(with focus on the PCA)

A True Christian Church

What is a genuine Christian church? The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “…Particular churches…are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.” This is not particularly helpful. The Belgic Confession defines the “true church” using a formula frequently found in reformed confessions: The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin.

Obviously, both of these formulas are brief, depending heavily on the balance of their respective confessions to provide clarity. Even so, they represent poorly what most Christian churches believe and practice. Consider the following list.

A true church would:

  1. Regularly assemble for worship of the Triune God and for the fellowship of the saints;
  2. Exhibit genuine love for God; 
  3. Pursue his Word and submit to its authority. This pursuit would be reflected through preaching and teaching, and would permeate conversations among church members. Bible study would be a common individual and small group activity. Study would recognize God’s sovereign power over all history, as well has his goodness and good will towards humanity. It would also emphasize what it means to be a human being made in God’s image; 
  4. Teach clearly that salvation is by the grace of God, through the work of Jesus Christ, and not by human effort;
  5. Regularly pray to the Triune God, both corporately and privately;
  6. Regularly sing Psalms and spiritual songs, both corporately and privately;
  7. Regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper;
  8. Administer baptism to all who come to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior; 
  9. Practice love, as defined by Jesus Christ, between members of the congregation;
  10. Practice discipline, primarily through the teaching of God’s Word, but also through personal exhortations, repentances, and forgivenesses. In extreme cases, the church will need to resort to progressive discipline, the most severe step of which is excommunication; 
  11. Practice sacrificial care for those in need, first towards biological family members; second, towards those in the immediate congregation; third, towards those in Christ’s universal Church; fourth, towards the immediate community; and fifth, towards the community of humanity;
  12. Encourage, support, and regularly practice evangelism, both locally and in the world at large.

This list is idealistic, of course. Churches might be able to maintain a façade of compliance but with human nature as it is, shortfalls are to be expected and managed in keeping with the grace of God. 

The list is an overview of what a church should be. Let us consider in greater depth some of the particulars. The Belgic Confession calls for the proper administration of the sacraments. 


The PCA and most Protestant churches believe there are two sacraments: baptism and communion. Lutherans add absolution, while Roman Catholics and Episcopalians believe there are seven: baptism, communion, confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders. The variability makes it clear that the meaning of sacrament isn’t. The word is not found in the Bible. This doesn’t necessarily mean the concept is not biblical—the word “Trinity” is also not found in the bible, while the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned continuously, and in some places, together. Even so, the absence of the word should cause us to consider the concept with some care.  

“In the Greek New Testament there is no word nor even any general idea corresponding to “sacrament,” nor does the earliest history of Christianity afford any trace of the application of the term to certain rites of the church. Pliny (circa 112 AD) describes the Christians of Bithynia as “binding themselves by a sacramentum to commit no kind of crime”, but scholars are now generally agreed that Pliny here uses the word in its old Roman sense of an oath or solemn obligation, so that its occurrence in this passage is nothing more than an interesting coincidence. It is in the writings of Tertullian (end of 2nd and beginning of 3rd century) that we find the first evidence of the adoption of the word as a technical term to designate Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and other rites of the Christian church.” [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia].

The Westminster Confession defines a sacrament as “a holy sign and seal of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him, etc.” It is clear how baptism and communion act as signs. How they seal is much less clear and whether they do is questionable. This is especially true for communion. If it is a seal, why is it practiced repeatedly? If baptism is a seal, why do Presbyterians not believe it is a sign of salvation?

We understand the term, seal, as another way of saying, irrevocable. In the days before pre-glued envelopes (in the days before emails), letters were sealed, usually with hot sealing wax. The wax would be stamped with a unique stamp from the sender. If the letter was received unsealed, the recipient would have cause to believe the contents had been tampered with. 

The New Testament has much to say about seals, especially the sealing of the Holy Spirit. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1.13-14). The sealing of the Holy Spirit is crucial and, as is self-evident, final. That baptism or communion seal anything is doubtful. To continue teaching as much is to distract from the work of the Holy Spirit.

Why some rituals are considered sacraments and not others is also cause for wonder. We might ask ourselves, for example, why foot washing did not make the sacramental list.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

This quote from John 13, verses 12-16, took place during the Passover meal that became the first celebration of Communion. “Truly, truly,” is an expression of strong emphasis: “Make no mistake about this!; Do not miss what I’m saying here!” The omission of foot washing from the sacramental list seems arbitrary. 

One other question: has the very concept of sacraments artificially or inappropriately assigned significances to rituals such as baptism and communion that are not part of their original intent? Have meanings been added that have more to do with entrenching a priestly class than they have to do with the wondrous meanings of either ritual? If so, isn’t it likely the additions are blunting the value of the rituals instead of making them the means of grace they were intended to be?


Denominations have long squabbled over Christ’s meaning when he stated, “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. We have, among others, the Roman Catholic concept of transubstantiation, the Lutheran concept of consubstantiation, and the Calvinist, pneumatic, view. All of these views are based on the assumption that Christ’s words should be taken literally. Transubstantiation insists that the elements are truly transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. The Lutheran view is similar, except that the elements are not changed, while Christ is truly present. John Calvin argued that such a presence of Christ’s body contradicted his human nature and made his place as intercessor on our behalf impossible. 

Even so, Calvin seemed unready to abandon a literal understanding of Jesus’ words. Calvin believed that communion was a “spiritual eating”, meaning that by faith believers partake of the body and blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who pours the life of Christ into them. The Westminster Confession says, “The body and blood of Christ…are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses.” I find this view, as well as the Catholic and Lutheran positions difficult to reconcile with scripture. To be more candid, it strikes me as theological gobbledegook that is logically incomprehensible. Did Christ really say, “This is my body,” and mean, “This is my spirit?” What can it mean to have a body spiritually present? This, too, seems to mangle the reality of Christ’s humanity, even as it proposes a logical contradiction. 

