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The Passion of Christ

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:31 PM

I just watched Mel Gibson's interview on ABC News's Primetime. It was pretty good. Gibson for the most part did a good job conveying a remarkably Evangelical standpoint. I'm looking forward to the film, although I hear it is incredibly draining to watch.

Gibson also had a good sense of humor during the interview. He said, when asked if he was going to get back into movies, that he wanted to get away for a while — go where no one could find him. “You know where that is? Where no one can find you? I figure I'm going to set up my tent next to weapons of mass destruction — then no one will be able to find me!”

Did he say that he'd like to kill a New York Times columnist, have his intestines stuck on a pole and kill his dog? “Yes. Although I really regret that statment about the dog. I'd never want to hurt a dog.”

Moving back on the subject… It will be interesting to see how one of the first major Christian motion pictures in decades impacts the nation. I hope, at the very least, it makes people think about more important matters than we generally do… if only for a short while. Maybe it'll be just enough to get them started.


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:51 AM

A friend of mine mentioned the Alpha Course to me a few months ago when I said my church was looking for an evangelistic outreach event. It sounds pretty nice — it's a kind of “Christianity 101,” so to speak. The said person lent me the book the course is based on from Nicky Gumbel too, and I've just started it. It seems pretty good. It has lots of good endorsements — hey, even Rick Warren likes it! ;-)

Anyone familiar with this course? Have you been through it?

Gene Robinson and the Liberal Theological Cancer

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:52 PM

Could God really want this to happen? There are many things that are happening in the church (and always have been) that God clearly wouldn't want (indulgences, rejection of Jesus' resurrection, and many others). The Episcopal Church has been rejecting many “orthodox” beliefs for years now. This is just the icing on the cake, really.

That doesn't mean God isn't in control anymore. However, God doesn't prevent evil from happening in the world, and I believe this is a case of evil occurring. It also doesn't mean God can't use it to His glory at some point, but I can't even begin to speculate how that might happen - perhaps by splitting the denomination, thus keeping the “orthodox” minority separate from the sinking ship of the neo-Christian majority.

The problem I see with the bishop is not that he is committing the sin of being actively homosexual, but that he refuses to see that it is a sin and try to stop. We all sin, but a problem arises when I say “all that stuff in the Bible that literally says such and such is a sin doesn't really mean that — it isn't a sin and I want to encourage others to do as I do.”

Biblically speaking, the bishop should be given the choice to stop committing this sin or be defrocked. Why? A bishop or any other leader all the way down to the pastors and elders are role models for the church — thus they should not willingly participate in continuous blatant sin.

Consider this: Let's say I'm a big liar that lies about everything (I'm not, no, really!). If this problem is brought to my attention, I should seek to stop lying. If I slip every once in awhile, that's one thing. However, if I refuse to even try to stop, that's entirely another. Either way, I'm not really ready for a leadership position until I stop and repent of that sin.

Point: I have nothing against a homosexual bishop. I have a problem against an actively homosexual bishop. If the bishop renounced this activity, he would be a lot better fitted for the job, in my opinion.

I would also note that he has added insult to injury. Not only is he actively homosexual, but also he divorced his wife and left his children so that he could live with his homosexual partner. He has no problem with any of this. Thus he is saying that (1) it wasn't a sin to divorce without a good reason, (2) it wasn't a sin to engage in sexual activity of any orientation outside of marriage and (3) it wasn't a sin to engage in homosexual activity.

It is this attitude of refusing to repent from these sins that disturbs me. Worse, since he wants to indoctrinate others to do the same, the sin he continues in will spread to others in the church.

And homosexuality is just the beginning. Until just days before his election earlier this year, a youth outreach organization he helps to run also promoted other sickening activities such as bestiality on their web site.

So I don't reject him as a bishop for being sinful (we all are). I reject him as a bishop for refusing to admit to his sin, refusing to stop encouraging others to do the same sin, and refusing to repent of his sin.

