Why I am proud to be an American

In the best sense of the term, this has been a very patriotic weekend for me. It began on Thursday evening at the Banquet for Life hosted by Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor is a ministry the saints of Providence have invested in for quite a few years. It is more than just another pro-life ministry, it is a labor that saw 162 women this past year choose life rather than live with the blood of the innocent in their hands for the rest of their lives. They provide counseling, medical help, and the environment to best guide confused young women out of their present chaos.

At their annual fundraising banquet they invited Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum was still living off the energy of last year’s election. The Senator from Pennsylvania shocked the nation by losing to Mitt Romney by only eight votes in Iowa and going on to win several other primaries. Though Santorum was no match for the prosperous GOP establishment candidate, the Senator was still able to leave a lasting impression in the GOP Primary.

Santorum observed in his speech that though he had opined continuously on the state of the economy and on other pertinent matters, the media chose not to pursue the Senator’s opinion on these issues, but rather focus on some of his more “extreme” ideas. Ideas like opposition to abortion, which according to the general American public are far from extreme. Yet, we are at such a stage in the civil discourse that when anyone speaks passionately about any moral issue, he is already termed a radical. To hell with logic!

The Santorum event renewed my commitment to the life issue and my support for organizations like Safe Harbor in Pensacola, Fl. May they prosper!

Friday morning then was a continuation to this patriotic weekend. After 17 years in these United States, I have finally made official what many thought had been official for a long time. The reality is, I waited this long because I understood what this meant. In one sense, it meant that my allegiance to my birth country of Brazil would move to the passenger’s seat. Practically it has been that way, but a liturgy was needed to confirm this commitment. Though I love my country’s beauty and culture, I am and will be an American at heart. My commitment to the well-being of this nation is a deep part of who I am. Though my skepticism about our government’s actions will always prevail, I am deep inside an American by choice. I didn’t have to be, but I chose to be.

The naturalization ceremony flowed with all its pomp and persistent commentary by the Judge. Her American pride was gallantly streaming. But in some ways the ceremony had to be slow for I had been waiting for a long time for this moment to come to pass, and the slow and tedious ceremony was just an symbol of how long this entire process took; thousands of dollars, the patience of a loving wife, and the trips…so many trips. So here I am: an American at last.

My religious and political propensity demands that I refrain from exalting too much this nation. But it is hard to remain silent about a nation that has done so much for me. It has nourished me in all the human luxuries imaginable. It has provided for me confirmation of my calling. It has romanced me into its beauty and culture, and then asked me to take part in it. It accepted me even when I declared from the mountain tops that this country needs repentance of the II Chronicles kind.

So this has been a patriotic past weekend. I have tasted officially of the American air with a flag pin to prove it. I indulged in corn dogs and French fries (yes, freedom fries), and no, I still do not have an appetite for country music. I entered into the fine company of what the Judge so repetitively described as the “melting pot.” I enter as one, but hope to impact many.

I am proud to be an American, but in a different way than the obnoxious tune. I am proud to be an American because I know that my loyalty is to the King of America, Jesus Christ. And though this blessed nation has deserted our Lord and Maker, I decided to use my mouth and vote to opine passionately and studiously about why this nation needs to pursue this Lord. She is lost without His care. I don’t want to only glory in her past; I want to glory in the future she will have if she turns, and repents, and bows down before the only One who can make her great.

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.

The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.

Dead Intellectualism

The contents of the Scriptures can never be subject to the criticism of the believer or of the Church, but the doctrinal declarations of the confessions must really constantly be subject to such criticism. Scripture cannot be altered or developed, confessions may and should. The Bible is infallible, the creed of the Church is not. Hence, the confessions must constantly be gauged by the Scriptures. A church that fails to do this lapses into confessionalism and dead intellectualism.[1]

[1] Hoeksema, Herman. The Triple Knowledge: An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism, vol. 1. Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 8.

Theology of Patience

I have argued before–as have others–that the Church needs to develop a theology of patience. After all, the Edenic sin of impatience– that of taking something without being prepared–has plunged us into innumerable other sins. We are a future-oriented people, which means we can afford to be patient.

