Thursday, August 31, 2006

The PCUSA Hasn't Forgotten Us

Now that the congregational meeting is behind us, what still lingers regarding our old denominational membership?

First is the property issue. This is being taken care of by other people, although I maintain an active interest in the subject. We are in contact with other congregations that are just behind us in this process and may be able to work together on some of the property issues. While I would never actively “recruit” other churches to leave, I desire to be of some service to those who make this difficult decision on their own.

Second is the denomination’s continuing action toward us. We are currently an independent, congregational church, but the PCUSA maintains an interest in attracting dissatisfied Kirk members away from us. They are still requesting that we give them an updated membership list so that they can “let members know how to transfer to other PCUSA churches if they desire.” This is an easy process, and we will let people know how to do this without the help of the presbytery. We would hope that Kirk members who disagree with our decision would choose to stay. We want them here. But we will not harass them, nor will we fail to respect their individual decisions.

Third is whatever future actions the presbytery may plan at a special meeting called for next Tuesday. The sole purpose of this meeting is to discuss Kirk of the Hills. I would guess that they will declare the 36 people who voted against our disaffiliation to be the “true church.” They will also have to declare an administrative commission to investigate further into this whole situation, perhaps officially “removing” our session as regards those 36 people. Since Wayne Hardy and I renounced jurisdiction, there are no actions they need to make regarding us. But they will certainly assign a pastor for the “true church.” They will just as certainly want to take aggressive action to take our property.

I expect that there will be significant anger toward Wayne and me and our session. There may be some sadness. We did not go through the “system,” and this will be deeply disturbing to many. Anything beyond this would be pure speculation on my part. It will be interesting, though, to see what is decided.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

THE Meeting

People started coming in around 5pm. The meeting was scheduled for 6:30. We had set up registration tables alphabetically and the lines became longer so, that by 5:45, there was a tail-back through the narthex of the Kirk.

Those who came early enough got to sit in “their” pews. Others had to make do. We asked people to squeeze toward the center so that we could fit more people into the sanctuary and balcony. Don’t tell the fire marshal this, since our sanctuary is “rated” for 750 people, but we packed in over 1,000. Non-members went to our Fellowship Hall where they watched through a live video feed.

I thought last Sunday was electric; nothing compared with tonight. People were talking excitedly. Those who greeted Wayne and me on the way in usually did so not only with a smile, but a “thumbs-up.” There were repeated ovations, some standing, throughout the meeting.

The voting began at 6:40, ten minutes late because our registration lines were slower than anticipated. The votes were three: first, we asked the congregation to concur with the session’s vote to disaffiliate. Second, we voted on affiliating with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Third, the congregation voted to affirm Wayne’s and my ordination.

Discussion was better than civil. People asked clarifying questions about denominational changes in the PCUSA. There were serious questions about the EPC, what it believes, and differences between the old denomination and the new. There were no voices in opposition.

When it came to the ordination issue, people asked if they could vote for one or the other of us (no), and whether or not we two would be a good match for the Kirk standards for pastor (apparently, yes).

The votes went as follows:

To disaffiliate from the PCUSA
Yes 967
No 36
Abstain 8

To affiliate with the EPC
Yes 973
No 31
Abstain 13

The vote for affirming the ordination of Wayne and me was done by acclamation, with a standing ovation. In fact, that ovation was one of several this evening, the most sustained one following our vote to disaffiliate. Another came after it was remarked that we were moving ahead to do what the Lord required, whether or not we retained our property. We informed the congregation that we will not go quietly in this respect, but it was not the deciding issue for us.

What I feel after all this is a bit of exhaustion, a deepened sense of love for my congregation (and from it) and for our staff. I also am beginning to feel a tremendous sense of freedom.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

The Slow Decline

As I wait for the big meeting of our congregation tonight, I've been sorting through some of the posts to this blog. From time to time I respond to them, but it is difficult. First, some of the posts are lengthy, contentious, and even confusing. Second, there are a lot of them and I still have a sermon to write for Sunday. I'll leave it to those of you who are already in dialogue.

One thing I notice, though, is that they reflect exactly what's being debated in the PCUSA today. There are two distinct sides on the biblical/sexuality issue, with a muddled middle that wishes out loud that people would be nicer to each other (actually, some in the middle seem offended that anyone should have a strong opinion).

I don't think that this will ever change. There may have been a time when the two "sides" in the PCUSA still truly reflected being in one house. That's certainly no longer the case. The PCUSA is a divided house, and the middle will have to decide which one gets the keys to the front door. If this continues to go on, people like me, and congregations like ours, will be exhausted by the process and drop out to go somewhere else where there is theological unity, so that all our energy can go into ministry.

Don't get me wrong--we didn't leave the PCUSA just for some relief. I truly believe that the PCUSA stepped squarely into one camp last June. I think it will take some time to get it, but many on the traditional side will see that the battle for the heart of the church has been lost.

One of our cats recently died (how's that for a smooth transition?). The point is, it took her weeks to die. We checked in with our vet, and he told us how to keep her comfortable until the end. Weeks before, we recognized the irreversible symptoms. I honestly thought she'd have been gone in hours, she was so frail, but she lived for three weeks.

She responded to our touch. She accepted water and liquid food through a dropper. She even rallied a couple of times, although each rallied condition was successively worse. Finally, one day last week, I went in to where we kept her cozy and warm, reached down, and petted her. She lifted her head a little bit, purred loudly, then deeply sighed and was gone.

Is this what is happening to mainline churches today? They are loved and cared for. People spoon feed them nourishment and go through the motions as if things really weren't so bad. But, without a miracle, the process is headed in only one way.

