Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CREC and Membership

CREC is an abbreviation for Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, though one members church uses the abbreviation to mean Christ Reformed Evangelical Church. The denomination was co-founded along with two others ( Dave Hatch of Trinity Church in Woodinville, WA, and
Gene Helsel at Trinity Church in Wenatchee, WA) by Douglas Wilson pastor of Christ Church in Moscow Idaho, who at this point is the current moderator of one of two presbyteries under the general assembly. Doug Wilson is one of the four that spoke at the Auburn Avenue conference which was key to the development of Federal Vision theology and the theology plays a prominent role in the denomination's thinking. Thus during our discussion of Federal Vision and Catholicism, the topic of membership in CREC came up. Additionally, the denomination puts out Credenda/Agenda, is associated with the New Saint Andrews College.

Mike Lawyer is an administrator and an instructor in Greyfriars' Hall Ministerial Training School, as well a ministering elder in Christ Church (Moscow, ID) and Pastor Doug Wilson's executive assistant. He has graciously agreed to answer the questions below. These questions as they were given to him in green and his answers in black, any additional information will be provided in blue. Mike was aware this question and answer was intended for publication and this blog gives permission for redistribution with attribution to this material. This discussion assumes preexisting familiarity with the CREC constitution. Before simply quoting I would like to thank Mike Lawyer for his time and energy in answering these questions. Everything below this line is from our discussion


1) What is the reason behind household voting rather than individual voting? Is it an idea of Federal Representation (the father represents his family to the church) as per Abshire Federal Representation, or something else?

Mr. Abshire represented why we have household voting very well in his article. Our households are represented by the husbands and fathers of the homes. In cases where there is no father or no husband the mother or single woman acts as the head of her household and votes on behalf of the family.

I wouldn't sigh off on every little jot and tittle that Mr. Abshire said in his article, but over all it was very good. We wouldn't dissuade a woman from getting a graduate degree, for example. We would discourage going to debt to get it, but we do that with the men as well. A woman can be a great asset to her husband, children, church and community no matter how highly educated she is. We have women in our church who have law degrees, who are doctors, and who have other advanced degrees. They serve the Lord Jesus very effectively because of their degrees and training. They also reach people for Christ that they could not if they weren't so highly educated.

2a) If he is a representative then how far the headship of the husband extend? Is there a formal hierarchy involving family members?
Lets take a father A and his 18 year old living at home son B.
Does A's moral status effect B's salvation / election?
Does A's moral status effect B's effectiveness of prayer?
There is definitely a hierarchy involving family members. The Father is the head of the wife. The children honor the parents. The parents are to bring up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

A's moral status does not effect B's election. That is something only God knows about. But A's moral status does affect B's salvation because the sins of the fathers run down hill to the sons. B may be elect, but A's lifestyle may have taught him to follow in his path and thus influence his eventual salvation. B might grow up and need to run into someone from Campus Crusade in college to be saved as opposed to being raised in a godly home with a godly father who has taught him from the womb.

A's moral status effects B's effectiveness in prayer as well. His influence and modeling teach B how to pray and when to pray and whom to pray to. So B's prayer is definitely affected by A's lifestyle.

If you mean does A's moral status cause B's relationship with God to be negated simply because of A's existence, then I'd say no to both questions. A does not cause B to lose or gain his relationship with God simply by his immoral existence.

2b) I'm assuming the answer to both of these no. If so:
Does A's moral status effect B's membership?
Assuming A is a member can A cause B to be disciplined?
Assume A can, can A prevent B from being disciplined?

If A is a member of a covenantal church, then B will be a member of the church. This is an effect.

If B is disciplined by the church it will be because of B's sin, not A's sin. A might be involved in the process. He might be the first contact, confronting B with his sin (see below), or he might be the one the sin is against and he may be the one who brought to the elders in the first place. In this sense he would be causing B's discipline.

A can prevent B from being disciplined by helping to bring B to repentance before church discipline become a reality. For example suppose A finds out B is sleeping with the neighbor's daughter. A can gently bring B to repentance and thus avert any further discipline by the church. He might be the first step in the Matthew 18 process.

Discipline is not for the censure of the one being disciplined, it is for the restoration of the one being disciplined. It is never to be seen as a punitive action, it is always a cleansing and purifying action. It is meant to protect and purify the church and to bring the sinner to his senses and back to Christ.

2c) Assume that A isn't a member.
It seems that B can independently be a member of the CREC church? What if A objects?
What if A is a member and B wants independent membership?
If in both cases B's wishes are respected in what sense is their a hierarchy?
B could become an independent member if A is not. If his father, who is not a member objects, it would depend. We don't have a rule for this. We would take it on a case by case basis.

If A were a member and B wanted independent membership, our loose rule is that B can't do that, but it would depend on the situation. I could see allowing B to have his own household membership in the right situation.

The main point here would be that B would have to be his own household. For example if, for some reason, B were to get married at 18 he would be his own household, or if he were in town as a soldier stationed here for some reason, we might let him join as his own household. And life is funny, I'm sure there would be other situations where it would make sense to recognize B as his own household.