Shouldn’t we hesitate about providing a literal interpretation to Christ’s words? Shouldn’t we notice that, even as Jesus is proclaiming the wine to be his blood and the bread to be his body, he is sitting before the disciples, in the flesh, speaking? If you were sitting with Jesus and he handed you a glass and said, “This is my blood,” the first thing you would note is that he cannot mean it is his literal blood. He is in good health, is not bleeding, and he is handing you what is certainly wine. Having spent much time with Jesus already, you would know that he is the master of metaphor. He is the same Jesus who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He is the same Jesus who said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” 

Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the breadthe fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever….It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Feeding on Christ is clearly about absorbing his words and living accordingly. At the Passover celebration in which Jesus introduced the Communion ritual, he underscored some new concepts, namely remembering him, and the idea of a new covenant. His claim to provide a new covenant was one of numerous ways that he presented himself as God. 

The disciples had heard all this before the Last Supper. They often seemed to be several paragraphs, if not years, behind what Jesus was saying. But they had been prepared for the Communion speech. Feeding on Christ is represented through Communion and recollected through Communion but those who feed on Christ are those who’ve already come to see the need. What is absent in the Last Supper accounts is any indication from Jesus Christ that participation in Communion is some sort of spiritual booster pill. Yes, grace is imparted through any act of obedience to God, so Communion is a means of grace. And grace is imparted through the full ritual of Communion, especially as it encourages participants to remember his sacrifice. But the insistence by so many denominations that participants, in one way or another, are feeding on the “true” body and blood of Jesus seems unfounded and without rational explanation or purpose. 

The inappropriate purpose that does seem to be served is the maintenance of a priestly class, elevated above the ordinary believer. Someone with ordained responsibility must guard the flock from its wayward tendencies. Someone must guard the flock from bringing condemnation upon itself, as is described in 1 Corinthians 11.

But is this what 1 Corinthians 11 is talking about? Is there any suggestion from Paul that Elders are needed to screen participation? No, there is no such mention. His letter is written to the entire church in Corinth. Furthermore, the self-examination he talks about and the worthy participation he talks about is very much focused on the corporate practice. “In eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” Paul’s concern was with the hypocritical manner in which Communion had come to be practiced. A ritual that is supposed to illustrate the unity of the church and the union of the church with Christ was being trampled under foot via selfishness. 

The church today has “solved” the selfish practice problem through corporate stinginess. It’s hard to be a glutton with a cracker fragment and a thimble of juice. Whether from caution or laziness or confusion about the priesthood, much is lost in the way communion is practiced today. Take the feast away from the ritual and much is lost, especially the important aspects of joy, communion, celebration, and expectancy. A fractional practice provides a fractional picture.  

While we’re on the subject of “fencing the table”, let us consider for a moment the subject of Communion for children. Communion is commonly withheld from the young, before a confirmation of some sort, in order to keep them from partaking in a solemn ritual they do not understand. Apparently, this fencing is due to a concern about children bringing condemnation on themselves. Perhaps the fencing is due to fears of creating a habit in children that serves as a gateway to nominalism. But I will counter with this question: Is it possible that this sort of physical ritual was put in place by God especially for children, for the illiterate, and for those who are slow of wit? Is it not likely that the practice of Communion is intended, in itself, as a didactic method? Is not the Communion ritual a means of expressing our unity with Christ and our unity with the Church? And if this is so, just what are we teaching to the young when we make a point of excluding them? This is a case in which I believe good intentions have produced harmful results. 

I find it odd that in the Presbyterian church where the Word is given a central place that the Word is essentially replaced in Communion by an inferred mystical booster shot of the Holy Spirit. Is there not a great deal on which we can direct our attention, through which the Holy Spirit can bring us grace? Noting the Last Supper parallels with Passover, is not Communion to be understood as a reference to God’s delivery of Israel out of bondage? And, as such, can we not see the connection to Christ’s work of delivering his people from bondage to sin and death? When Jesus is referred to as the Passover Lamb, is it not clear that we are to remember that we are saved, as the Israelites were, by the blood he shed for us? Is not Communion a reference to God’s provision of manna and water in the desert, keeping the nation of Israel alive for its forty years of wandering? Is it not a reference to the passages above in which Jesus describes himself as the bread of life?

It is worth noting the figurative usage of “cup” in the Bible. “Cup” represents the condition of life. Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. (Psalm 16.5).  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23.5).  Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane just before he was arrested: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22.42). To drink of the cup of Christ’s blood is to bind ourselves to the course of his life.

To drink the cup along with Christ is to proclaim identity with him and it is to proclaim a commitment to live and die for him, whether that commitment results in martyrdom or a long life of holy service. To identify with Christ is to be at enmity with the world, because the world holds to various contrary perspectives. Out of the enmity there will be sorrow and blood. It also means that those who have been forgiven by Christ must take on this characteristic: living as forgivers. When we drink the cup we say we embrace everything that comes with being like Christ, joy or sorrow, obedient unto death.

When Jesus told the disciples to drink the wine, he explained that it represented the “the new covenant in my blood.” Christ’s reference to a covenant would have called up the history of God making covenants with the people of Israel. These covenants were agreements initiated by God in which He committed to be their God, their lord, their protector, while Israel would agree to serve him according to His laws (or I think, more helpfully, according to his benevolent guidance). In ancient covenantal ceremonies, as took place between God and Abraham, several animals would be cut in half and the parties would walk between the split animals, making clear the solemn importance of the agreement. The walk-through would essentially mean, “May this same thing happen to me if I fail to keep my side of the agreement.” To take part in Communion is to say again, “I bet my life on this.”