Try not to make too much of my analogy. I know it's full of holes, and I won't take the time to respond to those pointing them out. It just seems to me that the story fits, sort of.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Challenge to the Presbytery

I’ve had a long night to think about the meeting some of our congregation had with presbytery. The message of the presbytery was that, if we’d simply sat down and talked with them, everything would have been all right. I take that to mean that they would not have followed the PCUSA legal game plan, nor would they have insisted that we buy our property back from them.

The presbytery representatives mentioned, according to attendees, that there had been seven different times when they felt they were justified in removing me from my pastorate, but held back. I’m thankful for that, but not particularly comforted that they were keeping count.

In terms of the Kirk’s fears, it would have gone far for them to say some things in response to what we (I) had clearly articulated as our fears. They could have said they would consider removing the affidavit. We asked for this, but they refused. It would have helped tremendously if they had told us they would not have followed the PCUSA legal game plan, especially when it seems that they have been, at every step so far. It would have been helpful for them to say that they weren’t really interested in our property, just our congregation. Sadly, none of these things happened.

There is still time for others. I won’t name them, but I’m aware of at least three other Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery congregations that are considering, or would like to leave the denomination for the same reasons we did. NOW is the time for the presbytery to put its money where its mouth has been.

Tell these congregations that, if they vote to leave, you will not remove their pastor(s) from office. Tell their pastors that they can speak freely without the threat of disciplinary action. Promise that you will not remove their sessions. Promise that you will not make them pay you for the property they’ve already paid for. You can do this, if you want. That seems to be what you told the Kirk people Monday night. Please, for the sake of these other churches, prove that we at the Kirk were in the wrong.

Keep praying—keep the faith

Monday, August 28, 2006

Call it, and they will come...

Tonight was the night. Presbytery had called a meeting and contacted our entire membership to invite them to an open forum regarding the Kirk's decision and the Presbytery's position. For a time, the local denominational folk have been telling us that the Kirk is far more divided over this issue than we think. "Many, many people have come to us complaining about what you (Tom and Wayne) have been doing." The Synod people even put a number to it--300 people were in opposition.

Just a few showed up, perhaps 70, I'm told. Subtract from that the presbytery representatives and the non-attending former members and it was a few dozen. Subtract from them the majority who showed up in support of our action, and it comes down to a handful. I don't want to dismiss those people. They are people (I know they won't believe this) that I care for. When some of the attendees of the meeting called me to tell me what happened, I had this painful desire to know just who it was in opposition (it's sort of like touching a bad tooth with your tongue to see if it still hurts). I didn't want to know names to be angry or to further the debate. I need to know what has happened in my congregation.

I was told that the same spin spun tonight. "We filed the affidavits because of one church, but thought it would be good for all." "If you'd just talked with us, we could have worked it all out." I'd love to believe these things--I just can't. I can't afford to, for the sake of danger to my congregation. I can't afford to for the additional sense of devastation that would come if the denomination, one more time, showed its perfidy, as with the PCUSA "legal game-plan."

I feel no sense of satisfaction over this meeting. What has happened is sad, considering that we did hang on so long with the denomination, hoping for renewal. There is no pleasure in dissatisfied members, even if it's just a handful (I'm not naive, I know that there are more out there, I just know it's still a small, small proportion). There's no pleasure in any sense of division between any of us who feel, or felt, a kindred spirit.

We still have so much before us. There is the congregational meeting on Wednesday. There is whatever response the denomination will continue to make. There is a whole world of ministry out there. I don't feel it tonight, but I know that the energy and joy of moving forward will return.

Keep praying--keep the faith.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Morning, Monday Night

Today, Sunday, has been a red-letter day for the Kirk. The atmosphere this morning was electric. My guess is that attendance was around 1,500 to 1,600 worshippers. In each service there was applause in response to the actions taken last week; in two of the services, standing ovations. We pastors took this to be a response to the path ahead, not criticism of what we’ve left, nor given personally to us.

This afternoon we had an open house with people from the community coming through to see our facilities and, even more importantly, to meet Kirk people. Everyone who came was positive and excited about the possibility of coming to the Kirk. This is the best sign of what is to come.

Of course, the rumors abound. People with synod contacts have told us that the “big guns” from the denomination have us in their sights. Someone else in synod said that the denomination has identified 300+ Kirk members who are angry with what we’ve done and are ready to join with presbytery Monday night. If that’s true, it means that we have at least an 85% approval rating—I’d settle for that!

I took some time today to look through the picture directory and my printed directory. It is a good way to pray for the congregation. I began to consider who might be in that 300 and could only come up with 30 or so that I felt might truly, sincerely be opposed to what we have done. They’re all good people, and good people will disagree.

Of course, if the presbytery is calling through our list including inactive members, it might be a different story. Those who drop out do so for all kinds of reasons, some of them negative. They’re not a central part of who we are today, though.

Every year, a congregation our size removes a couple of hundred people from the rolls. Some move away, some pass away, some move to other churches within town, and others have been long enough on the inactive list, without any response to us, to be removed. At the same time we add enough people each year to keep our growth rate steady.

Whatever happens Monday will be a blip on the radar compared with what is about to happen in our future. My prayers are especially with those who feel hurt by what we’ve done. I pray that they will find a new church home immediately or find reconciliation here at the Kirk. I hope that the presbytery’s calling on long-gone members might move some of them back into active worship in some other church.

