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,


Dave Moody said...

Preach on Pastor Tom! How can we follow Jesus without following scripture. Indeed, that is the question.
grace & peace,

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom: I have not done this sort of thing before. My Grandfather, father, and 2 brothers were all Presby. elders. My sister is the wife of Rev. Richard Geiger of Tulsa. I was an elder in 2 different Presby. churches (PCUSA) until I got saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1972. I feel as if I was delivered from that church !! May God lead you and bless you. Gerry Loper.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

I have been thinking about "new wineskins" and why you call your association of churches "the new wineskin association". There must be a scripture lesson here, yes?

The parable of new wineskins is like the parable of the leaven. Yeast was used in making both bread and wine. Like the mustard seed, or the salt, the point is just a little will ferment the whole batch. Some have suggested that the Gospel is the yeast that ferments the grape juice into wine. A little bit of yeast turns the sugar into alcohol and gas. The gas in this fermentation process is difficult to contain. The grape juice and yeast were put into pouches made of lamb stomachs I think - wineskins - that could stretch with the expanding gas. Old wineskins have no stretch left, and if new wine is put into them, the skins will fail trying to contain the fermenting wine (Job 32:19). So Jesus says the yeast of the Gospel must be put into fresh juice and new wineskins that can contain the fermentation byproducts.

There is always a catch with the parables of Jesus. Here the catch is that if the yeast is the Gospel and the wine is the Kingdom of God, then not even new wineskins can contain it. Whatever the meaning of new wineskins ultimately is, the skins will fail, and the Kingdom of God will pour out, splash, and stain everything it touches. The parable is at least as much about the wine as it is about the skins and the un-containability of the Kingdom of God.

So it begs the question. Why are you calling yourselves "new wineskins" and what is it that you are trying to contain? Where is the yeast?


Classical Presbyterian said...

There are two crucial differences between our situation and the ECUSA:

1. They have far more liberals in the pews than we do. They also have many, many openly gay pastors that are affirmed, whereas we have only a few in select regions.

2. Their system of government shuts out the laity and reinforces the power of the hierarchy. Despite what Pope Kirkpatrick I says, our denomination still has a witness for change, as we are NOT a hierarchy and our congregations CAN take back the primary voting mechanisms for change, if we have the will.

But do we have the will to fire people at the presbytery and GA level? Will our congregations wake up enough to be courageous and steadfast against our emerging Episcopacy from Louisville?

That remains to be seen...

TomGray said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Roniniski said...

I am convinced that this ongoing blog is not only a distraction to the grace, mercy and love of Almighty God, but it does nothing to add to the unity of the body of Christ that Jesus referred to and that Paul wrote about.

As I read the Layman and a number of secular newspapers I see a great deal of miscommunication. We make a big deal about the word scruple - we all have scruples - we are all moral people. The bottom line and the Constitution of the PCUSA Church is clear - if a candidate declares a scruple then we should ask a simple question: Notwithstanding your scruple, will you nonetheless uphold the Book of Order. If the candidate says yes, then we ought to hold them accountable if they violate their ordination oaths - That means we should have courage - and not worry about what anyone else says; The old oath - Cross my heart and hope to die - was meant to remind Middle Age peoples - that what was at sake was to be drawn and quartered if they lied after they had taken an oath before God. We can't draw and quarter any more - but we surely can take judicial action when any ordained individual violates the oaths they take before God and the Church.

Ultimately this conversation will lead to the Kirk departing the denomination. Will the Clergy depart as well and leave their worldly pension plans and medical plans behind, or will they, like they liberals they critize, half-step their way through what they say is a courageous stand, and lead a congregation out, but stay behind to ensure a nice retirement?

I think the ongoing discussion in nothing less than unchristian. The accusations, the hate filled words disturb me immensely. It causes me to pause and ask: "Do I want to be part of a denomination that practices this type of Christianity - argueable it is unscriptural what is being talked about at all levels. Is anyone here taking the high ground - and like Jesus - going to the Cross and suffering so others can be saved?