The dangerous ideology that he (and those like him) promotes is like a slow cancer on a church. It keeps growing and growing. Many members at the local level may ignore this and figure things are still mostly ok. However, I've seen this before: many in the UCC felt the same way that many in the Episcopal church undoubtedly feel now. The only difference is time. To avoid the eventual destruction of the entire Anglican Communion, the other Anglican churches around the world should sever fellowship with the Episcopal church before its ideology spreads to them. Promoting the creation of a new American Anglican church is the best way, and perhaps the only way, to deal with this and other problems within the Episcopal Church.

Happy Reformation Day!

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:43 AM

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517)

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ's merit, are that treasure;

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul's own need, free it for pure love's sake?”

85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”

86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”

88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

This text was converted to ASCII text for Project Wittenberg by Allen Mulvey, and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text.

Compromise and Christianity

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:04 AM

Its main goal, it would seem, is to find problems with Christian musicians and pick them apart. Supposedly “compromised” artists include Michael W. Smith, Nichole Nordeman, Chris Rice, MercyMe and Sixpence None the Richer (that's a nice part of my music playlist there!). Their sins? Well, it varies, but MWS, MercyMe, Darlene Zschech and Sixpence all had at least one common sin: people in the secular world like them! <sarcasm>Isn't that a shame.</sarcasm>

Yikes! I mean, since we're Christians, that means were suppose to make ourselves unlikable, right (I'm not suggesting we conform to the world, but when the world likes stuff about Christianity, is that a problem)? I guess you could say that they are liked because they aren't bold enough, but that isn't necessarily it. MercyMe's I Can Only Imagine doesn't seem to be an attempt to hide their faith (although the site attacks it since it suggests eternal security — I'm assuming the site probably wouldn't like John Calvin then, either).

Michael W. Smith is often attacked on the issue of selling out, and it's rather unfortunate, since he actually has written about the issue. In the companion book to Live the Life (I can't remember the name of the book at the moment), he talked about his early work. He talks about how in the late 80's he tried to make a “cross over” hit. He went light on the message to try to make it appeal — and failed. Badly. After that, he realized how mistaken he was and rededicated himself before starting the next album. That album contained a song that did crossover, My Place in This World. Point of the story: when MWS stayed faithful to God, what he thought he could only do by compromising happened without doing so.

The site also attacks MercyMe and Sixpence for a really ghastly thing: they like — I can barely stand to say it — C.S. Lewis!!! Can you believe it? Seriously, that is one of the points they make. The site attacks C.S. Lewis and his fellow Inklings, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, for using and writing mythology. The site overlooks the fact that C.S. Lewis used his fictional mythology in writings such as the Chronicles of Narnia to illustrate the truth of the Gospel. I'll admit Lewis had some potentially dangerous, neo-liberal beliefs — especially about his interpretation of the Old Testament. Still, Lewis was also clearly used by God (in my opinion) and created some of the best, most concise, most important works of the 20th century (Mere Christianity, in particular).

The site also leveled attacks at Smith for starting a ministry that used a night club-like atmosphere, complete with a dance floor and live music. This is “evil” for two reasons apparently. (1) Smith shouldn't create an atmosphere like that of the world — even if it avoids the evil things, if it sortof kinda looks like something people might like about the world — it's evil. (2) Smith is targeting this toward teens — Jesus, we are told by the site, never ever targeted a certain age group, He only spoke to everyone. Is it just me, or does it actually make sense to try to use different means to appeal to different people, since a 70 year old will most likely be drawn by different types of outreach than a 16 year old? The site also attacks Smith for claiming that if Jesus was around today he'd probably be ministering in bars and other such places claiming he would not (then why was he always hanging around tax collectors and prostitutes — He, as he told the Pharisees, was on the earth to minister to the sick).

The author also attacks Smith for his past (which, before accepting Jesus as his savior) in which he was addicted to drugs (in the late 70's, IIRC). Rather than focus on the fact that Smith has repented of these actions, the author wonders how Smith will explain this to his children and points out that saying “don't do this” was what caused Adam and Eve to sin. Okay, so what does this guy want? No one can undo their past, all you can do is try to do your best from this day forward. “For there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).

