The Hallmark of Authentic Evanglicalism

John Stott:

“The hallmark of authentic evangelicalism is not that we maintain the traditions of the evangelical elders. It is rather that we are prepared to re-examine even the most long-standing evangelical traditions in the light of Scripture, in order to allow Scripture, if necessary, to judge and reform our traditions. Evangelical traditions are not infallible; they need to be re-examined. They need to be judged. They need to be reformed.” 

Creeds & Confessions of the Christian Faith

Source: Christ is the Cure

The wisdom of Solomon instructs us, in Proverbs 22.28:

Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set.

The thinking behind this applies not only to property boundaries, but also to principles and and doctrines of Faith. We forfeit a wealth of wisdom if we ignore the insights of those who have gone before us.

Thus is the value of Creeds and Confessions of the Christian Faith.

Creeds help Christians make sense of the Bible by highlighting what is important and summarizing its essential message. In an age of individualism and skeletal creeds, or bare-bone statements of belief, the rich tradition of corporate confessions of faith also provide a vital link to the church of ages past and the saints of all ages.


A Confession is a formal statement of doctrinal belief ordinarily intended for public avowal by individuals, groups, denominations, and congregations,; confessions are similar to creeds, although usually more extensive. They are especially associated with the churches of the Protestant Reformation. 

adapted from Britannica

Perhaps the most common objection to Creeds and Confessions is that they may become rival to the Scriptures. But the reality is that Creeds and Confessions are simply useful tools for summarizing and systematically teaching what the Scriptures say. Creeds and Confessions are always subordinate to the Bible; and they are only useful when they accurately reflect what the Bible says. As 19th Century Scottish minister William M. Heatherington notes:

“A confession of faith is not the very voice of Divine Truth, but the echo of that Truth from souls that have heard its utterance, felt its power, and are answering to its call.”

For this reason i am thankful to be part of what is called a “Confessional” tradition. I am the beneficiary of many who have come before me. It is also the reason I found the chart above to be helpful. the chart lists the various Confessions, from multiple traditions, which can be mined for their golden nuggets of wisdom.

For more reading on the subject of Creeds and Confessions, check out:

PCA Consensus Revisited


The denomination in which I serve, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), is approaching the 50th anniversary of its founding. Through these years God has blessed this expression of His Church, and it has been a privilege for me to have been part of it. The sailing has not always been smooth. There have been some storms that have their genesis from both inside and outside of the church. We are not without our faults, our failures, or our sins. But through it all, I believe, the PCA has been well-tethered to the motto:

Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission

From its inception, the PCA has been somewhat of a “Big Tent” denomination, at least relatively speaking. Though not an especially large denomination, the tent is big enough in that it encompasses an array of churches holding to both the authority of Scripture and to the Reformed understanding of the Christian Faith. (The Great Commission part sometimes seems like it is generally and widely true, but the actuality, or the level of engagement, may be measured more on a church to church basis. That said, some may also reasonably suggest the same about the fidelity to the Reformed Tradition.) As with any Big Tent denomination – and perhaps especially so with any theologically “conservative” Big Tent – the PCA has had – and still has – its share of “camps” and conflicts. Through the years some from fringes of the church have departed for other denominations, or into independency; and they have done so because they respectively believe: 1) The PCA is too “liberal” and permissive, or 2) The PCA is too “conservative” and uptight. But the vast majority, like me, have found a home and felt at home, and the PCA continues to grow even as most other denominations are experiencing decline.

For a variety of reasons, the PCA has been engaged in some prolonged intense debates for the past few years – some sounding like new verses of old songs; others sounding like entirely new tunes. Some, with differing visions, are even aiming to chart a new course for the PCA. And while I listen to the discussions and the proposed directions, trying to both figure out where I fit in and where I believe our denomination should go, in my mind I am wondering if maybe our best future may be found by resurrecting discussions from our past.

In 1994 a group of church leaders, collectively known as the PCA Consensus Group, hosted an informal gathering at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. (PERSONAL NOTE: At the time I was in the first year of my pastoral ministry, serving a church outside of Chattanooga. Cedar Springs had been my home church, beginning my Sophomore year of college; it is the church where my wife had grown up; and it was the church that sent us out into pastoral ministry.) This informal gathering was widely attended by church leaders from throughout the PCA, with several hundred, if not even a thousand, in attendance. The purpose of this gathering would be for the PCA Consensus group to present and discuss, what I consider, a well-thought out statement of affirmations and denials, published in a document titled A Statement of Identity for the Presbyterian Church in America.