Thank you for allowing me to speak.

Mike Roniniski said...

As a bystander, I would love to see this conversation stopped. The hate and the unforgiving attitude has nothing to do with the love and mercy of God.

How can Christians write and say such things about each others.
That is right, we are Americans more than we are Christians. It is our right to vent none stop no matter who gets hurt.


Eric H said...

As a member of a church in a similar situation of yours I was wondering if you have read anything by Søren Kierkegaard?

Anonymous said...

Dear Jodie,
I have been impressed with your intellect. Your thoughts are very interesting and I am confused. Please tell me how you came to believe the Bible is not trustworthy?


Anonymous said...

I must respond to Classical's post:

Living in Texas, your idea that "[t]hey have far more liberals in the pews than we do" may not be the most informed (since Texas, though there are liberal pockets, is mainly conservative, and even in liberal portions religion is generally not looked down upon). Where I live, I see no difference (and I've attended both) in the number of liberals and stridency of their liberalism, the amount of their sermons they dedicate to politics, their political philosophies, and so-called "social justice", and their lack of emphasis on the actual Word of God. None whatsoever.

In fact, I have been left without a church to attend because of this. I have two choices: one of these churches, or a non-denominational church where they sing, clap, and throw their hands in the air a lot, but they don't do a whole lot of teaching. In fact, it often seems that the pastors aren't that educated about the Bible. They just latch on to a passage here, and go off about it. Sometimes their sermon ends up being in line with the Bible, sometimes it doesn't.

Regarding your second point, you are quite correct about the Episcopal form of government. However you discount the fact that even in the PCUSA it is the pastor's duty to lead his congregation, even when it is their wish to fight (and even leave) the denomination. Without the pastor, most congregants wouldn't know who to fight because dealing with the denomination has not been part of their job. Also, the pastor and other church employees are needed to help organize such efforts. If congregants were the only ones left to do this, it might never get done because of the time spent in their day jobs (when they would need to contact people who are only open during business hours).

In the Episcopal Church, the National Church has counted on this, and they have threatened priests within an inch of their lives if they help their congregants out with such efforts. Now PCUSA is taking a page from their book. Don't bow to the pressure like most of the ECUSA priests have done. You'll only hurt your congregants, and in the long run you'll be hurting Christ's Church. Showing such weakness, truly, is a selfish act. Your choice of profession asks more of you. If you cannot find the strength, you have chosen the wrong profession.

Anonymous said...

Mike -

Herein lies the issue that I, as an orthodox Christian, have with your line of thinking:

"The bottom line and the Constitution of the PCUSA Church is clear - if a candidate declares a scruple then we should ask a simple question: Notwithstanding your scruple, will you nonetheless uphold the Book of Order."

The "bottom line" in the PCUSA or any Christian church, should never be "the Book of Order." The guiding principles of any Christian church can be found in one place: the Bible, which comes directly from God. If a church is finding it in any other place, that church is violating God's first commandment.

On another note, this has got to be the least hateful discussion of such issues that I have ever seen. I realize that most liberals have redefined "hate" as "disagreeing with liberals" (just as they've defined "unity" as "agreeing with liberals, even if such agreement has been attained by force"), but hate is truly much more than this.

Unfortunately, every time liberals call disagreement "hate", they make life harder for those who are victims of real hate, because no one takes them seriously when they're having to deal with it. Nice, eh?

Please be more careful about the loaded words that you throw around. There are people in this world who have do deal with real hate, and they'd appreciate it if you didn't make doing so more difficult for them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anne,

You said, “I have been impressed with your intellect. Your thoughts are very interesting and I am confused. Please tell me how you came to believe the Bible is not trustworthy?”

Thank you for the complement. I think however that Presbyterian Parson deserves it much more than me.