Robert Jenson observes that Church must regard “waiting as the most creative of activities…theology is itself a form of the waiting we must practice (viii).” The Church needs to carefully work through a host of issues in this phase of history. Thus, an incremental approach may suit us at this stage. Not that we compromise on non-essentials, but that we take the Augustinian principle of theologizing first and foremost on creedal/essential matters. The lack of didactic creedal theology is the source of much division in this day. Trinitarian thinking has become a mere footnote in the minds of many when in reality it should shape our very being and life.

Patience is a theological dogma. May we learn it and practice it.

Exhortation: Creedal Certainty

This past week I was in a book store when a man seeing my clerical collar asked me: “Who do you think Jesus is?” Now, as a minister, I pray for questions like these to arise. My response was: “Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.” If I had just stopped with the first part, he would have been fully satisfied with my answer, but it was the second part he found troubling. “So you believe in the Trinity, huh?” In creedal certainty, I said: “The Trinity is the only True God.” This man believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but he couldn’t get around the idea that He was God in the flesh. Conversations like that remind us of the centrality of the Christian message and sometimes how specific we need to be about our faith. It also teaches us that interreligious exercises where Muslims, Mormons, and Christians gather to pray, though well-meaning, is really as silly as Samson telling Delilah that a few ropes will bind him. Brothers and sisters, never lose sight that this is a Christian Trinitarian service, and as such, we are here to offer praise and to receive gifts from this great God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit.

Prayer: Most Holy and Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, teach us to marvel at who you are and cause us to be jealous for Your Name, even on this holy day. Amen.

A Friendly Introduction to the Nicene Creed, Part II

Let me take a few minutes to offer a brief introduction to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed defines precisely and thoroughly what we believe the Church has always confessed and what has been of primary importance to the Church universal. We can talk about the Apostle’s Creed, but the Apostle’s Creed, though significant, is not as thorough, and historically has never been the central creed of the Church. On the other hand, the Nicene Creed is the most widely used Creed in the world. There are a whole range of questions that can be tackled in this study, which I do not intend to tackle, but if you desire I can provide a list of books, some of which are free on-line.

As I have mentioned earlier the Creeds emerged as a result of fighting heresies. The Nicene Creed[1] was the result of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.[2] The Council was convened because of the “prevailing questions concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and God the Father.”[3] Let me make a few observations about the Nicene Creed:

The first significant detail about the Nicene Creed is its first two words. The Creed begins with the words: “We believe.” The Nicene Creed is not a catechetical creed like the Apostle’s Creed; that is, the Nicene Creed is not meant as a tool to memorize in a catechism class, it is meant as a tool to confess in corporate worship. The Nicene Creed is the Creed of the Church. It is meant for the “we” of corporate worship. This is one reason it is the most widely used Creed in the Church. Whereas the Apostle’s Creed was not a Creed formulated by a council or a court, the Nicene Creed was formulated by courts and council as a response to heresies in the early church.[4] The Nicene Creed is a not the expression of an individual, but of the Church. In other words, you cannot confess this Creed apart from the Church, because this is a “WE” Creed, not an “I” Creed.

b)      The other point to observe is that the Nicene Creed does not separate the “We believe” from the “We Shall live.” In other words, there is something immensely beautiful about this Creed in that it calls us to worship the God revealed in Scriptures. Athanasius once wrote that:

“Faith and godliness are connected and are sisters: he who believes in God is not cut off from godliness, and he who has godliness really believes.”[5]

This is not a mere intellectual creed that we put in our pockets and take out when we encounter a member of a cult. To declare that “we believe in One God, the Father Almighty,” means that we are also trusting in the One God, the Father Almighty. We are trusting that He will be a powerful God for us. In other words, to believe is to trust and to trust is to believe.[6] L. Charles Jackson wrote: “Just as the Son is inseparable from the Father, so faith cannot be separated from godly living.”[7] To summarize this section let me quote T.F. Torrance who wrote that: “ An outstanding mark of the Nicene approach was its association of faith and…godliness, that is with a mode of worship, behavior and thought that was devout and worthy of God and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[8]

c)      The other fascinating detail about the Nicene Creed is that it is a beautiful narrative that flows brilliantly from beginning to end. It begins with Creation: He is maker of heaven and Earth and it ends in Consummation: We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. When we confess the Nicene Creed we are confessing the story of redemption; we are confessing the story that the Church has fought for and died for and lived for in the last two thousand years. We are essentially confessing the historicity of Genesis through Revelation; that all that is written is true and right and to be loved. When we confess this Creed together we are confessing our people’s history, our Lord’s life and our life. We are confessing that we are a part of all those events. Why did Jesus come down from heaven? The Nicene Creed teaches us that He came down only for the sake of the Father; NO, it teaches us that he came down certainly to obey His father, but He came also for US and for OUR Salvation. You see this Creed is about us and our salvation. It anchors us in redemption and it anchors us in God’s story.

