Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Thoughts

Four of us Kirk pastors went to see The Nativity Story last week. Although there are a couple of cliché jolts (the light from the star at the end; the adjustment of history to have the wise men arrive just after the shepherds) it is a wonderful presentation of what the wondrous event might have been like.

Most of us, perhaps, have wondered how Mary told her family that she was pregnant and what their reaction was. The same goes for Joseph. What was it like to see and hear an angel? What was the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem like?

Apart from such questions artistically answered, the main strength of the film is the sense of real history that it gives. All of the trappings of Christmas sometimes bury the reality of Jesus beneath cultural and personal traditions. This movie is a good way to be reminded of the reality of His birth.

It is vitally important that we emphasize the historic truth of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. There alone is the basis for our faith that brings to us through Jesus hope, healing, abundant and eternal life. The Christmas Story is not a myth but the greatest moment of world history.

Richard Dawkins, a popular science writer and critic of all things Christian, especially in his new book The God Delusion, decries all of what we believe as an incredible fairy tale. A BBC editorial takes him to task:
Fairy tales are make-believe, swirled in the mists of obscurity. “Once upon a time, in a far-away land, in an age long ago…” Christianity is rooted in history: in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of King Herod. We know the location down to a mile or so, and the time to within a year or two. As Dorothy Sayers said, Jesus Christ is the only god with a date in history. This is no fantasy, but verifiable fact.
...CS Lewis commented... about fairy tales. “I’ve been reading romances, visionary literature, legends, myths all my life,” he continued. “I know what they are like. Not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage--pretty close up to the facts--or else some unknown writer in the second century suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative,” Lewis concluded. The account of Jesus’ birth is as far from a fairy tale as could be.
The whole point of the Christmas story is that God entered into humanity. This was not just a visitation. It was joining humanity to experience all that we do, yet without sin. It was a plan destined for pain, suffering, death, and resurrection for Jesus, providing hope, healing, salvation, and eternal life for all who believe in Him.

Our culture has settled for a mythical Jesus, brought out once a year, dusted off, displayed, and then relegated back to storage until the next Christmas. We, the church, cannot afford to join this in any way. The reality of Jesus in our lives and in history needs to be repeated aloud frequently so that those still in darkness might find His light. I'm truly thankful for a movie (of all things) that helps so much in this mission.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Friday, December 15, 2006

George Washington’s Church Leaves Its Denomination

After the American Revolution, the Anglican churches in the USA were without a denomination. Since their theological system required oversight by bishops, this meant that they couldn’t call pastors until they could resolve the rift. Such churches were run for years by the educated laity.

For Falls Church in Virginia there were more than ample resources. George Washington was a vestryman (like an elder), and the great hymnodist, George Mason was in the church. Later, Francis Scott Key often led services.

Eventually this, and other churches, became part of a denomination, now called The Episcopalian Church. But a lot has changed. Like almost all mainline denominations, the Episcopalians have abandoned the clear inheritance of scripture for the bowl of gruel that culture offers instead.

Orthodox congregations in the Episcopalian Church have struggled for years with the leftward lurch in their denomination. The elevation of an openly gay priest to bishop--in direct opposition to the instructions of the global Anglican denomination--was the final straw for many. Such folk have been seeking ways in which they can continue their tradition, remaining faithful to Scripture. For some, this meant leaving the denomination.

Shortly after the Falls Church congregation voted to disaffiliate from the Episcopalian Church, its rector (pastor), the Rev. John Yates, clearly restated what was behind their action:
"Our leaders have so devalued the Holy Scripture that they can no longer affirm essentials of the faith nor reject sinful behavior. They believe we must stay together no matter what."

For more than a year, Yates and other orthodox clergy have met with Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee to develop a "Protocol for Departing Congregations" which would allow them to leave with their property intact if a super majority of 70% voted to exit and if each church agreed to a fee for the property, worth $17 million for Falls Church and $10 million for Truro.

However, Lee sent a chilling letter two weeks ago threatening to sue individual vestry members if they voted to leave. He cited church canons "15 times without referring to Scripture once," Yates informed his church.

Why? Lee told Yates, "We have a new Presiding Bishop who is like a new sheriff in town." Both churches note they have deeds which antedate the diocese but are asking their churches for authority to contest legally if necessary, as well as approval to leave.

As one parishoner told Yates, "I'd rather worship in a cornfield than submit to heresy."
column by Michael J. McManus Column #1320
This sad event reaffirms what the Kirk did last August. The biggest difference is that we disaffiliated early on in reaction to the presbytery’s filing of an affidavit against our property and the revelation of the PCUSAs legal game-plan. These showed that the “process” was not to be trusted.

So it was for the two largest Episcopalian congregations in Virginia—Truro and Falls Church. They entered into a long-term process with their bishop only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the last minute. With this betrayal, the congregations had no choice but to step outside the system and, thereby, their denomination.

Just like us, their title and deeds to the property pre-date the denominations' legal claims to the property. Like us, they will have to enter into a lengthy and expensive legal process to retain what they and their predecessors built. Keep them in your prayers.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The EOP Has Written

If you are a Kirk member, you should have received the latest missive from the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery administrative commission. The letter contains an invitation and a card.

The invitation is confusing, since it implies that there are separate meetings for those in favor of staying in the PCUSA and those who are not, yet the time and place for both are the same.

The card is essentially the vote that EOP wanted us to hold for them instead of our disaffiliation. The card asks whether you want to "continue to worship with Pastors Gray and Hardy," want more information on the PCUSA, desire a pastoral call (apparently not from Gray or Hardy) or have moved your membership.

As I've repeatedly said, you are welcome to do whatever you want. Please do not think, though, that you need to go to the meeting or return the card in order to support me, Wayne, or the Kirk. We have moved on. I honestly believe that attending the meeting or sending the card--regardless of what is said--will be used by the denomination as ammunition against us. For me, this whole process has a Kafka-esque quality of logic. We are no longer part of any denomination but the PCUSA insists that we must be and is calling meetings as if we (and you) are.

It feels a lot like my recent experience with some telemarketers. I filed, as did many of you, the notification that I did not want to have more calls soliciting sales. But some telemarketers have ignored this and others insist that they have the right to continue to call me, even though I've repeatedly asked them to take me off of their list.

I'd like to think that this will be the end of the facade of the PCUSA's connection to us, but I doubt it. I'll keep you posted.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Episcopalian Fractures Widen

The signs are all there. On the left, the American Episcopalian Church, which alienated itself from the global Anglican fellowship by its election of an openly gay bishop, are voices saying that they may have to go on alone, isolated from the rest of the Anglican world. While there are Europeans who would welcome the addition of gay bishops, the vast majority of Anglicans, now concentrated in the so-called Third World, are appalled by the prospect. That means not many will follow in the footsteps of the American Church, and certainly not the official Anglican church, centered in Canterbury, England.

On the right are American traditionalist Episcopalians just as appalled by the actions of their national church. Some individual churches have already withdrawn, as we at the Kirk did from the PCUSA. There is even an entire diocese (the equivalent of one of the PCUSA’s presbyteries) that is withdrawing.

In such a situation it would be sensible to agree to disagree and moving on separately. We've learned not to expect common sense or common grace from a liberal denomination. Like the PCUSA, the officialdom of the Episcopalian Church is dominated by the “tolerant” left wing. The Episcopalian liberal leadership is similarly bent on keeping property and punishing those who would leave.

The great irony here is found in the language used by the liberals as they criticize those leaving. They argue that they are preserving the faith!

The newly installed Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Katherine Schiori, has sent the following to the Bishop of San Joaquin Diocese in Southern California, upon their progress toward separation from their denomination:
I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to “uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care.

I certainly understand that you personally disagree with decisions by General Conventions over the past 30 and more years. You have, however, taken vows three times over that period to uphold the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere. Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence. I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity.
This comes from a denomination that has aggressively ordained openly gay priests (and a bishop), has championed same-sex marriage, and has wandered far from its original faith. For its leaders to criticize a conservative Bishop saying that he is no longer upholding the “doctrine, discipline, and worship, of the Episcopal Church” would be laughable, were it not so sad.