Additionally, it should not be overlooked that the ceremony is not taken in isolation. It is a confession or a profession undertaken in assembly, that is, it is taken by the Church together. When Israel experienced the Passover, and then through the years as it continued to celebrate Passover, the event did not take place under one roof.  Nonetheless, it was an action taken corporately. All of Israel celebrated Passover at the same time. The profession, then, is not only spoken to God and spoken to honor God, but it is spoken to all those assembled and, more fundamentally, to the holy catholic church. (With this in mind, Christians may want to think carefully about excluding other Christians from their Communion ceremonies. Rather, as other Christian assemblies are celebrating Communion, it ought to be seen as a sign of shared identity.) It is a mutual commitment; it is a pact. We love and serve this God together; we are responsible to one another; we are responsible for one another. 

Christ is our mutual Lord. Christ is our Brother. The Holy Spirit indwells us all. The Father is our mutual Father. The Church, consequently, is our Family. The Family is more real than family when we see the big picture of eternity. In healthy biological families we remain committed to our relatives, warts and all. This is a proper inclination that God puts into our hearts. He expects us to carry the same perspective into the Church. One day we will fully appreciate how family is the type and Church is the prototype. In Communion we corporately identify and align ourselves with the Church of Jesus.

So Communion is a profoundly meaningful ritual that is intended to convey that meaning through the ritual. The ritual itself is important because it is (or ought to be) highly referential to the meanings it represents. The ritual should draw the Church into meaning, so that all who participate will be reminded of the incomparable work of Christ, and of the radical implications of that work for every Christian, both individually and corporately. When the ceremony fails to do this, because it imagines itself to be something different, it squanders a key activity of the Church.

Christ suffered and died (“This is my blood”). We remember his death with sorrow, understanding that those who killed him were our representatives. The Jewish religious leaders were us. The oppressive Roman civil authorities were us. The mob that shouted “Hosannah” and a few hours later assembled again to howl for Jesus’ “lynching”…that mob was us. Those who were his friends but who held back in fear were us. Christ’s death took place because of the spinelessness, the thoughtlessness, the selfishness, and the heartlessness of the human race. To face the crucifixion is to understand it with shame. We should think hard about the human capacity to badly misjudge. Communion is a time to consider the damage caused by our corrupt human tendencies. It is a time of repentance.  

He overcame death. Because he was perfect, because he was the Son of God, he overpowered death. Out of what seemed to be a complete disaster, what surely would have meant the end of the Jesus personality cult, emerged the triumphant Christ. The one whose body was pummeled, shredded, and hung by spikes from a wooden frame, stepped out of the grave, immortal. The one who was slandered as unable to save himself rose again, Savior of all. The one who was mocked as “King of the Jews” rose to his coronation as Lord of All.

Communion signifies identification with this Jesus. When Jesus tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, what he means is that he and we are of the same stuff. When we eat and drink we say, “Yea and Amen, Brother; let it be so. We understand who you are.  We understand what you have done and what you are doing. We acknowledge you as Lord of the Universe; we acknowledge you as Lord of our lives as individuals. We recognize that you alone are our sustenance. Accomplish your will; we trust you completely. We are humbled that you deal with us by your grace, and that you call us brothers. We are also your servants and, if you will grant us the strength, we will obey you in all things forever. There is no greater joy or privilege.”

One of the most well-known and loved passages of Scripture is Psalm 23. The essence of the Psalm is the tender care of the Lord; the words found there have been a comfort to God’s people for 3000 years. But this Psalm also does not shy away from discussing the constant presence of evil. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. – Psalm 23.5.

This is a strange and disturbing image. Why would God do this? Can’t we get a little privacy? Who would be comfortable in this situation? Would our enemies, looking on, but excluded, take joy? Or could we enjoy the meal while being watched by our enemies? And yet, it is not a foreign image at all; it is an apt metaphor for the Church in the world. The Church is powerless and at the mercy of the many governments that rule where the Church resides. But, by and large, God has employed governments to hold back the world’s vicious nature from being expressed against the Church. Jesus is Lord over all earthly authorities. All will serve him either willingly or unwittingly. The Church, then, lives without fear. God permits the literal and figurative barbs of the world to do their damage but, in the final analysis, he brings them to nothing. Communion recognizes an antagonistic and dangerous world, and it recognizes that Jesus holds the world in his hand.

Finally, Communion is a celebration. The murder of Christ was overwhelmed by his resurrection and coronation. The Father granted him lordship over the earth and the authority to bring to life all those who are his. And these called ones, the Church,  numbered as the sand at the seashore, will come together in the new earth, that land of peace. And this same Church will also be the Bride of Christ, joining with him in the great Feast of the Lamb, which Communion foreshadows. Communion is to be a feast foreshadowing the Great Feast.

I am sure these concepts I have associated with Communion do not represent an exhaustive list, nor have I exhaustively explained any single one of them. And, yet, it is easy to see the richness of the ideas we should be considering as we partake of Communion. It would not be possible to cover all the implications of Communion every time it is celebrated, but isn’t that a good thing? Instead of rushing through the formulaic, “On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, etc.”, each celebration could be accented with one of the many aspects of Communion, adding to the vitality and freshness and depth of the experience. 

