What do you make of the X of Xmas? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a Hallmark movie or two and shedding a tear. There’s nothing wrong with singing “Jingle Bells” or wanting hippopotamuses for Christmas. But we don’t want to miss what Christmas is really about and that is the eternal Son of God coming into the world to save sinners.
Good news of great joy for all people
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’.” (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)
It’s the time of year where there are deals galore. All you need to do to get them is enter a special code in the appropriate box and the percentage off will be applied at checkout.
A Christian publishing house offered a site-wide discount using the code XMAS. One customer contacted them taking them to task for using XMAS instead of CHRISTMAS. She claimed they were taking Christ out of Christmas and should know better.
The publisher wrote back and explained that X actually had a long tradition in Christian publishing. Before the invention of the printing press, scribes would copy the Greek New Testament by hand. In so doing, they might abbreviate the name for Christ (Χριστός) with the Greek letter Chi, which looks like the letter X in our English alphabet.
So Xmas is scribal shorthand of sorts for Christmas. The X represents Christ, but that’s only if you are in the know. Xmas could mean different things to different people, depending on your perspective.
Let me suggest four possible perspectives for the X in Xmas, including what each perspective might think of the biblical account of Christ’s birth and a representative seasonal song.
The Atheist Perspective
This point of view (POV) crosses Christ out of Christmas. In fact, it’s not crazy about the word Christmas to begin with. Holiday greetings are more like it.
These are people who are actually doing what that complaining customer was talking about, Xing Christ out of Christmas. It’s kind of a mission statement for them. Religion is enslaving and an opiate to the mindless masses. They are saving people from themselves.
What would this POV think about the biblical account? It’s nothing but a fairy tale, ranking right up there with Frosty and Rudolph. The problem, though, is there are people who actually believe the nativity nonsense.
How about a seasonal song? One candidate is “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Nothing about Jesus and the season does carry danger to the naive.
The Commercial Perspective
The X in this POV is like the X the salesman puts on the contract to show you where to sign to close the deal on your purchase. Christmas is indeed the most wonderful time of the year because it’s when the bottom line moves most dramatically into the black.
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By Josh Buice — 1 year ago
If relevance is based on cultural trends rather than congregational engagement—it’s easy to see how the organ can get pushed out the back door. However, if relevance is based on congregational engagement—the organ will beat out all other instrumental choices hands down.
Recently, my children and I watched the Atlanta Braves take on the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. As committed Braves fans, we’ve waited a very long time (predating my children’s birth) for the Braves to make it back to the fall Classic.
As we’ve watched the games each evening, one thing that I’ve noticed is something that transcends baseball. It has to do with music. Specifically, it has to do with the use of the organ as a ballpark staple. The Braves, along with a number of other MLB teams, have a staff organist who sits in a room high above the field and plays an organ during the game. And the organ is used for far more than “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The instrument was first introduced into professional baseball back on April 26, 1941. A pipe organ was installed behind the grandstand at Wrigley Field, and during the game organ music echoed out across a baseball stadium for the first time. Soon the trend of a ballpark organist was one of the game’s most recognized players.
Matthew Kaminski (@BravesOrganist) who plays the organ for the Atlanta Braves selects pieces of music intentionally designed to keep the fans engaged in what’s happening on the field. During the fourth game of the 2021 World Series, Kaminski began playing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” as Luis Garcia came to the plate.
What’s the reason? It’s connected to the fact that the Astros’ starting pitcher has a very unique windup in his approach to the plate as a pitcher. It looks like he’s rocking a baby in a cradle-like position with his hands. So, this prompted Kaminski to call attention to that reality by using music which caught the attention of many fans—in person and on television.
Beyond the noticeable eclectic style of some organists who play for MLB teams, the real question is why does Major League Baseball view the organ as relevant while many local churches continue to view the organ as irrelevant? After nearly 80 years, more than 50% of MLB teams have a live organist at the ballpark and a good percentage of the other teams pipe in organ music through prerecorded musical pieces. Why has the organ fallen on hard times within the church?