The Episcopalian leaders are also just as free as the PCUSA leadership with threatening language. Bishop Lee in Northern Virginia diocese is particularly bellicose:
I believe your successors in the future will regret that decision and its destructive consequences to the whole church,” the bishop wrote of congregations threatening to leave the diocese. Any congregation attempting to leave without a negotiated settlement with the diocese “will have repercussions and possible civil liability for individual vestry members."
My heart resonates with the statement of the vestry (board) of Truro Church.
The Episcopal Church thus has walked beyond any worldly hope of or expectation for returning to its original foundations. In addition, the toil of resisting and enduring its decline has taken a heavy toll on Truro, particularly in the three years between the General Conventions. The feedback that has flowed in from the congregation during our discernment period, in dozens of small groups, in written submissions, in congregational meetings, and in countless private conversations, has confirmed our sense of this toll and indeed shown it to be heavier than we had thought. We therefore have been constrained to conclude that, if Truro Church is to continue as a vital congregation, and if it is to preserve its witness to God’s Word and its fellowship for the Gospel throughout the Anglican Communion, we cannot persist any longer in The Episcopal Church. We must sever our ties, so that we might remain with those who do not hesitate to contend for the faith but rather delight in doing so.
This is where we at the Kirk found ourselves this last summer. We need to keep Truro Church and the San Joaquin Diocese in our prayers. Like the Episcopalians, we face opposition from denominational leaders content in their own unorthodoxy, but horrified at the unorthodox nature of our departure. Like these Episcopalians, we face the loss of the property that we have built, paid for, maintained, and lived in. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, it is actually a small price to pay in order to delight in contending for the faith.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Religious War II

Yesterday, I began an answer to a reader who has real problems with how I interpret Scripture and, in particular, how this might relate to Islam.

As I go a little further into the subject of Islam I need to remind everyone that I am NOT an expert on this religion. What I say comes out of simple logic, using statement from a translated Koran. I believe that most Muslims insist that a translated reading of the Koran is insufficient. Since I work from original languages in the Bible I have some understanding of the difficulties of translation. However, good translators of the Bible overcome such difficulties with few exceptions. I think that the same thing must be true of published translations of the Koran.

Let me state up front that I believe in respecting other people in their beliefs. This does not mean that I give up my own beliefs in any way. Nor does it mean that people of other faiths, or my own, should be free of reasonable observations, criticism, and questions.

“As to the matter of the Muslim Qur'an sounding like the Old Testament, it is true that both books portray divine commands to kill or control those outside their respective faiths. You speak of the New Testament as 'mitigating' these commands in the Old Testament, and the Qur'an as having no such mitigating revelation.”

The Old Testament with the New Testament is a very different Bible than the Old Testament alone. It is so different that "progressivists" have moved toward what they once mocked—the ‘red-letter’ editions of the Bible. These are the Bibles that have the words of Jesus in red type. The progressivists who now only believe the red letters do so because they reject anything that smacks of the Old Testament legal system. The one thing that they are right about in this is that Jesus’ words transform contrast greatly from the early covenants. Christians believe this is because Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Covenant (promise). This means that Jesus is the direction toward which all else—even of Scripture—is pointing.

“The Muslims I have known look at the Qur'an in similar ways. They know God is not bloodthirsty. They know they are called to peace with all people. You do them a great injustice to paint them all with one stroke.”

Islamic faith has no corollary to the words of Jesus. While it contains much that is admirable, there are passages like the following ones that are not countered by authoritative words of peace.

[8.17] So you did not slay them, but it was Allah Who slew them, and you did not smite when you smote (the enemy), but it was Allah Who smote, and that He might confer upon the believers a good gift from Himself; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

[60.1] O you who believe! do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Apostle and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord? If you go forth struggling hard in My path and seeking My pleasure, would you manifest love to them? And I know what you conceal and what you manifest; and whoever of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path.

[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

Note particularly how [60.1] contrasts with Jesus’ teaching that we are to love our enemy. There is a tremendous difference between our religions. While Christianity has been guilty of using Scripture to justify violence, it has been through a misuse of the Bible. You cannot, for instance, blindly act on an Old Testament command to the Israelites without first seeing if it is compatible with what Jesus teaches.

"How convenient that you sidestep Christ's comment that not one letter of the law (Torah, the Old Testament) would be changed until all had come to completion."

When Jesus spoke of the nothing passing from the law until his completing, he was referring to the completion of his mission on earth, which happened through the Passion and, ultimately, in the resurrection. In Luke 16, Jesus says
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached…”

“I believe that we must turn to the Holy Spirit to help us understand clear conflicts within scripture. Some of the ways in which the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions have relied upon the inspiration of the Spirit are through historical and textual criticism, aided by archeology and anthropology. We also pray, confer with tradition, and dialogue/debate among ourselves as we study scripture. We use the brains God gave us and seek the Spirit's help to guide us so that we may discern God's truth within the complexities of the Bible.”

The Bible is not as complex as some would say. Most “complexities” can be solved by seeking the counsel of the whole of Scripture. So-called contradictions harmonize easily. If, though, one want to atomize Scripture and demand that each statement be evaluated alone, it seems to be highly contradictory. The same thing would be true of the writing of any person in history.

I believe that the Holy Spirit does guide our understanding in terms of affirming faith and convicting us. What I don’t believe is that the Holy Spirit might give us some novel interpretation. One of the problems with the PCUSA, I believe, is that it has used the weak wording of C67 to justify a demotion of Scripture from the Revelation of God into a book that has to be re-evaluated by every generation that arises.

It all comes down to how we read, interpret, and believe our Holy Books. The real test of this is in the witness of the believer. I feel at times as if the debate in mainline churches and here on this blog is between those who take the Bible at face value and those who don't. I believe that there's a world of difference in what such beliefs produce.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Friday, December 01, 2006

Religious War

What is wrong with the following headlines?
"Artist Immerses Cross in Urine. Christians Riot Worldwide, Death Toll Mounting."

"Artist “Paints” Virgin Mary Using Feces. Art Museums Ransacked and Burned by Christians."

"Islamic Cleric Insults Jesus. Crowds of Christians Attack not only Mosques, but Worshipers Exiting Mosques."

"Crèche Scene Removed from Civic Center. Conservative Christians Threaten Lives of City Council."
Although the headlines seem familiar, they’re reversed. When Islam is denigrated in any way, violence is actual or threatened. Christianity is attacked with impunity, and no violence results.

Yet we still hear from liberals and progressives that Christianity is a “violent religion.” The specter of the Crusades (900+ years ago) is most often raised. Abortion clinic bombings are cited. Foreign wars are also raised as examples.

Some even try to characterize the current war in Iraq as a “Christianity vs. Islam” conflict. The initial casualties, including thousands of deaths, of the Iraq war were appalling, as is the case in all warfare. Now, though, the fact is that there is much more internecine violence between Muslims of different sects than there is Americans killing Iraqis. This has never been a religious war on our part.

One recent commenter to this site seems to believe that I, and people like me, somehow approve of violence done by Christians. I had mentioned to this writer that I wasn’t aware of any religious warfare today involving Christians. In addition to raising the Crusades, he says the following:
“The German Christians (representing many denominations) who supported Hitler's National Socialist agenda in the 1930s and 40s to exterminate Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others. The majority of the world recognizes this as attempted genocide.”
The subservience of the nationalist German Church to Hitler is a terrible stain in the history of Christianity. But the genocide of WWII was not done in the name of religion or in the name of Christ. Hitler was a pseudo-pagan whose faith was best expressed in Wagnerian Opera, not Christian hymns.

Orthodox Christians held out against Hitler and everything he did. The Barmen Declaration, written in the mid-1930s, demonstrated that traditional Christianity resisted, sometimes even to death. The nationalist Church, coming out of the liberal tradition, wrote hymns to Hitler and included the Nazi salute as a church ritual. When one doesn’t have a clear faith, one can be vulnerable to any alteration.