It is easy to see how the Holy Spirit can encourage and strengthen us, filling us with his grace as we ponder these things we trust to be true, and we consider the many ways they can affect the way we live, how they affect our relationships, and especially how they affect our relationships with God himself. I find it amazing when people complain about a Communion that is “merely” symbolic. Is not Jesus himself identified as the Word? Did not God assemble all of creation by means of speaking? We should never underestimate the power, multi-dimensional character, and miraculous nature of words, especially those generated by God. I do not wish to be sidetracked from this glory for the sake of inferred ideas about the Holy Spirit acting through the “real” presence of Jesus in crackers and grape juice. I do not believe such thinking represents the proper administration of the ritual of the Lord’s Supper.


The debates between paedobaptism and credobaptism have gone on with no clear winner since the anabaptists came on the scene in the early 1500s. I suspect there was considerable debate on the issue in the first two centuries of the church, as well, though the issue was greatly overshadowed by other doctrinal concerns.

Perhaps the practice of infant baptism came about because there is reason to believe God would not want to establish any sort of separation between Christians and their children. There’s something pathetic and tragic about households and churches in which children are taught they don’t fully belong. It does seem, though, that Paul’s assertions that a believing spouse makes holy his or her unbelieving spouse and children provides a comforting answer. It is not clear that the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision, which identifies God’s people more or less genetically, continues to apply to the New Israel. On the other hand, the holiness of children does seem to reflect God’s universal intentions, as suggested in the covenants with Adam and Noah.

The Westminster Confession states: “Baptism…[is] for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life.” 

This passage seems to equate baptism with salvation. Even so, all the Presbyterian writings I have encountered, as well as the sermons I have heard, are quite careful to avoid equating baptism with regeneration. And, yet, Presbyterians are adamant that baptism is more than a dedication. Some, apparently, see baptism as a general promise “to your children”, meaning that no specific child is guaranteed salvation but that one or more of the children will be saved. This interpretation is more comforting than nothing, but it also retains the looming charm of a game of Russian roulette. Some teach that the covenantal promises associated with infant baptism are dependent on the faithful rearing of a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. No doubt, such child-rearing is extremely important and beneficial. However, does the caveat not imply that the salvation of covenantal children is dependent on the good works of parents. As such, salvation by grace is lost, which is something altogether non-Christian. Such a formula certainly serves as a heavy burden to parents whose children have abandoned the faith. 

Presbyterian baptism manages to neither eat the cake or have it. They baptize their children (as the new circumcision), but don’t let them partake in communion which would seem to parallel the Passover meal, which children certainly participated in. But since Presbyterians don’t believe baptism means salvation, they exclude their children until they pass their catechism exams and make credible professions of faith. This process ignores the reality that teenage kids are extremely influenced by their peers and that most of them will follow, once one in the group decides to conform to the process. Furthermore, to buck the process is clearly to act against parental wishes. Kids have all the social and familial reasons in the world to go along with their crowds and speak the answers they’ve learned for their tests. Some children are entirely sincere, certainly. And there are some who are independent-minded, who will not profess a faith they do not actually have. (Good for them. The Church should come alongside these individuals with prayer and gentle persuasion, as well as sympathetic listening. The possession of integrity is critical for all who would call themselves Christians. May these children be pursued with love and patience, for they will serve as the backbone of the church when they finally are enabled to see the love of God.) On the other hand, and this is one of the criticisms leveled by baptists, it is not a good thing to have the pews filled with nominal Christians. Christians are followers of Christ, not those who have become comfortable with church culture. Church is not the Elks Club. 

There are two passages in the bible that make me doubt that baptism is re-cast circumcision. The first passage is the battle of wits between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, found in John, chapter 4. At one point Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” It’s important to note that she is a Samaritan because this is where we begin to see that the Gospel of Jesus, which was initiated with the Jews, is beginning its expansion, first to the Samaritans, and then to the ends of the earth. One of the key themes of the book of Acts is how Christ disperses his church to be a light to the nations. The kingdom of God is no longer a nation identified as an earthly nation, nor is it identified according to biology. It is a people identified by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The other passage that has caught my attention is found in Acts and it concerns what is usually considered the first Council of the Church. Paul, after getting nowhere with his arguments in Antioch, is sent, along with Barnabas to discuss the issue of circumcision with the Elders in Jerusalem. The church settled, in agreement with Paul, that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentile converts (and as Paul indicates elsewhere, anyone else, either). 

The first question we need to ask is, if circumcision is counted as unnecessary, how does that impact the Reformed notion that baptism replaces it? I have not heard a direct answer to this question but I suppose the answer would be: circumcision is no longer necessary because baptism replaces it. That seems like a reasonable answer. The thing that I find puzzling, though, is that Paul did not use that argument. Why not? The absence of this argument in this pivotal moment of church history strikes me as a very loud silence. 

Of course, arguments from silence are not ironclad. However, Paul did provide a basis for why circumcision was unnecessary: the Gentiles had been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that both proved the irrelevance of circumcision and demanded that the converts be ritually baptized. The book of Acts repeatedly makes the connection between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the ritual of Christian baptism. It seems to me that the biblical evidence for credobaptism is much clearer and stronger than the biblical evidence for paedobaptism. As such, it also appears that Presbyterianism is incorrectly administering this “sacrament”.

