In Their Sights

Pastor Campbell Markham

Last week I was watching a documentary where a fairly well-known British actor visited Lebanon.  As he walked down a city street dividing armed Sunni and Shia factions, he intimated to us (the viewers) that at that very moment he and his crew may very well have been in the sights of a sniper from one side or the other.  It must be terrifying to consider that you might very well catch a piece of lead from a sniper’s rifle.

Here in Australia, Christians are in the sights of the enemy.  We see more and more evidence of deliberate targeting of believers.  Last week, The Australian broke the story of two Christian preachers from Hobart, in the south of Tasmania.  Campbell Markham is the pastor of the Cornerstone Church, a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Australia.  David Gee is a member of the same church and he periodically does street preaching in Hobart.  Markham and Gee have been named in a complaint to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.  Markham is alleged to have offended homosexuals with some things he wrote on his blog in 2011.  The complaint against Gee cites statements he made while preaching at a speaker’s corner in the Central Business District of Hobart.  These statements offended atheists and homosexuals, prompting the complaint.  It is not clear whether both complaints originate from the same individual, though it appears that way.

It’s important to note something here.  The Cornerstone Church is not the infamous Westboro Baptist Church with hatred as its creed.  Rev. Markham is not a foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist, and neither is David Gee.  These are simply men who believe what the Bible says about marriage and God’s design for the human race.  As a Christian blogger and pastor, it could have been me in the sights of this complainant.  In fact, for all I know, perhaps I am already in the sights of this activist.

That’s the first thing to take away from this.  No faithful Christian pastor is immune.  If you’re faithful, you will open your mouth and preach what the Bible proclaims without apology.  That makes you a target.  They’ll turn their sights on you eventually.  Even if you’re not a pastor, all it takes is a little question from a boss, co-worker, teacher, or fellow-student.  As soon as you mouth the words, “The Bible says,” the cross-hairs are on your cranium.

The second thing is: we must not let these snipers win.  A sniper makes people take cover.   Under threat of a sniper, no one wants to be out in the open.  Snipers make the fearful hide.  However, we cannot let fear dictate our ministries.  We need the proper perspective to gain courage.  We are at war, but not with human beings who disagree with us and want us silenced.  We’re at war with principalities and powers in rebellion against God.  This war was already decided at the cross.  These skirmishes are like the Allies sweeping through the Netherlands long after D-Day.  The Second World War was decided on June 6, 1944.  But it wasn’t until 1945 that victory was fully realized.  That’s our situation.  We’re on the winning side — the gospel will move forward.  We ought not to be afraid, nor should leaders in this battle run for cover.  We need to remind ourselves:  there may be a sniper’s sight on me, but my Commander has my back and victory is in his grasp.


The Mountain of Blessing and Life

For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”  Psalm 133:3b

There’s a question I often ask my catechism students:  where is the temple today?  We all know that the temple and sacrifices of the Old Testament are gone.  That’s all been fulfilled in Christ.  We know that because the temple curtain tore top to bottom while our Saviour hung on the cross (Matt. 27:51).  That was God’s announcement that this Old Testament institution was finished.  But does that mean that the temple idea is altogether gone?

When I ask that question of my students, I expect a certain answer.  Most students jump to the teaching of 1 Cor. 6:19 – our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  While definitely not a wrong answer, it is an incomplete answer.  Because it is incomplete, we can sometimes struggle in making New Testament applications of Old Testament passages like Psalm 133.

Let me briefly fill out the New Testament’s answer to the question of the present-day temple.  It begins with Christ himself.  Referring to his own body, he said in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  Christ is the temple – he is God come to dwell among us.  Christ’s body, the church, is also the temple.  In 1 Cor. 3:16, the Holy Spirit says, “Do you [plural] not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you [plural]?”  The Spirit says the same thing in 1 Pet. 2:5.  The church of Christ is the temple of God, his dwelling place.  Then, yes, we do also find that individual Christians are also referred to as the temple of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 6:19.  Finally, in Revelation 21, the entire new creation becomes the temple of God as he comes down to make his dwelling place with man.

Going back to Psalm 133, the Holy Spirit was first speaking about the temple as it existed on Mount Zion.  He spoke of the unity of God’s people being like the dew of Hermon which falls on the tops of Mount Zion in Jerusalem — in other words, on the temple.  The temple is where Yahweh “commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”  The temple is where God’s people would go to make the sacrifices for sin which spoke of the promised reconciliation in the Messiah.  As a place of blood and death it pointed to substitutionary atonement, and therefore, eternal life.