The Pharisaic author levels many other attacks. The author accuses, without any information as to why, Chris Rice and Darlene Zschech (of Hillsongs Australia) of being compromisers, as well. Maybe Rice is a compromiser since he is signed up with Smith's record company, which in turn is another reason why Smith is a compromiser — his Christian music label. So Smith is a compromiser because Rice is a compromiser because… Cyclic reasoning makes it true, right?

Sixpence gets in trouble for quoting scripture too. One song is based on 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul writes about the importance of love. The author of the site quotes the song out of context to make it look like an attack on God's love or some such. In reality, it is a song that shows the singer as someone who appears to be in the middle of realizing they are just a “clanging symbol” or a “noisy gong” (those phrases are used by Paul and used in the song). Sixpence also gets in trouble for referring to wisdom personally (metaphorically, of course), even though Proverbs does the same. “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” (Proverbs 4:6)

Sixpence and Smith also get attacked for something that has been a big bugaboo of mine. They don't have enough Christian keywords.™ Overlooking the ironic that Sixpence also gets in trouble for some of their songs being based on Scripture, let's consider this attack. Not everyone of their songs mentions the word “God.” One song that encounters the site's wrath is Love Me Good by Smith, an admittedly somewhat strange song — IIRC, it even says it's somewhat strange in the cover booklet in MWS's Live the Life album. It isn't Christian because it doesn't have the word God in it. Never mind that it includes the lyric “Let us take a moment now, to bow our heads and pray,” that isn't good enough.

And this is the thing that really inspired me to write this. I'm tired of people insisting on the requirement of certain keywords or phrases needing to be said to be “Christian.” Including the word “God” in a song just to meet the world's requirements seems to be treading close to taking God's name in vain.

This week's chapters in the Purpose Driven Life fit in here. God doesn't desire our empty worship that has the right words and phrases. God desires our heart, mind and strength. If I can't worship God through even things that aren't “religious” then I'm not really having a personal relationship with God. The person (or persons) who wrote that site fails to realize I can worship God just by doing a good job at the things he created me to do.

As a writer, according to the logic this site applies (and really, many people apply) to Christian music, I'm a sellout if I write about GNU/Linux or other “secular” matters. Really, if you apply that standard to most people, they are sellouts, since very few people spend most of their time working on “religious” (in the world's view) things. Not that I wouldn't love the chance to devote my work to ministry, but if, for the moment, it is God's will for me to do a good job doing something else, that isn't selling out.

Wow. I never thought I'd manage to tie this rant to anything and yet I was able to relate it to the 40 Days of Purpose… not bad, huh?

Got Purpose?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:13 AM

Here's something for those of you participating in the 40 Days of Purpose… My “Got Purpose?” wallpaper, based on the similar design by PurposeDriven and Outreach Marketing for signage. It's on a GNU/Linux (or actually, KDE) art site, but it should work on any OS. It's not terribly fancy, but I thought I'd just mention it — you can get it here.

Simulcast -- Two Thumbs Up

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:19 AM

Well, I wasn't so sure about a 1 1/2 hour simulcast (or actually non-simulcast — getting the satellite feed was too costly, so we opted for the DVD version) that much, but it was very good. Rick Warren was a good enough speaker to make the time go by fast, not bad considering, as the pastor's son said, “it was like five of your sermons.” :-)

Indeed, it sort of was like 5 sermonettes, a preview of the next six weeks worth of sermons. It was interluded with videos as well as several musical performances, including one from Natalie Grant.

It was also nice because we got to watch it in the Southwestern Bell Auditorium at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, our church's next door neighbor. They were kind enough to open their spectacular doors for the evening, allowing us to use the theater and then their main “lobby” (the word doesn't do justice for the size) area afterwards. It comfortably held the 250-300 church members that went.

It was neat to see, considering that the Danforth Plant Science Center is one of the foremost bio-tech research centers in the world. It's a collaboration between Washington University in St. Louis and Monsanto Co. We have at least one Center employee that is a member of our church and a scientist that worked there that attended our church while in the U.S. So, there were a variety of reasons that it was interesting to go into the building that casts it shadow on ours.

But back to the actual point of the night. It was a good start to the 40 Days. For anyone whose church is saving the simulcast for tomorrow — I think you'll really enjoy it.

In case you haven't been here today due to BlogRolling being down, read on to the next post about Christopher's internet small group.