This writer goes on to mention what he considers to be modern religious war, part of which was perpetrated in Jesus' name.
“Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces (Orthodox Christians) who perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks (Muslims) and Bosnian Croats (Roman Catholics) in Bosnia in the early 1990s. International courts are still debating the question of genocide.”
Chrissie and I have traveled frequently throughout Croatia and have been in Bosnia. We have friends there who lived through the vicious warfare of the 90s and we’ve personally witnessed the damage to villages and, particularly, churches. I have in my home a piece of rubble that used to be part of an altar in a destroyed Croatian church.

The warfare there was between Croats and Bosnians, largely seen respectively as Catholics and Muslims. The source of their ancient anger, though, is not their religion. It is surviving nationalist hatred dating back to the middle ages. I am not aware that any Christians or Muslims justified that war by their faith.
“White supremacists who intimidate, abuse, and/or murder people of other races and religions in an effort to keep Christianity and the human race ‘pure.’”
There are white supremacists who, sadly, cover themselves in a mantle of so-called Christianity. These people, though, are more related to the 1934-45 German nationalist Church than Christianity. They do act in the name of Jesus (something the German church didn’t), which is reprehensible.

As bad as their thinking is, I’m not sure that they’ve done much violence. They bear watching, but they are such a tiny minority that they really represent no one but themselves.
“…Muslims cannot be held accountable as a group for the actions of extremists and terrorists who call themselves Muslims.”
I wouldn’t blame a Muslim neighbor for actions done by terrorists, but I would hold her or him accountable if they refused to decry such violence. I do blame Muslim leaders who call themselves moderate, yet do not speak out against Islamic terrorism. I'd also like to ask this writer, "Why do you hold Christians accountable for all the accusations you make, yet feel we cannot do the same with Islam?"

I'll say it for myself. I am opposed to any and all violence done in the name of Jesus. If Christians blow up an abortion clinic, they are wrong. If they kill an abortionist, they must face the full effect of the law. (I have actually written newspapers saying these things.) If they deny someone their legal rights in the name of Jesus, they are wrong. If they persecute someone because he or she is not Christian, they are wrong. If our nation says that it must invade another because Jesus calls for it, I'll join the picket lines in opposition.

But there really is religious warfare going on right now. If you found yourself in a city center, surrounded by thousands of people shouting “Jesus is Lord,” would you fear for your life? What if it were thousands of people shouting “Allah u akbar”? There is religious war today, but it is not being perpetrated by those who follow Jesus.

Tomorrow I’ll write further on this subject.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Finding the "True" Church

Today’s Layman Online (pause for boos and hisses from “true church” Presbyterians) had an editorial that clearly defined what is now happening in the EOP Administrative Commission process. The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery has received our list of members and addresses and is preparing a letter that will invite your response. The response that they want is from people opposed to the decision we made to leave the PCUSA--anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason.

It doesn’t matter if such “members” have moved to another part of the country or if they have joined another church. It doesn’t matter if such folk intend to attend, give, or support the Kirk in any other way. The presbytery will be satisfied just to have a body count.
In a North Carolina case, the body was 3,000 miles away. It belonged to a Presbyterian who moved from the East Coast but had not taken his name off the local church’s membership list. Nonetheless, a presbytery contacted the exile and asked him to state his opposition to the congregation’s decision to leave the PCUSA. He did. Number him now among the “true church.”
The Layman accurately describes this process as a “scavenger hunt.” The article points out that the tiny minority of the Kirk membership opposed to our disaffiliation (3%) is sufficient for them to lay claim to the property, thereby casting out the 97% who are the ONLY people who comprise Kirk of the Hills today.

As the Layman editorial says, “Frankly, it’s laughable about how the denomination’s leaders define the “true church” in today’s turmoil. The disgruntled and the absent are high on the list.”

The article details what happens if a “true church” is found and, in our case, if the court agrees with the Presbytery.
  • That tiny group of people gets the church property.
  • Two or three people are enough to constitute a “true” church.
  • If there are enough people, they struggle to minimally operate the property, keeping the “true” church alive only as long as they are.
  • If there are not enough people to pay the bills, the presbytery sells the property, keeping the cash.
This is the worst kind of stewardship. It would be a pyrrhic victory for the denomination, like an operation where the surgery was “successful” yet the patient died.

As bad as it would be if the Kirk lost the legal battle, it would not be the end of the world for us. The Layman article cites the case of a Presbyterian church in Findlay, Ohio, which asked for dismissal in 2002.
… the presbytery fired the pastor, conducted a night-time raid to change the locks, cleared out the pastor’s office and took over the property. Ever since, a small number of “true church” members – some recruited by the presbytery from other venues – has held services. They average about 41 a Sunday, compared to 350 to 400 before the “schismatics were turned over to Caesar,” as the denomination’s once-secret legal strategy phrases it.

Meanwhile, there remains a “true church” in Findlay. It consists of those who voted to leave the denomination and reorganize as Gateway Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After having to meet in a kennel the first Sunday after the presbytery raid, they have nearly completed a $3.5-million building. And membership is booming where the gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and discipline is used to hold members and leaders accountable to Christ.
While this denominational process is a farce, the power of Jesus Christ is anything but. I do worry about the property issue for us since I want the property best used to the glory of Jesus Christ. We’ll continue to be the church, doing the ministry we’ve done for 45 years. If we end up having to move, we’ll do the ministry from there.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The EOP Rides Again

I just received information from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery regarding the Kirk. It is a letter from the General Presbyter, basically summarizing what has happened up to this point. I have no disagreement with most of the letter, but there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on.
“It should be mentioned that the Presbytery is paying for all of its legal expenses. There is no PCUSA money available to help. The expenses are being paid out of our unrestricted reserves, which have been strong in the past but are not unlimited. The presbytery’s mission budget will also be affected next year, but we do not know yet by how much.”
This is a tough financial situation for EOP and the Kirk. It could come to an end immediately if the presbytery decided to recognize that the property legally and morally belongs to us. It could also come to an end if we simply walked away from the property, which we will not do. It could end if the EOP would agree to negotiate. I’m a bit surprised that the PCUSA is not helping out. They have reserve funds set aside for just this purpose.

The PCUSA is stretching out the process. We received news today that the denomination has filed for an extension to the case, which should be approved by the judge. Perhaps they are just biding time for the presbytery’s Administrative Commission to finish its work, whatever that is. A clue of its purpose is found in the letter:
“The Presbytery, on September 5, appointed an Administrative Commission to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk and between the Kirk and the Presbytery, to seek reconciliation where it is possible, to offer pastoral care, and to investigate the validity of reported irregularities. The Commission, as part of its pastoral concern for all members of the Kirk, has been holding Sunday evening worship services at Southminster Presbyterian Church, led by a number of our pastors and attended by both members of the Kirk and members of other congregations in our Presbytery. The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk, which will be mailed once membership records are received. After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved.”
Let me respond to key points in the above paragraph.

“…to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk…”
I am not aware of division at all. I realize that this may be hard for the EOP to believe, but it is true. We just completed a marathon phone survey of the congregation. We did find that some people had moved their membership because they disagreed with our disaffiliation. The number is consistent with what we had at the congregational meeting: about 30-40 people. This is a very small number for a large church. That doesn’t make these people unimportant, but it does demonstrate that the Kirk is not a divided church.

“…investigate the validity of reported irregularities.”
All the EOP needs to do is read my blog (I think they may have already done so). In the blogs I give detailed accounts of what we did, and when we did it. While our move is decidedly controversial, we have not hidden or covered up what we’ve done.

“...the commission[‘s]…pastoral concern…”
The time for pastoral concern is long past. During the years the EOP was aware of our struggle with the PCUSA there was never a word of concern or support spoken. The few conversations about our concerns were, I felt, tinged with tension and disapproval. The same General Presbyter who wrote the letter once commented to me that "he wished that the extremists in the church were not dominating the conversation." That statement included me as an "extremist." There are many opportunities where a presbytery can act pastorally. Those didn't happen. We never even had the required tri-annual visits from the Committee on Ministry, as required by the PCUSA constitution.

“…the Commission…has been holding Sunday evening worship services.”
This was, for a short time, a source of confusion for some of our members. The way in which the presbytery worded notice of the services seemed, to some, to indicate it was a worship service of the Kirk, not the Commission. Since we are actively planning to start a new church, some thought this was what the announcement was about.

