EC Versus ARPC
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’
There is a war. The battle lines have been drawn. The troops are mustering. There is a war between Erskine College and the ARP Church. Unfortunately, the war may end up destroying both church and college. Let me talk a little about how we got here.
About 20 years ago, ARP’s took a close look at Erskine College and decided that given the small number of ARP students who want to go to a liberal arts college and who can afford the tuition at a private college, that there is no way we can afford to maintain a college for ARP’s alone. Thus, we concluded that for Erskine to have a future it must appeal to a broad base of students. We decided that it would continue to be Christian school, but not distinctively ARP. Today only about 10% of the students at Erskine College are ARP’s, and Synod gives only about 2% of the budget of the college.
We concluded the same thing in the seminary. A study was done that showed that we could close the seminary and offer every ARP ministerial student a full scholarship to Princeton and save money. Rather than go that route it was decided that Erskine would become a regional seminary, training students of all Protestant denominations. Thus according to statistics released for the calendar year 2008-2009, the seminary student body had 80 Baptists, 72 Methodists, 67 ARP’s and a scattering of students from most of the other Protestant denominations.
Thus, it seemed that we had reached a happy solution to our financial difficulties, and the ARP denomination was widely envied because of the great ministry we had to a large group of people through the college and seminary.
What happened? What went wrong?
The college and seminary have not changed. The ARP denomination has changed. Out of Christian charity, we have accepted into the ARP church many churches and ministers who were cast out of other Presbyterian denominations. This seemed like the loving thing to do at the time. These folks are not graduates of the college or seminary and do not seem to care about the formula for success we have followed in recent years. They say that what they want is a hard-line Fundamentalism taught in every class. They do not want science taught at all at Erskine. In particular, they do not want any kind of logic and philosophy taught at Erskine.
Their impact on the seminary has already had disastrous consequences. The Methodist church has said that since Erskine is bent on become a fundamentalist Presbyterian seminary, they will no longer certify Erskine as an appropriate place to train their students. That means that they will not pay tuition for students at the seminary. Current Methodist students at the Seminary are grandfathered in, and may continue their studies, but there will be no more Methodists at the seminary.
The story at the college is a little different. These new churches and preachers we have received into the denomination have been urging students to report on the theological purity of professors at Erskine. They even organized a student group to serve as a sort of secret police at the college. Last year this student group, and by the way this group consisted of less than 24 students, reported to a committee of Synod. The moderator of Synod appointed a commission to investigate. All the people on the commission were from this same group of pastors that had organized the anti-Erskine group in the first place. People at the college say that they did not even know that this was happening. Realize that there is very little contact between college and Synod. The average professor at Erskine is not ARP and has no connection at all with the ARP church. The commission reported that the college has become a secular institution, which is absurd, but let that go. There was a called meeting of Synod and there we realized how much the ARP church has changed. Synod voted to fire the board of trustees at Erskine. Now understand that the board of trustees is made up entirely of ARP’s. So we have ARPs voting to fire ARPs. If this is a war, it is a Civil War. However, synod voted to fire them, replace them with fundamentalists, and proceed to dismantle the faculty at Erskine.
In response, Erskine Alumni, faculty and Erskine Board of Trustees filed two lawsuits against Synod. The suits allege that Synod acted incorrectly and without just cause in firing the trustees, and asks that the original board be recognized as the official board of trustees. One of the lawsuits was dropped. The other is making its way through the courts. The President of Erskine has also filed a report with the accrediting agency for colleges, saying that the Trustees were fired without due process. I did not know this but Synod’s action could cost Erskine loss of accreditation and hence loss of all federal funding and scholarships.
But let us go back a bit.
For the Commission that demonized Erskine and the Synod majority that voted to fire the board of trustees, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the one course at Erskine that was the focus of all their hate and despair was not a science course. You might have expected that they would not like science, but the real problem was an English course on critical thinking.
Now I should confess my bias here. You might know that my son Martin majored in English at Erskine, and he loved it, and he now teaches that same course on Critical Thinking at York Tech.
The purpose of the course is to challenge students, to push them to think about what they believe. And yes, the course addresses religious beliefs—because religion is a major part of our lives. And this scares the daylights out of some folks.
This is something that I have observed in those folks on the other side in this war. I know many of them personally, and I do not doubt their Christianity, but there is a disturbing weakness about their faith.
They are horrified by the thought that they might have to defend their faith. They seem to think that they are like a person standing on the edge of a cliff, and anybody that comes along and says one word of disagreement and they are over the cliff, they are lost.
They are desperately looking for reassurance in logic, in reason, in science, and they are desperately afraid of any questioning. That is sad when you think about it. That is pathetic.
I have never looked at my faith that way at all. I will say it bluntly. My faith does not depend on any reassurance from science or philosophy. In fact, I do not find any such reassurance in any worldly reasoning. Science does not lead to a belief in God. Philosophy does not lead to salvation through Jesus Christ.