The Organ Is Better Than the Band
In recent months, we have purchased and installed a new organ in our local church’s worship auditorium. In fact, I would urge you (if you’re a pastor) and your local church to do the same. You ask, what’s the big deal about an organ? The fact is, the organ as a single instrument is far superior than the modern praise band.
By Stephen Spinnenweber — 1 year ago
Claiming that the language of O23 & 37 is too “time-bound” and will become obsolete within our BCO signals a gross underestimation of the staying power of the issues before us. Do the members of the National Partnership really believe that the church will not be wrestling with these issues for years to come? Do they sincerely believe that terms like “identity” or “homosexual Christian” will fall out of use in the near or distant future?
In this article, we consider the second claim of those opposed to O23 & 37, namely that both overtures are unnecessary and should not be passed by Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) presbyteries. After reading and rereading the “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (PA) there are several arguments that fall under this “unnecessary” umbrella that deserve careful consideration.
Argument 1: O23 & O37 are unnecessary because our confessional standards already speak to the issue of same-sex attraction.
The PA reads, “The proposed additions to BCO 21 and 24 (O37) bypasses scriptural/confessional language entirely in favor of undefined terms that have no precedent or roots in our Standards. The proposed addition to BCO 16 (O23) is redundant: the 3 provisions that would actually disqualify a candidate are already contained in WCF and WLC” (I.1).
If it is true that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) speak clearly and definitively on the doctrines of concupiscence (“…yet both itself [the corruption of man’s nature], and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin,” WCF 6:5), sanctification (WCF 13:2), and the sin of lust (WLC 139), then why would we not welcome the opportunity to bring our Book of Church Order (BCO) into further alignment with our confessional standards? Far from bypassing or “shifting confessional weight to the BCO and away from the WCF” (I.2) it seems that O23 & O37 are showing a tremendous deference to the Standards by looking to incorporate their theology and language into the BCO. Were we trying to amend the language of the Confession to better adhere to the language of the BCO, then the PA’s objection would have some merit. But as it stands, if there is a shifting of weight to be spoken of at all, it is very clearly the BCO shifting weight to the WCF and not the other way around. The contention that both overtures “degrade our doctrinal standards” has no merit.
Case in point, the PA claims that O37, particularly, “bypasses scriptural/confessional language entirely in favor of undefined terms that have no precedent or roots in our Standards.” This is simply not true. The overture speaks of “union with Christ,” “bearing fruit,” and cites more than 10 verses of Scripture. Obviously, none of these terms rival confessional or scriptural language but echo and extol their language.
Along the same lines, I find it ironic that the National Partnership critiques O23 for its “redundancy” when every officer in the National Partnership and the PCA has vowed to uphold the Westminster Standards which, according to the PA, are redundant. How so? Because the WCF, WSC, and WLC overlap in countless places. For example, the doctrine of justification is treated in WCF 11, WLC 70-73, and WSC 33. If we follow the logic of the PA, then shouldn’t we look to nix WLC 70-73 and WSC 33 for their redundancy since WCF 11 already speaks clearly on justification? What the National Partnership calls “redundancy,” others prefer to call “elaboration” or “reiteration” or “reinforcement.” If the Westminster Divines thought it prudent to repeat themselves at key points, then it seems reasonable for us to do the same.
