Why I’m Thankful for the Biblical Commitment of Our Denomination: On the Eve of General Assembly 2022 in Birmingham, AL

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

Blessed in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

As our city of Birmingham prepares to host the General Assembly of the PCA, the annual gathering of pastors and elders, I’m thankful for our denomination. I have been an ordained “teaching elder” in the Presbyterian Church in America for almost 20 years. I’m definitely encouraged to see other Biblically focused denominations in our nation and around the world, and I know we in the PCA certainly have issues we regularly seek to work through, but I’ve been greatly blessed by those who have gone before me and by my brothers and sisters in the denomination currently. 

Why be “denominational”?

Before talking about some reasons for my thankfulness, I probably should answer a question some may ask in our “non-denominational” era. While I understand the impetus for both pastors and church members to seek such an unaffiliated church, I have always felt I needed the accountability and the structure of a committed network of churches. At the end of the day, every “non-denominational” church must decide what it believes about debated biblical matters and church practices – who to baptize and when, what type of leadership structure, what theological framework, and so forth. Denominations at their best are simply groups of churches and church leaders who have agreement on these matters. I value both the agreed theological framework and the connectional life of the PCA. Furthermore, knowing my weakness and the ways I have seen other church leaders stumble, I’m concerned whenever I see pastors live outside of accountable networks of peers.

Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

One of the things I love about our particular affiliation is our consistent commitment to the Bible as the “only infallible rule for faith and practice.” In the 20 years I have been in the PCA, and for that matter, in the 27 years prior to that, I have seen that manmade culture blows wherever it will,usually with devastating consequences. Proverbs 3:5-6 provided a central message of conviction and encouragement for me in my conversion – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” A central step of my coming to faith in Christ was realizing not just that I did things that were wrong to others, but that I offended God with the things I did and did not do, and that the very framework I had in my mind for living was prone to be out of alignment with the flourishing path of God’s revealed commands. As one both morally and mentally out of alignment, I was so thankful to realize God’s grace to me through the atoning work of Christ, and hopefully continue to grow in that gratitude every day.

Fruitful “Study Committee Reports”

In light of this, I’m regularly refreshed by a denomination where “Study Committees” assess pressing matters, seeking to acknowledge Him and follow his direction from a Biblical framework. We in the PCA can undoubtedly be too cognitive, and maybe to some seem overly precise, but as I read the Scriptures, God is quite interested in how His people and His church will live out His will. We should never prescribe where He has been silent, but we also should not fail to speak where He has done so if we hope to be a people of God who glorify Him as He has designed and as we seek to be salt and light in this needy world.

To that end, I would commend to anyone, the “Position Papers” as they were more commonly called in the past, or just “Study Committee Reports” as we seem to prefer to call them today, from over 4 decades of our history. You can see the list of them all here. These are non-binding but, when received by the General Assembly, certainly to be understood as a valid expression of denominational views at the time of publishing. 

Presently our denomination is greatly focused on matters of sexuality, and specifically homosexuality. I am thankful for a denomination that proclaims God’s free grace to those who have repented of sexual sin (heterosexual or homosexual), and by faith alone have received the righteousness of Christ. I praise God, that although glorifying God with my own sexuality remains a daily journey of sanctification for me and I have a far from perfect track record, I can know God’s plan for fidelity in heart, mind and action. As a student of history, I know that we live in a very particular moment in a particular American societal framework, and that people in other times, and presently in other places were not perfect in their understanding of God’s design for sexual flourishing. Nevertheless, we have made decisions as churches and as a society going back to the 1960s and 70s, to ignore Jesus’s challenge to recognize the lustful look as adultery, to abandon the idea that God has a purpose in sexuality within a lifelong committed marriage of one man and one woman, and more recently to reject God’s design for sex to be an activity of a male and a female, rather than any other formulations. To any open to insight from the Lord on these matters, I would commend these Biblically based studies on the topic (2021 Report and 1980 Report), and also Kevin DeYoung’s book. Or for more general understanding of the comprehensive message of the Bible about sexuality, Paul David Tripp’s book. Whatever the outworking of this summer’s General Assembly on the specific matters before us, I’m glad for where we have planted our feet so far, as we speak the truth in love, pointing in all matters of sexuality to God’s good plan of flourishing, and warning about both the temporal and eternal impact of ignoring that plan.