The confusion has been clarified, although the EOP claims to “own” the name of our church. I have a member who has been attending some of the services just to observe. According to him, services in November were attracting about 15 people, none of whom were Kirk members.

“The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk...”
The EOP has already written our congregation, with very limited results. One more letter will not change anything. As in the past, when the EOP has contacted Kirk members, I’ve said that people are free to respond or not respond, as they wished. If the congregation were divided, the presbytery would have a sizeable response. It hasn’t happened and won’t this time, either. These contacts have, though, increased the congregation's level of irritability toward the EOP.

“After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved”
I think that they may end up talking to themselves. Those who deeply disagreed with our disaffiliation have already moved to other churches, most notably First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. We didn't know, at first, how many moved there because First Presbyterian failed to notify us that they had received our former members.

Our telephone marathon revealed that other members moved out of Tulsa without telling us. A few joined other local churches in the last year—not because of disaffiliation, but for other reasons. In each phone call we asked people directly how they felt about us leaving the PCUSA and the responses were highly encouraging to us.

The EOP is desperately trying to identify a "true church" from within the Kirk congregation. I cannot say that they'll find no one sympathetic to their cause, but I'd be surprised if there were any significant response.

There is one more thing in the letter that I feel compelled to comment on.
"This is a difficult matter and one which is best worked out among brothers and sisters in Christ rather than on a public stage."
At one level I agree with that statement. If we had had any confidence that the EOP and PCUSA would deal with us fairly, we'd have worked quietly with them. But the filing of the affidavit, combined with the release of the hardball legal gameplan (which the EOP is following) destroyed any confidence we might have had. Conversations I've had with churches throughout the country who have tried to work with presbyteries have almost universally found that the denomination doesn't just want to keep dirty laundry out of the public eye--they've gagged pastors and sessions so that the process outlined by the Louisville "game plan," worked out in the dark, would not be examined by the light of Truth. The Bible speaks to this:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
The reason for writing this blog is to keep the light shining, especially on the processes employed by the PCUSA against dissenting churches. I wish the denomination and the presbytery no evil, but I will not cooperate in something that could be evil.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Furthering PCUSA Mission

Church property is a hot issue in the PCUSA. Few know that as well as we do at the Kirk. The denomination (from its national legal gameplan) insists that presbyteries must retain property—or get a significant settlement—to further the mission of the PCUSA.

Is that why the Pines Presbytery allowed one of its churches to sell its building to an Islamic society to become a mosque? An article in today’s Layman Online details the merger of two churches and the sale of one of the church’s property.

It wasn’t as if there were no other qualified buyers. There was one organization that wanted the church in order to reach out to the homeless and poor through a Christian outreach center. The other wanted to create a Christian worship and evangelism center.

The pastors involved argue that this sale will improve dialogue with Moslems—it will be a great learning experience. The only problem is that none of it will be Christian teaching that is learned. The pastors aren’t even thinking about evangelizing the Muslims, believing that they are each “children of Abraham” and worship the same God we do. They’re ready to learn Arabic so that they can learn the Koran.

It simply isn’t mission. The real reason for this sale was money. The Islamic Society offered more cash than the Christians. To me, this is a metaphor of the property issue at hand for PCUSA churches, like ours, that leave the denomination. It’s not really about mission, it’s about money.

I’m not opposed to Islamic Societies building mosques. It’s the context that bothers me—they didn’t need Christian church property to meet in.* Having traveled extensively in the Middle East, I’m painfully aware of the thousands of ancient churches converted to mosques and it pains me to think of the same thing happening here. Islam is not interested in cooperating with Christian ministry; they are bent on overcoming other religions and placing them into dhimmitude (official second-class status). Most of the churches they now occupy in the Middle East and Turkey weren't purchased, either. They were taken at the point of a sword.

As more and more Presbyterian churches die and the property empties out (or as the denomination confiscates property from vital, dissenting congregations), the more this kind of issue will arise. What the PCUSA and all mainline denominations need is Christian evangelism to fill the buildings, not extra cash to support a dying denomination.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

* A related incident occurred in Tulsa not long after 9/11 when the University of Tulsa (ostensibly a Presbyterian institution) built a brand new mosque on its property.
CORRECTION: One of my elders pointed out that the University of Tulsa simply provided the land. They did not provide the funds for building the mosque.

Photo by Gary Miller from the November 2006 issue (Vol. 39, No. 5) of The Layman. Reprinted with the permission of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d d[a]y of October, A.D. 1789.

(signed) G. Washington

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Houses Divided

I have written before that my experience in the PCUSA taught me that the two religions there were orthodox and progressive Christianity. Certainly, there are variations and degrees of both, but it is clear: there are, in mainline denominations two different “churches.” One believes in the Bible at face value and seeks to maintain what the Church has taught through the ages. The other believes that culture, sociology, and science have as much or more to teach us than Scripture. One progressive responder to this blog defined this kind of “faith” saying, “What do first century marriage and sexuality in what is present day Turkey have to do with American 21st Century marriage and sexuality? Answer: virtually nothing.”

I just read an article, “Irreconcilable Differences” by Jack Estes that clearly demonstrates the fact that mainline denominations actually are made up of two different faiths from the Episcopalian perspective.

Who is Jesus? What is the gospel? How does holy scripture have authority? What is sin? Morality? Is God independent from the universe, or interdependent with it? These questions penetrate the idyllic surface of statements to which all claim to adhere. Beneath the surface we are faced with answers from two separate and distinct theological systems. These systems may be cohesive in and of themselves, but are radically different from one another.

Once the surface is broken, like a scuba diver we begin to see clearly what lies beneath. Two distinct visions of what it means to be an Anglican, perhaps even what it means to be a Christian, have emerged, and there is a great divide between them. This divide will not be breached by simply talking it over in the common language of the surface. Such conversation is merely representative. It does not convey the meanings that reside in the depth. The only way this division can be overcome would be if one or the other abandons their theological presuppositions.

Will this happen? Will liberal Episcopalians abandon their commitment to promoting gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender inclusiveness, a peace and justice gospel, and the acceptance of all faiths as equivalent paths to God? Will conservative Anglicans abandon their commitment to morality based on an objective scriptural standard, Jesus as the exclusive means of salvation, and a gospel that proclaims the need to convert others to Christianity?
Simply answered, No!
(emphasis added)
Not only is there a huge difference between progressive and orthodox Christianity, but some in the progressive camp revert to claims of orthodoxy when dealing with orthodox dissidents. They do this without apparently recognizing the irony, or even having the decency to blush.

An egregious example of this comes from the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to one of her orthodox bishops. She is concerned that his diocese is considering leaving the denomination and she argues the point—get this!—by implying that he is undermining traditional faith.
I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to “uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care.

I certainly understand that you personally disagree with decisions by General Conventions over the past 30 and more years. You have, however, taken vows three times over that period to uphold the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere. Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence. I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity.

As you contemplate this action I would also remind you of the trust which you and I both hold for those who have come before and those who will come after us. None of us has received the property held by the Church today to use as we will. We have received it as stewards, for those who enjoy it today and those who will be blessed by the ministry its use will permit in the future. Our forebears did not build churches or give memorials with the intent that they be removed from the Episcopal Church. Nor did our forebears give liberally to fund endowments with the intent that they be consumed by litigation.
(emphasis added)
The Presiding Bishop, representative of the core of those who are re-writing faith into something more comfortable to them, is accusing this traditional bishop of "violat[ing]...the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them"! She has the audacity to say that he is the one putting "many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence" even as she and her ilk have undermined and/or dismissed the saving core of the Gospel!

I believe that the mainline denominations—Congregational (UCC), Presbyterian (PCUSA), Methodist, and Episcopalian—are headed to ultimate division. I also believe that there will be a further disintegration of the progressive remainder as, without clear belief or evangelism, they will simply die out. This seems sad but, in a time when people are mostly disinterested in denominationalism, it may simply be progress toward the inevitable.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Examining" Candidates III

Often, when we are complementing someone’s honesty, we say, “you can take him at his word.” I know of one organization you shouldn’t trust in that way. The Covenant Network has entered into George Orwell’s domain of “newspeak” (a word that is often referred to today as “doublespeak”).