What I have posted below is the substance of that Statement, or rather the revised version, subsequently re-published in 1998. I post this because I believe many of these propositions are worthy of reconsideration at this time, in the PCA’s present discussions and debates.

~ W. Dennis Griffith

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The Secret to Restoring the Glories of Our Past

J. Gresham Machen, in the Introductory chapter of his 1923 classic Christianity and Liberalism, wrote:

“The condition of mankind is such that one may well ask what it is that made the men of past generations so great and the men of the present generation so small. In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul.”

Certainly a question worth at least some consideration.

Machen goes on to ask:

“Is there some lost secret, which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past?”

To which, Machen then answers his own question:

“Such a secret the writer of this little book would discover in the Christian religion.”

And I’d have to concur, if by “the Christian religion” Machen means a holistic biblical Christianity of both Word and Deed, properly (although not equally) balanced upon fulfilling both of the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord” AND “Love your neighbors”.

Resource: Christianity and Liberalism

To Those “Born Again” in the USA

My good friend, Fred Liggin, recently posted a contextualized paraphrase of John 8.30-37 on his blog, Long Way Here, and on his Facebook page.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Christians living in the USA who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are descendants of democracy,” they answered Him, “and we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We aren’t enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

“I know you are descendants of democracy, but you are trying to explain my teachings away because My word is not welcome among you.”

Kinda hits home, doesn’t it?

In sharing this I have no desire to denigrate our country – especially not right after Memorial Day. As Americans we have much to be thankful for. Among that for which I am thankful are our civil liberties, and for those who have served to preserve them. On Memorial Day we especially give thanks for those who “gave the last full measure of devotion”. As a country we have been greatly blessed. But, as a country, we also have more than a few things for which we need repent – both from our past and in our present. What I think Fred hits on is the confusion and compromise that sometimes – perhaps even all too often – occurs in the church, because of an unhealthy mixture of allegiances to country and to Christ. If you are an American, be thankful! But always remember: To God alone belongs glory. (Isaiah 42.8)

Here is the link to Fred’s original post: Jesus, Truth, and Freedom.

Balance of True Christianity

Edward Payson (D.D. 1783-1827), a 19th Century Congregationalist minister, was a popular long-time pastor in Portland, Maine, where he was dubbed with the moniker “Praying Payson of Portland”. Portland’s Payson Park is named to commemorate his tremendous influence and legacy.

Among many insights preserved in his writing, Payson mused over the meaning of true Christianity:

True Christianity consists of a proper mixture of fear of God, and of hope in his mercy; and wherever either of these is entirely wanting, there can be no true Faith. God has joined these things, and we ought by no means to put them asunder.   

He cannot take pleasure in those who fear him with a slavish fear, without hoping in his mercy, because they seem to consider him a cruel and tyrannical being, who has no mercy or goodness in his nature. And, besides, they implicitly charge him with falsehood, by refusing to believe and hope in his invitations and offers of mercy. 

On the other hand, he cannot be pleased with those who pretend to hope in his mercy without fearing him. For they insult him by supposing there is nothing in him which ought to be feared. And in addition to this, they make him a liar, by disbelieving his awful threatenings denounced against sinners, and call in question his authority, by refusing to obey him.  

Those only who both fear him and hope in his mercy, give him the honor that is due to his name.   

Anniversary of a Great Christian Divide

On May 21, 1922 – 100 years ago today – a minister noted for exceptional eloquence ascended the steps into the pulpit to deliver his message. His name was Harry Emerson Fosdick. Though Fosdick was a Baptist, he had for several years served as pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church in New York City. On this particular Sunday, Fosdick fired a shot that has reverberated for generations. His sermon title: Shall the Fundamentalists Win? And in this message, Fosdick winsomely and systematically hammered away at nearly every distinctly Christian doctrine, musing aloud why Christians must hold to such ideas as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth of Christ, Jesus bodily resurrection, etc. To Fosdick’s mind, those so-called Fundamentalists were too rigid and narrow minded. He proposed that the Church should make room for both those who held to these historic and fundamental doctrines, and for those who held to a more evolved “liberal” or “modernist” view.

It is important to understand that the word “Fundamentalist” had a different connotation then than it does today. In those days of the early 20th Century, a “Fundamentalist” was essentially anyone who held to the fundamental doctrines historically held by Christians of all orthodox traditions. The idea of separation from the world and from anyone who associated with the “worldly”; the prohibitions against dance, drink, card playing, etc. that are most commonly associate with Fundamentalist Christianity today had yet to develop, at least it had not so developed to the degree that these were universally considered distinguishing marks, as they have been since the middle of the 20th Century.

