we do so by the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Paul put it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

In Christ, we are made new—we are given a new identity. If we were to compare this to human adoption, it would be like an adopted child receiving the DNA of their adopting parents! As we receive and respond to the indwelling Spirit’s ministry, we are born from above, thus becoming the adopted children of God who are sharing, through the Spirit, in Christ’s own humanity. Here is how John put it in his Gospel:

To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, NRSV)

In being born from above, adopted as God’s children, we become in ourselves what we already are in Christ. Scripture uses the word adoption (just as it uses the word regeneration) to speak of the deep change in our natures that takes place so that, by grace, we can live the redeemed life—the new, reconciled relationship with God. What Jesus did for us as the Son of God and son of man, the Holy Spirit works out in us, so that by grace we become in our being (nature) the adopted children of God. God is the one who places believers in this renewed relationship with himself—a relationship that affects us down to the roots of our being. Here is how Paul phrased this stunning truth:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Rom. 8:15-16)

This is the truth, the reality, of the redeemed life. As we head into the season of Advent-Christmas, let’s joyfully worship and praise our triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let’s continue celebrating his glorious plan of redemption, brought about by Jesus, the incarnate, eternal Son of God.

Living the redeemed life and loving it,
Joseph Tkach

PS: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday next week, the next issue of GCI Weekly Update will be published on November 29. See you then!