3) When you have representatives the representatives are supposed to have advantages: more knowledge, more time to dedicate, more experience.... What is the husband bring here to church matters? Moreover, does picking middle age men as the primary voting population not create severe bias.

I'm not sure what your question is here.

Being the husband or father does not imply any of the advantages you list. In fact, my wife thinks it is an advantage to not have to be the one who votes and who attends these boring meetings. Being the head of my house does not imply any advantage at all it implies that I am under authority. I am responsible to lead my family under the authority of God almighty.

I said earlier that the family has a hierarchy, and while the world sees any hierarchy as one of who gets to be in charge, the Bible says the hierarchy is who get to serve whom? The Lord Jesus came as a servant, the fathers serve their families, the husbands serve their wives, the mothers serve their children, the children serve and honor their parents. Whenever you hear that someone is supposed to submit themselves to you, your immediate response should be fear and trembling and a diligent search to see who you should be submitting to.

it is not at all uncommon for a wife to be more educated, more biblically savvy, more wise, more intelligent, etc. But the man is still the head of the home. It is still his responsibility to lead his family to the throne of grace. It has nothing to do with skills, smarts, gifts, abilities. It has to do with the Word of God and what God says about how things are.

4) Sarah [reference to "Sarah" here is to Sarah Hodges, a participant in the prior discussion who knows Pastor Wilson to whom the questions were originally directed] was fairly sure they would not forbid membership in all cases, "And I am pretty darn sure that it is a case by case basis. I bet you a sum of money that if a woman came to CREC wanting to join alone, and her husband was a member of the local Catholic church, she would not be told to go worship with her husband... she'd be welcomed with wide open arms. "

I don't know who Sarah is, but again, it depends. We wouldn't automatically let a woman in this situation join our church. We might very well send her back to worship with her husband in the Catholic church. We would strongly advise her not to sin while doing so, but to do it in a very unobtrusive way. Don't cause a scene, don't cause a ruckus. The goal being to win her husband through quiet and chaste behavior (1 Peter 3).

4con) I then gave some scenarios:
a) The local Mormon church
b) The local Lutheran Church (liberal)
c) The local Lutheran Church (conservative)
d) Local PCUSA church
e) Local OPC church
f) Local CREC church which the woman absolutely refuses to attend and the husband does not have the session's permission to abandon (recently married)

It would be the same in all of these situations. I don't understand (f). Each one of these would differ a little bit from the others. For example, the Mormon church is not, in any sense, a Christian church. So, how long the woman stayed there to worship (2 Kings 5:18) would vary from situation to situation. The best thing would be that she would win her husband to Christ or to a higher calling in Christ by how she lives in front of him.

But there might be situations where we would let her join immediately.

5) Sarah asserted that "They just think that is the more biblical way of doing things."
However she couldn't identify where Wilson saw the doctrine that the bible does talk about the church as a collection of families rather than a collection of believers?

There doesn't appear to be a question here.

The Bible clearly talks about 3 areas of government (church, family, civil). It also talks about individuals. It is our contention that when the Bible talks about individuals that it always assumes that they are in some sort of relationship to other people. And when those other people are related in one of the particular governmental relationships they are to treat one another in particular ways related to those governments. And these are always loving and submissive.

Here are a few passages that talk about households. Notice how important they are to the functioning of the churches around them: Jn. 4:53; Acts 16:31, 34; 18:8; Rom. 16:10; 1 Co. 1:11, 16; 16:15; 2 Tim. 1:16; 3:6; 4:19; Tit. 1:11; Heb. 11:7. And this doesn't even begin to point out how central the family is to the Old Testament or to the teaching on how to live in the family. To say that the family has nothing to do with the church is sort of funny. It seems to me, I could be wrong, that everywhere the Bible tells us how to live as individuals it also, somewhere close by, tells us how to live as families. And we do it all as members of Christ's body the church.

Notice that I have no problem with talking about individuals, here I am simply pointing out that the household, because we live in covenant with our family members, is central to our lives as Christians and this is done in the church.

6) Finally on issues on discipline do all CREC churches have to respect each other's discipline absolutely or do they have appellate rights?

They can discuss what is going on and either respect the other's discipline or reject it. There is nothing written anywhere that decrees how we work together in these situations. We would be very careful before overturning another church's discipline. But this would be with any other church, not just CREC churches.


This interview continues here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rules for Due Process

This blog is mainly directed at standard members of churches. This is one of the rare posts directed at pastors. Its a series of some short advisories on how to avoid church splits and embarrassment due to discipline. The key point is due process, transparency and openness.

1) Any excommunication will have substantially less support 2 years after it is administered.
As the anger dies down more general issues begin to be questioned and people will become more circumspect. Make sure you will still have sufficient support even if people explore the issue from a variety of angles.

One of the best ways to do this is to have a recorded vote of the majority affirming a specific statement (and allow for various statements), like what is done in superior courts. You want people on record agreeing to the statements and you want them to feel comfortable that the statement that they signed reflected their views at the time. It is not neccesary that the statements reflect their current view however.