But Fosdick’s message caused quite the stir. It is considered, by some, to have been the beginning of the Modernist vs Fundamentalist Divide that still exists to this day between Mainline and Evangelical Christians, though the roots of the theological liberalism that Fosdick espoused had been growing increasingly evident for years before this landmark message.

On this 100th year anniversary of Fosdick’s message, The Gospel Coalition has published a series of articles, both revisiting Fosdick and his message and exploring the effects still felt today:

In addition to the articles in TGC, Reformed Faith & Practice, the journal of Reformed Theological Seminary, (the seminary from which I earned my Master of Divinity,) has dedicated the present issue, Volume 7.1, to explore the origins and continuing impact of the Fundamentalist vs Liberal debate and divide. There are ten excellent articles, reflecting both historic and theological perspectives.

Finally, for those interested in this subject, I commend the audio book of J. Gresham Machen’s classic Christianity & Liberalism, published in 1923, in the wake of this debate. The audio book has 7 chapters, and is found on YouTube: Christianity & Liberalism.

The Ways & Means of Following Jesus

Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Jesus Way, wrote:

Following Jesus necessarily means getting his ways and means into our everyday lives. It is not enough simply to recognize and approve his ways and get started in the right direction. Jesus’ ways are meant to be embraced and assimilated into our habits. This takes place only as we pray our following of him. It cannot be imposed from without, cannot be copied. It must be shaped from within. This shaping takes place in prayer. The practice of prayer is the primary way that Jesus’ way comes to permeate our entire lives so that we walk spontaneously and speak rhythmically in the fluidity and fluency of holiness.

Believing & Belonging

scottish kirk

I found these words from John Stonestreet to be on target, well grounded, and a great truth around which we would do well to periodically re-orient our priorities and calendars:

The central practice of the Christian life, at least biblically speaking, is gathering together as Christ’s body for corporate worship, for hearing the Word, and for participating in the sacraments. “Going to church” as we say somewhat inaccurately, is the means that God has designed and determined to feed us spiritually, and to allow us to participate in that kingdom where God’s will is done on earth as in Heaven.

Stonestreet goes on to say:

But just attending church isn’t enough either. Each Sunday, Christians declare not only that God’s kingdom has arrived in Christ Jesus, but that it’s being established in our lives, our families, and our congregations. That’s why no Christian is called to only a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but to a communion that belongs both to and with one another. In other words, we’re not called to mere attendance.

The Church is designed by God to be an instrument for our spiritual nourishment, growth, and health. Each member and participant in the church is a tool God uses to shape and sharpen the others.  (See Proverbs 27.17) Only through relationships with others can we more fully understand who God has made us to be.

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, beautifully illustrates this principle when he shares the story of the loss of one member of his closest circle of friends, which included theologian Charles Williams and writer J.R.R. Tolkien (“Ronald”). After Charles Williams died, Lewis made this observation:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth. . .We possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven. . . For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6.3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

Reflecting on what Lewis had written, Tim Keller noted:

“Lewis’ point is that even a human being is too rich and multifaceted a being to be fully known one-on-one. You think you know someone, but you alone can’t bring out all that is in a person. You need to see the person with others. And if this is true with another human being, how much more so with the Lord? You can’t really know Jesus by yourself.”

Again, when Charles died, Lewis did not have more of Ronald now that they had only each other, he now has less of Ronald, and Ronald has less of Lewis, because there are aspects of both Lewis and Ronald that only Charles can bring out. The same is true of our relationships in the church, in our small groups, in any of our circle of friendships. There are things in each of us that are only evident in our communion with other individuals. In community we see more of each other because of what each draws out of the other; and we see more of ourselves because of what others draw out in us.

“Community is the key to true spirituality as we grow to know God by learning to know one another in relationships.”

This is among the reasons the writer of the Book of Hebrews was so adamant that we not neglect participation through regular and frequent, even weekly, assembling together as the church:

24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10.24-25, NLT)

Stonestreet’s words come from his January 22, 2019 Breakpoint podcast, Believing Means Belonging.  Click the link to read the transcript or to listen to the entire 4 minute program.

Race & the Church RVA: The Church’s Commission

The third gathering of Race and the Church in Richmond, Virginia took place on Saturday May 14.  Featured speaker Leonce Crump addressed the diverse crowd on the subject of The Church’s Commission.

