The year is 2055. After several severe economic contractions, a world war, and a deadly consolidation of power between the world’s governments Christianity suffered near annihilation. False brothers turned in brothers, government fiat made it illegal for Christians to do business, and imprisonments and executions were the norm. However, by the grace of God, He has preserved His people during their captivity.
Now with the persecution past, a new and unforeseen problem rocks the evangelical churches of North America: what to do with repentant men and women who have left the faith and now want to return? The following is an excerpt of the minutes of the Synod of Phoenix, where representatives of the continent’s remaining churches and denominations seek to resolve this issue, among others, before a worldwide meeting of Christians the following year.
The former headquarters of the World Federation.
Bishop Clay Theodore: …Amen. I call this meeting now in session, it is the first of November, 2055 AD. Many of you know me here, my name is Clay Theodore, I am an elder of Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. Phoenix has been blessed not to suffer any nuclear strikes back in the 30s, but we experienced persecution just as bitter as everyone else. And, it is because of this persecution that we have called this Synod together. Most of us here represent individual churches, but we have all been selected to speak for our denominations before the Ecumenical Council next year in Australia. We have been called here for several tasks, but first the most important one: The problem of our lapsed brothers and sisters in the faith who are now desire to return. Overseer Nova requests the floor.
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Thank you Bishop Theodore. I am Cornelius Nova, I’m the chief Overseer of Terra Nova Church of Greater Albany, Georgia. Many of you already know that I have been appointed to represent the views of the most of the non-denominational churches east of the Mississippi River. By God’s grace we have made it through, and we have seen the position of Christianity restored worldwide with the collapse of the World Federation, World Court, and World Trade Organization. By the hand of God, I do not doubt, Constantin–
Bishop Clay Theodore: Can you identify him for the minutes?
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Sure, Cyrus Constantin was the last President of the World Federation. He has proved to be a modern day Cyrus of sorts, having taken away the charter of the World Court and defanging the World Trade Organization. Constantin saw what we all saw for decades, and though not a believer, God has used him mightily. In rescinding the bestial world government that has not lived up to its purpose, that is to maintain order and prosperity in the face of the Second Global Economic Crisis, we have seen a return of religious freedom. But, we must not forget our reality, it was only a matter of months ago. I make no apologies for this, that the secularists, Chinese, and the Muslims, and others proved to be agents of none other than Satan himself. In fact, they used the opportunity which famine and economic disorder wrought to rid the world of Christianity itself.
Bishop Victor Imus: There were many Chinese Christians that suffered too!
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Indeed, indeed many suffered but there were 300 million self-espoused Christians but a few hundred thousand actually were willing to suffer and scrounge for food instead of getting libelli like not only the Chinese, but most nominal Christians right here at home–I was not trying to impugn Chinese Christians, but rather I was noting the fact that Chinese powerbrokers obviously were using the persecution of Christians as an alternative means, on top of others, to use the power at the disposal of the World Trade Organization to monopolize the American economy; which is still owned mostly by Chinese by the way. But, to be perfectly honest, I am really not interested in politics so my apologies in even bringing it up.
Bishop Clay Theodore: Can you explain what libelli are, for the record, they were different in each country.
Overseer Cornelius Nova: We thought they work the mark of the beast for a time, but then the anti-christ did not seat himself in the temple and the world did not end, so they were not quite that! (Crowd laughs) The libelli were essentially different documents, usually biometric implant though in third world countries sometimes they were still just paper, that showed citizenship in the World Federation. They gave one the ability to buy, sell, get trial by jury, and the use of other immunities of WF citizens. However, in order to get the libelli people had to forswear all divisive religions and philosophies, including Christianity. In the height of hypocrisy, teaching Christianity was viewed as hateful as doubting the Holocaust while Islam and Buddhism were allowed to continue–
Pastor Don Titus: There was not any rhyme or reason to it, that’s for sure.
Overseer Cornelius Nova: For the sake of Clay who is doing the minutes, let me just note that Pastor Don Titus of Fire Chapel in Ontario, California just spoke and a while before Bishop Victor Imus of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod also made a comment. Anyway, those who had the libelli were showing solidarity with the World Federation, but to show solidarity it required a public affirmation of all different religions, sexualities, and the denouncing of complementarianism alongside racism. And this is the problem we have now. The ELCA does not exist. The Methodists do not exist. The Anglican Church only exists in Africa now. Mega Church Christianity, we do not even need to talk about them, they simply just took out the words “Christian” and “Church,” so they can continue their business. Anyway, many former congregants of these churches, all of which took the libelli now believe they see the error of their ways and they want to worship Jesus Christ again.