Another key point is to convict on the underlying issue or not at all. It can be very tempting to go for an easy conviction with the major crime in mind (see link for a pastor recommending exactly this approach). In the example the pastor advocates excommunication for contumacy when the underlying issue is embezzlement. Do not take the cheap way out and go convict on a minor offense when the major offense is the real reason. The evidence for the major offense will disappear and often the minor offense information is fairly weak. Without the major offense the actions on the minor offense will seem excessive and will soon lack support.

2) Keep good records
Make sure you have good records, regarding the facts and the debate. Think about how much effort courts go to in maintaining records. Make sure that you have written records from everyone. So for example if you assert that person X did Y to Z have a deposition from Z confirming that fact, and have Z sign it. If you can't do that then have 2 witnesses to every charge and again have them signed.

If there was counter evidence presented at the time have excellent records as to how it was investigated and why it dismissed. The congregation will excuse leadership for making errors, they won't excuse leadership for not performing due diligence.

3) Avoiding bullying the membership.
Avoid things like bullying to get people to support leadership's position. Bullying of members will work in the short term and then fail in the long term. Members who reluctantly support will look for excuses to change sides as pressure increases. Leadership can easily get an excommunication motion through with 20-30% support. But they will need 65%+ support (and better yet 90%+) to defend it publically once the critique starts.

So, if the congregation is split on the appropriate penalty choose the lessor one.

4) Have a documented reconciliation / restoration process and keep it open.
Often excommunication is confused with anathema if the disciplining church is not seen as having a reasonable reconciliation option. Be sure that the level of repentance required is understood in advance and supported during. A congregation can split after the fact if the convicted offers an apology that some see as insufficient and others believe is sufficient. 3 types of apologies should be differentiated:
  1. A censure does not require repentance just to stand for it i.e. the person needs to acknowledge the censure and remain in obedience after its administration. They are not required to affirm the justice of the censure
  2. A call for repentance can be met via. a simple apology
  3. A demand for restitution requires actual fruits.
If you want a higher form make sure that is clear at the time that the punishment / excommunication occurs.

5) Have the extent of punishment or shunning be public.
Leadership should attempt to punish acts of cruelty perpetrated by members against former members, that your church does not approve of. Light censure of such acts is always seen as encouragement. Remember if you don't oppose it you encouraged it.

6) Have a genuine appeals process
It is important that the membership and outsiders believe the appeals process is genuine. Make sure the people involved in the appeals process were not the ones involved in the original conviction. If possible make sure that at least one appeal has been successful recently. The pre-existing appeals process will lower external criticism and will relieve pressure within the church. People who come to believe the original act was unjust or factually incorrect should be encouraged to enter into the appeals process. This helps separate dissent from division. There will always be a court of appeal, either the church will pick it or the public will.

7) Have a clear policy about what to do about old sins successfully covered up.
Either have a "statute of limitations" or indicate you excommunicating solely for the ongoing cover up. If there was no ongoing cover up then leave it be. People will be extremely angry about the cover up but anyone not lied to will think the anger is unjustified. These issues are very divisive.

8) Get a detailed written summary from the accused.
You want written statement of the accused's position on every specific acts and charges. There can be a great deal of disagreement about which facts were or were not confirmed after the fact. If you can get a confession even one with lots of clauses and justifications, get it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What repentence from a cult leader looks like

I'm taking this text from A Former Leader's Journey which is a blog written by someone who has left an shepherding type church and is now being shunned. The entire blog explores her feelings and the hurt caused by shunning and is worth reading and moreover worth passing on to answer the "why don't you just join another church" issues.

However, she does offer a sincere repentance for her former acts which furthered the cult and that is simply too valuable to too many people in too many different denomination and organizations not to republish in a way that it will be read in our much broader context. So for those of you who will never hear this from the people who abused you:
Because of all this, I need to repent and ask your forgiveness. I was wrong. I thought wrong things. I believed wrong things. I modeled wrong things. I taught wrong things. I was wrong. I have sinned against you and the others and against my grace loving, mercy giving, all powerful, all loving God.

- I repent for teaching and modeling that the “covering” of our church, my leadership, and our network would keep you from going into rebellion or deception.

- I took your private confidences and passed them on to the other leaders regardless of my telling you that I wouldn’t. I told myself that this was an accepted practice to gain wisdom in dealing with your situation. Now I see it was probably mostly to garner, in some twisted way, the favor of my leaders, to show my loyalty and to gain a better placement of myself in their leadership system.

- I taught, modeled and practiced tithing. I taught you that if you didn’t tithe, bad things would happen to you and/or your finances. Now I understand the fallacy of this. It is a fear tactic – and it is not of God.

- I did not stand up and speak up when I heard and saw something wrong being taught, lived, or modeled. In this way, you, as people who respected me had neither voice nor protection. There were many times I should have spoken up gently/humbly to correct other leaders around me. I wrongly felt that it was up to God to correct and deal with them. That it was not my “place” to correct “God’s Anointed.”

- I wanted to be seen by leaders as loyal and mostly I wanted to be in what I perceived as one of the “inner circles of friendship.” I bought their friendship with flattering words, serving them unconditionally, not making waves, not challenging them and being disloyal to what I sometimes knew was wrong. I was a religious whore.

