The Anchor of God's Two Books

Dear Church Family,

Many Christians know and refer to the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians as “the love chapter.” Because of its description of the epitome of love, 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. As Paul begins to summarize his thoughts, near the end of that chapter, he speaks of how the Christian longs to see His Savior in glory and to be made perfect: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). As he makes this point, he provides an illustration from everyday life:

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

 

Call me a cynic or a pessimist, but I think this illustration is probably lost on most people today. You see, in this illustration, Paul is making a value judgment which he assumes to be universal (perhaps it was at the time): mature character is a virtue; childishness is a vice. Speaking, thinking, and reasoning as an adult is to be preferred to speaking, thinking, and reasoning as a child.

So why do I think that Paul’s illustration would probably be lost on most people today? Because, according to the ethos of our modern popular culture, there is no objective standard of what it means to be human as defined by our Creator (I’ve previously written about the givenness of what it means to be human, as well as the loss of the idea of human nature).

In my own estimation, this denial of inherent creational standards is manifested today in the intersection of a youth-centric culture and transgenderism (or anti-genderism).

A Youth-Centric Culture

Most of the popular culture that we consume encourages childish speaking, thinking, and reasoning. Ken Myers writes that in popular culture,

Youth itself is transformed from a matter of age into an ambiguous matter of attitude, defined by its rejection of boredom and its celebration of movement, change, energy: that is, fun. And this celebration is lived out in and inscribed upon the body in dance, sex, drugs, fashion, style and even the music itself. By contrast, in the view of biblical personhood, adulthood is a desirable telos. Paul regularly talks about perfection and completeness and maturity as aims for disciples. (Ken Myers, “Is Popular Culture Either?”)

 

Where once Paul could argue based upon the assumption that “adulthood is a desirable telos,” modern popular culture targets the youth, but seeks to increase its market-share by making adults nostalgic for the childishness of the youth culture.

Though anecdotal evidence, I couldn’t help but notice this extoling – and catering to – the youth culture in A-ha’s recent acoustic recording of “Take on Me.” In the video, the members of A-ha (now in their late fifties) sing a haunting version of their 1985 hit while middle-aged women weep and swoon, reliving the days of their romanticized youth. In our age of distraction, nostalgic sentimentality (which used to be something that one tried to avoid) has displaced wrestling with reality and the pursuit of man’s chief end (WSC 1).

Transgenderism (or Anti-Genderism)

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America removed the restrictions that denied membership to youth based upon “sexual orientation.” Two years later, it lifted the ban on gay leaders. Earlier this year, it opened enrollment to “transgender boys.” In the latest casting off of any sort of recognition of the created order, last week the “Boy” Scouts opened its membership to girls, removing any notion of divinely-ordered gender differences.

This acceptance of “anti-genderism” is ubiquitous in popular culture. One can’t watch a television show today without the obligatory homosexual or “gender-neutral” character popping up. Again, as Ken Myers writes:

[The] invitation to moral autonomy is like a powerful bribe offered by popular culture. And what does it have to lose? Absolutely nothing. In fact, if you accept the bribe, you’ll give them money, either by buying their product or by watching their program. (Ken Myers, All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes, 69)

 

Modern individualism encourages each person to define their own social and aesthetic reality “apart from considerations about how the creation is ordered” (All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes, 85). In keeping with the desire to speak, think, and reason like a child, popular culture teaches us to not submit to the Creator who has made this world (and us) a certain way. Instead, we are encouraged to, like a spoiled child, throw a temper-tantrum and try to force the world to conform to our own individual whims.

Conclusion

In our youth-centric and anti-genderism culture, Christians must look to God’s two books of revelation (Scripture and nature (or the created-order)) as anchors of truth.

Scripture calls us to “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Nature teaches us that we are to put away childish things (speaking, thinking, and reasoning like a child), and maturation and wisdom are virtues to be desired.

Scripture tells us that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Nature teaches us that there are inherent and complementary differences between men and women, that these differences are a given, and that they are to be celebrated.

So, as Christians, we recognize that God speaks to us about these things in the two books of Scripture and nature. And, as these two books are in agreement. God’s revelation gives us anchors to cling to amidst the ever-changing winds of popular culture. As Christians, it behooves us, therefore, to give priority (in our submission and our time) to God’s truth, revealed in His two books, and not to the wisdom of the world.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Improving Our Baptism

Dear Church Family,

This past Sunday, we had the privilege of participating in the reception of a family into membership and the sacrament of baptism. I deliberately use the word “participating” rather than “observing” in an effort to remind us that all of the worship service is to be participatory. Even when it seems like we are passive observers, like during the sermon, our confession reminds us that we should employ careful listening (“conscionable hearing of the Word,” WCF 21.5). We are actively participating. And, so it is with the reception of new members and the sacrament of baptism.