Pastor Don Titus: Thank you for introducing me. Herein lies the problem, gentlemen. We nearly have been starved into extinction and much of it is to blame on the easy-believeism that has plagued our churches for 150 years. Actually, I used to hear people say it is a problem endemic with Protestantism, but that was when the Catholic Church still existed.
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: Now there are a few thousand people claiming to be the Pope!
Ruling Elder Sid Rikpen: There weren’t 16 months ago when the minor tribulation was occurring.
Elder Clay Theodore: For the minutes, that is myself, Pastor Nathan Ambrose, Austin Theological Seminary of the Southern Baptist Church spoke first and Sid Ripken, a Ruling Elder from First Presbyterian Church Schenectady, NY was second. Dr. Titus, do you care to continue?
Pastor Don Titus: Yes, thanks Clay. Easy-believeism is precisely why the Church almost completely fell away completely, even the elect if that were possible. Now, we can’t just let them back in.
Bishop Victor Imus: And why not? Did Jesus require anything different from us when we accepted Him as Christ? (Crowd erupts in applause) I mean, I am a Lutheran and even though the issues of baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence may come up in the Ecumenical Council, I still for now will affirm baptismal regeneration! I hope some of you are prepared to affirm the Real Presence. That aside, even though I ascribe to baptism more importance than anyone here other than Dr. Nova–Dr. Nova, you also represent the Church of Christ, correct?
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Correct.
Bishop Victor Imus: Even though I affirm baptismal regeneration, I will concede that completely apart from baptism Christ accepts all of us, no matter how grievous our sins, at the instant we believe. (Crowd gives the Amen)
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Yes, of course Jesus Christ accepts us. But, are we prepared to accept those who have taken the libelli without any pre-conditions whatsoever? (Crowd jeers)
Pastor Don Titus: Yes, let’s not lengthen this meeting longer than it needs to be. We are all Pastors, Bishops, Reverends, Elders, and Overseers here. We know this issues. We just survived the greatest persecution there ever was and so many of us that were supposed to shepherd the sheep fell short because we knew more about having positions of prominence in the community and attaining degrees of high learning, but nothing of sacrifice. So, let’s sacrifice the niceties and get to the point. We absolutely cannot allow those with the libelli back into the church, period! (Crowd gives the Amen)
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: I would presume that surely you do not mean this categorically, wouldn’t you concede that there are legitimate repentant believers among the lapsed? I mean, David was faithful and he committed the grievous sins of murder and adultery, who are we to judge?
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Let’s be careful about how we throw David’s name around. Surely fornicating with one’s step mother, though abominable is consensual and not as grievous as taking life and marrying hundreds of women like David did. Yet, Saint Paul was willing to kick the fornicator out of the church, though it was a lesser crime. He handed him over to Satan so that though suffering from his excommunication, that this suffering might be a means to save him.
Elder Clay Theodore: But David–
Overseer Cornelius Nova: Let’s be honest with ourselves, if David were a member of one of our churches, wouldn’t any one of us discipline him and likely be forced to kick him out? (Crowd murmurs in approval) So, I am not saying that none of the lapsed could really be saved, but they are rightly excommunicated from the Church and should remain so.
Pastor Don Titus: Indeed, their inclusion actually puts the sheep at risk, because it allows wolves into the fold. These same lapsed turned in the orthodox among their own families during the last wave of persecutions. How could we, with a good conscience, risk the sheep entrusted to us? The lapsed can just turn them in again. Leave them out! (Amen!)
Bishop Victor Imus: No! This is how the world thinks: the end justifies the means! How can we cut off repentant Christians from the blessings of the sacraments, the blessings of worship as part of the visible body of Christ, the blessings of fellowship? Jesus Christ did not disregard any who came to Him, on what consistent basis can we do the opposite? (Murmurs of approval)
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: The Christian life requires risks and self-sacrifice. We know what love is because Christ laid down His life for us, so we ought to, if we are called to, lay down our lives for one another! I know some of you want to jeer, but we need to be adults here. We are talking about the will of our God. Are we going to let practical considerations get in the way of worshiping Him in truth? (Mixtures of Amens and negative murmuring)
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: I might be one of the few Elders here that does not have a Pastorate. Our Pastor in Schenectady is physically in very shape due to imprisonment and we are blessed that he can still teach. So myself? I do not teach, but at the PCA’s general assembly they wanted a representative from our church and our Pastor really thought he could make it…but instead I am here. I suppose what I am saying is I believe I have a compromise that can settle all sides on this issue, though I do not come from the position of teaching authority that all of you do.