Inerrancy vs. Authority  

Most conservative Christian churches espouse the inerrancy of scriptures, for the obvious reason that the bible is so critical to Christian belief and doctrinal clarity. This is better accomplished by espousing biblical authority, however. First of all, scriptural arguments for inerrancy are difficult to come by. It is true that Old Testament prophets, when speaking a message from God, were identified by the 100% accuracy of their prophecies. We certainly would maintain that Jesus spoke truth only. But even in these cases there remains a gap between the prophets & Jesus and those who recorded what they said. Perhaps they made no errors. Perhaps they did not leave out anything of importance but, even as we read the four Gospels, we can see that the writers did not present the words of Jesus precisely the same. Secondly, the idea of authorship and thus authority have a huge part to play in the question of canonicity. Similarly, what do the writers in the Bible have to say about their right to speak and their right to write? They refer to the authority that God has given them and, in fact, the compulsion to speak the truth God has given them. Still, there is no instance of a biblical writer insisting that there are no errors in his writings. Well, perhaps John, in writing the book of Revelation does insist that none of his words can be subtracted or added to. 

My point is not that relying only on “authority” leaves the door open to make changes to Scripture. No, my point is that the writers are given God’s authority, very much like Jesus giving the disciples keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. God endorses the biblical records as the best light we can have until Christ comes again. And they are, in my experience, shockingly brighter and more beautiful than the words of all other religions and ideologies. Because they come with God’s authority, we can have confidence in their wisdom, truth, guidance for life, and guidance for everlasting life. But if we are to have integrity, we cannot make claims about the Bible that it does not make for itself. 

Chief End of Man

When I was a freshman in college, one of my classes was named Christianity and Culture, or something similar. One day the professor asked the class of, perhaps, 75 students, what was the chief end of man. Someone quickly responded, “It is to glorify God and love him forever”. Not having been catechized as a Presbyterian, I raised my hand and asked, “Didn’t Jesus answer this question by saying to the pharisees, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you soul and all your might’ and then, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself”? The professor paused and then asked, “What do you think, class?” A large portion of the class quickly erupted with: “BOOOOO!” That was the end of the discussion. 

At the time, I was shocked. Maybe I’m still a little traumatized. How can a Christian institution of higher learning approach any question, determining truth by majority vote? In any case, I have never changed my mind on the question (just as I sadly suppose that most of those students also have not changed). I do not say that the two answers contradict each other, but I do say that Jesus is a greater authority than the Westminster Confession. And I do say that if we are to glorify God, loving him and others is the key to how that is to be done. 

In recent years I have been struck, over and over, about the importance of being made in God’s image, as well. God has made us to be like him. This is the core of our identity. And God has made us to represent him on the earth in all matters. This is our core task. This, too, is a better answer than the one supplied by the Divines.

Everlasting Torment 

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXXIV.1).

Westminster’s insistence on the immortality of the soul is almost certainly wrong. Consider Matthew 10.28: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Of course, it is necessary for the soul to be eternal if there is to be everlasting torment of the wicked, but this is why we should be looking to scripture to develop our doctrine, rather than using scripture to support the doctrine we have developed. 

It’s not clear to me why the Confession objects to soul sleep. There are certainly passages in the Bible that suggest it. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 

Of greater concern, however, is the Confession’s perspective on torment after death. I will say the Confession projects a certain ambivalence, assigning torment to a period between death and judgment, and then making no comment about the nature of final judgment. I do not want to presume on its meaning, though my impression is that most theologians believe the judgement is to send the wicked back to the torments from which they have been summoned. 

Without pursuing this issue at length, I will make two observations. The first is that the evidence for everlasting torment as punishment for unrepentant humans is non-existent in the Bible. There are multiple references to the wicked being tossed into the everlasting fire, or the unquenchable fire. An honest reading of these passages would not be an inference that they are tormented forever in the fire but that they are consumed. The fire is not a hibachi in the back yard; it is a consuming fire. The second favorite source of argument for eternal torment is taken from Luke 16.19-31, the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Simply put, this story is untenable as a literal account. It is often called a parable, but allegory is probably a better assignment. This allegory is a brilliant composition, but there are multiple elements within it that clearly mark it as non-historical. Its target is the priestly class and their love of money and power. References to hell are incidental to the story and cannot be used as instruction about hell’s nature. Once you get past these two sources there’s really not much to draw on that would lead us to believe in eternal torment. The doctrine of everlasting torment is serious error. It is profoundly libelous to our gracious, loving Maker.

Biblical Law

Understanding biblical law is tricky, which is why the bible is often misused when it comes to applying its law principles. One key statement is Jesus’ proclamation: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5.17-19). In apparent conflict we have Paul’s statements: Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6.14). Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3.23-26). And then this statement from Paul that helps somewhat to bring resolution: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10.23).

Many theologians have “resolved” the apparent contradictions between Jesus’ statement and Paul’s by dividing Old Testament law into three subdivisions: moral, ceremonial, and civic. The motivation for this is to allow for submission to the moral law while reading Paul’s writings as dismissive of the ceremonial and civic laws.

There are problems with this perspective, the first being that Jesus insisted that all of the law remains in force. The second is that Israel would not have understood any such subdivisions (because no such distinctions are made in Old Testament writings). To them, the Law was the Law. And, as far as I can tell, no such divisions are spoken of in the New Testament, either. 

It is a mistake to dismiss “ceremonial” laws. Instead, every Old Testament law should be considered carefully for its meaning and purpose. For example, if we no longer sacrifice animals for the sake of our sins, this does not mean sin is no longer horrible, that it no longer separates people from God, or that substitutionary atonement is no longer necessary. It is not possible to understand the Gospel without knowing that Christ’s sacrifice permanently covers our sins as the blood of sheep once did for Israel. The ceremonial law did not end; it was, as Jesus put it, fulfilled. It was superseded. It was subsumed.

We are no longer required to leave our beards untrimmed but we are to avoid being of the world. Modesty continues to apply, whether with respect to sexual display or with regard to display of wealth. Outward displays of submission to ideologies, humanistic identities, political platforms, and such, are beard-trimming failures. But more important than outward signs, what must really change are hearts committed to Christ and his Kingdom. Untrimmed beards were always to have indicated something much deeper; they represented commitment to God and his Kingdom. While we no longer need to conform to the outward sign, we still must conform to the meaning of that sign. 