All that matters is that we be faithful to Jesus Christ. The Head of the Church is far greater than any tiff in Tulsa.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

A Summary Statement

Some are asking why we have not gone through the constitutional process to ask for dismissal from the presbytery. What we did was consciously different.

The constitutional process would have inevitably resulted in removal of the Kirk pastors, as well as the elected elders of the Kirk. This would mean that the denomination would move in literally to operate all aspects of Kirk of the Hills.

We did not leave PCUSA because we were tired of being Presbyterian, nor because we are politically, or socially different from them. Rather, after decades of moving in a direction away from Scripture, as well as traditional and Christian tenets, the official act of departure from Scripture occurred at this last General Assembly. It was an official decision and order over the church (an Authoritative Interpretation) that directly and purposefully contradicts not only the clear meaning of Scripture, but its authority. The General Assembly has effectively opened the door for elected officers of the church to believe almost anything, even if it is in direct contradiction with Scripture.

We at the Kirk are holding to what Scripture clearly teaches. The PCUSA has left this critical foundation. We, therefore, no longer recognize the authority of the PCUSA over any congregation that chooses to hold to the traditional authority of Scripture, as once held by the PCUSA. While not all congregations like us have made this move, many are preparing for it. For those who stay with the denomination, it is a tacit, yet conscious, affirmation of the denomination’s departure from Truth.

We therefore disaffiliated from the PCUSA, forming Kirk of the Hills Corporation, an independent congregational church, built on Presbyterian structure and Reformed theology. We anticipate soon reuniting with the faithful Presbyterian church by seeking admission into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

ALERT update 1

Our attorneys have talked with presbytery representatives and have gotten them to back off from attempting to take over the worship services tomorrow. We'll see, so stay tuned.

*ALERT* to all Kirk Members

Our clerk of our board of elders just played a message on her answering machine from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery. They have informed her that the presbytery is sending a supply pastor to preach tomorrow, and a someone else to moderate the congregational meeting on Wednesday.

This has happened before, a part of the "game plan" of the PCUSA. The link that follows has pictures and a video of what happened in a Torrance, California, church a little over a year ago. The denomination came in and pushed their way into the pulpit, creating chaos for a brief moment in worship. We will not allow that to happen.

Moderator Ufford-Chase, minority group disrupts worship service -

The PCUSA believes only what they wish to. They recognize that Wayne and I resigned from the denomination, but they refuse to recognize that the Kirk has also withdrawn and, in the process, re-hired us as co-pastors. They are coming to "rescue" a church that doesn't want it.

Wayne and I will be in the pulput tomorrow. This step on the part of the presbytery, since we are no longer a PCUSA church, is intrusive, arrogant, and illegal.

I just read the following letter from a PCUSA pastor (retired) writing Presbyweb. Ed is a good guy, and I appreciate the heads-up.

August 26, 2006

Dear Editor:

I have just gotten off the phone with someone who had been in conversation with Synod personnel regarding the withdrawal of Kirk of the Hills. He was telling me how the Synod and Presbytery planned to use denominational lawyers to fight The Kirk "tooth and toe nail" for the church property.

Then I read Vernon Broyles piece "The bottom line for peace." It reminded me of what my old dad used to tell me: "Son, do what I say. Don't do what I do."

I watch and wonder... can we, will we, treat our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ who disagree with us with the same command of Jesus to turn the other cheek? To love? To forgive? Or is what we profess we want for the warring parties of the Middle East unavailable for Christian friends who feel led to go in another direction? Will the PCUSA demonstrate grace and forgiveness by turning the other cheek?

I doubt I'll live that long!

Rev. Dr. Edwin [Ed] Bernard, HR
Hugo, Oklahoma

Keep praying--keep the faith,

An Addendum

"Seek, and you will find..."

When I wrote the previous blog, I wasn't able to find an article on the GA that I had distinctly remembered. With all the spin put on the PUP decision--i.e. "nothing has changed"--I knew that the original "take" by our officials was that sessions and presbyteries would have "greated leeway in applying...standards."

I used, in my last blog, one of Jerry Van Marter's earlier articles, written prior to GA, which used the above phrase. Wayne Hardy found the original that I was looking for (you can click below and read it for yourself):

PC(USA) - 217th General Assembly (2006): "By a vote of 298-221 (57% to 43%), the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today approved an 'authoritative interpretation' of the church's Constitution that maintains current ordination standards for church officers but gives ordaining bodies greater leeway in applying those standards to individual candidates for ordination." (emphasis added)

It is quite interesting that, between June 20th and the adjournment of GA, the official line had changed from "leeway..." to "nothing's changed."

I mention this again because of the Monday meeting of Presbytery, where Kirk members will hear the official line on this. Again, one must ask, "If nothing's changed, why must we even be more diligent in our ordination examinations?" Also, if nothing's changed, why will denominational leaders, when pressed, admit that some presbyteries and sessions will now feel free (and be freer) to ordain practicing GLBTs?


Friday, August 25, 2006

They Say Nothing's Changed, But...

I received this morning a copy of a letter from the Synod Executive, Judy Fletcher. She had had a meeting with the administrators of all the presbyteries in the Synod of the Sun (includes Oklahoma), and said the following:

“In congregation after congregation there are people like you trying to be faithful to Christ and diligent in mission and ministry. That was just as true before the Assembly.
Here is some of what I heard from the 65 presbytery representatives at our meeting in Dallas.
…All 11 presbyteries affirmed that the Book of Order has not changed and the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian persons is still prohibited. Presbyteries expressed commitment to uphold our constitution."