- I taught you that with leaders, you did not have the right to expect friendship or any sort of loyalty back. I told you that you should become what I had become, completely a servant. They owed you and me nothing. I have learned to watch out for “friendships” where I am the servant only. I have learned my “servanthood” was nothing more than trying to manipulate myself into prominence.

- I taught that the church was an Army and that we therefore needed Generals and Sergeants to lead us. (I of course saw myself as the sergeant – not the head but certainly one of the right arms of the head.) Again, I did not read my Bible.

- I taught you to despise other churches in our city. I taught you that they were not as enlightened as us, did not have as much of the Holy Spirit as us, could not worship as we did, did not recognize the leadership in our church and come under their apostolic leadership, and so many other things. I hinted at their pastors “weaknesses.” I judged their programs, people, leaders and lives as unfit for the true expression of the Kingdom of God and taught you to do the same. It is true that I did see many legitimate problems, and I still do but I had pulled back and decided I was done with the all but the select body of Christ in our area and encouraged you to also “not waste your time.”

- I practiced and taught you “shunning.” This is the practice of not associating with those who have left our body. I taught you to look the other way in the grocery store. To ignore their emails and be succinct and distant when they called you. I taught you that you could be contaminated by a perceived friendship with them, and instilled in you the fear that was in me, that I would be seen as disloyal.

- I taught you that when people left our body, they left their destiny. I thought that the only way they were to fulfill what God had for them was through our particular church.

- I encouraged you in total obedience to our leaders and total submission of ministry to their vision. I often referred to the church as being in the leaders’ “boat.” We were to totally get in this “boat” and leave it up to God and the leaders where and how to navigate this life. We were not to question this boat leader’s vision or direction as they were “hearing from God”. If you wanted to minister it had to be under their direct “umbrella.”

My pride, arrogance, manipulation and disregard for the scripture are detestable to me. In that I was your leader, role model, and teacher makes it doubly serious. I know of nothing else than to remove myself.

I am not beating myself up as to the point where I imagine that I did nothing right. There were many of you that I loved unconditionally. We showed hospitality, we modeled a good marriage, an open and honest life and when I needed to, I have asked your forgiveness. But the scope and magnitude which I see my own heart today is detestable to me.

So today, I ask your forgiveness. I know many of you were not directly under my leadership. So why do I ask your forgiveness? This is why. - Maybe in reading my “confession” you will come to realize that those in leadership above you who have inflicted so many hurts will someday come to realize what they have done. Maybe your prayers for them will result in them walking out of their own deception. Maybe the grace that you show to them will be a signpost for them to follow. Maybe in not hating them you will be able to love and pray for their blinders to fall off.From my heart to you, I am so sorry, please forgive me. And please forgive those who also have been your leaders.

A Person Formerly Known As Your Leader

Monday, September 17, 2007

Isaiah 7:14

In picking a version of the bible Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the [young woman/virgin] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." has been used as a test case for liberal vs. conservative translation. The argument can be summarized very quickly:
  • The word used in all Hebrew manuscripts is almah.
  • In Hebrew the word almah means young woman. It has no connotation of a woman that has never had sex, and is used in some literature to refer to a prostitute.
  • The Hebrew word for virgin is betulah
  • Matthew 1:23 uses the word parthenos which does mean virgin
  • In the Greek the word TR text the word in Greek (which appears in some LXX virgins is parthenos).
  • When Isaiah wants to refer to virgins he uses betulah: 23:4, 23:12, 37:22, 47:1 and 62:5.
So the traditional rendering is virgin and the "accurate" rendering is young woman. For those who disagree there are many counter examples, for example in Proverbs 30:18-20 alma is used for a young woman after the act of adultery. For a good discussion of this issue see wikipedia. For a traditional Christian discussion Marlowe's critique of the Net Bible provides a counter argument. Rabbi Tovia Singer provides a Jewish critique of the traditional Christian translation. For people of a less conservative bent Isaiah 7:14 provides a simple test of accuracy in a translation. Any bible using virgin is going to be suspect since it implies the translators are putting tradition above accuracy and deliberately mistranslating.

So I've decided to separate the translations into four groups based on how they handle this verse. And interestingly enough this simple test does an excellent job of creating a continuum from traditional but less accurate to more accurate and less traditional translations (from a Christian perspective).

The goal of this is to provide a reference for the translations out there classified this way. Please feel free to comment with additional translations. In terms of discipline church that discipline generally use more traditional translations, the more accurate ones can be helpful in providing alternate explanations and interpretations.

Bibles that use virgin (traditional)
  • Classical
    • LXXM (Septuagint):δια τουτο δωσει κυριος αυτος υμιν σημειον ιδου η παρθενος (paryenov=virgin) εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου Εμμανουηλ
    • Vulgate: propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum ecce virgo (virgin) concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel
  • King James Family
    • KJV (King James Version): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NKJV (New King James Version): Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel
    • 21KJ (21st Century King James Version): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
  • English Revised Version family
    • ASV (American Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • ESV (English Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NASB (New American Standard): Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
    • RcV (Recovery Version): Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and will bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.