One of the ways that we participate in receiving new members and the baptism of other people is by remembering our own vows of membership and the meaning of our own baptism. It’s sort of like when a married couple attends a wedding. In observing the vows that are taken by the newlyweds, those in attendance are reminded of their own wedding vows; and, they ought to consider ways that they may renew and recommit themselves to those vows which were made many years before.

Participating in the baptism of another person is sort of like that. For this reason, the Westminster Larger Catechism reminds us of when, and how, we are to improve our baptism:

WLC 167  How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavouring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

 

This catechism question exhorts us to “improve our baptism” (to work out the implications of our baptism in our daily lives): (1) all our life long; (2) especially in the time of temptation; and (3) when we are present at the administration of it to others.

Then, the catechism lists several ways as to how to we are to improve our baptism. For better understanding and application to our lives, I’ve broken these down and fleshed them out into five categories:

(1) We improve our baptism by serious and thankful consideration of…

  1. The nature of baptism: baptism symbolizes our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5), the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
  2. The ends for which Christ instituted baptism: baptism reminds us of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection by which we might walk in newness of life.
  3. The privileges and benefits conferred and sealed by baptism: baptism marks us as belonging to Christ and to His church.
  4. Our solemn vow made in our baptism: whether a person was baptized as an infant or upon profession of faith, believers have vowed to submit and follow Christ above all others.

(2) We improve our baptism by being humbled for:

  1. Our sinful defilement: we confess the remnants of corruption that still remains in us.
  2. Our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements: we confess our “passive” and “active” sins (“the want of conformity unto, and transgression of the law of God,” WSC 14; Romans 6:2).

(3) We improve our baptism by growing up into assurance of:

  1. Pardon of sin: baptism reminds us that through the resurrection of Christ, God has forgiven our sin. Just as Noah and his family were brought safely through the waters of God’s judgment in the ark, baptism reminds us that Christ died for our sins once for all, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18-22).
  2. All other blessings sealed to us in baptism: like circumcision of the old covenant, baptism is a sign and seal of the new covenant in which God promises to credit Christ’s righteousness to all those who believe and trust in Him (Romans 4:11-12).

(4) We improve our baptism by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized for (Romans 6:5-18):

  1. The mortifying of sin: by faith, we have been united to Christ in His death; therefore, we have died to sin and are no longer enslaved to it.
  2. The quickening of grace: by faith, we have been united to Christ in His resurrection; therefore, we have been made alive in Him and become slaves of righteousness.

(5) We improve our baptism by endeavoring to live by faith:

  1. To have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have given up our names to Christ: (the older definition of “conversation” is “conduct or behavior”) baptism symbolizes how, by faith in Christ, we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Thus, we are freed from sin and enslaved to God, resulting in our sanctification (Romans 6:22).
  2. To walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body: by one Spirit, we are baptized into one body, the body of Christ, the church. Therefore, we are to care for, suffer and rejoice with, other believers in the church body.

Conclusion

If I were to simplify the teaching of this catechism question (perhaps over-simplify it), I would boil it down to three points that we ought to remember about baptism, three points that will help us to work out the implications of our baptism in our daily lives:

(1) Baptism reminds us of God’s promise to forgive our sins, make us new creations, and give us eternal life.

(2) Baptism reminds us of that in order for us to receive and benefit from God’s promises made in baptism, we must place our faith in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.

(3) Baptism reminds us that the Lord calls us, by the help of the promised Holy Spirit, to walk in newness of life – to die to sin and to live unto righteousness.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

A Wooden Pastoral Refelction

Dear Church Family,

This week marks my five-year anniversary as the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church. Please forgive my reminiscing. It all began when I submitted my packet of information to the pastoral search committee in May of 2012. Then, in June, I received a phone call from one of the elders of Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, TX. Thus began a whirlwind of a candidating process. In July, my wife and I visited from New Jersey and I preached here at PPC; by the end of the month, I received and accepted the call to be the pastor. In August, Stacie and I returned to Midland to house-hunt and then to Dallas to transfer to the North Texas Presbytery. We moved from New Jersey to Midland in September, and I preached my first sermon as the new pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church on Sunday, October 7th.