The official news release from our Stated Clerk and Moderator said the following:
“--Report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church: With the approval of this report, the assembly did not alter our historic standards for ordination. However, it did make clear that more responsibility is to be exercised by sessions and presbyteries regarding the examination of candidates for ordination. By an overwhelming majority, the assembly also affirmed our covenantal partnership, our common theological roots, and the need for prayer in Christian communities as we make decisions.”

Is this really all that happened last June? Why, then, are so many churches, members, and organizations so upset?

Look at other responses:

From the official press department of the PCUSA, just prior to the GA:
The TTF is proposing that no changes be made to the constitutional standards for ordination or the authoritative interpretations that buttress them, while giving ordaining bodies ¾ congregations in the case of elders and deacons and presbyteries in the case of ministers — some leeway in applying the standards to particular candidates for ordination, thereby creating the possibility that some bodies could ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians.
Jerry Van Marter, Presbyterian News Services, May 23, 2006

From the blog of Presbyterian (PCUSA pastor and writer, Mark Roberts:
Let me put all of this in simple terms:
1. The PCUSA has authoritative standards for ordination.
2. Until today, candidates are expected to follow these standards if they are to be ordained.
3. But, as of today's vote, when it comes "fidelity and chastity," an ordaining body has the freedom to decide that a candidate's departure from a constitutional standard, namely fidelity and chastity, is not a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.
4. Thus, if any governing body believes that "fidelity and chastity" are not essential, then that governing body has the freedom to ordain candidates who are not and do not intend to practice fidelity in heterosexual marriage or chastity in singleness. Persons both straight and gay who engage in sex outside of marriage would thus be ordainable.
I know this sounds strange if you're new to the Presbyterian soap opera. But the fact is that the General Assembly has strongly reaffirmed the standard of fidelity and chastity, and in the same day has granted freedom to governing bodies to decide whether this standard is essential or not. If they decide it's not essential, then they are free to ordain people who intend to engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage.

From the More Light organization, activists for gay ordination:
The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly approved Tuesday an authoritative interpretation of its constitution that will allow local churches more leeway in ordaining openly practicing homosexuals - which is still banned in church law….
More Light Presbyterians, "a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people" in the denomination, welcomed the decision.
"It's a step in the right direction," said national field organizer Michael Adee, a gay elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, N.M.
Although the task force gave very little direct mention to the issue of homosexuality, "we know who the elephant in the room is and so does everybody else," Adee said.
The Birmingham News, June 21, 2006

From the Christian Post:
The Presbyterian establishment, including all seminary presidents and many officials, promoted the flexibility plan, which was devised by a special task force. The idea is to grant modest change to liberals but mollify conservatives by keeping the sexual law on the books.
June 20, 2006

From the Pro-gay press:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national assembly voted Tuesday to create some leeway for gay clergy and lay officers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban on partnered gay ministers.
A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise., Advocate News, June 20, 2006

From Robert Gagnon, commissioner to GA and leading conservative expert on the Bible and homosexuality:
In his newly released "Advisory Opinion #18: Discernment in Examining Bodies - G-6.0108," the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Clifton Kirkpatrick, offers no clear guidance that the amended "authoritative interpretation" of the PUP Task Force, passed by the 2006 General Assembly, would still disallow the ordination of persons engaged in self-affirmed homosexual activity. Indeed, most of what he says in his advisory opinion leans in the direction of suggesting that ordaining homosexually active persons is not necessarily an act of constitutional noncompliance.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, “Viewpoint,” Presbyweb, July 6, 2006

From an Arizona newspaper:
A local effort to lift a ban on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals in the Presbyterian Church has failed, but a separate decision is allowing individual churches more leeway when it comes to giving clerical collars to gays and lesbians.
Nancy Hummel, an elder with the East Side Christ Presbyterian Church who was the local presbytery's commissioner at the Birmingham meeting, said the vote did not change anything, in her view.
"Every presbytery can still say no," she said, referring to the ordination of gays. "The historic standards of ordination are still the same."
Arizona Daily Star, June 24, 2006

From the Religious News Service
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, in a seismic shift on the role of gays and lesbians in the church, voted on Tuesday (June 20) to allow local and regional bodies to ordain gays to the church's ministries.
After nearly three hours of debate, delegates voted 298 to 221 to approve a complex proposal that allows local congregations and regional bodies known as presbyteries to bypass the church's current ban on "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy.
Current rules from 1996 that require "fidelity in marriage ... and chastity in singleness" will remain on the books, but local bodies can now allow exceptions to those standards if they wish.
June 22, 2006

From the leaders of 14 different PCUSA renewal organizations:
"Today, in a single vote by 298 commissioners, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) effectively was changed. The mandated requirements of ordination, rooted in Scripture and our Confessions, have been made optional. Sessions and presbyteries have been allowed to treat the Seventh Commandment as 'not essential.' These ordaining bodies have been told that they need not obey the explicit instruction of the apostles: that all Christian believers should "abstain from … sexual immorality" (Acts 15:29).
"The consequences of the decision of this General Assembly throw our denomination into crisis. Many individuals and congregations will conclude from this decision that the PC(USA) has abandoned the historic faith of the Church. The decision will be regarded by others in the worldwide body of Christ as profoundly offensive.”
Signed by the representatives of 14 (purported and schismatic) renewal groups

If there has been no change, why is the church in such frantic activity in the last few months following GA? “Nothing has changed” is the official spin by denominational leaders; it is a mindless mantra designed to defuse those who have the temerity to think that something actually changed.