Indeed, as I have considered the more recent study report on sexuality, it has reminded me of many other areas addressed by these helpful study reports, all of which give such rich grounding for the life of believers in an age where both truth and identity are re-invented annually, where down is up and up is down. If you are interested, here are some of those topics and why I’m thankful for the PCA caring enough to speak to them:

Creation

Nearly all the applications of Biblical truth to the matters of Christian living and impact as salt and light in our society, flow from the vital reality that we, as people, and our environment, the universe, are the handiwork of the Sovereign, Righteous, and Loving God. While we make room for varied perspectives on the length of those creation days, we robustly affirm that all is from God, was created of nothing, that humanity, male and female, is in God’s image, and that Adam and Eve were real people in a real place.

Male and Female Complementarian Flourishing

The PCA also clearly affirms there are two sexes, male and female, though not ignorant of the tiny percentage of people born with some deformity that confuses the physical distinction. The distinction between male and female is not something we define or “identify” for ourselves but is how God defines us, and can be seen across much of animal creation. Although across cultures and time, and allowing for a scope of distinctions in the particular individual manifestation of maleness or femaleness, the Bible prescribes human flourishing best achieved when we recognize the equal value of men and women, while at the same time acknowledging a different role each will generally play. Notably, in the church, men are called to loving wise leadership authority in the ordained role of elder, and the servant role of deacon, and in the household, men are called to the same, as they sacrificially shepherd their family, and their wife respects and follows his direction, in all matters Biblically sound. If we did not see the tremendous value and great blessing of holding strongly and vocally to a complementarian view in the past – over against merely egalitarian perspective of men’s and women’s roles at church and home – the current absurd confusion in our culture over such matters should help us desire clarity.

Race

Although the PCA is a predominantly “Anglo” denomination, the fact that we are not “all white” or “all black” and also have always included a large number of Korean churches, and more recently a growing number of Latino congregations, means that based on raw percentages we are more ethnically diverse than most American denominations, even though we desire to more readily reflect the ethnic diversity of our nation. In addition to consistently affirming the image of God in all human beings, we have most recently aimed to repent of any sins of omission as well as commission regarding the Civil Rights Movement, while at the same time guarding against more contemporary views of race which seem likely to move us backward, as Thaddeus Williams seeks to address in his book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth.

Divorce

We recognize that “redefining” marriage is not merely an issue of the 21st century concerning homosexual partnerships, but that marriage as a life-long covenant relationship between one male and one female has been a target of the Enemy since our fall into sin. The Bible certainly offers valid reasons for which a marriage may be ended, and God is gracious to forgive any past decisions we may make. But the purpose of every married couple should be not only to remain in that bond, but also to live life both “face to face” and “arm and arm,” as sinners, but with purpose toward each other and the world. There are a variety of threats to the sanctity of marriage, including adultery and abandonment, as well as abuse and lack of forgiveness, but undoubtedly the proliferation of pornography, and media content laced with such imagery, has undercut the core intimate bond.

Preventing Abuse

We have also aimed for our churches to adopt policies of child protection to make our churches as safe as reasonably possible for young ones. Although not yet adopted by our General Assembly, we will consider this year a full study report on this topic, as well as other forms of abuse, in general.

Sanctity of Life

Last, but certainly not least, as we see the shifting waves of our society, I’m grateful we are a denomination seeking to uphold the sanctity of human life comprehensively – organizing women’s care centers, promoting chastity outside of marriage as God’s good design, advocating adoption as the right pathway in the case of mother/parents who are unable or undesiring to keep and raise their child, and working toward the end of abortion. Simultaneously we extend to men and women who have pursued abortion, the same free grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers to all, whatever choices any may make against His good commands, and we foster groups for abortion healing.

Many of these same topics are also addressed by articles found on The Gospel Coalition website in more contemporary and specific formulation. The site is not aligned with any particular denomination but seeks to share Biblical perspectives on matters for the church and culture.

For all the reasons and a host more, I’m thankful for the PCA, and all others of like-minded conviction on these vital matters. I’m hopeful, as we move forward, we will continue to “lean not on our own understanding” and “trust in the Lord” every step of the way.