Elder Clay Theodore: Mr. Ripken, by all means please speak. The Holy Spirit dwells in all believers, God has appointed you an Elder and all of us here are ruling just as you are. Has He not placed you here for that very purpose? What do you propose that we do?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: The issue, the way I see it, is that we need to be true to Jesus Christ in forgiving those who have turned to God seeking forgiveness. Yet, out of brotherly love many of us here have lost limbs, jobs, and lives of love ones by not forsaking our Savior or betraying His sheep to the authorities. How could we risk the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ and compromise the dignity of our worship by simply restoring the lapsed? What we need is a visible, tangible sign of repentance among the lapsed! (Murmurs of approval) Saying, “I’m sorry” if heartfelt might be visible to God because He sees the heart, but we already know that not everyone who says “I’m sorry” and “Lord, Lord” is sincere. Right now, assuring sincerity as much as possible is a must. So, when I speak of a visible, tangible sign of repentance I’m speaking of something that only sincere people will do. Insincere people will spend money to save face, so simply going through a membership class and tithing won’t due. In fact, I’d prefer not a single penny from a repentant sinner if he approached the congregation with the utmost humility and remorse. So, a public sign of repentance that requires humility on the part of the lapsed is what is necessary.
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: Exactly what kind of sign of repentance would you think is wise?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: Well, it depends. Those who lapsed out of severe torture and they have the marks to prove it, we may presume that their flesh deserted them in the struggle. I think it is fair to take them at their word.
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: And how about those that did so from their free will and not torture?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: Well, we cannot simply just assure them that they are in God’s good graces, because not only can we not presume upon it, he who soothes the sinner with flattering blandishments furnishes the stimulus to sin. In this we would be encouraging wrong-doing. Rather, if we rebuke while at the same time instruct a brother, we urge him onward to salvation. So, we must encourage them to repent the way the Bible shows repentance: weeping, fasting, and wearing the equivalent of sackcloth. The humility that it takes to put ashes on one’s hair, especially for women, surely shows that the repentance is indeed true.
Bishop Victor Imus: Isn’t this extreme and ostentatious?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: We must not say that this is extreme if the Scripture speaks of it as normal.
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: What can assure them of their forgiveness with God?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: We must remind them that God can mercifully pardon the repenting, the laboring, the beseeching sinner. Their acceptance at the Lord’s Table is enough for them to know that they are brothers and sisters again.
Cornelius Nova: Didn’t the Lord say, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven: but he that denies me, him will I also deny.” How can we accept them as brothers?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: The Scripture gives all men this promise: “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.” He can show mercy. He can turn back His judgment. But, let not the repentance be less than the sin.
Elder Clay Theodore: Is there a real danger that men will look to their ministers as the ones who assure them pardon and not to God? By repenting publicly their assurance of forgiveness is by being recognized by us.
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: Let no one deceive himself. The Lord alone can have mercy. Jesus Christ alone can bestow pardon for sins which have been committed against Himself, who bare our sins, who sorrowed for us, whom God delivered up for our sins. Man cannot be greater than God, nor can a minister remit or forego by his recognition of one’s repentance what has been committed by a greater crime against the Lord.
Pastor Nathan Ambrose: Then how should we communicate this to the nation’s pastors?
Ruling Elder Sid Ripken: We should warn them that if any one rashly thinks that he can give remission of sins to all, or dares to rescind what the Scripture teaches contrary to such a notion, not only does it in no respect advantage the lapsed, but it does them harm. Hence, cheap grace is not grace at all and none of us should feel tugged by our consciences to give assurance where there is none. Our assurance is that Christ died for sinners and that sinful men like us attain salvation by faith in Him. This faith has fruits, for the Holy Spirit will not desert any faithful Christian. So, we are to point the repentant to their fruits and in this they may take comfort. (The crowd gives the Amen)
Elder Clay Theodore: Do we wish to adopt brother Ripken’s idea? (The crowd approves) Very well then, we will make this the rule for all of our North American churches and propose the idea again next year during the Council. Now, let’s move on to the issue of councils…