When I googled the phrase “everything has changed,” statements about the PCUSA PUP decision and 9/11 both frequently surfaced. That got me thinking.

After 9/11, our nation took great pains to increase surveillance and to institute rules and practices designed to find potential terrorists and their deadly tools and cargo. They didn’t put in such restrictive rules because they thought nothing had changed. They believed that everything had changed.

Currently, leaders like the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery’s general presbyter have said (in a conversation with Kirk co-pastor, Wayne Hardy) that, “if anything, we will, because of this decision, be more diligent in our examination of candidates.” Why?

Judy Fletcher, in the letter cited at the beginning of this blog, said,
“Presbyteries recommitted themselves to be diligent in the whole process of accepting inquirers and candidates and of ordaining ministers to word and sacrament.” Why would she be concerned that there be a recommitment to be diligent if nothing had changed?

The polity and theology of the Presbyterian Church is that elders, deacons, and pastors ordained for one church, are ordained for the entire church. This is literally said in the ceremony of ordination/installation of officers.

What has happened is this. There are presbyteries that will hold fast to the Scriptural teachings on ordination. There are those who will now feel completely free to affirm and ordain those who live in opposition to those standards. Elders, deacons, and pastors nominated in the latter will inevitably, ultimately end up in presbyteries that would have allowed no such thing.

Everything has changed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Incredible Double Standard

Dean Weaver, moderator of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, recently wrote PCUSA Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, asking for “a moratorium on certain disciplinary and administrative actions against churches and church officers who may be considering leaving our communion.” Dean cited G-1.0301 regarding freedom of conscience as a basis for this.

I am aware that some presbyteries have laid out plans, or followed the plan prescribed by the PCUSA legal offices, to aggressively seek out pastors and sessions who are considering leaving. This has established an atmosphere of fear.

Once again, we see the incredible double standard exhibited by the PCUSA. Read what the moderator and stated clerk of the GA wrote back to Dean.

“Freedom of conscience as it is understood in the Reformed tradition does not permit church officers to act outside the Constitution of the church….
The 212th General Assembly (2000) made it explicitly clear that even the General Assembly lacks authority to declare a moratorium on upholding the provisions of the constitution.”

Move back now to 2001. What follows is from the official denominational website:

“After a self-imposed two-year moratorium on the constitutional standards for ordination to church office in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the 213th General Assembly is poised to take up the issue that has divided the church for more than 20 years.”
Jerry L Van Marter, 01158
May 8, 2001

Is there something wrong here? Why can we declare a moratorium on receiving overtures (something the constitution doesn’t allow, so far as I can tell), but we cannot have a moratorium on unchristian actions against churches that are simply obeying their conscience?

This is what PCUSA should be doing

One of our members was walking with a friend who is a member of a PCUSA church in our former presbytery. That friend, aware of our quiet title lawsuit said, "You know, you're suing my church by doing this." What this friend doesn't understand is that this lawsuit asks no damages and, in fact, is simply costing Kirk of the Hills money. All we want is for the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery to release our property back to us by removing the affidavit that they filed, putting an impediment on our property.

I'm not totally blaming our presbytery in this. The presbytery is in a difficult situation, too. The papers from Louisville headquarters clearly indicate a "take no prisoners" attitude, demanding that the presbyteries retain the property, get a sizeable negotiated settlement, or risk that the presbytery itself will be taken over by the higher bodies of the PCUSA.

All of this shows a complete disregard on the PCUSA's part for the local church. They say that they are fighting for our property to protect the mission of the PCUSA. I wonder what mission is protected by such action? What do they lose by releasing our property, other than a windfall of cash?

Another presbytery, following PCUSA plans, has an Iowa church under attack. This congregation has voted to be released from the PCUSA. What is the response?

"Continuing its retribution against the leaders of Riverside Presbyterian Church in Linn Grove, Iowa, the Presbytery of Prospect Hill has notified the Riverside pastor that he is to have no contact with members of the congregation.
Presbytery of Prospect Hill's letter to Russ Westbrook
"The consequences of violating this document," the presbytery said in an August 17 letter to Russ Westbrook, Riverside's pastor, "will be the immediate dissolution of the relationship between the Riverside Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Russell Westbrook and will immediately end any financial consideration."
The presbytery placed Westbrook on administrative leave – "to protect loyal Presbyterians" – after the Riverside leaders asked to be released from the denomination so that they could become a congregation in the Presbyterian Church of America.
The letter informed Westbrook that he was placed on administrative leave effective August 21 and that he could not contact "any member … verbally, in writing, e-mail, or other electronic devices or by going to the church."
(from The Layman Online, August 22, 2006)

For a huge contrast, click on the URL below to find out how one Episcopalian diocese is handling the same situation in Christian love.

VirtueOnline - News - Exclusives - RIO GRANDE: Diocese Weighs Plan to Allow Parishes to leave with Properties

Keep praying--keep the faith.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Clarification and More

I've had a number of comments indicating that 1) we're not doing the proper presbytery process, and 2) we'll never win our quiet title suit.

We realize that we are not doing the process as set out in the Book of Order. This has been intentional. Also, we know that we have no assurance of retaining our property in this ordeal. The basic avaricious and punitive attitude of the denomination doesn't breed confidence. It is sad that we seem to do nothing about churches and pastors who defy not just the PCUSA constitution, but essential biblical morality, while anyone who challenges the denomination's demands on property is immediately disciplined.

Our principle has been to separate ourselves from what we believe to be the creeping apostasy of the PCUSA. We believe that this is right, whatever the outcome regarding our property. While we do this, though, we will make every ethical and legal attempt to hold on to the property that we have paid for, cared for, improved, and lived in for four decades.