  • NIV Family
    • NIV (New International): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    • NIrV (New International Reader's): The Lord himself will give you a miraculous sign. The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.
  • 19th century
    • Darby: Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.
    • YLT (Young's Literal): Therefore the Lord Himself giveth to you a sign, Lo, the Virgin is conceiving, And is bringing forth a son, And hath called his name Immanuel,

  • Paraphrase:
    • GW (God's Word): So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].
  • Other:
    • HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible): Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
    • Douay-Rheims Bible Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
    • NETS (based on LXX) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and you shall name him Emmanouel.  
Bibles that use virgin but at least footnote young woman (middle position)
  • CEV (Contemporary English Version) But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin [a] is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Isaiah 7:14 virgin: Or "young woman." In this context the difficult Hebrew word did not imply a virgin birth. However, in the Greek translation made about 200 (B.C. )and used by the early Christians, the word parthenos had a double meaning. While the translator took it to mean "young woman," Matthew understood it to mean "virgin" and quoted the passage (Matthew 1.23) because it was the appropriate description of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • NCV (New Century Version): The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin[a] will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel.[b]
    Footnote: virgin The Hebrew word means "a young woman." Often this meant a girl who was not married and had not yet had sexual relations with anyone.
  • TNIV (Today's New International Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin [b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Or young woman
  • NAB (New American Bible): Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: [14] The sign proposed by Isaiah was concerned with the preservation of Judah in the midst of distress (cf Isaiah 7:15, 17), but more especially with the fulfillment of God's earlier promise to David (2 Sam 7:12-16) in the coming of Immanuel (meaning, "With us is God") as the ideal king (cf Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-5). The Church has always followed St. Matthew in seeing the transcendent fulfillment of this verse in Christ and his Virgin Mother. The prophet need not have known the full force latent in his own words; and some Catholic writers have sought a preliminary and partial fulfillment in the conception and birth of the future King Hezekiah, whose mother, at the time Isaiah spoke, would have been a young, unmarried woman (Hebrew, almah). The Holy Spirit was preparing, however, for another Nativity which alone could fulfill the divinely given terms of Immanuel's mission, and in which the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God was to fulfill also the words of this prophecy in the integral sense intended by the divine Wisdom.
  • NLT (New Living): All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin [F16] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
    Footnote: [F16] F16: Or young woman.

Bibles that try and have it both ways
  • AMP (Amplified Bible): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]
  • MSG (The Message): Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).
  • NLV (New Life): So the Lord Himself will give you a special thing to see: A young woman, who has never had a man, will give birth to a son. She will give Him the name Immanuel.
  • Luther's Bible: Darum wird euch der HERR selbst ein Zeichen geben: Siehe, eine Jungfrau (young woman with strong hint of virgin) ist schwanger und wird einen Sohn gebären, den wird sie nennen Immanuel*.

Bibles that use young woman (accurate)

  • Jewish:
    • Masoretic Text: לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם--אוֹת: הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה (bold is almah = young woman), הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל.
    • ART (Artscroll): Therefore, my Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the maiden will become pregnant and bear a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
    • CJB (Complete Jewish--Messianic Jewish): Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him 'Immanu El [God is with us].
    • JPS (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NJPS (New Jewish Publication Society of America): Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him, Immanuel.
  • RSV Family:
    • RSV (Revised Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.
    • NRSV (New Revised Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
    • NWT (New World): Therefore Jehovah himself will give YOU men a sign: Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Im·man´u·el.
  • NEB Family:
    • NEB (New English Bible): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    • REB(Revised English Bible) Because you do, the Lord of his own accord will give you a sign; it is this: A young woman is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Immanuel.
  • Jerusalem Bible Family:
    NJB (New Jerusalem Bible): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman[g] is with child, and she will bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Immanu-el’.
  • Footnote: Gk reads the 'the virgin', being more explicit then the Hebr which uses 'almah, meaning either a young girl or a recently married woman. The LXX reading is, however an important witness to an early Jewish interpretation, adopted by the evangelist: Mt 1:23 understands the text to be a prophecy of the virginal conception of Jesus.
  • Easy to read
    • GNT (Good News) (TEV Today's English Version): Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman F11 who is pregnant will have a son and will name him "Immanuel.
      Footnote: F11: young woman: [The Hebrew word here translated "young woman" is not the specific term for "virgin," but refers to any young woman of marriageable age. The use of "virgin" in Mt 1.23 reflects a Greek translation of the Old Testament, made some 500 years after Isaiah.]
    • BBE (Bible in Basic English): For this cause the Lord himself will give you a sign; a young woman is now with child, and she will give birth to a son, and she will give him the name Immanuel.
  • NET (New English Translation) For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman 3 is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Traditionally, “virgin.” Because this verse from Isaiah is quoted in Matt 1:23 in connection with Jesus’ birth, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since the earliest Christian times as a prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth. Much debate has taken place over the best way to translate this Hebrew term, although ultimately one’s view of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is unaffected. Though the Hebrew word used here (עַלְמָה, ’almah) can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun עֶלֶם (’elem, “young man”; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22). The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated “young woman.” The LXX translator(s) who later translated the Book of Isaiah into Greek sometime between the second and first century b.c., however, rendered the Hebrew term by the more specific Greek word παρθένος (parqenos), which does mean “virgin” in a technical sense. This is the Greek term that also appears in the citation of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23. Therefore, regardless of the meaning of the term in the OT context, in the NT Matthew’s usage of the Greek term παρθένος clearly indicates that from his perspective a virgin birth has taken place.
  • CHES (Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear) therefore he-shall-give my-Lord he to-you sign behold! the-damsel pregnant-one and*one-giving-birth son and*she-calls name-of-him Immanuel.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Karolyn Caskey vs. Jason Burrick, excommunicate everyone and start over