We are no longer required to be circumcised because the people of God are no longer identified by race or outward conformity. Rather, we are required to circumcise our hearts, which means that our hearts are to be pure, consistent with the heart of God.  The nation of God is no longer one of genetic descent; it is a nation identified by its unity with Christ and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  

As for “civil laws”, it is true that Christianity is not particularly concerned with political Israel, but we are still called on to “seek first the kingdom of God”. Tithing, established to provide for the tribe of Levite, which was not assigned land, no longer applies to the Christian. However, generosity, support for those in need, and support of church ministries remain as important principles, guiding practice. 

But more than these concerns is the overall question of how we should look at the Law. Is it a list of disconnected regulations of varied significance, or is it an interwoven description of a way of being? When Jesus said that the breaking of any particular law meant the breaking of the entire Law, that was a claim for its wholeness, its integrity. Underlying the importance of the Law is that it is a portrait of the heart of God. Every transgression of the Law is an expression of a lack of love and trust in him.

When we look at any particular of the law it is not difficult to see how it is interwoven with the main. For example, lying is a part of all licentiousness: we have to “justify” our evil before we undertake it. We are experts at twisting the truth to accommodate our intentions. Another example: it is easy to see how lawbreaking is failure to worship God. He demands obedience; disobedience is always a sin, is always defiance and/or apathy toward God himself. Take the example of stealing. The problem of theft is not so much the harm done to the victim as it is a statement that God’s provision is insufficient. Theft proclaims that we think God does not care for us as much as he should. The examples go on and on. Tossing out Old Testament law is a good way to misunderstand God.

I believe what the New Testament teaches is that we are to retain all of the Old Testament law. However, what it also teaches is that we are no longer under the letter of the law but under its spirit. Jesus helps us again by saying: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22. 37-40). The law, then, is changed (or maybe just dramatically clarified) from being conformity to a list of rules to having a mindset of love and compassion driving our decisions and actions. Again, this does not erase the letter of the law. Rather, it delegates the law to the place of advisor as we try to take practical steps of loving God and one another. 

The “STOP” sign provides a useful example. The letter of the law regarding stop signs is that we are to stop when driving a motor vehicle (or bicycle) wherever such a sign is posted. The stopping place is: front bumper, even with the sign. The driver’s manual will also include language something along the lines of, “Look both ways for opposing traffic. Proceed through the intersection when it is safe to do so.” 

That’s the letter of the law and it hints at the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is that society is interested in efficient and safe travel. When we drive on public roads we must be careful to avoid damaging property or injuring other people, or ourselves. In short, the STOP sign is saying, “love your neighbor.”

The law also is specific about coming to a full stop. This is not how stops are generally practiced, however. Why? The answer is complicated. Full stops take more time. Full stops waste energy. Full stops are not necessary in order to fulfill the requirement to be careful and love our neighbor. Police recognize this and, so, rarely enforce the requirement to come to a full stop. But when we adjust the law to suit ourselves, when we use a more subjective standard (I slowed enough to take in a good assessment of the intersection), this also allows law enforcement to make use of the same standard. “Not only did you not stop, sir; you barely hesitated. Your “roll” through that intersection was unsafe. Here is your ticket.” Now the loving thing for me to do is thankfully receive and pay for my ticket. “Thank you, officer, for doing your job and keeping the citizenry safe.”

We negotiate STOP signs all the time but, in a world that is to be governed by love, even STOP signs can be complicated. But that is what it means to live by the Spirit. We must think for more than ourselves. We must think for others, and we must think: “What do you want me to do, Lord?” And we must take into our calculations the letter of the law and what it is trying to communicate. 

I believe the New Testament teaches that we are no longer under any of the Law. We are no longer under what is formally referred to as the “Moral Law”. Let us look at an example: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” When I say we are no longer under this law, I don’t mean that it is now okay to commit adultery. What I mean is what I think Paul means when he says: You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5.13,14). 

Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5.27,28). I don’t think Jesus’ point was to initiate a more difficult regulation. Note that he only addressed adultery from a male’s point of view. I believe his aim was to get us thinking about the spirit of the law. Adultery is only peripherally about sexual activity. The question to ask is: what makes it improper? Adultery threatens the stability of existing marriages. It has a strong likelihood of deeply hurting marriage partners. It can lead to divorce. It can lead to sexual diseases or abortions. It can lead to births of children into various broken family structures. It can cause long-lasting harm to extended family, and especially parent-dependent children. It can lead to guilt and remorse. It can cause harms that follow individuals for their entire lives. I don’t think we can harm God but it certainly saddens him when we fail to listen to his instructions. And our failures, our sins all, in one way or another, express a distrust in God, in the same way that Adam and Eve’s Sin was about distrusting God. “The spouse you have given me is insufficient. I cannot be happy in the situation you’ve put me in. You are not taking care of me. You don’t care about me. My spouse doesn’t love me, which proves you don’t love me.”

“You shall not commit adultery.” is the letter. But the spirit of the law is that we are to love our neighbors. We are to look out for our spouses and care for them even when they are failing to look out for us. We are to look out for the needs of our children, our relatives and our friends and how they are affected by how we are loving and faithful in all our relationships. We are to remember God’s faithfulness and promises to us, and that his faithfulness is the pattern we are to follow. We are to live with a sense of amazement and joy at the beauty of God’s direction, even when we go through times and experiences that test that direction. Perhaps it is worth saying, especially when we go through times and experiences that test his direction. 