Leonce Crump’s bio, from the Race and the Church RVA web page:

Originally from Louisiana and raised Catholic, Léonce began following Jesus at age 16. Always an athlete and a talker, Léonce outran his first mall security guard (and pregnant mother) at age 3, and spent most of his grade school years talking with his principals on the subject of public speaking during class. He has been in ordained ministry for 9 years, is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma; and holds Masters degrees in Criminal Justice, with a focus on Case Law, from the University of Tennessee, Missional Leadership from the now defunct Resurgence Theological Training Center, an; is currently finishing his Masters of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary.

At Oklahoma he was an All-American wrestler and played a short while on the Sooner football team. He experienced an extended time of rebellion and running from God during college, but after 22 months of living as though he were not a Christian he surrendered to Jesus and ultimately to God’s calling into ministry. After college Léonce competed to make the world team in wrestling, played professional football for the New Orleans Saints and coached collegiate wrestling.

Prior to planting his present church, Léonce had served in 3 churches, starting and leading 3 college and young adult ministries. In 2006 he felt called to plant a church and settled on the under-served area of downtown Atlanta; and in early 2008 he and his wife began the process of planting Renovation Church, in partnership with  Acts 29 and Perimeter Church.

A prodigious reader and engaging speaker, Léonce regularly speaks and preaches across the country at conferences and churches of all denominations. Léonce enjoys boxing and MMA, studying theology, history, leadership, church structure and poetry. He likes Soul music, jazz/standards, and Bossaniva. He also loves to lift, keep up with wrestling, football, and rugby, playing with his kids, hanging with the homeless dudes.

To view the first two gatherings of Race and the Church RVA:

Race & the Church RVA: Why Do We All Look the Same?

The second gathering of Race and the Church in Richmond, Virginia took place on Saturday morning March 12. The theme was: Why Do We All Look the Same? A Cultural & Theological Analysis of Underlying Church Dynamics; featuring speaker Dr. Alexander Jun.

Alexander Jun is a professor at Azusa Pacific University, a TED Talk speaker, and author. He has published extensively on issues of post-secondary access for historically underrepresented students in under-served areas. Jun is also a respected Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

To view the message from the first gathering, with featured speaker Sean Lucas, click: Race and the Church: Telling the Truth.

Race and the Church RVA: Telling the Truth

On Saturday morning January 30, scores of church leaders, along with a smathering of parishioners, gathered in the basement of an old department-store-turned-church in Richmond, Virginia for a discussion on Race and the Church. The invited primary speaker was Dr. Sean Lucas, pastor of historic First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary; and author of the recently released For A Continuing Church.  I considered it a privilege to be among those gathered, though participation was an open invitation.

My primary takeaway from that morning meeting is that much of our current racial rifts, and the prevailing voluntary segregation of Sunday mornings, is due in large part to a history that has barely been openly acknowledged, much less genuinely and transparently repented.  Dr. Lucas provided ample examples, as the video above reveals (and his book expands upon).  And while in many respects progress has been made, and reconciliation is occuring, there is still work to be done for the church in America to truly be one, as Jesus prayed for us to be. (John 17) A large part of what is left to be done is for White Christians – the “White” church – to go back in time, to understand and to own our sins, and our forefathers’ sins, related to racism.

Some may balk. Perhaps understandably.

“How many times must we say we are sorry?”

“I was not even born during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, so how can I be responsible?”

While such rebuttals may be honest and true, they have not proven effective to bridge the reconciliation gap.  The desire and demand of Jesus is not that we merely go through the motions, but that we be “One” just as he is one with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit.   No doubt that in many cases there is forgiveness that has been withheld.  But even where this is the case, there is still a need for those of us who were born into the majority side to repent – to take steps back, to come to understand what was done in the name of the Church bur for the cause of bigotry.  And we do not go alone, but rather we go there with our brothers and sisters of color. We go together that we may walk together, retracing the ways we have failed – failed one another, and failed our God – moving together in repentance and faith.

Take some time to watch the video. If you are in the Richmond area, join us for a future event.

Selling Out the Gospel at the Altar of Politics

Divided Heart (Pink-Green)

I don’t do politics on social media (nor in the pulpit), but I feel an exception is warranted – on social media, anyway. With the exception that I don’t really care that Donald Trump has not previously held public office, nor do I care that neither Ben Carson nor Carly Fiorina have ever held public office, pretty much everything else Peter Wehner writes in his Op Ed for the New York Times, Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump, reflects my sentiments. I am disturbed by Trump’s behavior, and even more so by some of his supporters who have compromised core values and beliefs to empower him.