In 1984, Orwell coined a word for his invented future, “blackwhite,” defined as the ability to accept whatever “truth” the party puts out, no matter how absurd it may be. Orwell described it as “...loyal willingness to say black is white when party discipline demands this. It also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know black is white, and forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

Such is the content of part of the Covenant Network’s “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers” paper (GECO). The paper recommends novel definitions to aid judicatories and candidates overcome constitutional obstacles for GLBT ordination.. Most of us remember President Clinton giving a lawyerly answer to a question saying, “That depends upon what ‘is’ is.” Several points in this paper remind me of such a response.

GECO approaches words in a way that coaches a dishonest cover for people wanting to get by a presbytery committee’s questions on sexual morality. They introduce the “newspeak” concept with, “Here we talk about some of the key terms in G-6.0106b—‘chastity,’ ‘singleness,’ ‘refusing to repent,’ and ‘practice the confessions call sin.’ As we’ll discover, there is room in all of these terms for some kind of same-sex relationship.” (p 42)

The meaning of these terms would seem to be obvious. But that’s before one employs a lawyerly angle. Most people will describe a “chaste” relationship as one without sex. Repentance means meaningfully admitting a wrong with the intention of never repeating it. But such definitions would give actual meaning to the paragraph, requiring real adherence.

Chastity is redefined in three categories: supposed usage in the Middle Ages, the concept of “justice-love,” and the idea that chastity is a spiritual, not a physical, concept.
  • Thus they instruct readers that clergy in the Middle Ages emphasized “chaste marriage” to their congregation, meaning sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse.
  • In terms of “justice-love,” chastity means that sexual acts involve “true mutuality and intimacy.” Interestingly, they go on to say that chastity, in this context, means that “’recreational sex’ is generally prohibited in this view, but monogamy is not necessarily required.”
  • Regarding a “spiritual” view of chastity, they say, “…some Church authorities have taught that ‘chastity’ is essentially a spiritual concept, depending on a person’s right beliefs.” “…’chastity’ depended less on whom one held with one’s body than on what one held in one’s heart.” (all above quotes from p 43)
They also have recommendations for presbyteries who want to ordain those who redefine chastity.
“Section G-a6.0106b of the Book of Order, and the 217th General Assembly’s Authoritative Interpretation of it, make clear that sessions and presbyteries must determine what ‘chastity’ means, and must apply that standard in light of the life and witness of each particular candidate.” (p 43)
Lest the above be inadequate for the purposes at hand, the paper goes even further:
“Many believe that Christian sexual ethics do not depend on the gender of the partners, but on the parties’ faithfulness to each other. In that case, even if we believed that ‘chastity’ meant ‘celibacy,’ G-6.0106b might well leave room for monogamous, same-sex relationships.” (p 44)
This answers a question for me regarding what really changed with the PUP report. It means, to those most concerned, that candidates, presbyteries, and sessions are free to bend language to fit any form they desire. When words mean nothing, they also can mean everything. There is no limit to what can be authorized in a church that permits such a fluid understanding of truth.

Finally, one of the most appalling sections of the paper regards repentance. Repentance is a key element of Christian faith. Jesus’ first words called people to repentance. Listen to what it now means:
“Our Confessions emphasize that repentance is a state of inward conviction that what one has done is wrong—what the Westminster Standards call one’s ‘true sense of is sin.’” (p 45) So, if you believe what you are doing is right, it must be right, regardless of what Scripture clearly teaches!
“Many faithful GLBT Presbyterians believe that their sexual orientation is a good and natural part of God’s creation that can be responsibly acted on. They are not alone in that: Half of the Bible faculty in our seminaries believe the same thing.” (p 45) I would point out that those same professors probably do not believe that Scripture is the Revealed Word of God.
So goes the thinking of those who would infiltrate the PCUSA with false representation of themselves based upon clever redefinitions. If this is allowed to continue, as it seems that PUP intends, there is no healthy future for the PCUSA. Those within the denomination need to rise up in their churches and presbyteries and demand the simple truth.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Examining" Candidates II

The Covenant Network’s “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers” paper (GECO) employs certain assumptions regarding the meaning of the PCUSA constitution. Regardless of the fact that the Network came into being to fight the clear meaning of the PCUSA constitution on ordination of practicing, unrepentant GLBTs, it claims now to have historic information undermining such meaning.

The paper claims that, although the GA Permanent Judicial Committee ruled that the 1978 Authoritative Interpretation of the PCUSA constitution is binding, the “General Assembly [that wrote the interpretation] believed it was delivering non-binding ‘guidance.’” (p 49) I happened to be one of the thousands of observers at that General Assembly and clearly remember everyone’s reaction—the guidance was meant to be binding. Assertions otherwise don’t change history.

The GECO paper focuses more closely on the paragraph in the PCUSA constitution that prohibits the ordination of practicing, unrepentant GLBTs. As a reminder, the text of the controversial paragraph in the PCUSA context is as follows:
G-6.0106b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
The GECO paper goes on to say that the “wording of G-6.0106b is clear evidence that the whole church was not prepared to adopt the more categorical and exclusionary language of the ‘pre-B’ statements.” (p 49) Their point, I think, is that G-6.0106b fails to use the words “homosexual” or “GLBT,” so it is not particularly relevant regarding such candidates. Once again, this is an assertion without substance. In fact, the clarity of the “more categorical and exclusionary language” undermines their above statements about the 1978 Authoritative Interpretation. It is from this interpretation that, since 1978, the PCUSA has firmly stated that GLBT ordination is unconstitutional.

The whole controversy over the G-6.0106b paragraph—and the fact that pro-GLBT forces have consistently fought to have it removed—is proof of the clarity of its meaning: those in a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage shall not be ordained.

In the next blog I’ll consider the use (or misuse) of specific words that the GECO paper employs.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Examining" Candidates I

The Covenant Network is an organization of like-minded Presbyterians (PCUSA) who support the ordination of gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgendered people (GLBT), and same-sex marriage. Among such support groups they are comparatively low-key, measuring their words and carefully planning actions. As such, they may turn out to be the most effective allies that GLBTs have in the PCUSA.

For this reason alone it is important for orthodox members of the PCUSA to examine a recent document published by the Covenant Network, entitled “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.” I believe it is intended both for churches that wish to ordain GLBTs, and for such candidates, as well. The document is clear, well written, and revealing.

Portions of this document demonstrate the struggle for the soul of the PCUSA. The document advises readers to use the theological confusion in the PCUSA and also to use language in careful, crafted ways in order to work around pertinent constitutional issues.

The paper points out what is the central theological problem in the PCUSA—a lack of identified essentials, even though every officer must swear to adhere to those essentials.
We don’t have any very clear tests for determining when something is “essential” or not. Perhaps the best test for whether something is “essential” is what the Adopting Act of 1729 first reflected: that our disagreement relate to something so fundamental that we are “incapable of communion” with each other. Given our faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, and his prayer that his followers “all may be one” (John 17:21), we should reach such a conclusion only with the greatest reluctance and care.
There are simple ways of determining what is essential. Most people accept certain words as imperative (note that the Covenant Network document places the term, essentials, in quotes). The document effectively instructs readers to ignore essentials, even though the constitutional standard is that statements using words like “are to,” “shall,” or “should” must be obeyed.

The most debated part of the PCUSA constitution in this regard is the passage regarding the standards for officers in chapter 6.
Book of Order § G-6.0106
a. To those called to exercise special functions in the church – deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament – God gives suitable gifts for their various duties. In addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world. They must have the approval of God’s people and the concurring judgment of a governing body of the church.

b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. (emphasis added)
To most readers it couldn’t be clearer: the requirements of paragraph “a” mandate conformity to paragraph “b.” The latter paragraph clearly defines marriage, reminding all of us that God designed sexual activity to occur exclusively in a covenental, heterosexual marriage. Any other “arrangement” violates constitutional requirements, and persons so engaged must not be ordained.