40 Days of Purpose Internet Group

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:06 PM

Well, Christopher had a good idea: he started a bulletin board based small group for those away at school that wanted to join in on the 40 Days of Purpose at his church. He was also kind enough to invite any of his blogging friends that might want to join, to do so.

Well, I've joined, and he said I could invite readers to join as well. If you'd like to take part in the 40 Days of Purpose with Christopher's small internet group, you can leave a note in the comments on his site and do so. Just click here.

This could be really interesting. I've often thought an internet small group might be neat (after all, in a slightly larger format, CS-FSLUG's CS-BibleStudy always worked well), but I hadn't thought about one for the 40 Days of Purpose. Why not give it a whirl?

The Demise of the UCC, Part 2: Crisis in the Church

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:45 AM
At one o'clock sharp, the congregation convened to choose what to do with the results of the two-year old Role in the UCC committee's findings on the United Church of Christ. With very little descention voiced, the decision was clear: 92.5% of those attended voted to sever ties with the successor denomination to the one the 155-year old congregation had been affiliated with since the beginning in 1843.

The decision sent shockwaves through the Biblical Witness Fellowship, the UCC renewal organization that St. Paul's had been deeply involved in. With St. Paul's Sr. Pastor Mark Friz on the Fellowship's national board and St. Paul's Spiritual Council serving as the evaluation body for BWF scholarships, those involved with the BWF realized this was a major and serious move.

The disaffiliation process also caught the attention of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which did a half-page story on the subject the next day. St. Paul's was one of the largest churches in the UCC's Missouri Conference, but those watching the event rightly would see this as just one church in a growing trend to escape the collapsing denomination to avoid going down with it.

Heresy Spreads
Last time we worked up to the 80's in UCC History. In 1982, Dr. Theodore L. Trost, Jr., after considering the revision of the UCC's Book of Worship, wrote “Like Marcion of old, I'm afraid the UCC wants to rewrite the Christian faith in terms of here own current, ideological bias. But this is to wander into the sidepaths of Hersey. The tragedy of much that is included in these proposed Services (Book of Worship) is that their content further moves us into the map of sectarian Christianity and thereby destroys the unity of the Church.”1 (emphasis mine.)

By the middle 1980's, what had begun as the 1977 Sexuality Report had ballooned; one department of the UCC had been commissioned to “develop resources on human sexuality for use in local churches” and to “collect and continue to update information about the nature of human sexuality, including variations in sexual orientation and behavior, seeking to provide material appropriate for use with all age groups and making this information available for study by churches.”2

During the General Synod session in 1985, what was already clear to many would be made even clearer. The UCC was abandoning any semblance of Biblical morality, urging congregations to not only be open to, but also to affirm persons of lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientation. The member churches of the UCC were being softened for the onslaught that would occur in the 1990's.

By 1991, the UCC would recognize the “common ground” between its sexuality studies and that of the Unitarian Universalists, and the two groups convened the Human Sexuality Education Taskforce. Within just three decades of its founding, the UCC's views were beginning to take facets of the UU's beliefs, or lack there of.

The UCC's similarities with the UU wouldn't remain merely in the department of sexual morality. 1995 brought on the concept of “Deep Ecumenism,” promoted as the logical successor to the ecumenical movement between the mainline denominations. Deep Ecumenism moves from cooperation and recognition of other denominations into cooperation and recognition of other “faith traditions.”

Dr. Trost's 1982 letter would appear prophetical by this point as the UCC completely removed any attempt at remaining true to its biblical heritage and would now show its true colors in full. In the midst of this, those leading the UCC were warned that their current path would lead to accelerated decline within the denomination, which has lost churches every year since its formation in 1957, but the UCC leadership made it clear that it did not care.

The 90's would yield three immensely controversial and divisive publications: The New Century Hymnal, as well as the Affirming Persons and Our Whole Lives Sunday School materials. Affirming Persons was published in 1994 targeted at every age level of children's' Sunday School.

This material effectively demonstrates the moral decay of the UCC. Here are a few excerpts from the 5-6 grade materials (10-11 year olds), some of this is a bit more graphic than I'd normally post on my site, so you may want to skip over these quotes.