Additionally, the PA gives the impression that the Standards already speak on character issues as they relate to fitness for ordained ministry by citing WCF 6:5, 13:2, and LC 139 in the footnote. However, these citations do not deal directly with fitness for ordination nor the best way to conduct theological examinations. In fact, there isn’t even a chapter in the WCF that deals with Presbyterian polity as there was a diversity of views represented at the Westminster Assembly (Erastians, Presbyterians, and Independents were all in the mix). The Divines did not intend for the Standards to speak exhaustively on every possible matter and so we shouldn’t feel restricted or bound when we encounter areas wherein the Standards are silent. Instead, we ought to take the words of WCF 1:6 to heart and act in a prudent manner, “There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
Argument 2: The language of O23 & 37 is too reactionary and will not age well within our standards
The National Partnership argues, “In the past, the General Assembly has not found it necessary or wise to address theological or cultural issues by adding language to our BCO. Federal Vision, views on Creation, charismatic gifts, theonomy, etc. are not mentioned in the BCO.” Elsewhere the language of O23 & O37 is called “confusing, litigious, and time-bound.” Claiming that the language of O23 & 37 is too “time-bound” and will become obsolete within our BCO signals a gross underestimation of the staying power of the issues before us. Do the members of the National Partnership really believe that the church will not be wrestling with these issues for years to come? Do they sincerely believe that terms like “identity” or “homosexual Christian” will fall out of use in the near or distant future? Do they believe that our covenant children will not be subjected to tremendous external pressure to compromise on matters relating to human sexuality? It would be naïve to think so. Such being the case, because all signs point to human sexuality and identity being perennial issues facing the PCA, her leaders have a moral duty to respond in a timely and biblically faithful manner. We mustn’t let a fear of being branded as “fearful” or “reactionary” keep us from responding appropriately to contemporary issues that threaten to disturb the purity and the peace of the church. In fact, it would be negligent of us to downplay the significance of these matters and to chalk Side-B Gay Christianity up as a passing fad. It is here to stay and so we need to address the matter now.
To remind the reader of just how timeless O23 & O37 are, notice that both overtures are careful not to mention Revoice by name as this would have introduced the kind of time-bound verbiage of which the PA is critical. Instead of naming the immediate diseased fruit (Revoice) which we hope will wither in the near future as did the Federal Vision, Insider Movement, and theonomy controversies, the overtures wisely focus on the those issues that are at the root of the Revoice conference (human sexuality as it relates to identity) which makes them readily applicable to times and circumstances beyond our immediate context. Just because we are responding to a perennial issue at a time when it is gaining traction in the broader culture does not mean that we are being “culture warriors,” it means we are embodying the spirit of the sons of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). It seems quite inconsistent for those who beat the drum of contextualization so loudly, who call on their conservative brothers to “understand the times” in which they live, to be so critical of overtures that engage the cultural issues of our day. Does contextualization mean that we can only affirm and never critique the culture? If so, then the prophets and our Lord Jesus were terrible contextualizers.
While it is true that we cannot point to specific chapters or verses where we find the words “identity” or “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian,” that does not mean that these words undermine the words of Scripture. Consider the ancient creeds and our own WCF—where in the Bible do you find the word “Trinity?” What about “hypostatic union” or “sacramental union?” Because they aren’t biblical words, should we move to strike them? Would we be right to consign the Nicene Creed to the dustbin of history because it used the “time-bound language” of the fourth century to explain the relationship that the Son sustains to the Father in the ontological Trinity (being of one substance [“homoousian”] with the Father)? Words do not need to be lifted from the Bible in order to aid us in our understanding of the Bible. To say, “We don’t want to pass the overture because it uses non-biblical/confessional words” is the same line of argument that biblicists use to defend their “no creed but the Bible” hermeneutic. If the Early Church Fathers and the Westminster Divines could use the contemporary language of their day to address theological heresy, then we should be free to do so as well.
Argument 3: The AIC study report already speaks to the issue and so we ought to leave it at that.
The AIC study report on human sexuality, as helpful as it is, is in no way constitutionally binding. If the members of the National Partnership are indeed pleased with the content of the AIC, then wouldn’t they welcome the opportunity to apply the wisdom therein to our ordination process? When I see men who sing the praises of the AIC and then in the same breath decry any effort to incorporate the spirit of the AIC into the BCO, the words of Beyonce immediately come to mind, “If you like it, then you should put a ring on it.” So long as progressives in the PCA are content to date the AIC with no intention of putting a ring on it, it is fair to question whether these men truly appreciate the spirit of the AIC. I am not assuming motives, but merely pointing out yet another inconsistency between what the National Partnership says and what it does.
