Theology and Essential Tenets of ECO: The Evangelical Order of Presbyterians

These are my notes from the session meeting of the First Presbyterian Church discussing and studying the theology and essential tenets of ECO: The Evangelical Order of Presbyterians. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE ALL IN CAPS.

ECO - A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

This is a sheet we received originally not in October: ECO Essential Tenets – A Summary

See “Theology and Essential Tenets of ECO” (PDF)
Also mirrored here

3 basic questions the interview committee from ECO wants us to answer:

– Why do you want to join ECO?
– What did your process of discernment look like?
– Can your elders affirm the ECO essential tenets for themselves, your leadership and congregation whole heartedly?

There was “infallibility” verses “inerrancy”

– inerrancy typically means everything in the Bible is true at face value (Example: simple inerrant believer would say when Jesus said “the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds” there is yet to be discovered a smaller seed, even if microscopes show otherwise)
– on face value

someone who speaks of the “infallibility” of scripture says the message
– teaching in a parable
– common knowledge of the day included mustard seeds
– this wasn’t a scientific statement to stand the test of time, it is a statement about the Kingdom of God
– Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom, and what Jesus says about the Kingdom in that story is infallibly correct

Fuller Theological Seminarians would say the Bible is “Infallible with respect to faith and practice”

One of the litmus tests in the evangelical / fundamentalists camps
– book “The Battle for the Bible” by Linzell, had been a professor at Fuller and moved to Dallas Seminary in late 1960s
– he claimed Fuller was headed down a slippery slope in no longer holding to the ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible
– it was an in-house battle, most others in the world were not paying attention
– many people

Our ECO document begins saying our overarching belief is God created the human race to bring Him glory (glorify Him) and enjoy Him forever
– the “chief end of man” is singular
– the predicate is plural
– this is a dual answer
– you have to ask why was this worded this way, this was a carefully crafted document
– most reformed believers would say glorifying God and enjoying God are the same answer
– good answer: God is most glorified when we find our enjoyment in him (Jonathan Edwards answer)

Subheadings of doctrine: The authority of God’s word
– authoritative self-revelation
– the God of the Bible is a God who loves to disclose Himself
– He’s not most interested in revealing truths about THINGS, He’s most interested in a relationship with human beings
– His LOVE within the trinity is the focus of God

Augustin’s answer to defining the Holy Spirit in the Trinity:
– Holy Spirit is the vital love union between God the father and God the Holy Spirit

In the West we identify that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (from the Gospel of John), the spirit is not ‘begotten’
– vital to the Council of Constantinople discussions
– this is all human language of course, and in the end human language fails to fully disclose who God is

The bond between the Father and the Son
– when the Spirit lives within us, we have the one who is the window between God the Father and God the Son
– we don’t know of another creature in humanity who has this opportunity: the in-dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts

Before the fall there wasn’t an issue in terms of communion
– we see God walking in the garden, communing with his creatures, including Adam and Eve
– after the fall that was broken
– the rest of the Bible is God’s quest to draw humans back into a love relationship with Him

propitiate means to appease the anger of someone
– this was a key element for pagans in offering sacrifices to try and appease the gods
– the gods were seen as capricious by pagains

The Bible shows us that God is not capricious, his wrath toward is evil is always consistent
– so if we’ve fallen into evil, how can we get out of this dilemma
– in His love, God gave himself (His Son) as
– God propitiate’s himself to do for us what we could not do

We are using terms and language which is bound by time, but God is not bound by time
– everything has happened in eternity
– there is NOT a time before the Son was

The Roman Empire provided ways for news to be communicated in ways that had not been possible in any other era of human history
– for this reason the gospel could ‘get out’ at that time around the world in ways it could not have before that time
– only God knows why this was “the fullness of time” for when Christ came in human time

The Trinity
– we confess this and the incarnation are the “master mysteries”

Jews didn’t believe in God as trinity
– there are hints in the OT about God’s plurality of character and his nature

Genesis 19 when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens.

Are other references to the plurality of God, even Genesis 1 in God’s decision to make human beings
– let us make God in OUR own image
– inherent in the creation story, idea of plurality of the creator as well as singularity, and man being complete in duality of being male AND female
– something evocative about this

in NT we have the Father being spoken of, Jesus making his own declarations about his own divine nature and his relationship to the father
– statements about Jesus
– links between OT declarations unique to who God is (YahWeh) applied to Jesus
– when you hear about God being jealous and not sharing his glory, and the portrayal of Jesus in the NT as being the same as the God of the OT
– when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit and teaches that the Holy Spirit has the same nature as He (Jesus) does

Also

Doctrine of the Trinity is not written in the scriptures but we find it in multiple places both in the OT and NT
– interestingly you DO in the Koran because it’s trying to ‘disabuse’ people of the

All there persons in the Trinity are co-equal, they ALL share in the divine attributes
– that is why orthodox Christians argue it’s wrong to speak of God in functional terms rather than relational terms
– God is always spoken of as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Father is the enternal begetter of the Son
– the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son

In liberal circles you will sometimes hear and read people use functional language to try and eradicate the personal/relational terms of the