I know. This is politics. And Trump’s supporters have every right to support him, for whatever the reasons.  For a time I was open to the possibility, despite questions about the basis of his present positions.  I accept that people change.  But with no history, or substantive rationale for changes in convictions, I can only wonder how long it will be, or what circumstances might arise, before we see some of these key convictions shift back.

More disturbing to me than Trump are some of his supporters.  Here I do not mean the rank-and-file Trump supporters, who enjoy the bravado, and with whom the simple catch phrase “Make America Great Again” resonates.  I too am entertained, or at least I have been, to a degree. And I appreciate the vision of restoring the greatness of the USA – even if I am a little unclear whether Trump’s definition of what would make America great and my definition are similar; and even if Trump’s specific plans to usher in such restoration seem a little fuzzy to me.  I am disturbed most by those who are endorsing Trump, even when Trump clearly does not represent their core values and beliefs.  In other words, I am most chagrined by Christians – especially those claiming to be Evangelicals – who are compromising their faith to endorse Trump.

Now let me be clear here.  Every citizen of the USA has a right to support whatever candidate they want. I do not believe Christians have a responsibility to restrict their vote to only Christian candidates. Therefore, I support the right of my fellow Christians, even fellow Evangelicals, to support Trump, if they believe he would be the best leader for our country. (Check out Mark Tooley’s thoughtful piece: Trump, Evangelicals & Security.) What I do not accept are Christians – especially Evangelicals – who will rewrite the Faith to justify their support.

The poster boy of my ire is Jerry Falwell, Jr.

In recent months Falwell has made some asinine statements and decisions. Among them was to invite Trump to speak at Liberty University, where Falwell is currently president, on Martin Luther King Day.  Again, I need to be clear. I support Liberty University’s decision to have Trump speak, just as I appreciated them inviting Bernie Sanders to speak. A university is a place of ideas, where a variety of viewpoints should be allowed to be expressed.  So as long as a clear distinction is made between a chapel service (during which any speakers should intelligently and faithfully exalt the One True God) and a convocation (where any variety of ideas could be expressed) I have no problem.  But given Trump’s history, or at least his reputation, of bigoted statements, it seems more wisdom could have been exercised about the date when Trump would be invited to speak.  A day that is designated to highlight efforts to bring about racial reconciliation does not seem the most sensitive or appropriate.  Of course that is just a judgment call. (For anyone interested, my friend Marc Corbett, a Liberty University alumnus, wrote an excellent piece for The Gospel Coalition.  Take a moment to listen to Marc’s lament: Why I Will Protest a School I Love.)

Most disturbing to me is Falwell’s recent total redefinition of Christianity in his justification for inviting Trump to speak on MLK Day, and in his subsequent official endorsement of Trump.  Again, I believe Falwell has the right to support, and even endorse, whoever he wants.  In his formal endorsement Falwell said only that:

“[Trump is] a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

But Falwell’s previous justification and reasoning was this:

“I have seen firsthand that his staff loves him and is loyal to him because of his servant leadership. In my opinion Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.”

Falwell has since offered an explanation, an Op Ed in the Washington Post.  And I concur with much of his reasoning, even if I would not land on the same candidate. Nevertheless, his reasoning and his freedom – both as an American and as a Christian – to endorse Trump does not negate Falwell’s compromise of the gospel,  and his misuse of the scripture.

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I Pledge My Life to Jesus & the Gospel

Stanied Glass Pathway

I pledge my life to Jesus and the Gospel. I want Jesus not to be just part of my life or something that makes me feel good, but to be the very center – controlling everything. I want only the knowledge of the love of God. I want to know Christ.

I want no desire, idol, or sinful way of dealing with hurt to control any part of my life no matter how small. I put away from myself the love of money, power, comfort, and success. I count everything rubbish.

I bind myself to Christ as bond-servant for life. I want no master other than Christ. I purpose to own nothing. I surrender to Jesus my family, my friends, my ministry, my ideas, my possessions, and my future.

I commit myself to submission to others and a willingness to learn from all kinds of Christians. I commit myself to speak only your words, not my own. I commit myself to speak the truth in love to others.

I want to love people. I want to lay down my life for others, especially those closest to me, as God gives us grace. I want to love people by telling them about Jesus.

I understand that this will mean suffering in my life, that I will join in the sufferings of Christ. But that I always want to be dying, so that I can always be living in Christ.

~ Paul Miller