Go to Dark Gethsemane

Go to Dark Gethsemane

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

For some years now, I have been challenged and blessed by the simple song “Go to Dark Gethsemane.” From what I can tell, not many contemporary Christians have heard or sung it. Perhaps there are musical reasons for that, but the words are profound, and I trust will strengthen and enlighten all who ponder and apply them, especially this Easter week. Below are the lyrics followed by one rendition of the song. Note, in particular, the call to unite with Christ in his life and death. This might seem a bit mystical, but is in fact a privilege for all believers, simply through faith in Christ’s gracious sacrificial death for all of us sinners, and a repentant intention of our hearts to turn to him and away from denying his Lordship in our lives.

In particular, this week, note the final line of each stanza calling us to take spiritual steps – Pray, Bear, Die, Rise

1 Go to dark Gethsemane,
You who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see;
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

2 Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.

3 Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb
There’ adoring at His feet,
Mark the miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete:
“It is finished!” Hear the cry;
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.

4 Early hasten to the tomb
Where they laid his breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom;
Who hath taken Him away?
Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes:
Savior, teach us so to rise.

 

Prayer

Prayer

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

“You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray, until you pray.” – John Bunyan

The past Sunday, I invited our church to join me in four weeks of growing our prayer life. This is not only a helpful theme in general, but an important way for us to conclude our fantastic Missions Month and prepare to enter our Building Campaign in about a month.

4 Passages

Over the next few weeks we will examine four passages the Apostle Paul wrote, each of which gives us a model of how we can pray for ourselves, our families, our church family and our community. We started with Colossians 1:3-14 and saw that both spiritual growth, in general, and maturing in prayer, in particular, are grounded in God’s Good News of grace. We can pray and we should pray, propelled by the knowledge God has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” And he has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son.” Because of Christ’s work in our lives we have the privilege and responsibility of prayer.

4 Tools

In addition to learning from these specific passages from Paul, I hope to share four key resources for prayer. On Sunday, I mentioned Donald Whitney’s short, but profound, book Praying the Bible. He contends that the primary reason most of us don’t pray more is that we are bored in prayer, and that we are bored in prayer, not because we pray over the same life matters, but because we do not use Scripture to direct our prayers.

In the upcoming weeks I will help us learn for the first time, or recall for fresh application, the acrostic A.C.T.S as a format for prayer, and also will show us how to use PrayerMate, a useful prayer App for smart devices. And lastly, we will talk about combining fasting with prayer.

In all of this, I hope we will be propelled to engage more deeply in prayer for missions, as one commitment we call make from our Missions Month, and I trust we will be equipped for the season of prayer we aim to have as a centerpiece for Twelve – Called By Him, Called For Him – our upcoming Building Campaign.

Strangers and Aliens

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

A few weeks ago, in the men’s discipleship group I lead with 3 guys who are studying what the Bible teaches about the core beliefs of the Christian life, we came across the “heroes of faith” – chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews. It reads, in part…

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

As I’ve mentioned in some comments and other written communication to our church recently, God seems to want to make sure Cross Creek Church remembers we should never get too comfortable with the things of this earth and this life. We can enjoy all the blessings of this life deeply and sincerely, and in fact, our relationship with God should enliven that enjoyment, but we also hold all things with a loose hand.

When the 100 year rain storm we had a few weeks ago flowed into the church building we are preparing to buy, it was a bit perplexing. After 12 years of growing to a place of having our own church facility, meeting at two area schools the first 8 years, and the last few renting the church building we are purchasing, you would think we would have no trouble remembering we are strangers and aliens in this world… but I know I easily forget.

God knows best, even in what appears to me to be setbacks or frustrations. Thanks to Parkwood Church of God we have a temporary space and will have the joy of coming back into a building with new flooring and paint, but we can thank Him most of all for helping us remember what the church actually is – God’s people, not a facility; the ministries we have for outreach and our own growth, not an address on a map; the vision to Glorify God By Inviting All Into God’s Grace, pursued by Growing in Truth, Living in Community and Serving in the Kingdom, not a deed and title.

I’ve said before, spiritual Alzheimer’s is one of our chief problems – failing to remember what we know from God’s Word, what God has shown us in experience, what others have helped us believe. Let’s thank God these next 4-5 weeks while we are at a temporary meeting place, for helping us remember the nomadic life… the alien existence. And when we set foot on new carpet and new plank flooring, let’s ask God to help us also remember the good vision he has given to us as a church, to be salt and light to a hurting and fallen community and to invite others to experience the grace we have the privilege of receiving through the ministry we use our facility to pursue.