We don’t tend to celebrate “Ascension Sunday” that much in Protestant circles
– Jesus’ bodily ascension is made very clear in Acts 1
– important for the physical reality of the resurrection
– God the Son bears his humanity, his bodily existence, at the throne of God, and He sits on the throne with the Father
– God the Son existed from eternity, but Jesus the incarnate Son of God did not exist from eternity
– something big happened at the incarnation: since his birth, death, resurrection and ascension, his human life has been taken up into the Trinity
– the divine nature of Jesus and the human nature of Jesus are inseparable, and they reside within the Trinity
– this is really mind blowing

“The divinity of the Son is in no way impaired, limited, or changed by His gracious act of assuming a human nature, and…His true humanity is in no way undermined by his continued divinity. This is a mystery that we cannot explain, but we affirm it with joy and confidence.”

In the ancient world there were many men like Hercules, demo-gods, more power than human beings but less powerful than the gods
– demi-gods were seen as half-breeds
– the church wanted to be REALLY clear that Jesus is NOT a divine man, he is not half-God, half-man

The fall: not God’s doing but a result of humanity’s free, sinful rebellion against God’s will

Total Depravity: every sphere of human life / every arena in which human beings can think, will or do something is laced with sin
– there is no part of human life that is untouched by sin
– visual depiction: If human nature is a vial of pure water, you take a drop of ink and drop it into that vial, the ink will color everything
— there is not part of the water NOT touched by the ink, this is the same idea of total depravity
— sin is in every part of our lives
– essential: we are not merely wounded in our sin, we are DEAD, unable to save ourselves

Ephesians 2: We are dead in our sins and trespasses
– we are unable to help ourselves, but God who is rich in mercy sent His Son for us
– one reason we believe in the acronym TULIP ideas (T – total depravity) is because we are powerless to initiate by ourselves
– that is why the U of TULIP is unconditional election (God doesn’t say “I will choose you if you show me some things, like faith”
– God’s election is unconditional, we are completely at God’s mercy

I = irresistible grace
– if we are those whom God has unconditionally elected, we will be drawn into salvation, drawn into relationship with the Son
– no one can resist God’s grace

We can’t say “all are elected” because that would mean
Matthew 22 passage

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The call of the Gospel goes out to the whole world, and everyone is free to respond
– if they wanted to respond, they could
– the key is in WANTING to respond
– that wanting comes from God stirring deep within us
– for reformed believers, this is how we’ve tried to understand these teachings from scripture
– no one can respond unless the grace of God stirs in their heart
– people can hear the truths

Before Mateen became a Christian he had heard the gospel, he could tell what it was but he didn’t believe it: he thought it was nonsense (God becoming a human being?)
– so everyone can UNDERSTAND the gospel
– the question is will people EMBRACE the gospel?
– only those who God woos to Himself, via his irresistible grace

Why God elects some and not others is hidden, we can’t look into that
– we know it’s not whim or capricious, God has a plan and a purpose

Election means God’s choice from before time
– He has decided, outside of human experience

We undervalue the power of the Bible to authenticate itself in people’s lives
– if we can just get people to read it, to put aside biases and suspend their disbelief: read it
– the Bible has great self-authenticating power

[AT THIS POINT MATEEN SHARED A WONDERFUL, EXTENDED STORY ABOUT HOW GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT WOOED HIM AS A STUDENT AT STANFORD, AFTER HE’D SPENT A YEAR STUDYING IN INDIA UNDER A GURU]

disciple means student of Jesus

We are called to widely sow the seeds of the gospel, it is God who causes seeds to grow

2 key positions:
– either God’s sovereignty rules in the salvation of human beings, or
– human free will rules

b/c not everyone is going to be saved, that is the Biblical position
– what keeps people from being saved?
– either they haven’t been chosen, or God is doing his best to try and rescue everyone but human beings by their own actions can frustrate God’s desires and actions (God is defeated by human actions)

Jacobus Arminius was a Calvinist but said in the end he couldn’t accept it was God’s decree about who was saved
– he said human beings made the ultimate determination

As Americans we are “incipient armenians” because we live in a culture that celebrates choices, being the ‘captain of your own soul,’ etc.
– the majority of the world isn’t shaped by that vision of life
– much of the world has people who see themselves shaped by forces beyond their control, a cork bobbing at sea
– question about whether God chooses or not, many people outside the USA say “of course God chooses, He does whatever he wants”

Romans 9 deals with idea of people being created out of the same lump of clay for noble uses and some for ignoble uses

Romans 9:20-14 Revised Standard Version

Rom 9:20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?”

Rom 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

Rom 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction,

Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,

Rom 9:24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Election is also referenced in Deuteronomy 7:7-9

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

When we are generating more heat than light, we need to stop our discussion

Ed Koster article:
– saying we have lost our theology and doctrine because we have refused to apply discipline in ANY circumstances
– anyone can do what is right in their own mind if no discipline is present (author of Judges)

God is the principal actor between justification (we are “declared right” before God) and glorification (we have been made right/perfect before God)

Let’s turn briefly to our questions and how we will answer them…