While the denomination did enable the Kirk to begin through some vital loans, these were paid for in full, with interest, decades ago. In the meantime, the Kirk has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the presbytery and more to national and worldwide PCUSA missions. In these last few years, through our struggle dealing with the changes in the PCUSA, there has been no inquiry or concern from the denomination. Now, ironically, when we are taking the only action that we find to be morally acceptable, the PCUSA is extremely interested in us.

To demonstrate the bias of what seems to be the real concerns of the PCUSA, I refer you to the writings of a PCUSA pastor whose standing with the denomination will probably remain good. Below is a URL to his blog, demonstrating beliefs and teachings that are utterly against all that the PCUSA says it believes. I'm sure that there has been no plan of action prepared against him or his church by the Louisville office, nor any concern about what he teaches.

Click on "Marriage Equality" on "Previous Posts" on the right.

I recommend that you also click on his posts entitled, "Searching for the body of Jesus," and "Reformed and Always Reforming."

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Good Article on the Basic Problem

The link below is to an article I read onVirtueOnline, a blog site for conservative Episcopalians. It addresses so well what I have often tried to say: The problem mainline denominations are facing is about wandering away from our Biblical base, not sexual sins themselves. Such sins, among others, are symptomatic of what we get when we lose our Way.

This one quote is particularly clear. ""We make an error that this is just about human sexuality. The primary debate is; what is the gospel, what is the mission of the church and what is leadership in the church. Various sections of the Anglican Communion have, over the years, lost their way in terms of the gospel, mission and have no fear electing leadership who have neither the gospel nor mission in their hearts."

Check it out.


VirtueOnline - News - Exclusives - PENNSYLVANIA: African Bishop Says Gospel is central Issue not Sex or Geography

Friday, August 18, 2006

Waiting for airplane parts

I'm sitting at gate C-32 at DFW waiting for a much-delayed flight home. I've just been visiting with a pastor friend whose church is struggling with the same things we have been at the Kirk. Our plane would be fine, but for the fact that, when the doors were opened to let passengers out, the escape slide, well, escaped. I suggested that we could still fly home on time if we just went low and slow, but the pilots are having none of it.

Back to issues at hand: I get the sense that some people think that our disaffiliation came about as a fit of anger or pique. We have worked diligently in the PCUSA for decades (the Kirk is 45 years old). We have watched with dismay as the denomination has incrementally moved away from its original biblical foundations. This last June was the "tipping point" for us, and will be for many others yet to speak, because it officially allowed for the rejection of clear biblical teaching.

The sexuality issue is symptomatic--it is not the source of the problem or even the main problem. That main problem is the long slide away from clear biblical teaching. We have not left the PCUSA, the PCUSA left us.

It is with great sadness that a move like this is done. It is even more sad that so much has to be done in executive sessions because of what I feel is reasonable mistrust of the denomination, as evidenced in the recently revealed legal game plan. I have no problem with denominational leaders preparing for eventualities. My problem is what they've said, how they've said it, and the complete disregard of the thousands upon thousands of people in the pews who despair at what we've become.

My mistrust is not in our presbytery, but in what is pressing hard on all the presbyteries in the nation, striving to clamp down on dissidents. Our presbytery is just a small part of a much larger system that is, at its core, corrupted.

It probably sounds empty to some when I say that I pray for the PCUSA, but I do. I know hundreds of leaders whom I respect and for whom I wish only the best. I am thankful for their many emails and calls of encouragement, even though some of them profoundly disagree with what we've done. I wish the people in Louisville could catch some of that spirit.

Keep praying--keep the faith.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Somber Thoughts

Now that the Kirk has taken the step of disaffiliation, and Wayne and I have renounced jurisdiction (resigned) from the PCUSA, I’ve had just a little time to reflect on the immensity of all this.

I have some worries—I’ll list them in order.
  • I worry that the presbytery may follow the PCUSA "game-plan" and go through our congregation trying to find people opposed to our decision and drive them further apart from us. This seems more directly schismatic than what we’ve done already. Our presbytery hasn’t had a history of being vindictive or petty, but the worry is still there.
  • I worry about the stress on our congregation. Since we’ve not gone through “the process” there is the possibility of litigation (the same threat existed in the process, as well). We’ll see.
  • I worry about people in the Kirk who will be angry and feel alienated by our decision. Some will leave; every loss will hurt.
  • I worry about the stress on our staff. We have an already heavy schedule doing what we always do. The added stress won’t help.
  • I worry about Lynette and Chrissie (Wayne’s wife and mine). They have to bear the negative comments, etc. that will come, without being able to do anything about it.
  • I worry about other congregations who are where we are or just about there—especially smaller congregations with fewer resources.
  • I worry about the stress on Wayne and me. Wayne has John to worry about on top of everything else. I’ve got arthritis that loves to flare up with stress.
  • I worry a little about personal finances—mostly about retirement, since it’s not that far away and we don’t really know the effect renouncing our jurisdiction will have.

Now, for what I don’t worry about.
  • I don’t worry about the future of the church. God will bless our actions.
  • I don’t worry about the Kirk’s finances. Our congregation has always been faithfully generous.
  • I don’t worry about the cats—they’ll just keep shedding incredible amounts of fur on everything in sight.
  • I don’t worry about what people think of me as a pastor or us as a church; I’m satisfied that we’ve done the right thing.
  • I don’t worry about the property because God’s will shall prevail.
  • I don’t worry about our future ministry. The release from the sense of oppression of the last few years (and the last few months, in particular) will energize us.