In the next couple of blogs I’ll examine how the document goes on to radically alter common-sense definitions of key words in order to allow practicing, unrepentant GLBTs to seem to conform to the above paragraphs. In order for such a radical redefinition to be “acceptable” requires not only the elimination of essentials, but the assertion that there are no theological standards by which to establish essentials.

The Covenant Network accurately describes the current theological vagueness of the PCUSA, using it to the advantage of those who challenge G-6.0106b.
In 1967, we adopted a Book of Confessions, which supplemented the Westminster Standards with seven other creeds from different times and places. Those statements differ from one another in various respects. That action reinforced that candidates need not – indeed, cannot – subscribe to a single formulation of belief when they are being examined. (emphasis added)
Why would anyone want an organization to drop its essentials, or even be satisfied that there are none? The only reason I can think of is that such people want anything to be possible—they want no restrictions.

What is more ominous in that the arguments of this document apply not only in presbyteries friendly to GLBT issues, but seeks to influence sessions and presbyteries across the board. The point is to bring these arguments to bear throughout the denomination. Add to this the fact that the PCUSA Stated Clerk has warned that presbyteries and sessions trying to establish any standards will be in violation of the constitution. This document is designed, I believe, to argue that no presbytery or session can hold standards that might exclude an active, unrepentant GLBT from ordination.

Stay in tune.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Sign of Things to Come?

You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the Presbytery PJC in Pittsburgh. The Rev. Janet Edwards had defied the constitution of the PCUSA by performing what she called a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple. The PCUSA has ruled that pastors may preside at "unions" but must not perform any service that could be perceived as, or called, marriage.

Edward's case was the first one to come to the denomination post-PUP. A question in the minds of most observers was whether or not the PJC would rule on the theological issues behind the case, or just rule on procedure. They opted for the latter.

It took them about 90 minutes to decide that the whole case hinged on the fact that it was filed 4 days too late for them to consider. It must have been a great relief to have the burden of actual decision lifted from their shoulders. According to local new sources,

The panel said the decision does not constitute a vindication of the Rev. Edwards or any kind of decision on the issue at hand. Rather, it was based on the defense contention that the charges were filed four days past the deadline. Charges had to be filed within a year of the date when the investigating committee began meeting on the case, which was in September 2005.

The Rev. Edwards had announced that she welcomed the trial, and had issued formal invitations to the trial and a "worship celebration and lunch" she is holding at the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Schenley Park after the trial's conclusion.

Is this a sign of things to come? What happened here was a decision that was not a decision. Those supporting the Rev. Edwards can rejoice in her acquittal. Those who oppose her form of Presbyterianism can declare that they have to wait for the next case to see what the direction the post-PUP denomination will take. I think the direction has already been posted.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Monday, November 13, 2006

“Nothing’s Changed”

Months ago the mantra “nothing’s changed” came from denominational leaders hoping to mitigate reaction to the final passage of the TTFPUP report. It was not said immediately following the vote, but sometime between the vote and going home, key denominational leaders designed this spin which has been uncritically repeated by denominational officials and those who support the PUP report.

Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick sent a letter to his counterpart in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church urging them not to receive us until the lawsuit was settled and we had gone through “the process.” As a part of that letter he added,

“As you are undoubtedly aware, our recent 217th General Assembly adopted an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of our Constitution that clarified our historic ordination standards and the processes by which they are applied and by whom. Sadly, a number of advocacy groups have characterized this statement as somehow creating a fundamental change in our standards. My office has been working hard to assure the Church that such characterizations are inaccurate.”
Up until the moment of the vote, everyone involved understood that the AI was an escape clause for candidates who did not want to be limited by the PCUSA constitution’s G-6.0106b, which clearly states that no candidate can be approved for ordination if he or she is unrepentantly practicing what the Bible and Confessions call sin. The AI now allows presbyteries and sessions to consider that such a sins may not be “essential” to our corporate faith and, therefore, the candidate may be approved of.

Jack Haberer, a member of the Task Force and now editor of the Presbyterian Outlook writes,
Yet another cause of confusion comes from the various ways people answer the simple question, “Does the TTF report change anything?” We TTF members have argued that we were not inventing any thing new. At most, we suggested, it was simply dusting off and bringing back into practice a step in the ordination process that had gone out of fashion. However, many readers of the TTF report have argued that the report was cutting a loophole that individuals and ordaining bodies could exploit.
Jack Haberer, Presbyterian Outlook, November 13, 2006
Haberer at least admits that the Authoritative Interpretation did something different. He hangs his hat, though, on the peg of history. At the very birth of our denomination in the USA, pastors were allowed to declare scruples (disagreements) with the Westminster Confession.

Such scruples were allowed on many issues where Christians had disagreed. A good example of such would be the way in which the Sabbath is kept. For some Presbyterian Christians it was an all-out ban on work or entertainment on the Sabbath (some extended this to the night before, or even the day after). Others simply saw Sabbath as a time of rest, without detailed descriptions of what could or couldn’t be done.

Would those Presbyterians back in 1729 have allowed for scruples which opposed clear Scriptures which had been universally accepted up until that time? Would they see that offending the following could be scrupled?
  • For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. (Ephesians 5:3)
  • “Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin. (Leviticus 18:22
If you still think that nothing’s changed, consider the actions of one of the members of the Task Force, Scott D. Anderson.
John Knox Presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry has unanimously recommended that the presbytery enroll Scott D. Anderson, the only openly homosexual member of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity, as an inquirer on track for ordination as a minister of Word and Sacrament.
Anderson believes the 2006 General Assembly's approval of the PUP report and authoritative interpretation on ordaining practicing homosexuals opens the door for consideration of his request to be re-ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In 1999, Anderson spoke at the denomination's "unity in diversity" conference in Atlanta, describing his coming out as "a self-affirming gay Christian" as the theological equivalent of "justification" and his "same-sex bonding" as the equivalent of "sanctification." The Layman Online
There you have it in full. One of the members of the task force who wrote the PUP clearly understands that it “opens the door” for someone unrepentantly practicing what the Bible and Confessions call sin. How anyone can argue “nothing’s changed” after this confounds me.

The TTFPUP had a purpose, to propose change to the PCUSA in terms of whom it will ordain. In one way the standards have not changed, since they’ve not been removed from the Constitution. But what good do they serve in the Constitution if they can be creatively ignored?

Another writer to the Presbyterian Outlook (who approves of the AI) has, unintentionally I believe, prophesied what will come of the PCUSA because of this.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lost members annually since my ordination in 1983, and the reasons for this dieback have been laid at various doors. Repeated attempts to restructure, to move together in any particular direction, and to control one another have left the decline undisturbed. The formula offered by the task force and endorsed by General Assembly involves no new structures, but it does open the door to chaos, i.e. congregations and presbyteries having some leeway in ordination processes. This chaos is very good, in my opinion….Margaret Wheatley speaks to our situation:

Chaos’ role in the emergence of new order is so well known that it seems strange that Western culture has denied its part so vehemently. In the dream of dominion over nature, we believed we could eliminate chaos from life. We believed there were straight lines to the top. If we set a goal or claimed a vision, we would get there, never looking back, never forced to descend into confusion or despair. These beliefs led us far from life, far from the processes by which newness is created. And it is only now, as modern life grows ever more turbulent and control slips away, that we are willing again to contemplate chaos (see Hayles 1990). Whether we explore its dynamics through new science or ancient myths, the lesson is important. The destruction created by chaos is necessary for the creation of anything new.

I am about to do a new thing, God says to the PC(USA). Now it springs forth, do you perceive it? Isaiah 43:19, NRSV. Opting for a measure of chaos in ordination practices allows the strange attractor of God’s Spirit to bring new patterns to our corporate life together. I believe that this chaos will prove ultimately far more life giving than we have experienced for quite some time, denominationally speaking.
“Loving Chaos,” Sam Massey, Pres Outlook
Chaos is what will ensue. When you believe nothing, you’ll believe everything. This is why mainline denominations are rife with incredible heresies like neo-paganism, universalism, and goddess-worship. The Bible never describes chaos as good. It is the conversion of chaos into creation that was good. For those who argue that the chaos the PUP has sent the PCUSA into is good, I would remind them that it is God alone who worked creation out of chaos. Unless the PCUSA returns to the Lord and to the Word, their chaos will be only frightening and destructive.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Results

The nice thing about a democratic republic is that, after every election, about half or more of the people are happy, for a time. The prognosticators portend great changes and a new era of politics in America. Maybe, maybe not.