In a few weeks, I’ll have the blessing of staying up late 3-4 nights to teach a seminary course online for 40-50 pastors halfway around the world in a place where churches are rare but the Gospel is rapidly spreading. Just like church facilities are helpful in our part of the world for all the ministries of the church, they are likewise for the churches led by these faithful pastors. Limitations of resources, of government restrictions and of community persecution might keep these believers from having a building. Yet we have more in common with them, than we might presume. They, like us, stand in the light of the accomplished work of God in Christ. Thus we can all say together…

“For you have not come to what may be touched….but you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18-24)

Embracing the Means of Grace

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

As we come into the final few months of 2021, now is most certainly a good moment to pause and look back at the first 75% of this year, even as we pivot and look to finish the year well. That can mean a lot of things, but in my 25 years of pastoral ministry and almost 30 years of walking in the Lord, it does not mean less than embracing the means of grace.

The means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, as they are also called, can be intimidating for all of us. Perhaps they bring to mind our failed attempts to carve out regular prayer time, or our stumbling with any regular personal scriptural and devotional reading, or more ominous and demanding practices, like fasting. Hopefully we are all growing in our identity in Christ, by grace, through faith alone, such that we don’t head off in either misguided “license” (using God’s mercy as an excuse to live without purposeful obedience to God) or “legalism” (overestimating our ability to follow God and perhaps even creating extra rules that we might be wired to accomplish easily, so we can perform spiritually). Instead, we would aim to elevate both the radical call to transformation we are invited into by grace, and the radical love God has shown to credit righteousness to sinners like us.

It is with this perspective, and only with it, that we can look at things like Starr Meade’s devotional book, and read the recent sections on the tenth commandment without dodging their impact or ditching the faith altogether. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, and Meade highlights, the tenth commandment – you shall not covet – is the tour de force of the commandments. Even if we miss the way that the other commandments compel us to seek grace and call us to even deeper obedience than we thought, we find it very hard to do with the tenth. The catechism #80 reminds us to be distinctively content in life. Everything else around us and in us, bids us to do the exact opposite. What joy to know that we can square up with the undoing of God’s law and let it land fully on us, because we know Jesus bore all the punishment for us, and gifts perfect righteousness to us.

This same perspective allows us to look back at 75% of the year and be honest with ourselves about where we have fallen short in our purposes and aims…perhaps including spending time and guiding our household through a spiritual growth plan like Meade offers and our church has pursued. And this also allows us to not wallow in where we fell short but to be inspired by God’s amazing kindness to put ourselves and our household in the way of grace through spiritual disciplines these last few months of 2021. All of us, including myself, can give a lot of reasons to justify where we and our household are, not the least of which has been another year of Covid issues, but as the theologians of the past have simply said, so I call to myself and our church – “Further In…and Further Up!”…in our 2021 journey of faith.

God is on the Move

Cross Creek Church

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

For all of us older than age 25 or 30, I’m sure the next week will bring up poignant memories of one of the saddest days in contemporary American life – September 11, 2001. We all remember where we were when we heard the news and saw the images of human destruction, pain and loss. Some of us even lost friends, family or business associates. As we rightly acknowledge the sobering anniversary of that national event, we are also reminded about the kingdom of God. In the midst of sadness and reflection, we can also take joy that the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s kingdom, and that God is on the move globally and locally.

One of the primary ways God is active in the world is through His church, the body of Christ. At least for me, it is comforting and motivating to realize that by pursuing God’s kingdom on a daily basis, I am participating in God’s redeeming work in this world. Just as nations face opposition and attacks, the kingdom of God does as well, from the Evil One, but Jesus says he is the Strongest Man who has bound up that strong man.

For me this means that engaging in our church vision – Glorifying God, by Inviting All, Into God’s Grace – through the strategies of Growing in Truth, Living in Community and Serving in the Kingdom – is a vital daily endeavor. The recent decision of our church to purchase the land and building we have been meeting in for 3 years is just one part of pursuing that vision. In reality, this is a good moment to revisit our core mission – so that the edifice we prepare to own is something we use for the Lord’s work – a help to our mission in this community and even around the world – not a distraction from that.