I'm also sad.
  • I'm sad about leaving many wonderful Christians and congregations I have worked with in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery in the past 24 years. These fine folk are NOT the enemy.
  • I'm sad for the continued erosion of Biblical principles in the PCUSA--this will affect generations of members who think they're being taught the whole truth.
  • Again, I'm sad for the pain this may cause for people I love and care about.

I don't want any of you thinking that I'm somehow overwhelmed with worry. In fact, I'm much more at peace after the decision than I was before it. As I look back on this list I see that the balance leans sharply toward a positive future for the Kirk. All we have to do is put one foot in front of the other as we move through what will, temporarily, be a difficult time.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Serious News

The following is the official news release from Kirk of the Hills. We have struggled mightily over the last few years regarding our relationship to the PCUSA. The session decided that, especially in response to the recently-revealed legal plans of the PCUSA, it was time to take decisive action. The disaffiliation, though, is independent of whatever happens with the property. We have done what we believe to be right.



Yesterday the elders and the trustees of Kirk of the Hills voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination in response to decisions made by the PCUSA at the national level which depart from the authority of the Bible and the denomination’s historical beliefs.

Rev. Tom Gray and Rev. Wayne Hardy have resigned from the PCUSA, and have been hired by the Kirk of the Hills Corporation as co-pastors of the church. Rev. Gray said, “I ask that Christians in Tulsa and around America pray not only for Kirk of the Hills, but also for the Presbyterian denomination as a whole. We will continue to love and pray for our brothers and sisters in that denomination, and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ to use these recent events for His will, and to accomplish His work.”

With this disaffiliation from PCUSA, the Kirk of the Hills will affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).

Rev. Tom Gray and members of the Session will be available for questions and one-on-one interaction Monday through Friday evenings, August 21 – 25, from 6:30 – 9 in the Kirk Conference Room in the church office.

There will be a called Congregational meeting of the Kirk on Wednesday evening, August 30, 2006 at 6:30pm in the Kirk Sanctuary regarding these recent actions.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Signs of the Future

Every mainline denomination has, on paper, a wonderful exposition on the truth, centrality, and importance of Scripture. The real question is what happens their leaders stop believing the Biblical tradition handed down to them through the last two thousand years?

What follows is an article by Episcopalian David V. Hicks:

“The only time I ever heard the now Bishop Gene Robinson speak was at a Vespers service at St. Paul's School in the fall of 1992. His topic appeared to be God's gift of love, a phrase he often repeated in his talk, but his point conflated love with sex, and he urged the girls and boys of St. Paul's to share their sexual gifts 'either with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex.' He said this more than once, and I jotted the phrase down in the book of prayers at my desk. No mention of marriage or even of commitment. He did close his talk, however, with a disarming suggestion that God would be well pleased if His gifts were shared safely. 'Please use a condom.'"

"…At the time, I knew nothing of Mr. Robinson's sexual preferences, and it was not his oblique references to homosexuality that alarmed me so much as his implication that God allows, nay, smiles upon whatever we choose to do in the name of love. There was a malevolently yet seductively twisted logic in his argument. I tried to listen with the ears of one of my students, and what I heard not only gave wings to my passions and license to my libido, but it made me think less of myself for failing to be sexually active, for failing to use my God-given sexual gifts. It tickled my adolescent ears and undercut all the repressive preachments of my parents and the school authorities, as I'm sure it was meant to do. My liberation was at hand!"

"…This case boils down to saying, "Because I have a strong, innate desire to do this, I should have the right to do it, and it must be all right to do it." The premise is interesting only in that it emphasizes the strength and innateness of the desire, but upon consideration one is bound to ask: what desire is not strong and innate in the person afflicted with it? The conclusions are, of course, non-sequiturs, as well as contrary to a huge body of wisdom literature on the subject teaching us to beware of strong, innate desires. They are the very things likely to overwhelm our right reason and sound inhibitions.”


In 1991, the PCUSA proposed a paper (thankfully rejected) that proposed much the same thing. Sadly, that paper regularly resurfaces as a “resource” for Presbyterians teaching on sexuality. In some ways, we were saying the same thing back in the early 90s that Fr. Robinson was preaching in New Hampshire.

I know that some readers are “sick up to here” with talk on sexuality. This is the issue du jure, but the greater, underlying issue is what we make of the Bible. One can talk of how we follow Jesus, not just the Bible, but I’d challenge you to tell me how to know how to follow Jesus without the Bible. Once we demote The Word we are left to our own devices and Jesus suddenly takes on an image that looks suspiciously like us. This is what happened with Bishop Robinson in the above.

I’m afraid that the Episcopalian church, without a miraculous revival, represents the direction of mainline denominations. They are simply a step or two ahead of the rest of us.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In Their Own Words

Almost one year ago, denominational officials and attorneys wrote up a “game plan” to deal with churches, sessions, and pastors who might consider leaving the denomination. One would hope that the denomination’s plan would include concern for why any congregation might consider this.

The denomination’s plan is hardball as demonstrated in the excerpts below. Any church even considering leaving the denomination is in immediate danger of having its session removed and replaced by Presbytery appointees who would then run the church. Any pastor who speaks out, writes letters (blogs?) to the congregation, or even calls a meeting to discuss leaving is in immediate danger of the presbytery declaring that such pastor has “renounced jurisdiction,” therefore immediately ceasing to be pastor of the church.