The introduction to the materials for 10-11 year olds:
“This is, in many ways, the pivotal Learning Series of the entire Affirming Persons-Saving Lives curriculum. Children in this age group are on the brink of a dramatic expansion of their world, which promises new experiences, increasing independence and a variety of relationships, possibly including sexual relationships.”

Then here are some excerpts of what the Sunday School teacher is suppose to say and do:
“Tell the children: 'When people talk about 'sex' it can mean a lot of different things. People can have sex with someone else or have sex with themselves.”
“Write the term 'sexual intercourse' on the newsprint. Then say: 'Usually, when people talk about 'having sex' or 'making love,' they are referring to two people being sexual with each other in a way that involves genital contact. This is called 'sexual intercourse.' Sexual intercourse means being sexual with another person in a way that involves the genitals—the penis or the vagina.'

“Forms of Sexual Intercourse: Tell the children '…There are three forms of sexual intercourse.' Write the term 'vaginal intercourse' on the newsprint … Vaginal intercourse means contact between the male penis and the female vagina. This is also the way human beings reproduce and make babies.

“Write the term 'oral intercourse' on the newsprint. Then say: 'another form of sexual intercourse is oral intercourse … Oral refers to the mouth or tongue. So, oral intercourse is contact between the mouth and the genitals. … sexually active people may use their mouths for kissing and for engaging in oral intercourse.' ”

“Write the term 'Anal Intercourse' on the newsprint. Then say: 'Anal intercourse means contact between the penis and the anus or rectum … Both men and women may engage in anal intercourse … some of these behaviors may seem strange to you now, but there are many different ways that two people can express their sexuality with each other. Sexual partners have the right to choose how they will express their sexuality in private.

Keep in mind, this is material targeted at pre-teens and is “Sunday School material.” Of course, this fits with the “whatever feels good” mentality of the secular humanists. I emphasize this is very real material coming out of the UCC and not materials that were just being considered.

Perhaps even more controversial, since it would be hard to miss its impact, whereas some might be unaware that their church had started Affirming Persons, is the New Century Hymnal (NCH), released in 1995. The hymnal project was a large scale production, which was not, to the best of my knowledge, based on any previous E&R or UCC hymnals. In fact, one might even wonder if it was based on any existing hymns — perhaps that's an exaggeration, but not much of one.

Reading the UCC's own description of the NCH makes clear that the intentions of the Hymnal were quite agreeable with the so-called “re-imaging” movement. “The only hymnal released by a Christian church that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God,” the information proudly proclaims. Hmm… why would it be that no other Christian churches have hymnals that honor both male and female images of God? It couldn't possibly be because the Bible clearly illustrates that God is male, could it?

According to the Biblical Witness Fellowship, “We found 304 of the NCH hymns in other hymnals. Often the words were so changed that we could only find them using the tune indexes, not by first line.” The report on the NCH continued, “Of these 304 traditional hymns, 45 were unchanged or virtually unchanged. 259 had significant word changes.”

The BWF report also includes excerpts from some of the hymns. Here are a few of the quotes:

#560 - By Whatever Name We Call You — “By whatever name we call you Fashioner of spheres, you are grander, so much wiser than our minds perceive. Labels limit understanding, God, you have no peers. So, we question - changing, growing - wanting to believe.”
#11 - Bring Many Names — “Strong mother God, working night and day, planning all the wonders of creation, setting each equation, genius at play … .”Old, aching God, grey with endless care, calmly piercing evil's new disguises, glad of good surprises, wiser than despair …”Young, growing God, eager, on the move, saying no to falsehood and unkindness, crying out for justice, giving all you have …”

The BWF also provides a full text comparison of How Great Thou Art and its “replacement” in the New Century Hymnal, known as “O Mighty God, When I Survey in Wonder.” I encourage you to read the mutilation of How Great Thou Art and the rest of the NCH saga on the Biblical Witness Fellowship's web site.

Sadly the UCC's activities are more than just talk and publication. I have heard reports from around the country of terrible heresies taking place in United Church of Christ churches. One person told me that in his former church they invited a Native American “witch doctor” to summon good spirits and the like. A elderly couple at our church came to my church after being kicked out of their UCC church by the pastor for voicing concern over the New Century Hymnal, after attending that church all of their lives.

And then there is the issue I mentioned in passing — re-imaging. The UCC has supported the Re-imaging Conference in the Minnapolis/St. Paul, which promotes goddess worship. UCC sponsored events, including this year's Synod, have had the central theme of worshiping “Mother Nature.” The UCC has taken hold of Sophia worship too, going so far as to have seminars in which communion was replaced with bread and honey, which is more traditional of goddess worship.

This year's synod's symbol was the “Earth Mother” (Gaia). That might have been bad enough, but the order of “worship” for the first day was also arranged to recognize the “feminine” side of God. I feel filthy just writing such blasphemous statements, even if I am only quoting what they are saying. One hymn's words include the reference to “mother earth and father sky” — if the UCC thinks Greek mythology is so great, why don't they just admit it and become Hellenistic polytheists.

The UCC has also promoted and, to the best of my knowledge, fully agrees with the opinions of the infamous Jesus Seminar. Even liberal pastor friends of mine cringe at some of the opinions of the Jesus Seminar!

Yet, this is where the UCC is. Sadly, the UCC is hurdling forward with extreme inclusitivity. In the process, the UCC has become a massive political machine attempting to support and promote the ideology of the far left. The UCC has condemned those who support a ban on partial birth abortion. The UCC compared American troops in Iraq to a Nazi occupation. The UCC is even fighting against using Federal Funds to repair the church were Paul Revere hung his lantern, lest the secularization (oops… I mean separation) of church and state be “damaged.”

While many organizations are pressing against the orthodoxy and even neo-orthodoxy of Christianity, few have done so to the extent of the United Church of Christ. One joke that has circulated among Unitarians suggests that UCC really stands for “Unitarians Considering Christ.” While it is a joke, it is hard not to see the truth in it. As official beliefs go, the UCC's main theological difference with the Unitarians would have to be the remnants of Trinitarian belief. Yet, as the denomination seeks to find new, inclusive language even for the Trinity itself, I wonder how long even that will remain within the beliefs of the UCC.

While I hate to say it, I honestly wonder how long we can continue to consider the UCC Christian rather than classifying with other “almost Christian” faiths such as Mormonism and Russelism (Jehovah's Witnesses). While a big difference that some evangelicals remain in the UCC, at least as far as official positions go, there is increasingly small common ground between the UCC and Biblical Christianity.

The denomination of my youth, I am sad to say, fits all the requirements of a non-Christian cult. While I pray for restoration and reformation, I fear it might be too late. The denomination, or whatever it is now, has become a liability for those evangelicals still in it and for seekers who do not realize its increasingly anti-Christian theology.

That is why 92.5% of the congregation at St. Paul's realized our time in the UCC was over. With that, St. Paul's became the second largest church up to that point to leave the UCC. In my next post I'll consider others who have left and what has formed around them to support such churches.

1 “BWF - 25 Years of Prophetic Witness.” The Witness, 12. Summer 2003.
2 From the UCC Our Whole Lives web site,

No Greater Love

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:40 AM

In sacrificing their lives for the Gospel, these missionaries opened up the door for the eventual entry of the Gospel into the Auca society through Elizabeth Elliot. The Gospel transformed the Aucas dramatically lowering the homicide rate and causing the tribe to get an entirely new focus… on God.

Yet, to do this, these missionaries with their entire life ahead of them, gave their lives. In perhaps a reflection of the dangers he and his team were about to subject themselves to, Jim Elliot stated “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” What a powerful testimony of faith.

I sit here and I wonder, if God called me to travel to some remote part of the world, would I have the immediate willingness of these men? Would I view my own survival as unimportant if it meant the spread of the Word of God? I'd like to say I would, but I wonder — it is easy to say that typing from the comfort of my computer chair, what if I were in that small yellow biplane heading for the territory of a tribe I thought would probably kill me? Could I really do it?

I'm not sure what kind of conclusion is appropriate. These are just the thoughts that strike me tonight. I know I want to be like those five. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to wonder whether I would be.

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