Originally posted on Jeff Gissing:

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. It is one of the “means of grace,” the ways that God strengthens our faith and enables us to live faithfully in a fallen world. If you’re not praying then you’re not growing as a disciple.

Consider what the Westminster Larger Catechism tells us about the role of prayer in the life of the believer:

Q. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to His church the benefits of his mediation?

A. The outward and ordinary means of grace…are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 54

Prayer is one of the conduits through which God’s grace pours into our lives. Charles Spurgeon said of prayer,

“I would sooner see you eloquent with God than with men. Prayer links us to…

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This pastoral letter from the Fellowship Community (formerly the Fellowship of Presbyterians)–of which First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem is a member–aptly summarizes my response to the recent redefinition of marriage by the PC (USA).

It is humbling and chastening to be a evangelical minister in the PC (USA) at the present moment.

Pray for us.

-Jeff

——

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have reached a moment of change in the PC(USA) which some celebrate and others mourn. The redefinition of marriage has been approved by a majority of the presbyteries. Beginning in June, the Directory for Worship will now permit the marriage of two people of the same gender. This change is both profound and expected.

By approving this change we are disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture, the wisdom of those who have lived and died for the faith before us, and the continuing consensus of the contemporary church around the world. To do this is both disobedient and unwise. We know this particular change was intended by its proponents to extend the grace and the good news of Jesus Christ, and to further the witness of his Kingdom. We believe it accomplishes neither. Our objection to the passage of this redefinition is no way anti-gay. Our concern is that the church is capitulating to the culture and, in doing so, is misrepresenting Scripture.

We reaffirm that the language of this amendment does not require participation in services of marriage with which we disagree. It remains up to each Session and Teaching Elder to determine what is and is not faithful for themselves and for their congregation.

We continue to face great challenges to our witness as a denomination and, more importantly, to our personal faithfulness. It is not enough for us to simply be for or against something. We who believe this change in the definition of marriage does not extend the grace and good news of Jesus Christ, nor further the witness of the Kingdom must now ask: What would, and how can we accomplish this?

Many of our neighbors do not know the Savior. Will we find a way to build relationships with them and introduce them to Jesus without reinterpreting biblical teaching? We believe, by God’s grace, we can. But we must be committed to listening carefully and without judgment to their questions and their needs, and to responding with sincerity and with humility as those who have experienced the forgiveness and persistent grace of Jesus.

Our culture is marked by increasing hopelessness and isolation, yet we who follow Jesus are being nurtured daily in the community of the Trinity. Can we find a way to extend this community without compromising its foundational teachings? We believe, by Gods’ grace, we can. But we must be willing to go to the darkest and loneliest places with the compassion, conviction, and hope of the gospel we profess.

Joining in God’s mission in this culture and leading others in this time of profound change is difficult. Yet God has called and equipped us for his mission. Accepting that call—growing in Christ’s likeness, living by God’s Word, and joining in God’s mission in the world—cannot be done alone. You are not alone. We have created The Fellowship Community to offer encouragement and accountability; spurring one another on to the type of love and good works that will fulfill our mutual calling.

Find more resources and encouragement at through our website, and join us at First Presbyterian Church San Diego August 18-20 and in our regional conversations for a first-hand experience of Community.

“A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophizing upon light and vision, discoursing upon … the nice shades and delicate blendings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark! He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music; a deaf man fluent upon symphonies and harmonies! He is a mole professing to educate eaglets.”

Charles Spurgeon

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Here are more responses to City Church’s announcement that it will no longer require gay church members to practice celibacy, but will ask them to practice monogamy in the context of a gay marriage:

From the Christian Post

Christopher Robins argues City Church and others fail to enter substantive discussion on sexuality.

Robert Gagnon becomes apoplectic.

city-church-san-francisco-logoThe evangelical religious landscape continues to shift with City Church San Francisco’s announcement that it will no longer require GLBT members to be celibate. You can read the Sojourner’s article here. Writing to the congregation, Senior Pastor Fred Harrell noted:

“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,”

Apparently the polity of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) allows for congregations to establish their own membership guidelines. This is different from the Presbyterian Church (USA) where any person who professes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ may be received into membership. Typically, PC (USA) churches–even evangelical ones–will receive gays and lesbians into membership, permit them to receive the sacraments, but typically prohibit them from leadership within the congregation.

The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.

What’s especially interesting about the larger City Church story is that this is a congregation that has fairly rapidly moved from a conservative denomination to a moderate denomination and then to the left margin of that denomination.

Ten years ago (approximately) City Church voted to leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in order to join the moderate/liberal Reformed Church in America (RCA) because the church came to affirm the giftedness of women for leadership in all areas of the life of the church. You can read more here.

What City Church appears to have done is allow for there to be a difference of opinion amongst people of good will in the congregation and concluded that this must allow for a difference of practice. I don’t think that’s a necessary conclusion, incidentally.

The prior standard was if you’re to be a member then you must pursue celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage. According to the church, that standard is no longer tenable. According to Harrell:

“‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

It seems to me that this is a faulty presupposition, however. Is it really true that it is impossible to enjoy “the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship apart from a romantic relationship?” Romantic relationships, even formalized ones, are not the sole and exclusive place where human beings experience companionship. It is, in fact, an indictment of both the church and of society that we even find such an argument plausible.