But how are believers today to find encouragement from these words?  By asking ourselves, “Where is the temple today?” and then applying the New Testament’s four-fold answer.

First and foremost, God has commanded blessing and life forevermore in the temple of Christ’s body.  He was where our sacrifice for sins was made.  We have blessings because of what happened with the New Testament temple.  We have eternal life because that temple was destroyed and then raised up again in three days – as Christ prophesied in John 2:19.

God has also commanded blessing and life forevermore in Christ’s body, the church.  The church is where the means of grace point us to the gospel.  The preaching of the Scriptures and the administration of the sacraments both tell us of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  The church is also where we’re discipled for life in Christ.  God’s blessings are heaped upon us corporately through this manifestation of the New Testament temple.

What about the individual believer as a temple of the Holy Spirit?  If we’re Christians, the Spirit has regenerated us.  That has brought us the blessing of faith.  That has connected us to Christ and life in him.  The Spirit also constantly works renewal and holiness in our lives.  You see, God has lavished us with blessing and eternal life in these fleshly temples too.

Finally, we need to reflect on the new creation temple in Revelation 21.  There, because of the gospel of Christ’s redemption, we’ll certainly experience God’s blessing and life forevermore.  It will all culminate in this eternal joy in God’s presence.  The blessings of the original Old Testament temple pointed ahead to Christ and the blessings in this temple will point back to Christ and his cross.  Blessings and life forevermore will be based on the worthy Lamb who was slain.

Embedded in the biblical idea of the temple is God’s grace in effecting reconciliation with sinners.  God never owed it to the Israelites to dwell among them, nor did anyone ever deserve to have Christ dwell on this earth to suffer and die for sinners.  However, also embedded in the idea, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is human responsibility.  Israelite believers were called by God to approach him at the temple with sacrifices.  Today, we’re called by God to approach him through Jesus Christ.  We’re “to enter into the temple” through faith in our Redeemer.  We’re called to be “living stones” in his temple, to be living members of his body, the church.  We’re called to keep ourselves holy as temples of the Holy Spirit.  Now, as we walk in faith, we can look forward to blessings and life forevermore in the ultimate fulfilment of the temple in the age to come.


RCN Suspended from ICRC

By a vote of 25-4 (with two abstentions), the International Conference of Reformed Churches has decided to suspend the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  This comes after the RCN last month at their synod decided to open all the offices of the church to women.  The ICRC is one of the world’s most important ecumenical organizations for confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  It consists of over 30 churches from all over the world.  With this decisive action, the RCN receives a clear message that it is out of step with global Reformed Christianity.

The question of what to do with the RCN led to several hours of debate up to this point at the ICRC.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church made the initial proposal, but found vocal support from the Canadian Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa, and others.  Voices were also heard cautioning against suspension — notably, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).  Rev. Dr. Rowland Ward from the PCEA was quoted in the Dutch press as arguing that the body had to come up with substantive biblical arguments to take action against the RCN.  He noted that several biblical passages could be understood at first glance as supporting women in office.  So, Dr. Ward said, “Why couldn’t there be freedom on this point?”  He was also quoted as saying that, for him, the RCN was still Reformed and suspension would not be appropriate “for a church that has been so faithful in our midst.”  In personal correspondence, however, Dr. Ward clarified that it was explicitly made clear that neither he nor the PCEA support women’s ordination.

Voting took place Monday on the OPC proposal (which can be found here).  The first, third, and fourth parts of that proposal passed readily 28-1.  It was the second part that took a little extra time:  to suspend the RCN immediately.  The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands proposed a substitute motion to give the RCN time until the next meeting to reconsider their membership.  This motion failed 8-21 with two abstentions.  The body then voted on the second part of the OPC proposal as presented and it passed without difficulty.

The RCN now has four years to repent of their decisions regarding women in office.  Since women are already being ordained in the RCN, it is difficult to see how such repentance could be effected federation-wide.  But if, somehow, they are able to reverse course, the RCN will continue to make valuable contributions to global ecumenicity through the ICRC.  If not, their membership in the organization they helped to found will be terminated in 2021 at its tenth annual meeting.


RCN in ICRC: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Debate about the future of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) as members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) has been continuing in Jordan, Ontario.  At their synod last month, the RCN fully adopted women’s ordination.  Anticipating this move, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church mandated their delegates to the ICRC to propose the suspension of the RCN.  Details of that proposal can be found here.