The PA goes on to say that the AIC “saw no need to recommend any changes to our BCO.” Prima-facie this seems like a weighty point. But if you look back at recent study committees, with the exception of AIC on women serving in ministry, recommendations to amend the BCO are rare. The Racial Reconciliation AIC, nor the Creation Views AIC, nor the FV AIC recommended amendments to the BCO. Were I to go back further I suspect the same would be true of earlier study committees. If every study committee did recommend amendments to the BCO, then there would be something to say about this AIC not recommending BCO amendments. But since this seems to be the rule and not the exception, the PA’s argument falls flat. Furthermore, even if the AIC went so far as to recommend that the GA not amend the BCO in light of its research, remember the difference between committees and commissions—committees make recommendations and commissions rule. The AIC answers to the GA, not the GA to the AIC.
Argument 4: O23 & O37 “set up an entirely new architecture for examining committees operating according to undefined terms and with undefined powers.”
This argument pushes back against the last sentence of O37, “In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of church office, Sessions are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations into these matters and to give prayerful support to nominees.” Notice key word “encouraged.” Nothing in this sentence mandates that every presbytery set up an “entirely new architecture” alongside its existing committees. Instead it simply suggests that presbyters (at every level) explore the option of constituting smaller committees to deal with sensitive matters in a more personal and pastoral manner. How disorderly and humiliating would it be to address a candidate’s “potentially notorious sins” for the first time before a local congregation as they are voting to call him as their pastor or on the floor of presbytery during a licensure or ordination exam? But the objection will be raised, “Our examining committees already do this. Therefore, these sub-committees are unnecessary.” Fair enough. If you believe your examining committee is doing a good job at asking hard questions and deals with sensitive matters in an appropriate manner then don’t create such a committee; you are encouraged, not required to do so. But, could it be that the reason we are seeing so many men leave the ministry due to moral failure is because our examining committees are at present, for whatever reason, not dealing with these potentially notorious sins? If so, then can you blame the framers of O37 for suggesting that there may be prudence in creating additional committees to ensure that these matters are adequately dealt with before a man is ordained? In short, if your committee is already doing its job, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if they refuse to deal with these thorny issues as it seems many have, then consider creating a sub-committee that will deal with them.
In the next article we will consider the final “U” leveled against O23 & 37. In that article I will address a number of public statements made by prominent voices in the PCA regarding O23 & 37 and the debate surrounding human sexuality generally.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.
 Pleas note my honest attempt at contextualization.
 Committees are certainly not “entirely new” to the PCA. If the PCA knows and loves anything, we love our committees.
 Matters including “relational sins, sexual immorality [including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography], addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement.”
By admin — 1 year ago
Praying for God’s glory means letting His sovereign wisdom decide what to do with your prayers and your life. It means keeping our focus on Him and on His glory over our own. “Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or for bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his.” When we can’t pray and mean “Your will be done,” we are essentially telling God “My will be done.”
Discerning our motives in prayer isn’t always cut-and-dried. As justified sinners, we should always be suspicious of our sinful hearts. “The temptation to misuse prayer is native to us and comes . . . automatically to every believer,” writes Ole Hallesby.1
Our goal behind evaluating our motives should also be to have a pure heart before God—not necessarily to have prayers answered according to our liking.
The following diagnostic questions overlap a bit, because it’s easier to expose dirty motives by shining light on them from several angles. If you can’t answer the following questions in the affirmative, then your prayers are out of bounds and it’s time to check your heart.
Am I Praying for God’s Glory?
God calls us to do all things for His glory (see 1 Cor. 10:31)— including prayer. This is why Jesus teaches us that “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). When we pray for our own glory, we clash with God’s purposes and exalt ourselves over Him. And our sinful motives often disguise themselves so well that we think we’re seeking God’s glory when we aren’t.
W. Bingham Hunter describes one subtle way of secretly seeking your own glory as “praying with faith in your faith.”2 This type of prayer twists the good promise of answered prayer into a formula. If I pray with enough faith, I will get what I want! And this not only doesn’t glorify God but also doesn’t often work. Hunter explains how praying this way leads to frustration:
When the answer is not forthcoming, we are left only with questions: Did I have enough faith? Did my friends who prayed with me have enough faith? Should I have fasted or perhaps claimed a different promise? Attention is centered on prayer methods and techniques for generating faith. Thoughts center on us. Then they begin to shift with measurable envy toward those who apparently had enough faith: Why him or her and not me? The progression may end in speculations about the reality of God’s love, justice and goodness. The results? We feel alienated from ourselves: we have too little faith. We feel alienated from others: they had enough faith. And we feel alienated from God who set up such a system in the first place. Essentially we are telling God how to glorify himself in our lives . . . and he wouldn’t do it.3
Praying for God’s glory means letting His sovereign wisdom decide what to do with your prayers and your life. It means keeping our focus on Him and on His glory over our own. “Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or for bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his.”4 When we can’t pray and mean “Your will be done,” we are essentially telling God “My will be done.”