d)     The other unique element of the Nicene Creed is found in the penultimate sentence of the Creed: “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” When we think of our confession, when we think what it means to be a Christian we may think of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, or the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, but I would say that very few in this country would add a belief in the Church as “part of their gospel confession.”[9] Most people would say they believe in it, but that it is not vital to their confession. I think some would say: “Of course the Church is important, but it is not central.”[10] It is hard then to imagine the average American confessing the Church as part of their life-and-death creed. What did our Ancient Fathers, what did our Reformation forefathers say about the Church? They said that “apart from the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Is it possible for someone to be saved in their deathbeds or in some remote location where gathering for worship is not possible? Yes. But this has never been the ordinary way in which people come into a true and lasting relationship with Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith echoing the Nicene Creed says in Chapter 25:

“…the Church which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

God has ordained that His bride be the ordinary way for salvation to come to the world.   This is why Paul says in Ephesians 3 that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God will be made known.

Some years ago George Barna wrote a book urging Christians to find a vibrant faith outside the Church. He writes in his book “…believers should choose from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.”[11] George Barna says that this would be a true revolution. One writer responded to Barna by saying:

“Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together,[12] the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany; Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church. That’s something so spiritually challenging that several million people no longer want to do it.”[13]


To be Creedal means to be one with the people of God, one in faith, one in baptism, and one in submission to the Lord. The Nicene Creed brings all these themes together. It is a Creed to be confessed and loved by the Church.

[1] See for distinction between Constantinople (381) and Nicea (325).

[2] At that time, the text ended after the words “We believe in the Holy Spirit”, after which an anathema was added

[3] Charles Jackson, 8.

[4] These same heresies are still widespread in our day, except using different titles.

[5] Jackson, 15.

[6] See Jackson, 16.

[7] Ibid. 17

[8] Ibid. 17

[9] Jackson.

[10] Jackson. 105.

[11] Quoted in CT

[12] Bonhoeffer writes: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (p. 77).”

[13] Ibid.

A Friendly Introduction to the Nicene Creed, Part I

Note: This is the manuscript from a Sunday School class at Providence Church (CREC).

In this short lesson I want to offer a friendly introduction to the Nicene Creed. I say friendly to mean I am not going to deal with the textual issues, the filioque[1] clause or some of the historical debates over the Nicene Creed.

Let me begin by saying that Providence Church is a creedal Church and we make no apologies for it. We believe that the Church did not begin in the late 19th century, but that it actually has a long history. And if it has a long history it has a lot of stories to share. Let me also add that as a Reformed people we acknowledge that the Church did not begin in the 16th century. The Church has always existed, even when it was most unfaithful. Sometimes it takes bold men to challenge the status quo and tell the Church it has to stop acting like babies and grow up. This is what Luther did in the 16th century. Unlike our Roman Catholic friends, I think it was a good thing.

The Church founded on the blood of the martyrs and especially on the blood of Christ was called to be a light to the world. But if you are going to be a light into the world you need a mission statement. The Church worked very hard to form this mission statement. The first official mission statement of the Church was the Nicene Creed. It was an ecumenical Creed, meaning that it encompassed every dimension of Christendom. This Creed has protected and shaped the life of the Church for centuries.[2] But what is the role of the Creed in our own day? D.H. Williams writes: “Too many in Church leadership today seem to have forgotten that the building of a foundational Christian identity is based upon that which the church has received, preserved, and carefully transmitted to each generation of believers.”[3] This is the role of the Creed: to pass the faith to each generation of believers.