This week’s election is reminiscent of the mid-90s surge for the Republicans. After decades of Democratic dominance there would be, it was said, a sea-change for our country. Instead we got just the tides we’ve always had—some a little higher or lower than the past, but only tides nonetheless.

The new Democratic congress will certainly push forward issues ignored during the Republican ascendancy. Committee chairs will shift from Republican to Democrat so that different faces will be on center-screen when we watch CNN or Fox. I don’t think, though, that there will be as much change as people think.

This isn’t cynicism on my part, but an observation of what might be the greatest strength of our political system. While the country does change under different political leadership, the change is minute in comparison with other countries. Regardless of political affiliation, we are more united politically than other countries I've observed.

Chrissie, Audrey, and I lived in Scotland for a year and witnessed a different system, especially in local government. Nationally, the difference between the Tories and Labor in Great Britain was tremendous. The ascendancy of one party or another literally changed the face of labor and corporation ownership, with companies nationalized or privatized, based upon the party in power.

In local government, where you literally see the results take place around you, the change is greater. Edinburgh voted in a city government of one of the leftist parties around at that time. One result of that vote was the reworking of public transportation routes and times on Sundays, making it harder for people to get to church.

The difference in the USA is that the two parties are much more evenly matched in power and philosophy than is the case in other countries. The greatest change that is likely to come about in this term change—a truly great one—is the way in which the Iraq war is prosecuted. It will be interesting to see just how much difference there will be on this one, huge issue.

Christians witness includes being good citizens. This means being informed, faithful voters. It also means that we should be contributing our voice and resources to the body politic. What it doesn’t mean is that we put our trust in the political system. Those who do will always end up disappointed. The kingdom of God will not come about through a political process. It is, instead, made up of hearts changed by Jesus. In Him is our only hope.

There is a corollary between what I’ve written above and the condition of mainline Christian denominations. In the latter there has been a huge gulf of difference in belief between the orthodox and progressive side. Progressives took power in the churches decades ago and have exercised that power sometimes in responsibility, but more often in a ham-fisted and arrogant way. Progressives tend to see the kingdom of God in political change while orthodox believers emphasize spiritual transformation.

The divisions in mainline denomination, in which we at the Kirk have participated, are the logical result of a power-based system insensitive toward dissent. While our national government still hears and responds to two sides (hence the 90s Republican ascension and this week’s Democratic one), the churches do not. This is why there is schism.

I’m in the process of changing my denominational affiliation because of this. It hasn’t been about win/lose so much as about finding a place where I can openly practice my faith and, yes, even be a dissenting voice, without fear of reprisal.

I’m thinking about doing the same kind of change with my political affiliation. My Whig candidates haven’t won an election in ages.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Monday, November 06, 2006

Too Late for Change?

The Community Church of Ventura sent a declaration to its presbytery (Santa Barbara) regarding the faith and direction of the PCUSA. Within that declaration are these words:
“It is time, in the name of integrity and honesty, for those who have denied and rejected the essential tenets of the Reformed faith to graciously separate from the body and leave the church to those who have remained faithful to its standards, doctrine and tradition.”
I would like this declaration to be effective. My guess is that the Presbytery of Santa Barbara will receive it favorably and pass it on as an overture to the next General Assembly in 2008. There it will die. Those who have rejected Reformed standards will not leave. Their definition of the ancient standard of “reformed and reforming” is to change the church in accordance with “scientific” and cultural standards.

Churches like ours have felt impelled to leave because those changing the standards have made it clear that they will not. They are in the PCUSA to change it to their standards. In fact, they have already done so.

One of our local PCUSA pastors has written to members of the presbytery,
“The Kirk believes that the PCUSA is headed for the shoals, and has opted to man the lifeboats and jump ship. Other congregations have done (or are considering), the same. we must take their concersn very seriously. But as an evangelical pastor within the PCUSA, I'm convinced that there's still reason to be 'in the engine room' and hard at work. We need all hands on deck.”
This implies that we, at the first sign of problems, left the denomination. Fact is, we’ve been fighting for the Reformed standards of the traditional PCUSA for decades. I have served on boards of renewal organizations, attended national and regional meetings many times each year, written to magazines, blogs, and spoken out at various gatherings around the country. I spent at least one month each year fighting the fight in the contexts available to me. The passing of the PUP report was the last straw for us, indicating that the fight had been lost.

This pastor, who does see the problem and agrees that it is a problem, has just now decided to join the fray, apparently critical of us for not staying and fighting with him. I remember, years ago, inviting him to join me with a group of pastors who, among other things, was addressing the very problems that plague the PCUSA today. This pastor declined, saying that he had to budget his time, already committed to a theological discussion group.

I know that I sound frustrated--and I am. The time for generalist discussion groups, as opposed to active opposition to the problems affecting mainline denominations today, is long past. Many of us have literally given a cumulative year or more of our lives to taking a stand against the theological erosion that typifies so many denominations today. To continue the metaphor, the ground beneath the foundation is sinking. We feel it is time to move back to firmer ground.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pastors and Friendship

A person responding to my blog said the following (note to this sender—we don’t publish anonymous blogs. All you have to do is sign your name and we will publish):

Tom, at some point, please say more about this: “There are often real and supposed friendships built up between a senior pastor and staff.” I think it would be helpful to me and many others who work or volunteer within their church.

It is very hard to establish and maintain healthy friendships within a staff. This is because a friendship will have to deal with the line between pastor (boss) and staff (employee). The pastor certainly will have to critique the performance of the employee, which could get confused in friendship.

On the other hand, the staff member is in no position to call the boss to account, if necessary. In a friendship, the employee might even be recruited into an us-vs-them relationship, which can divide the rest of the staff and even the congregation.

Friendships between staff can be seen as favoritism. I have seen this happen—even independent of friendship—when the boss has to spend more time with a couple of staff people over the others for supervision or project reasons.

Staffs that confuse respect and collegiality with friendship can breed the kind of thinking that sees the staff primarily as support for each other, rather than the church. Certainly, staff must support each other, but our basic call is to serve the church.

Since Wayne and I have become co-pastors we have initiated more of a collegial style of planning, developing, and ministering amongst the whole staff. We work together in preparing worship, sermon series, small groups, publications, and so much more. I truly believe that all voices are heard and respected. This works because we have a staff where there is mutual respect and the desire to put Jesus’ ministry through the Kirk before anything else.

Supposed friendships occur when one or the other party has an agenda in the friendship. The friendship is a means to an end and isn’t real. This is what I experienced with my boss who was caught in multiple affairs. The circumstances of discovery dictated that I be the one to confront him. Almost immediately he imposed upon our “friendship” to cut him breaks in the process or to alter the story. It was incredibly hard for me to hold fast to what was right. At one point my boss told Kirk members that I was the one involved in affairs. There are probably people who left the church then who still think that's the truth. The feelings I had had for him were true, but not his for me. I’m sure that this is the reason I had such trouble getting over the anger and grief that his betrayal produced.

Yet there are real friendships among pastors and staff. Wayne Hardy and I have worked together for 17 years. For almost all of those years it seemed more of a partnership than boss/employee. But it really couldn’t be that until we became co-pastors. With equal authority, there is the potential for a real friendship. There are, of course, conflicts within a church, or difficult decisions where we might be at odds. The purpose in friendship, though, is to be true to each other even in difficult situations.

I also sincerely love my staff like they were my family. There have been staff members in the past where, for various reasons, this feeling never developed. In all such cases I remember, the staff member in question just wasn't a good fit for the Kirk. There are also newer members of staff, or people I rarely work with side-by-side, where the desire to feel “family” is there, and will come with time.