A few questions will help you to evaluate whether you are praying for God’s glory:
Would the desired answer to your prayer cause God’s name to be praised?
Would your desired answer to this prayer bring you closer to God or push you away from Him?
How would your desired answer to this prayer impact others? Would it help you to love them more?
Would Jesus pray this prayer in the same situation?5
Am I Praying in Line with Scripture?
This question provides a helpful litmus test for our motives. If we ever pray for something that’s forbidden in Scripture (and thus outside of God’s will), we cannot expect to receive the answer we’re hoping for—and we likely have an idol in our lives to repent of. R.C. Sproul exposes one particularly heinous way of doing this:
Professing Christians often ask God to bless or sanction their sin. They are even capable of telling their friends they have prayed about a certain matter and God has given them peace despite what they prayed for was contrary to His will. Such prayers are thinly veiled acts of blasphemy, and we add insult to God when we dare to announce that His Spirit has sanctioned our sin by giving us peace in our souls. Such a peace is a carnal peace and has nothing to do with the peace that passes understanding, the peace that the Spirit is pleased to grant to those who love God and love His law.6
Don’t miss Sproul’s last point: peace isn’t from God if it’s a “peace” we’re feeling when our actions are flying in the face of scriptural truth. We should weigh every prayer and every motive against God’s Word.7 When we are clearly at odds with the Word, we need to repent. When we aren’t sure, we need to ask God to reveal sin in us and to consider what negative desires and powerful emotions may be warping our prayers.
Am I Pursuing Humility and Holiness?
After James explains the danger of praying with impure motives, he shares how we can repent of them. He quotes from Proverbs, which says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; cf. Prov. 3:34), and then he presents this litany of commands:
Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Be wretched and mourn and weep.
Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:7–9)
And then he closes with what ties everything he’s been saying all together: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v. 10). Essentially, James sandwiches commands to repent between two calls to humility.
Being humble before God is a key part of testing our motives, because it (1) recognizes that our motives may be out of whack and (2) acknowledges that God both knows our sinful motives and is able to reveal them to us. If we want to properly discern our motives, we need to pursue humility and holiness, because a life of sin and pride will cloud our spiritual vision and make it difficult for us to discern our true motives.
James commands holiness and reconciliation with God. The “double-minded” person mentioned in James 1:8 is someone who claims to love God but actually loves sin. James says in verses 7 and 8 that a double-minded person is unstable in his ways and “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” Does sin have a grip on your heart? Those who love Jesus keep His commandments (see John 14:15). In humility, repent of any double-mindedness in your life and pursue God as your greatest love. A healthy life of prayer must never be divorced from a faithful life of Christian obedience.
This article is an excerpt from the chapter “I Have Mixed Motives” of Kevin Halloran’s book When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer. Pick up a copy of When Prayer Is a Struggle for more gospel encouragement and practical tools for growing in prayer. Visit www.kevinhalloran.net to learn more about the book or to connect with Kevin. Used with permission.
O. Hallesby, Prayer, trans. Clarence J. Carlsen, updated ed. (Minneapolis: Augs- burg Fortress, 1994), 122.
W. Bingham Hunter, The God Who Hears (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1986), 161.
John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, rev. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 188.
This last question is a paraphrase of Hunter in The God Who Hears, 198. 76
R.C. Sproul, The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? (1996; repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 209, quoted in Paul Tautges, Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer (Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2013), 27.
It’s also worth mentioning here the utility of regularly praying Scripture, which helps us to keep our hearts and motives tied to the truth of the Word. Doing so is a prayer-filtering mechanism that makes discerning our motives easier and more automatic.