We are no longer under the Law. This does not mean the Law is irrelevant or false. What it means is that the Law is a kind of guidepost pointing to something much deeper. It points to the heart of God himself. God is our Law. He has given us his word in order to help us see his Word, and to fall in love with Him. 

I think there must be a hundred applications every day of the difference between being subject to a list of regulations and being subject to a loving God. But since the subject here is Presbyterian distinctives, let us consider the Regulative Principle. It names itself  as a new law. This ought to be a warning sign in itself. We who are no longer subject to the Law ought not be drumming up new regulations to which we bind ourselves. I have no particular axe to grind here. Good sense and a quick reading of the Bible should lead us to conclude that when the church gathers it should spend time studying all God has revealed to us, spend time in prayer, spend time in worshipful song, and spend time in edifying fellowship. But God did not call for a regulative principle. We seem to like to add to what God gives to us. Whenever we do this we subtract from what he has given us.

Secondary Standards

Secondary standards can guard against churches “going off the rails”. A Presbyterian presentation I was privileged to attend tried to illustrate this via a pair of diagrams. One diagram showed a road that underwent multiple splits, giving the appearance of a tree or a river delta. This was to illustrate what can happen to churches when they look only to the Bible. Different interpretations take people in different directions. The second diagram showed a road that was relatively straight because it was bordered by the fences of a secondary standard. In this case, the Westminster Confession. 

The presenter made his point but perhaps there was something deficient in his diagrams. The same presenter showed a different chart of the history of the Presbyterian church in the U.S. It was a complex diagram of separations, rejoinings, separations, rejoinings, and separations. The chart clearly illustrated that holding to secondary standards doesn’t eliminate the possibility of disparate interpretations of what a church should be. Disagreements can be so strongly felt that people will still split denominations. Some separations are warranted, separating true fellowships from apostate. But many of the separations are over issues that stem from failures to apply grace and allow for religious liberty. The split over slavery in the U.S. came about because the secondary standards were, if not silent, insufficient. While most Christians readily admit that the true Church can be found in individuals and even whole denominations outside of their own, they still seem to think there is more value in splintering the church into small denominations than fighting for church unity. 

Another problem with the second illustration is that it was not accurate. To diagram a secondary standard as completely encompassing the truths of the Bible suggests there cannot be anything in the Bible that is outside the secondary standard fence. The diagram suggests that it may include more than what the Bible says, while it does not admit that it may say less. Even though secondary standards of orthodox Christian denominations aim to accurately reflect biblical teachings, no proponents are so full of hubris as to claim that secondary standards are inerrant. That admission demands that the diagram be redrawn. The road with fences must be shifted somewhat to the left or the right. It will then illustrate that the secondary standard, in some cases, says too much while, in some cases, says too little. This is what it means to admit that a standard is human, subject to error, and subject to revision. It also serves as a visual reminder of the need for semper reformanda

A third point derives from the second. It has to do with how the Bible is approached, read, interpreted, and understood. We cannot read or interpret without bringing our presuppositions and theological frameworks with us. This is mostly a good thing. Depth of understanding depends on understanding language, culture, and having systematics, or world-view points of reference. The weakness of this reality is that we sometimes apply our presuppositions automatically as we listen or read. This is human weakness. We are predisposed to miss plain statements that contradict our presuppositions. We, out of habit, unconsciously perform intellectual contortions that re-form words and phrases so they align with our our conceptual grids.

An extreme example of the power of presuppositions can be found throughout the Gospels. In the Gospels, Jesus continually taught and blessed through his miraculous healings. Some people were touched by the Holy Spirit. Others reacted positively to Jesus because of the material blessings and the potential political blessings. Then there were the religious leaders. They heard the same words the crowds heard. They saw the same miracles the crowds saw. But they understood the facts through a different filter. Jesus contradicted many of their teachings and threatened their favorable position in society. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that was the final straw, as far as they were concerned. Jesus had to die. And Lazarus, too.

When Jesus attacked the traditions of the religious leaders his focus was primarily on their hypocrisy. Their casuistry had a tendency to improve the lot of the religious leaders at the expense of the general population. But that was not his only target. We should not forget the other element of his attacks: that the traditions had come to take on equal or superior status than the Scriptures they were supposedly illuminating. Secondary standards logically and necessarily place themselves in this same dangerous position.  

When we approach Scripture, there should be a sense of, “What have I missed? What will Jesus show me today? Open my eyes, Lord.” To read the Word in a way where we are always adjusting what we read to conform to our interpretive frameworks, we shackle ourselves in a way that retards sanctification.

While secondary standards should be recognized as respected consultants, the responsibility to hear and understand the words of God does not pass from the individual Christian. To reduce the biases of normal human self-affirmation, we must sample different sources. There are brilliant Christian thinkers to be found in the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and other Christian traditions. To recognize this is to understand that secondary standards must be applied with a light hand. 

Systematics help us organize our thoughts, and they help us screen out false ideas. But sometimes round-peg thoughts that don’t fit into theological grids are actually revelations we need to incorporate. Sometimes our grids need stretching, cutting, and welding. Traditions provide continuity and they bind communities. We need communities. But we also need to conform our traditions and systematics to the Kingdom.