Moments of national reflection and moments of church development are great chances for all of us, including me as Pastor, to ask some key questions:

  • How is God’s grace shaping my life in fresh ways?
  • What ways can I renew my pursuit to glorify God in all I do?
  • Who is God calling me to invite into his Kingdom and into His church?
  • Have I stagnated in pursuing God’s truth in His Word? How can I put myself in the way of truth?
  • Where have I opened myself up to the blessing of a committed local church community where I am known and know others? Where am I resistant to or hiding from that?
  • What new ways might the Lord want me to serve – whether through the ministry of our church, or the local organizations we partner with, or in our schools or kid’s activities or business arena?

If our hearts and minds are propelled by God’s redeeming work in our lives to engage deeply with these core questions of the Christian walk, then whether buildings fall or buildings are bought, we will be living as the adopted Children of God we are, and God will be using us to advance his joyful, powerful, transformational kingdom.

Heavenly Minded and Earthly Good

Heavenly Minded and Earthly Good

[Written by Dr. Chris Peters]

In his excellent book Heaven, Randy Alcorn comments on how strange it would be for a group of astronauts to be finally getting the chance to launch into space to reach Mars, and moments after lift-off, turning to each other to ask, “So, does anyone know anything about Mars?” Or maybe closer to home, most of us have probably read and meditated more about our next desired vacation destination, than we have about our eternal home in the New Heaven and New Earth. In our upcoming 6-week sermon series I hope to help us become more heavenly-minded, which, contrary to the old saying, will actually make us “more earthly good.”

One of the reasons we struggle to value heaven is that we live in a particular part of history and a particular society where earthly life can be amazingly good. By just about any statistical quantification, life today for the average American is remarkably better than 100 years ago, and the same can be said for most societies around the world – lower infant mortality, longer life span, antibiotics and other remarkable medicines that address ailments and sustain our lives, economic provision, leisure time, quality and quantity of food and housing, just for starters. I know that these things make it challenging for me to long for heaven, and I’m confident I’m not alone.

Yet 2 Corinthians 5:6;8-9, written by the apostle Paul over 2000 years ago, when day-to-day life, and even the process of death, were so much more difficult, says “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

Hope you will pray for yourself, your household and our church family, as well as for me, as we begin on August 1. For more details, visit the sermon series schedule here.

Savoring God on Thanksgiving Day 2020

On this Thanksgiving Day 2020, could it be that our Covid situation is meant to show us…
What C.S. Lewis meant in the 1950s when he said that pain, suffering, struggle was “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world?”
What Spurgeon meant in the 1800s when we he invited us to “kiss the wave that throws us against the Rock of Ages?”
What Piper meant in 2005 when he said we actually face a “tsunami of death” in the millions of us who die every day in every year, decade and century, but we have just become sadly unaffected by this longstanding judgment of God?
What the Lord meant for all humanity to understand since The Garden, that without a saving relationship with Christ, we all face death, now, and eternal death, complete separation from Him – “For when you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
What our rightly jealous God will do to make us grow in Him by savoring delight in who He is above all earthly delights and to praise Him in all those delights – even our accustomed extended family gatherings, our usual entertainments, our freedom of activity, and our delicious food.
What our gracious loving God means when he beckons us to turn back, to run to his arms, to surrender our self-sufficient human pride, to reject our constant dissatisfaction, to confess our foolish and disobedient tendency to “do what is right in our own eyes” instead of surrendering to the goodness of His commanded way finding the truest thankfulness of redemption?
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7
What step of thankful response will you and I take toward Him today? In the days ahead?

How to Read the Bible – Blog #2 – Bible Overview

Here is the next video I hope our congregation will take 5 min to watch this week. This is a broad overview and subsequent videos will get more specific.

As you watch, what do you learn that is new for you about the Bible?

What is a bit confusing? What helps clarify?

With whom in your circle of influence can you share this video? On social media? in a text?

 

How to Read the Bible – Blog #1 – Introduction

I recently challenged our congregation to take just a few minutes a week (or a few minutes a day if you want to be on the fast track!) to respond to God’s loving, but also correcting, hand in the Covid-19 situation, by learning more about the Bible. I will plan to post a blog each week with a video link for each of the videos in this helpful series produced by The Bible Project.

As we watch this very short intro video, let’s ask ourselves some important questions:

– What am I most familiar with in the Bible?

– What do I understand the least?

– What do I think is the overarching theme of the Bible?

– How do the sections of the Bible relate to each other?

– If I have doubts about the Bible’s truth and reliability, what steps will I take to get answers?