A Pastoral Philosophy of Ministry

When I interviewed with the pastoral search committee, I submitted my ‘philosophy of ministry’ for the pastorate. It consisted (and continues to consist) of three main points:

(1) Be a suffering servant – The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Therefore, Paul boasts in his weakness, rather than in his own strength. Each of us, but especially the pastor, ought to be pursuing weakness so that the power of Christ is manifested. The see-saw ethics of the kingdom tell us that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16), the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), and that God has chosen the weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:20). Many in the church, by the mere nature of his job, put the pastor on a pedestal. Therefore, the pastor ought to do everything he can to show the power of Christ manifested in his weakness, rather than in his strength.

(2) Know the manuals – Section three of the preface to the Book of Church Order reads, “The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.” A pastor should know Scripture above all and rely upon it in all that he does (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In addition, he should know our confessional documents which contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. Finally, he must know and consult the Book of Church Order for guidance in the everyday affairs of the church.

(3) Love the church – Loving the Church is a way in which we love Christ. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, he then said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he said, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus so identified with his people, the church, that persecuting them meant persecuting their Lord. The things which we ought to be concerned about are the things which Jesus is concerned about, namely His people (Philippians 2:20-21).

Finding a Pastoral Fit

This milestone has also caused me to reminisce a bit about what drew us here to this church in particular. You see, in the process of seeking a pastoral call, I considered over fifty churches, and interviewed, preached, and even candidated at several. So, in addition to this church’s biblical adherence, confessional commitment, and warm hospitality, there were three basic criteria that I was looking for in a church – three criteria that I used to help determine if I would be a good fit as the pastor.

Of course, I didn’t share these criteria with pulpit committees during the candidating process; however, since being ordained in 1999, through various ministerial experiences both in the church and in the army chaplaincy, these are three things that I’ve learned are important for a pastor to consider. And, these three criteria assume that the church is doctrinally sound in its theology and practice. Here they are:

(1) A biblical view of the pastor’s role and ‘job description’: In Scripture, a minister’s role has basically two emphases: preaching/teaching (proclamation and teaching the Word, 1 Timothy 4:11-16) and shepherding (spiritual care of the congregation, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Of course, there are a lot of other things that a pastor is called to do; however, pastors are primarily called to be ministers of the Word and shepherds of the flock.

(2) Wise, confessional, and shepherding elders: Elders are charged to guard themselves and the flock (Acts 20:28), and there are qualifications that are peculiar to the office (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Additionally, the pastor must be able to trust the elders of the church, both personally and ministerially. Personally, the elders are usually those in the church to whom the pastor first turns for spiritual care, to pastor him. Ministerially, the pastor works with the elders in shepherding to the church. So, it’s imperative that the pastor and the elders have a mutual respect and affection for one another.

(3) Reformed and reverent worship: As the one who is primarily responsible for planning and leading the church’s worship, it’s critical that the pastor and the church be in agreement as to what worship ought to be and how it ought to be conducted. Of course, there are going to be varied preferences, but there ought to at least be some semblance of a shared commitment to a particular form of worship.

For years, I have kept a daily personal journal of activities and significant events. Before even receiving the call to be the pastor – and in light of these three criteria – I wrote in my journal that Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, TX “seems to be a perfect fit.”

Renewed Pastoral Promises

After receiving the call to come be the pastor of this church, I sent a letter of thanks and introduction to the congregation. In that letter, I made some promises which I renew today:

For my part, I promise to guard both myself and my teaching, to persevere in the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching, and in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, to show myself to be an example of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:11-16). I will endeavor to labor among you in gentleness, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children; I will endeavor to labor among you devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly, exhorting, encouraging, and imploring just as a father would his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). As I seek to be an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I commit to praying for each one of you and your families. Please pray for me and my family.

 

Conclusion

So, this week marks my five-year anniversary as the pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church. Most people know the big anniversaries: twenty-five is silver and fifty is golden. Well, I looked it up; apparently, five is wooden. So, consider this my “wooden pastoral reflection.”

Since coming to Midland and Providence Presbyterian Church five years ago, our family has grown (not in numbers, but in maturity); here’s a picture of our family from May 2012, just so you can see how much.  In the past five years, there have been changes in our church, as well; some members have moved away and others have joined.

As I reflect on the past five years of life and ministry, I am grateful to the Lord for bringing us to this church. I am humbled by the privilege of being your pastor, and am grateful for the love, care, and friendship that my family and I have in this congregation.