Another problem with secondary standards is that they reward conformity and punish those who have issues with the standards. Leadership roles are reserved for conformists. This does not mean that conformists are necessarily doing so without conviction. In my estimation, a large percentage of church leaders actually cherish the secondary standards to which they subscribe. It also seems, though, that many in church leadership assent to secondary standards that they don’t understand and have little interest in. The effect in congregations is that many of the church’s finest thinkers either function marginally, with their gifts underused, or they move on until they find a church that aligns better with their own beliefs. The result is 21st century theology silos. The Christian Church has become comfortable with this phenomenon, but it is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

In a similar way, those who have vested interests in conformity are often put in the difficult position of defending the traditions of their given denomination or facing the possibility of losing their position and/or jobs. The strategy used by those in this position is to avoid, as much as possible, discussing issues where their convictions stray from denominational dogma. This sort of avoidance can mean that flocks are not being exposed to important issues, leaving them unnecessarily fragile.

Should we abandon secondary standards? As standards, I think the answer is, yes. This is not to say that the great documents of the Church should be banished. The Westminster Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and a number of other Christian efforts at summarizing Biblical theology are of great value and are worthy of study. I would similarly say we should study and consult with C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, Augustine, Calvin, G.K. Chesterton, John Stott, Nancy Pearcey, Tim Keller, Richard Foster, and dozens of other brilliant Christian thinkers who’ve wrestled with God, learned to love him, and have found unique ways to help the rest of us do the same. But I think we would greatly bless the Church if we would come to see the standards as counselors. As Martin Luther remarked, “One must know that Scripture without any glosses is the sun and the whole light from which all teachers receive their light, and not vice versa.” 

Church Discipline

It’s difficult to say whether church discipline has meaning anymore. Protestant splintering has created a culture in which individuals, when pressed about their questionable activities, simply move on to a different congregation where their history is unknown. Or they move to a different denomination where righteousness is defined differently. 

Discipline should not be defined solely on the basis of church leadership’s willingness to confront individuals about their sins. Fundamentally, discipline is nurture through the teaching of the Word. Presbyterian teaching is generally quite strong, particularly in such areas as full biblical (O.T./N.T.) integration, the sovereignty of God, and salvation by God’s grace. On the other hand, for some reason, sermons don’t often sound much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Clever theological insights (however true and valuable) are relatively unoffensive. Not so, Jesus’s teachings about how Christians should behave. Such teachings can drive people away, no doubt. But, then, Jesus was not shy about telling individuals to consider the costs of following him.

Are PCA Churches True?

Let us look at the three pillars Presbyterians have identified. Is the pure doctrine of the gospel preached therein? On the whole, I think the answer is, yes, but with a caveat about the lack of practical teaching of what it means to live faithfully as a Christian on a daily basis. Grade: B.

Does it maintain a pure administration of the sacraments? The “sacraments” are revered and practiced, certainly, but both in questionable, muddled, and truncated manners. Grade: C-.

Is church discipline exercised in the punishment of sin? Not very well. Grade: D+.

Is the PCA, then, a denomination that anyone should consider joining? On the basis of its own standards, I would say not. But what if its standards are, in themselves, problematic? What if the standards suggested earlier in this essay were applied? Would it make a difference?

  1. Regularly assemble for worship of the Triune God and for the fellowship of the saints;
  2. Exhibit genuine love for God; 
  3. Pursue his Word and submit to its authority. This pursuit would be reflected through the preaching and teaching in the church, and would permeate conversations among church members. Bible study would be a common individual and small group activity. The study would recognize the grace of God’s acts throughout history. It would emphasize God’s goodness and authority, and it would emphasize the what it means to be human because of being made in God’s image; 
  4. Teach clearly that salvation is by the grace of God, through the work of Jesus Christ, and not by human efforts;
  5. Regularly pray to the Triune God, both corporately and privately;
  6. Regularly sing Psalms and spiritual songs, both corporately and privately;
  7. Regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper;
  8. Administer baptism to all who come to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior; 
  9. Practice love, as defined by Jesus Christ, between members of the congregation;
  10. Practice discipline, primarily through the teaching of God’s commands, but also through personal exhortations, repentances, and forgivenesses. In extreme cases of stubborn commitment to sin, the church will need to resort to progressive discipline, the most severe of which is excommunication. 
  11. Practice sacrificial care for those in need, first towards biological family members; second, towards those in the immediate congregation; third, towards those in Christ’s universal Church; fourth, towards the immediate community; and fifth, towards the community of humanity;
  12. Encourage, support, and regularly practice evangelism, both locally and in the world at large.

Using this set of benchmarks for a true Christian church provides a much better result. The PCA churches I am familiar with would get an overall mark of “B”, rather than the “C” grade that comes of using their own “scorecard”. Have I created categories to make the PCA look better? I think not. Rather, I think Evangelical churches, whether consciously or not, have continually wrestled with the question of what it means to be a healthy Christian church. Churches wish to thrive and grow. Churches want to be places where individuals come to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Churches want to act in obedience, in the hope of the Gospel. Churches want to be places where people’s lives mature and develop to be in keeping with the glorious Kingdom of God. Because of this, Evangelical churches consciously or subconsciously have developed lists similar to the twelve-point list I’ve suggested. 

But something else that’s very important needs to be noted here. The strong points of PCA churches are not derived from their denominational distinctives. Rather, they are derived from their aspects of “mere Christianity”, as C.S. Lewis phrased it. Will the PCA jettison its distinctives? I don’t expect such an action will take place until Christ returns. But when he does return, that will be the end of the PCA. 

How do we love a church like that? How do we love a church that sincerely wants to be Christ-centered but will not let go of the distinctive bag of bricks that it drags down the road? I’m not sure. I know that Augustine said, “The Church is a prostitute and she is my mother.” I know that God has used the Church throughout the centuries, warts upon warts, and yet here I stand, indebted to those who have managed to carry the Gospel to my ears that God might speak to me. I know that Jesus said to Peter: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” We fumble along. It seems clear that Jesus wants us to fumble along together.