I am sure that you have heard someone say the following: “I don’t like all these divisive doctrinal questions, my confession is: No Creed, but Christ.”  There is something true about this statement, and that is that doctrine does divide; but if you were to ask the question: “Would avoiding creeds and confessions really liberate us from our problems and clear up all the confusion?”  The irony of this whole situation is that if someone were to ask a “No Creed, but Christ” individual what does He believe about Jesus, what do you think he would say? The answer is that no matter what he says about Christ he is already articulating a creed of his own. If a Mormon comes to your doorstep and asks you if Jesus was truly God, however you answer that question you are articulating an orthodox or unorthodox creed. In other words, creeds are inescapable. The Creeds are quite offensive to the modern evangelical because it means they have to trust in others and not themselves. You have to trust in the faithfulness of your forefathers.  You have to trust in the faithfulness of those who spent centuries thinking through these issues and refining them against heresies that arose in the early church. The Creeds call us to connect ourselves with our past; to root ourselves in our family history.

The question the Creeds, and in particular, the Nicene Creed seeks to answer is: what do you believe about Jesus? When it comes to the Creeds you are always one iota away from heresy. This is why it is so important to think carefully about a Creed. Who are you going to trust; the brilliance of a recent Ph.D grad or the consideration and study of the Councils?[4] Councils do err; they are not perfect, but one quick survey through the Nicene Creed will reveal rather quickly that every phrase of the Creed is an implicit or explicit biblical truth.

What is the purpose of a Creed? The Creed protects us from error and guides us in truth.  The Creed is not an invention of man. The Jews had a creed. The first official creed of the Hebrew Scriptures is found in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” They are declarations of what a people have believed concerning the Scriptures. A Creed tells us what we should be willing to die for and what we should not be willing to die for. Will I die for the sake of the divinity of the Son? Yes. Creeds help us differentiate whether things are of primary importance—issues where no compromise is acceptable—or if they are secondary issues—issues where legitimate debate can occur. But don’t the creeds lead to controversy and division? “Ironically, they are not the cause of doctrinal controversy; they are the answer to it.”[5] In fact, the ancient creeds have liberated us from the frustrations of doctrinal controversy. The Ancient Creeds teach us that we do not have to re-invent the wheel, but we can actually move on and think through other issues that have not been discussed as much in Church History. In summary, we can say that the Creed settles primary questions, while different traditions have the task of settling secondary questions. This is why we have catechisms and confessions like the Westminster and the Belgic Confessions and the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms to give us some guidance on things that are not of primary importance in the Church.

What does this not mean?

This does not mean that secondary issues are unimportant. They are very important. Providence takes some very strong positions on Christian education, eschatology, worship, sacraments, etc. But what the Creeds make very clear is that our differences with other bodies over these secondary issues are not issues where we should divide.  This is actually an important lesson for us. The Creeds help us to keep things that are central, central, and it helps us to be open to discuss and interact with other bodies that differ with us over secondary issues.

What does this mean?

This means that we become dogmatic about the Christian faith to the point of death. This means that the Creeds should shape our catholicity. It should shape the way our children think about the world. They should not grow up with an isolationist mindset, but rather a fairly broad view of the Christian world. Practically, I have often encouraged people to visit different types of Protestant churches when they are on vacation, whether it be a conservative Anglican or Lutheran Church or something of that nature to expand their horizons. One caution: some who are new to the faith need to mature into a particular theological tradition first. Pastorally, if someone is new to the Reformed Faith I am not going to give him Karl Barth and Jamie Smith’s books. I will give him foundational books in the Reformed faith. Something like R.C. Sproul or Douglas Wilson are very good foundational books to read. One thing we do not want to become is a schizophrenic Christian. As a pastor, I don’t want my parishioners to be Reformed, but one step from becoming an Anglican, rather I want you to be deeply committed to our Reformational tradition, but at the same time to become conversant with different theological traditions. Maturity means knowing where you are, but also knowing where you came from and who is out there. This is precisely why the Creeds are so important, because they give you boundaries. They tell you precisely where the dividing line is.

[1] The word is an attempt to explain the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two persons of the Trinity. Does the HS proceed from the Father, the Son or both? John 15:26-27. The word filioque means “and the son.”

[2] L. Charles Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. This lesson is largely based on L. Charles Jackson’s work. References and quotes will come mainly from his book.

[3] Quoted in Jackson’s Faith of Our Fathers.

[4] Of course, I stress that councils do err.

[5] Charles Jackson, pg. 4.