Allow me to close with how I began my letter of introduction five years ago: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, Texas. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Idea of Human Nature

Dear Church Family,

In our Men’s Discipleship Group that meets on Tuesday mornings, we have begun reading and discussing the book All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture by Ken Myers. In our discussion this week, we were discussing a particular passage from the book:

Despite perennial protests over sex and violence on television, lewd rock lyrics, and pornography sold at convenience stores, evangelical Christians remain relatively oblivious to the problems associated with popular culture. This is in part because American evangelicalism has its roots in populist culture…Evangelicals have always been partial to (in fact, they may even be defined by their sympathy to) great communicators, from John Wesley and George Whitefield, to Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday, to the greatest communicator of the twentieth century: television. (22)

 

This passage and our subsequent discussion in the men’s group about American evangelicalism’s affinity, and sometimes infatuation, with personalities and celebrities reminded me of something that I had previously come across in David F. Wells’ book, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. Wells writes:

In the late nineteenth century…several important shifts occurred, the end result of which was the loss in popular culture of the idea of human nature. This came about along an entirely different route than the one the Enlightenment had taken, but the conclusion reached nevertheless paralleled the ideas of the Enlightenment. This happened in several ways. (49)

 

The Loss of the Idea of Human Nature

Wells then goes on to describe the three ways in which the idea of human nature has been lost in popular culture:

(1) The first major shift was the replacement of Virtue by values. As Wells explains, Virtue was historically defined as those aspects of ‘the Good’ that are the same for all people, in all places, at all time. As Christians, we believe that this universal Virtue is the divinely revealed moral law which is “summarily comprehended in the ten commandments” (WSC 41). Yet, even unbelievers believed in the objective Virtue (the Good) that gave life its structure and meaning. Virtue, however, was slowly replaced in the wider culture by values (personal preferences).

(2) Second, in popular culture, there was a shift from focusing on character to focusing on personality. This shift is directly related to the former one: when virtues are replaced by values, self-realization and self-expression are the desired end, not good character. No longer was inner moral fabric a concern, only how one appeared to others.

(3) The third shift had to do with how speaking of human nature was replaced by speaking of the self. Whatever peoples’ differences with regard to gender, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, or personality, it was assumed that everyone shared in human nature. The emphasis shifted, though, to speaking of one’s self-consciousness and definition of how he or she was different from everyone else. “The moral axis in life has collapsed and has been replaced by the assumption that each person must be his or her own person, must pursue one’s own uniqueness, must realize oneself, must make of oneself what one can, and must buy whatever will bring her or him to these ends.” (51-52)

So, what’s the answer?

In light of these shifts, what should Christians do? Well, as these three shifts are contrary to the assumptions of Scripture, and Scripture itself, we should resist these shifts and how they influence us and our culture. But, how do we do that? Well, I believe that there are two things that would help us immensely to live faithfully in a culture that is marked by these shifts in thinking.

First, we need to be more aware and attuned to how pervasive these shifts were. Values over Virtue, personality over character, and individual self over a shared human nature are so ubiquitous that it’s practically impossible to notice any more. That’s one of the reasons that we’re reading the book on popular culture in our Men’s Discipleship Group: to make us more aware of the ways in which our own thinking has been influenced to such an extent by the priorities of popular culture.

Second, we need to think of – and present the gospel – in a way that doesn’t succumb to these false notions of popular culture. In order to not be thought of as arrogant, we’re tempted to say things like, “For me, Jesus’ death and resurrection was the answer.” True, but actually, for everyone, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the answer.” The gospel is the good news that the Son of God died and rose again in order to forgive our sins and give us new life. That’s not merely something that I value, it’s objectively true. As Paul writes, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And, because we all share in the same (fallen) human nature, the gospel is not just for one group or kind of people; the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Conclusion

When we become more aware of how influenced we have become by these shifts in thinking, we will be better able to resist them in our own minds and gain a renewed awareness of the objectivity of the gospel itself. In turn, we will grow in our own personal assurance of salvation because we will realize that the power of the gospel is not dependent upon myself, but upon the Lord who began a good work in us, and He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Likewise, when we come to realize the objectivity of the gospel (in contrast to how most people today think of religious convictions as subjective beliefs), we will be a better witness to the world. Not only will we gain confidence in the gospel for our personal assurance, but we will also gain confidence in the outward proclamation of the gospel to the world.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch