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Indelible Grace Church Blog

Reflections on the cross

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Recently, I’ve been reading The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge. Rutledge makes the great point that our historical distance from the first century Mediterranean world inures us to the absolute horror of Roman crucifixion.

And what we often miss is that the essential point of crucifixion was not that it was a long and agonizing death, but that it was for public display. Roman crosses were placed at major thoroughfares, trading crossroads or near city gates. Passersby would stop and gape at the condemned man; mockery and ridicule was encouraged and an essential part of the event.

The condemned man was stripped completely naked, lifted up on a wooden crossbeam, stretched out and exposed, and then slowly tortured. The prolonged death was designed to strip the victim of dignity and humanity. The assembled crowd would watch the victim writhe in pain, crying and screaming in agony. It was an utterly degrading and dehumanizing form of death.

The essential point was its very public nature. It served as a ghastly warning and a deterrent for anyone who would oppose Rome. Thousands of crucifixions occurred yearly throughout the Empire, and even little children were exposed to these public executions from an early age. It was unavoidable and seared into the memory. In the ancient world, crucifixions were not spoken of in polite company. The Latin word crux was equivalent to a curse word. It was the most horrifying way to possibly die. To be crucified meant you were cursed by God.

Here is the astonishing truth of Christianity. At its heart is a community worshiping a crucified man as lord and king. It is difficult to describe how vile and reprehensible this idea was to ancient peoples. And indeed, early Christian writers, like Paul of Tarsus, wrote about the scandal of “preaching Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Converts were subject to ridicule, persecution and even death. And yet almost immediately after Jesus’ death, there were thousands of early believers. How can this be accounted for? What historical explanation is sufficient for the rise of Christianity?

Only the resurrection of Jesus is historically strong enough to give a satisfying answer. Only the vindication and reversal of the verdict of the cross that rising from the dead provides can explain how Christianity not only begun, but eventually became the dominant religion of the ancient Mediterranean world.

by Pastor Michael Chung

Last Updated on Monday, 10 April 2017 22:07
 

Confessions of an Introvert

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All my life, I’ve been a strong introvert. There is nothing I prefer more than curling up with a good book. And nothing is more taxing and exhausting than spending lots of time with people. But midway through my life, I became a pastor. And the great irony is that a significant portion of my job is being with people all the time--hearing their sorrows, sharing their joys, and just being deeply involved in their lives.

Before I became a pastor, I would always make the calculation if going out to a social event was "worth it."  I would do a little cost-benefit analysis in my head. What were the odds that the experience might be awkward or uninteresting or unpleasant?  In the end, I would usually stay home, convinced that was the happier path. But now that I’m a pastor, I don’t have a choice in the matter. All throughout the week, I’m surrounded by people.

I’ve been a pastor now for 7 years; my life is full of friendships and community engagement. To my great surprise, I am happier than ever before. Truly. I realize now that happiness is a byproduct of community. Happiness happens when you stop calculating if it’s worthwhile being connected to others, and you just plunge yourself headlong into community. And at first, it may be driven mostly by obligation or piety. But on the other side of that choice, you realize your life is full and rich and satisfying.

by Pastor Michael Chung

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 January 2017 15:26
 

Part III: Other Distinctives of Being Presbyterian

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In the last post, I talked about the main distinctive of Presbyterianism--its form of church government. This post will fill out the other distinctives of the Presbyterian tradition.

(1) Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism
Covenant Theology sees fundamental continuity between the Old and the New Testaments, as opposed to Dispensationalism which sees discontinuity. It’s a way of reading Scripture, so that Genesis through Revelation is a single narrative arc: God rescuing his people in Christ. Closely related to Covenant Theology is the practice of Infant Baptism. Presbyterians baptize the children of believers for the same reason Israelites circumcised their children. There is a fundamental continuity between the covenants.

(2) Confessionalism
How do we determine between true and false doctrine? Rather than each individual believer determining for themselves what Scripture teaches, we listen to what Christians have historically believed throughout the centuries. These classic doctrines are preserved for us in the historic creeds and confessions of the church. This is called Confessionalism. The confessional documents of the PCA are the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. We also subscribe to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds from the ancient church.

(3) Doctrine of Predestination
Predestination teaches that God is the author of our salvation. As Jesus said in John 6:44 – “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

There are other minor distinctives, but these are the big four: Ecclesiology, Covenant Theology, Confessionalism and Reformed Soteriology.

Finally, it’s important to emphasize that one doesn’t need to agree with all the tenets of Presbyterianism to be part of Indelible Grace Church. In fact, most IGC members are not necessarily Presbyterian by conviction. What unites us as a church community is the gospel of Christ. If you believe in Jesus as savior, you are welcomed to be a member of IGC. I hope this three-part series has been informative and encouraging.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 July 2016 15:15
 

Part II: What is Presbyterianism?

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In the last blog post, I wrote about why we are in a denomination. Today, I want to talk about the main distinctive of being our specific denomination--Presbyterian. Every denomination has a historic reason for existing, namely, why it broke off from the larger established church. For example, Baptists objected to infant baptism, thus their name. Presbyterians objected to the authoritarianism of the Church of England, believing that church power rightly belongs with ordained elders, not the king or a solitary archbishop. "Presbyter" is the Greek word for elder.

Presbyterians saw in the New Testament plentiful evidence that Christ entrusted the care of his church to elders. Elders are called "overseers" and "manage" the household of God (1 Timothy 3:1-5). And church members are called to "obey" and "submit" to elders (1 Peter 5:1-5, Hebrews 13:17). Elders are wise, godly shepherds who are tasked to love the congregation and even lay down their lives for the church. In the PCA, a gathering of local church elders is called a "session."

Presbyterians also see in the New Testament that elders from various churches meet together as a council to discuss and deliberate on matters pertaining to all churches. The PCA calls this regional gathering of elders a "presbytery." The biblical model for this is the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which decided the matter of circumcision for all churches.

So the "session" and "presbytery" is the main distinctive of being Presbyterian. Our church is to be ruled by a session of godly elders. And over the session is a presbytery of regional elders.

Picture: Assembly of Westminster Divines drafting the founding document of Presbyterianism, The Westminster Confession of Faith, in 1646, during the height of the English Reformation.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 16:32
 

Part I: Why a denomination?

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Our church is part of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America). But not everyone is familiar with this denomination. So we are going to do a three-part series explaining and introducing the PCA through these blog posts. The hope is that this will be informative and encouraging to you!

First, let's address the larger issue of denominationalism. Why are we in a denomination at all? Why not be a non-denominational church? And aren’t denominations contrary to the spirit of unity?

Our response is that denominations are a healthy way to be connected to a church heritage. We do not “do church” ex nihilo, out of nothing. But rather, everyone is influenced by a particular church heritage – a certain way of practicing church leadership, baptism, orthodoxy, community life. In other words, everyone is doing church within a tradition. The only question is whether we will be self-conscious of it.

Being part of a denomination acknowledges our heritage and gives us a self-awareness of the flaws and weaknesses of our heritage. For example, Presbyterians are strong on theology, but a big weakness is that we are a very cerebral, heady tradition, and rather weak on “doing” the gospel. Historically, Presbyterians are great at writing theology textbooks and founding seminaries, but not very good at frontier evangelism and community engagement.

Being Presbyterian doesn’t mean we arrogantly look down on other denominations. Rather, it means we humbly acknowledge the weaknesses of our own tradition and respectfully listen to the strengths of other traditions.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 16:22
 
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