Karolyn Caskey was a long time member of Allen Baptist Church in Hillsdale Michigan She and many other members of the church were kicked out by a new paster, Jason Burrick. He excommunicated many of the long term members in February but these long term members refused to stop attending and early on their were arrests (see story).
The pastor graduate of Hyles Anderson College, which is a fundamentalists independent baptist college. The college has a long history of controversy (ex1, ex2) additionally is unaccredited. Jeri Bassenco of Blog on the Lillypad is covering this whole case extensively.

The core debate is whether Hyles Anderson is training its pastors to "steal" congregations. That is get a pastoral appointment to a church with weak or no outside leadership, kick out the old members and rebuild the church in a new way. This technique is what is controversial. Its often advocated under terms like "congregational renewal". More importantly it gets to the heart of the great debates that appear to be splitting the evangelical and fundamentalist community renewing the classic debate as to whether the church is broad or narrow, that is the issue of regenerate membership.

From organizational standpoint this case provides yet another of the countless examples of why church government should be a plurality of elders with the minister as an employee.

Other discussion pages related to Caskey:

Friday, September 7, 2007


SDAKinship is a an international group to help homosexual members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church stay in the church. It has no official relationship with the church Kinship believes that LGBT people are created as God intended and should not be subjected to mistreatment or discrimination. The affirm that the 6 verses frequently cited to claim homosexuality is a sin are incorrectly translated. Further they note that Ellen White refused to tie the destruction of Sodom to homosexual acts further weakening the claims that homosexuality is sinful.

From a more broad based persepctive SDAKinship won a california lawsuit affirming the rights of groups that claim to be within a religion to use the name. That is the Seventh Day Adventist church had sued SDAKinship and lost on first amendment grounds which sets a precedent for other groups which are outside the mainstream of their denomination.

Their outreach is quite beautiful:
We understand what it is like to be a Seventh-day Adventist struggling with issues of sexual orientation, because we each had similar experiences. And we also know that this struggle is often painful, frightening and discouraging. Kinship is here to help and to provide support.

If you are feeling lonely, depressed or suicidal, or if you need a professional counselor who is supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender concerns, chances are we know someone in your area who may help. Be assured that we are sensitive to your need for confidentiality. If you wish, we can also refer you to an understanding SDA pastor, teacher or other professional we know who is sensitive and informed about sexual orientation issues.

Above all, please know we care. We understand that you need to think through what your sexuality means, what to do about it, what it may mean to your loved ones, and whether it is possible to be gay and a Seventh-day Adventist. We will not try to determine your conclusions if you reach out to us. We will endeavor to understand and help you while you make those important decisions about who you are and God's plan for your life.

We want to respond in the most helpful way. We are people of diverse ages and backgrounds, so please let us know the type of person to whom you feel most comfortable talking. For example, a woman rather than a man, someone who came out while being married, or someone with a similar background or profession. You may also be more comfortable talking to someone who speaks your native language.

If you are a pastor, teacher, counselor or parent, please know that we welcome all inquiries and that we also respect and honor your need for confidentiality.

The group maintains a myspace page. GLAadventist endorses SDAKinship. I'll close with something from GLAadventist:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? Poor in spirit does not refer to nice, church-going people who realize they need “more of Jesus.” It describes people who are morally, spiritually, emotionally empty, people with zero spiritual assets, people who are spiritually bankrupt. Jesus announces the amazing news that these people are blessed. ...
Many homosexuals who’ve shared their stories with me have carried a profound sense of unworthiness. They are profoundly dissatisfied with themselves. They feel condemned and unwanted by God. Sometimes they are isolated from their parents and siblings. Frequently they are unwanted at church. They feel desperately poor in spirit. And Jesus’ first word to them is: You are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to you.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Darkness at Noon and church discipline

I had always felt church discipline was primarily mental and social. The defendant disciplines themselves and is torn apart by guilt. While the shunning is painful, remaining in the shunning community and desiring to be accepted by them is what makes shunning ultimately effective. The decision to allow a disciplinary situation to escalate to excommunication is the decision to break with that community. For example all non-Amish are essentially shunned by the Amish, but none of them are bothered by it.

But the people being disciplined don't see it that way. In writing about church discipline one is often struck by the guilt factor at play. Christians who are stuck or are planning on their break can sometimes have trouble seeing cultish tactics for what they are. In email dialogs with people who are discussing their feelings about their own discipline the literary figure they most remind me of is Rubashov from the book Darkness at Noon. The book details the "discipline" of Rubashov who was an elder communist party official, during the time of the Stalinist purges.

Throughout the book the readers, the interrogators and Rubashov all know the story will end with Rubashov being shot. Church discipline cases end with people being humiliated, shunned and emotionally damaged; not with a bullet; so this whole piece will need to be metaphorical. The story starts with Ivanov (a friend and contemporary of Rubashov that runs the detention center, the analogy would be a church elder) trying to convince Rubashov to participate in his own humiliation and not just simply die in an administrative trial. That is in this analogy, suicide plays the role of fleeing the discipling church. Choosing to go for a public trial is allowing the excommunication and the shunning to take place. While the sins are reversed once these two changes are made, I think one can read Ivanov charge to Rubashov as the condemnation that a person under discipline would receive for simply leaving the community and not allowing the discipline process to play out:
"My point is this," he said; "one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions. That is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, disgust, despair, repentance, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery. To sit down and let oneself be hypnotized by one's own navel, to turn up one's eyes and humbly offer the back of one's neck to Gletkin's revolver--that is an easy solution. The greatest temptation for the like of us is: to renounce violence, to repent, to make peace with oneself. Most great revolutionaries fell before this temptation, from Spartacus to Danton and Dostoevsky; they are the classical form of betrayal of the cause. The temptations of God were always more dangerous for mankind than those of Satan. As long as chaos dominates the world, God is an anachronism; and every compromise with one's own conscience is perfidy. When the accursed inner voice speaks to you, hold your hands over your ears. ..."
Sins are reversed, but I can make minor changes and rewrite the above as:
"My point is this," he said; "one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions. That is the first commandment for us. Pride, fear, lust, the esteem of the world are for us repellent debauchery. To sit down and let oneself be hypnotized by one's own navel, to simply flee and disappear into the world --that is an easy solution. The greatest temptation for the like of us is: to deny the authority of the church, to repent, to make peace with oneself. Most people who fall away did so because they fell before this temptation. Most great reformers fell before this temptation, from Luther to Wesley to Muntzer and Machen; they are the classical form of betrayal of the church. The temptations of ego were always more dangerous for mankind than those of despotism. As long as sin dominates the world, ego is an anachronism; and every compromise with one's own will is perfidy. When the accursed inner voice speaks to you, hold your hands over your ears. ..."
The reason I think this analogy is helpful is that it will allow the person being subjected to the discipline to separate the means from the ends. They will seem similar and analogous means being employed for evil ends. From this they can examine the means and methods without allowing the underlying "sins" to confuse the issue. None of my readers are likely to believe that advocating for larger tonnage submarines deserves being denounced and killed. In the case of Stalinist discipline the people were confessing to serious crimes they couldn't possibly have committed. In the case of Church discipline people are often targeted for non crimes they did actually commit both sides know is a non crime. Orwell commented on Kostler that he so well captured the fact that, "fanatics don't just want you to obey them: They want you to agree with them."

Rubashev is guilty as well, and its his guilt that leads to him to plead guilty to six capitol offenses he never committed. Ultimately there was a "sin" he believes he deserves to be punished for. A few years before the book he had genuinely fallen for his secretary, and while she had trusted him completely he, earlier in the purges, had let her die in an act of cowardice:
"What I don't understand," he said, "is this. You now openly admit that for years you have had the conviction that we were ruining the Revolution; and in the same breath you deny that you belonged to the opposition and that you plotted against us. Do you really expect me to believe that you sat watching us with your hands in your lap--while, according to your conviction, we led country and Party to destruction?"

Rubashov shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps I was too old and used up. ... But believe what you like," he said.

Ivanov lit another cigarette. His voice became quiet and penetrating: "Do you really want me to believe that you sacrificed Arlova and denied those"--he jerked his chin towards the light patch on the wall-- "only in order to save your own head?"
When this interrogation takes place he isn't ready to answer that final question "yes". Again with the analogy of death to humiliation this works the same way in many discipline processes. People can't stop obvious injustices within their own church because they are afraid of losing heir social position within the church. They feel dishonest and often they feel they deserve the ostracism once it happens, and this creates guilt along with anger. And just as it does in the case of church discipline these previous acts are what drives the subject to buy into the deceptive process and allow it to continue:
"Listen, Rubashov," [Ivanov] said finally. "There is one thing I would like to point out to you. You have now repeatedly said ‚'you'--meaning State and Party, as opposed to‚ 'I'--that is, Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov. For the public, one needs, of course, a trial and legal justification. For us, what I have just said should be enough."
In the end Gletkin is able to tie the sin Rubashov actually committed to the one he is being accused of:
"You doubtless also know that the declaration you made at that time, which you have just described as a lie, was decisive for the passing of the death sentence on Arlova?"

"I was informed of it." Rubashov had the feeling that the whole right side of his face was drawn into a cramp. His head became duller and heavier; it was with difficulty that he prevented it sinking on his breast. Gletkin's voice bored into his ear:

"So it is possible that Citizen Arlova was innocent?"

"It is possible," said Rubashov, with a last remainder of irony, which lay on his tongue like a taste of blood and gall.

"... And was executed as a consequence of the lying declaration you made, with the object of saving your head?"... "And after all that, you demand to be treated with consideration?" Gletkin's voice went on, with the same brutal correctness. "You still dare to deny criminal activities? After all that, you demand that we should believe you?"

Rubashov gave up the efforts to keep his head straight. Of course Gletkin was right not to believe him. Even he himself was beginning to get lost in the labyrinth of calculated lies and dialectic pretences, in the twilight between truth and illusion. The ultimate truth always receded a step; visible remained only the penultimate lie with which one had to serve it. And what pathetic contortions and St. Vitus's dances did it compel one to! How could he convince Gletkin that this time he was really sincere, that he had arrived at the last station? Always one had to convince someone, talk,argue--while one's only wish was to sleep and to fade out.

And it is this sin which Rubashov actually did commit that leads to his deterioration and the distortion of the truth:
For at their second or third meeting already, as it were, an unspoken agreement had come into existence between them: if Gletkin could prove that the root of charge was right--even when this root was only of a logical, abstract nature--he had a free hand to insert the missing details; "to dot the i's", as Rubashov called it. Without becoming aware of it, they had got accustomed to these rules for their game, and neither of them distinguished any longer between actions which Rubashov had committed in fact and those which he merely should have committed as a consequence of his opinions; they had gradually lost the sense of appearance and reality, logical fiction and fact. Rubashov would occasionally become conscious of this in his rare moments of clear-headedness, and he would then have the sensation of awakening from a strange state of intoxication; Gletkin, on the other hand, seemed never to be aware of it.
In the end Gletkin for the discipline process and makes an explicit analogy to Christianity. The purpose of the discipline process is to allow the community to blame its problems on specific individuals rather than its own structural flaws:
"You may be right in some ways," Rubashov said finally. "But it was you who started me off on this question. What use is it to invent scapegoats for difficulties, the natural causes of which you have just so convincingly described?"
"Experience teaches," said Gletkin, "that the masses must be given for all difficult and complicated processes a simple, easily grasped explanation. According to what I know of history, I see that mankind could never do without scapegoats. I believe it was at all times an indispensable institution; your friend Ivanov taught me that it was of religious origin. As far as I remember, he explained that the word itself came from a custom of the Hebrews, who once a year sacrificed to their god a goat, laden with all their sins." Gletkin paused and shoved his cuffs into place. "Besides, there are also examples in history of voluntary scapegoats. At the age when you were given a watch, I was being taught by the village priest that Jesus Christ called himself a lamb, which had taken on itself all sin. I have never understood in what way it could help mankind if someone declares he is being sacrificed for its sake. But for two thousand years people have apparently found it quite natural."
In the case of church discipline people who are disciplined are often told not to go public with their stories. They are told not to simply sever ties. Capitulate to the shunning and just cut the ties they have themselves. Again with the analogy of leaving community and death Rubashov also struggles with the same issue. Legitimate churches should have nothing to hide. "Airing the dirty laundry" is a common accusation thrown at those persons who have decided to tell their story. They are accused of damaging Christ's witnesses. Rubashov is also faced with the same choice. Now discredited the only thing he can do is act as the scape goat:
"I don't see," he said, "how it can serve the Party that her members have to grovel in the dust before all the world. I have signed everything you wanted me to sign. I have pleaded guilty to having pursued a false and objectively harmful policy. Isn't that enough for you?" He put on his pince-nez, blinked helplessly past the lamp, and ended in a tired, hoarse voice: "After all, the name N. S. Rubashov is itself a piece of Party history. By dragging it in dirt, you besmirch the history of the Revolution."

"To that I can also reply with a citation from your own writings. You wrote: " ‚'It is necessary to hammer every sentence into the masses by repetition and simplification. What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch. For consumption by the masses, the political processes must be coloured like ginger-bread figures at a fair.' "

Rubashov was silent. Then he said, "So that is what you are aiming at: I am to play the Devil in your Punch and Judy show--howl, grind my teeth and put out my tongue--and voluntarily, too. Danton and his friends were spared that, at least."

Gletkin shut the cover of the dossier. He bent forward a bit and settled his cuffs: "Your testimony at the trial will be the last service you can do the Party."
It is only right before his death that Rubashov ultimately repents of the sin that drove the whole process, "A sentence swam vaguely in Rubashov's memory: "It is the Revolutionary's duty to preserve his own life." Who had said that? He, himself? Ivanov? It was in the name of that principle that he had sacrificed Arlova. And where had it led him?"

Christopher Hitchens wrote an interesting book review where he comments that Ivanov and Gletkin were so well presented in their interrogation that Darkness at Noon converted some to communism. Its my hope that the book offers a level of insight for those people trying to understand what happened to them. As an aside, seriously Sandeep blog has a similar take on the book to what is presented here.