Let me quote to you verbatim statements from two papers that denominational attorneys presented last January to presbytery executives, presumably to bring them on board. Note: the term “schismatic” refers to any pastor, session, or congregation who have even talked about separating from the PCUSA. Ironically, schismatic is used to describe churches that are trying to adhere to traditional Presbyterian beliefs—not those people who seek to change the denomination.

  • “Secure the property (both real and personal) of the local church. File an affidavit of property trust on the real estate. The affidavit is filed on the public records for the purpose of warning all persons the title to the real property is in dispute. The affidavit is for the purpose of preserving the rights of the presbytery and true church pending the dispute. Moreover, send a letter to all banks and institutions that hold accounts for the particular church.”

  • “The Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly has some funds available to assist presbyteries when a church is in schism or its property is being used contrary to the Constitution.”

  • “If you initiate the lawsuit, name the defendants as schismatics in the complaint and the caption. This will regularly remind the court of what the central issue is before it (the presbytery’s authority to determine the true church) and the fact that the court must defer to the ecclesiastical decisions of the church governing body. Example: ‘Presbytery of Middle Wyoming v. the Schismatic and Purported Covenant Church of Landsburgh.’”

  • “If the case law is favorable to the presbytery in your state, file a motion for summary judgment as soon as practicable. It is not helpful to allow the schismatics to develop a record when the presbytery has already taken its actions and, under the polity, the result is known. Where the law of your state is firm for the presbytery, move forward with a motion for summary judgment. Knowing they cannot interfere in ecclesiastical disputes, many judges will look favorable upon a motion for summary judgment to dispose of such cases.”

  • “Determine the religious background of your judge….if the judge is from an independent or congregational background (Baptist), then it may be more of a challenge to educate the judge on the wide range of authority a presbytery has over a particular church, especially in regards to property matters.”

  • “Certainly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) does not refer to itself as a hierarchical church. When speaking to a civil court, however, it is important to use the language the court uses….Firmly present the PCUSA to the court as a hierarchical church.”

  • “We have advised that the presbytery should be clear that the commission may assume jurisdiction of the session upon some triggering event or action of the session. This usually has a dramatic effect on the behavior of all the interested parties.”

  • “If the whole, or a majority, of the session is involved in schismatic activity, the presbytery may need to appoint an administrative commission to act in the place of, or beside, the session.”

I found out about these documents in an article in The Layman (, which points out that the documents also instruct presbyteries to “look for a ‘loyal minority’ in the congregation and declare it the ‘true church’ with rights to the property.” They also report that presbyteries are instructed to “[w]hen necessary, change the locks and ‘secure’ the property.”

It is clear that the PCUSA is prepared to litigate and to stifle any discussion of transferring to another Presbyterian denomination. It is, in fact, ready to interfere with a congregation, actively seeking out a separate group (their “true church”) to divide it off from those who desire to hold onto traditional values. Is this not schismatic?

Two things disturb me most in all this. First is the secrecy, coupled with the timing. The PCUSA officials did not respond to congregations taking any action—they prepared way in advance to stifle even any conversation. They well knew that this last GA would create divisive conflict. Instead of fostering open discussion, they studiously developed a plan that, in the best light, stifles the free speech of Presbyterians.

Second, the denomination is very selective about what it takes a stand on. If congregations are legitimately disturbed by unPresbyterian and unbiblical decisions they are set up for attack simply for discussing their alternatives. On the other hand, the national denomination has refused to take any action or stand against congregations that have openly ordained GLBTs or participated in same-sex marriages, even though this clearly goes against the Consititution.

I’ll keep you posted on things as they develop. Keep us all in your prayers.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The ONLY Presbyterians?

What does it mean to be Presbyterian? If you read some of the talk going on in our denominational crisis, it seems that the only Presbyterians are PCUSA. Some are suggesting that separation from this denomination is the equivalent of leaving The Church.

The fact is, there are many Presbyterian denominations currently in the USA. All of us are related, because we’ve all come into being through some sort of separation and/or reunion of the same. The PCUSA, for example, was formed in 1984 when the UPCUSA (northern Presbyterians) was rejoined with the PCUS (southern Presbyterians) who had separated just about the time the Civil War began.

Other Presbyterian denominations include
  • Bible Presbyterian Church
  • American Presbyterian Church
  • Cumberland Presbyterian Church (they just reunited with PCUSA this year)
  • Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)
  • Free Presbyterian Church
  • Independent Presbyterian Church
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States
  • Second Cumberland Presbyterian Church
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod
  • Reformed Church of America (Presbyterian in structure, not name)
  • Christian Reformed Church (Presbyterian in structure, not name)

As anyone can easily see, “Presbyterian” covers a lot of ground (I may even have missed one or two along the way). While there is a wide range of history among all these denominations, most of them really differ in smaller ways theologically. Some of these denominations split off from the “main line” back in the 18th Century, so their traditions have evolved significantly over the last two hundred years. Other denominations, like the PCUSA, PCA, and EPC are very new, and are developing along new, significantly different lines.

The PCUSA has chosen to fully embrace modernism and liberalism, hence the conflict we find ourselves in today as conservative evangelicals in a liberal denomination. The PCA separated in a reactionary movement to this process and, as a result, is almost the antithesis of the PCUSA. It refuses to ordain women or allow them to lead in the church. It also embraces the Westminster Confession in a very strict way. The EPC is conservative and evangelical, but much less restrictive than the PCA. Of all the denominations listed above, these three are the only ones of any numerical significance.

To conclude, insisting that any one of these denominations is the only “Presbyterian” one, much less “The Church,” is a step beyond credibility.

Keep praying—keep the faith,