Everything I’ve written above—and more—is true of friendships between pastors and church members. That relationship can be a minefield for pastors and friends alike. My experience is that most pastors do not develop close friendships with members for these reasons. Having said that, I have been at the Kirk for almost 25 years. That length of time has imprinted a deeper love of people in the Kirk on my heart.

Wayne and I have both said that the hardest thing for us to do in the Kirk is bury friends. As the congregation ages, this becomes more frequent. And in a large congregation there are even fairly frequent deaths of younger people we deeply love.

I am privileged to serve the Kirk. I have never been in a more supportive congregation. I know that some reading past blogs believe that I have somehow hoodwinked the congregation to think like me. The truth is that this is an exceptionally unified congregation. That doesn’t mean that we have no differences; members are quick and confident to speak out. But we try to put Jesus first, and that’s the healthiest thing any congregation can do.

On a totally different subject, there is an excellent article by Ben Witherington on the developing Ted Haggard story. I’m not sure that I agree with the section on male menopause as a cause of scandals but I find that whatever Witherington writes is worth reading. You’ll find it here.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Friday, November 03, 2006

More on the Scandal

The ensuing news regarding the Rev. Ted Haggard indicates that there is more to the accusations than I had thought. At the same time, the actual sins involved are not yet clear. The person making the accusations flunked a lie-detector test, and the Rev. Haggard’s story seems to be changing.

At the very least, Ted Haggard has reacted correctly by removing himself from office and pulpit, and entering into a covenant agreement to be accountable to a group of leaders. If any of what has been said is true, I stand by my previous statement, that he should find some other form of work than the pastorate. I am aware of pastors successfully restored to pulpits following moral failure, but the success rate is rare.

I’d like to explain further some of the flags that I have cautioned people about concerning men whose sexual morality is deeply in sin.

  • Frequently such pastors have a record of asking wealthy people in their congregations for private donations to “special” projects, meaning the pastor’s own bank account.
  • There are also instances of abuses of discretionary accounts, such as giving expensive gifts to favored staff and members.
  • The worst and rarest cases involve direct theft, embezzlement, and kick-backs from companies bidding for services.
  • All the above may intensify as the guilty party faces legal expenses and lowered income.

  • Rarely is a sexual fall a one-time thing. As time progresses, other stories come out. If the pastor is having an affair with someone in the congregation (NOT an accusation against the Rev. Haggard), be ready to hear of other affairs.
  • The recidivism rate is high should the guilty pastor go to another church.

The Congregation:
  • Some of the people responding to my blog have correctly pointed out that the congregation is often the forgotten victim in such tragedies.
  • Right or wrong, there is often a father/child relationship between pastor and congregation. Affairs within a congregation have an impact similar to acts of incest.
  • People who were married by the pastor may wonder if their marriages are valid (they are).
  • Some men, already lacking in moral fiber and commitment, may use the pastor’s act as an excuse to do similar things.
  • Some people become so disillusioned with the hypocrisy that they leave the church altogether—forever.
  • Guilty pastors who are truly disturbed (sociopathic) attack staff members and church leaders who question them.
  • Often old friends are cultivated to help manipulate church leaders to be favorable to the guilty pastor. There can be a lot of pressure put on remaining leaders, ranging from constant harassment to lawsuits.
  • The interim pastor may be accused of all kinds of things by the guilty one in an effort to diffuse the issue and confuse people to the point they don’t know what to believe.
  • The guilty party is likely to demand forgiveness, even if repentance seems superficial. Their goal is to return to the status quo ante.
  • Staff members are deeply hurt and may become deeply disillusioned. There are often real and supposed friendships built up between a senior pastor and staff. The pastor's sin is a betrayal to them.
  • Living through such a time is akin to living through grief after the death of a loved one. There are stages of anger, denial, confusion, acceptance, and more—not necessarily in a predictable order. It takes time to heal. In what I personally experienced it took almost two years.
As I write this, I’m surprised at how calm I feel. When I experienced a similar situation from my former boss I was all over the map emotionally. I even, sad to say, felt hate toward him. The only reason I can write dispassionately today is that the Rev. Haggard did nothing to me personally, but that's not the case with his congregation and to the National Association of Evangelicals.

I will pray daily for New Life Church and especially its staff. I will pray daily for the Rev. Haggard. He seems to have taken appropriate steps to lead back to moral and spiritual health. I will pray daily for the NAE, which is a very important organization.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Allegations in Colorado

Yesterday’s news about the accusation against the National Assoociation of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard has spawned a flurry of newsprint. Here is one of Time magazines’s 25 most influential evangelicals in the USA caught in a sexual scandal, so says one radio station in Colorado. All the news that has followed comes from this one source.

Mike Jones, 49, of Denver, made his allegations on the Peter Boyles show on KHOW 630 AM, saying he was compelled to come forward because he believes Haggard, an opponent of same-sex unions, is being hypocritical.

"After sitting back and contemplating this issue, the biggest reason is being a gay man all my life, I have experience with my friends, some great sadness of people that were in a relationship through the years," and were not able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as a married man and woman, Jones told Boyles on air.

"I felt it was my responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters, that I had to take a stand, and I cannot sit back anymore and hear (what) to me is an anti-gay message." (Rocky Mountain News, November 2, 2006)

Any person in the public eye can be accused in such a fashion. When this happens there is little the accused can do to overcome the doubt such reports cast. The accuser, Mike Jones, is a male prostitute who says that he recognized Haggard from seeing him on TV and says that he knew Haggard by another name. All that Haggard can do is say that this isn't true, while those who wish to see him twist in the wind celebrate.

I have never met the Rev. Haggard but, at this stage, I doubt the veracity of the accusation against him. There are several reasons for my doubt.
  • The first is the nature of the accusation. It is vague and unsupported by any real evidence.

  • Second is the context of the accusation. It comes just days before an important vote in Colorado regarding gay rights issues.

  • Third is the response of the Rev. Haggard and his church. Haggard immediately submitted to the system that his congregation has set up for such an accusation and the church is pressing forward with an investigation.

I have, sadly, had experience regarding pastors and moral failure. The pastor immediately before me at the Kirk (my boss at the time) was caught in such a thing. I have, since then, done significant study of the issue and have even served as a consultant to congregations whose leaders have fallen morally. I have learned the following in such situations:
  • If a pastor has fallen morally there will be evidence of more than one incident. A number of credible people come forward almost immediately.

  • Such a guilty pastor immediately issues denials usually couched in blaming other people or claiming the incident to be a misconstrual of his "ministry."

  • There is often corollary evidence of financial misdeeds.

  • The guilty pastor has previously displayed narcissistic, even sociopathic behavior.

  • No matter what the truth is, groups of people will side with the pastor or against him, even after overwhelming evidence convicting or clearing him.

I chose to write about this because I have received several gleeful emails from people who have formerly posted comments on this blog. I guess they think that, as goes one evangelical, so go all. There is nothing to rejoice about here. Haggard's church, regardless of the basis of the charge, is damaged and devastated. The National Association of Evangelicals has similar damage. The Church universal is hurt.

If Ted Haggard is guilty of the accusation he needs to be removed from his pastorate and surrounded by clear-minded, Godly people who will hold him accountable as he is restored to faith. My personal opinion is that, if he is guilty, he should find future employment outside the pastorate.

However, I don’t believe that there is enough evidence at this point to indicate that he is guilty. The nature of the accusation is singular, vague, unsupported, and politically expedient. I wish I could say that Haggard, if proven innocent, could just move on with his life. That, sadly, could never happen. He’ll be hounded and haunted by this from now on.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Comment Publishing Standards

Just a reminder to all that we will not publish, or will remove, comments that are ad hominem, use vulgar language or, in our opinion, are either redundant or surly (or both). I will also remove posts that are just trying to get under my skin. Serious and dignified disagreement is welcome.

Those of you who continue to send in anonymous comments can get published if you use one of the several options given to you before you post. You can sign your post, or mark one of the two options that identify you.

I appreciate the fact that you all take the time to respond. While I may not like what you say, I want to be able to post it. I will try, though, to raise the bar on decency. Thanks.