On Friday afternoon debate continued about the OPC proposal.  The delegates from several ICRC member churches vocally supported it.  Amongst them were the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa.  The OPC and others have been arguing that suspension of the RCN is necessary to preserve the integrity of the ICRC and its testimony to the world and other churches.  Such a move also sends a clear signal to the RCN and gives them the opportunity to reconsider and repent.  Above all, they argue, this course of action gives the most honour to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the authority of his Word.  Tolerating the present situation is unacceptable.

During the two hour discussion, however, some delegates expressed opposition to the proposal to suspend the RCN.  The Christian Reformed Churches from the Netherlands (not related to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, but rather the sister churches of the Free Reformed Churches of North America) argued that more time was needed and suspension would be premature.  The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia also expressed discomfort with the OPC proposal, arguing not only that it was premature, but also that it was necessary to answer the RCN with carefully formulated biblical arguments.

Despite these reservations, there seems to be a consensus at the ICRC that the RCN is indeed out of step with the basis of the ICRC, namely the Scriptures as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.  There’s therefore no question as to whether the RCN’s membership will be terminated in 2021 should they fail to reverse course on women’s ordination.  The present question is how to move forward at this meeting:  suspend or not.  The Christian Reformed Churches are reportedly preparing a counter-proposal to that of the OPC.

Debate continues on Monday with a vote expected later that day.


OPC Proposal at ICRC

The International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) is holding its meetings in Jordan, Ontario.  Much attention is being given to the status of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) who recently adopted women’s ordination.  Ironically, this ICRC is being hosted by the United Reformed Churches — who owe their very existence by and large to the adoption of women’s ordination by the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1990s.  However, it’s not the URC that’s leading the way in moving to suspend the RCN from the ICRC.  It’s the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

At their recent General Assembly, the OPC adopted a motion that if the RCN were to adopt women’s ordination, the four OPC delegates are mandated to propose the suspension of the RCN from the ICRC.  The ground for this decision expressed a hope that it would be unnecessary — the OPC GA was meeting before Synod Meppel made the final decisions.  However, they also stated that if the RCN were to do this, it would be imperative to act in this manner since the “recommendation represents a reasonable and prudent action to protect the integrity of the ICRC, which plays a vital role in the structure of our own ecclesiastical relationships.”

The OPC GA concluded on June 5, 2017.  The decisions of Synod Meppel on women’s ordination were made on June 15 & 16.  The four OPC delegates to the ICRC had their work cut out for them.

As mandated, they drafted a proposal.  The proposal first of all asks that this matter be added to the agenda.  The second part of the proposal puts forward the following:

1. Declare that the RCN—having recently acted to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in  Scripture—is in its doctrine and/or practice no longer in agreement with the Basis of the Conference (cf. Constitution, Article IV.4);
2. Pursuant to Article IV.4 of the Constitution of the ICRC, suspend the membership of the RCN in the ICRC, effective immediately;
3. Encourage the RCN to reconsider the action of Synod Meppel 2017 in this matter and to restore the doctrine and/or practice of the RCN to be in agreement with the Basis of the Conference; and
4. In the event that, by the time of the 10th (2021) Meeting of the ICRC, the RCN continues to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in Scripture, the status of the membership of the RCN in the ICRC be placed on the Agenda for that Meeting.

At the ICRC on July 14, the body agreed to consider the proposal even though it was submitted late.  Discussion has been taking place and a final vote is expected on Monday July 17.

We should all be thankful for the leadership of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in this matter.  They had the foresight at their GA to see that this was likely coming and they had a plan in place.  Ecclesiastical evil is like cancer:  when it is not addressed quickly, it spreads.  The RCN should have no time or opportunity to spread this false teaching.  I pray that the ICRC will adopt the OPC proposal and send a clear message to the Dutch — and all members of the ICRC — that this is contrary to God’s Word.

I do have a deep regret in all in this.  My regret is that my own churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, have no place in this discussion at the ICRC.  The FRCA were involved with the founding of the ICRC, but withdrew in 1996.  The FRCA withdrew because membership within this organization was not promoting harmony and unity in our own ranks.  I’m hopeful that someday this can be reversed and we can return to the ICRC.  It would certainly have been helpful to be able to stand with the OPC in Jordan in maintaining the cause of truth.