I imagine it would indeed be confusing if you read my posts thinking that I believed the Bible was not trustworthy. Whatever gave you [that] idea? Rest assured that is not the case. I have been swimming in the Bible ever since before I learned to read, and all my life it has been to me an infinite source of joy, knowledge, wisdom, insight, comfort, courage, patience, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

For as long as I can remember, the Scriptures have been the lens through which I see everything else in life. I have been fortunate in that my own view of the Universe started with the Scriptures and moved out from there. The question that comes up for me is not whether I trust the Scriptures, but whether I trust any other reality that presents itself. To me it is those realities that need to be assessed and proven. It surprises me when the question of trusting the Bible even comes up. It is the air I breathe.

But how do we teach this? I think that it is not with words that we demonstrate the trustworthiness of the Bible but rather in becoming that trustworthy message in the world ourselves. We demonstrate that the message can be trusted by being trustworthy. We demonstrate that God is faithful by being faithful. If we make a contract, we keep our part even when the other party fails to keep theirs, for example. We show that he is forgiving by being forgiving, not so much by merely saying so. As Father Greg Boyle explains in describing his wildly successful mission to the gangs of LA, the nomatterwhatness of God is something you can only show by doing. Do you trust Jesus when he tells you and me to GO into the world and MAKE new disciples and teach them to DO all that he taught us? Those are action verbs. Much more than a way of believing, it is a way of being. Do you trust HIM?

Our purpose in being is outside our petty little squabbles and ourselves.
Love, Jodie

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your eloquent response Jodie. I wish I could express myself as well as you. The fact is quite frankly, I'm glad to hear someone else who believes the "road" is not narrow and there are not rules by which to adhere as Christians in this world.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

For Anne and others who believe that the "road is not narrow and there are not rules by which to adhere as Christians in this world,"

The following is a parable given by Jesus taken from Matthew 7:13 in the New International Version of the Bible:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Peggy Alexander

Anonymous said...


From the context I think Anne said the opposite of what she meant to say.

But regarding the fruit tree, I take that message quite literally. In the months to come, go back to it often and use it to discern the path you are on. I don't mean this as criticism. What is done is done. But the go forward path for you is new territory. There will be times when the dust will be so thick you will not know where the path is. When that happens, close your eyes and use your taste buds.

Good fruit has a taste to it.

Good Luck, and God Bless,


Jon said...

The recent GA in Birmingham was just the latest example of the PCUSA continuing her steady march to conform herself to this world. The PCUSA is essentially following the same path as the Episcopal Church only about 10 years behind.

WinfieldCaseyJones said...

Dear Tom,

Though it is not my decision to do as you are now doing {leaving the PC(USA)}, I cannot criticize or judge those like you who are deciding to leave the PC(USA). I notice, however, that you do appear to judge evangelicals like myself who choose to stay.

I am bothered by your comment, "For those who stay with the denomination, it is a tacit, yet conscious, affirmation of the denomination’s departure from Truth."

This statement, where you say that those of us who choose to stay are consciously affirming the denomination's departure from truth, deeply disturbs me. As you know, many of us have strenuously opposed such departues from truth, some perhaps even more than you have!

Here are two reasons why I disagree with your statement.

1. The PC(USA) and its predecessors, have, since at least the mid 1920's, been departing from some portions of Biblical truth. Many of us, including, presumably, you, have opposed this. Does your statement now mean that all the time you stayed you were really affirming these departures from the Truth because you did not leave then? Or is the time you chose to leave the point at which those who do not make the same decision begin to "affirm" departures from Truth because they do not leave?

2. I think as a matter of pure wisdom and common sense, you would do well not to criticize sincere evangelicals like me, who, while we choose to stay, would not oppose your leaving.
Why attack people who are not opposing you?

Would you please apologize for this intemperate comment? And God bless you and the future of the congregation you serve.

Winfield Casey Jones
Pearland, Texas