So how do I get to Jesus? Not by logic, but by faith. I believe anyway.
Let us take an example. You may know that current scientific theory says that our universe originated with a Big Bang about 13 billion years ago. I have read numerous sermons that say, “See science has proved that there is a God who created all matter and energy from nothing in a Big Bang.” That is not what the scientific theory of the Big Bang says. The scientific theory says that about 13 billion years ago all matter and energy and space and time was compressed into a ball less than a light year in diameter. This hot dense ball is called the singularity. The singularity exploded outward in a Big Bang that eventually, over about 13 billion years, created the universe, as we know it. Now the scientific theory does not say anything at all about the creation of matter and energy. In fact, it is a basic principle of science that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change forms. That is what Einstein’s most famous equation says: E=MC2. Thus scientific theory says that the expansion of the Big Bang was a change in form not a creation. You might ask, What about before the Big Bang? What created the Singularity? Most scientists say that we cannot get behind the singularity to ask how the singularity came to be. There is no way we can investigate what happened before the Big Bang scientifically. There are theories that say that perhaps we live in a cyclic universe that continually expands and compresses and that the universe itself is eternal, and needs no creator.
My point is that I can believe that God created the singularity. God engineered the outward expansion that we call the Big Bang. God’s hand was on the atomic particles and molecules to bring about the stars and galaxies we have today. We say God is omnipresent. That is, God is present at every event that has happened in the entire history of the universe. I believe that. But, does science say that? Does logic support my conclusion? Not really. Does that bother me? Not at all.
What if we brought an atheist in today, and had him stand up here? He would say to me: “Tony in all this talk about God you have gone way beyond any science or reason.” I would probably agree with him, but that would not alter my faith one iota because my faith does not depend on that sort of thing. Not only that, faith leads me much farther than just affirming the bare existence of a creator. I believe that the creator of the universe is my personal God who hears my prayers. How do you get from the Big Bang to a God who answers prayers? By faith. Not only that. I believe that this prayer-answering creator sent his only son Jesus Christ, who was God incarnate, down to this world to live as a human being and that same Jesus died on the cross to reconcile me to God and that same Jesus rose on Easter morning to bring to all believers, the promise of eternal life. Now remember the poor atheist standing there. If I told all that to that atheist, he would throw up his hands in despair, and say there is no logical way that I can get from any science or philosophy to a dead and risen savior.
And again, I agree. I never thought there was. This is why my faith is not greatly effected by anything scientists or philosophers say. I am curious about science. I read with interest about the latest scientific advances.
I have not yet figured out what the Ipad is good for, but don’t worry about that; I am sure that Stephen Jobs will tell us.
In any case, I realize that logically it does not make any sense to say that God became a man who died on a cross to bring in the Kingdom of God for you and me. That is not a statement of science or philosophy. That is a statement of faith.
These two verses that we have from Romans chapter one are sometimes called Paul’s summary of the gospel.
Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel. By the reason and logic of the world, Paul ought to be ashamed of it, but he is not, because he knows that it is the “power of God unto salvation.” That is Paul’s definition of the Gospel: God’s power of salvation. It is not our power of salvation. It is not something we do. It is something God does and we receive.
Then Paul points out how this gospel is received. It is for “everyone who has faith.” The great division among people in Paul’s day, at least in the Eastern Mediterranean area was the division between Jew and Gentile, but Paul emphasizes that when it comes to the gospel, only faith matters. It does not matter whether you are Jew or Gentile—if you are arguing about that, you missed the point. It does not matter whether you are male or female, it does not matter whether you are a philosopher or a scientist. All that misses the point. The gospel is for people who have faith.
But Paul knows that we probably don’t get it, so he hammers his point. He says in v17, for in this gospel, in this power of God for salvation, “the righteousness of God is revealed.” Paul tells us that our righteousness is worthless. Human righteousness, human goodness, has nothing to do with the gospel. But the gospel reveals to us God’s righteousness, or put it this way, the gospel makes God’s goodness available to us, and that is the only way of salvation. How do we receive that way of salvation? Paul makes his point as emphatically as possible “through faith for faith.” Or, it is sometimes translated “from faith to faith.” Paul is trying to say this in a way that we cannot misunderstand. He wants to hit us in the head with a two by four. He wants to shock us, to somehow get our attention to show us that we can never prove any of this--it is only by faith.
Now I know most people don’t get this. Even most people that call themselves Christians don’t get it. Paul knew that too, so he finishes his summation with a quote from the OT, from Habakkuk 2:4, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” How do you recognize the righteous? How do you recognize the people of God? They live by faith.
Let the scientists do what they want. Let them ask every question. Let them pursue their science as far as they can. It does not matter as far as the gospel is concerned. Let the philosophers philosophize and the reasoners reason. Our salvation is not based on any of that. It is based on faith and faith alone.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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