Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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,
Tom

25 comments:

Former member said...

Prayers for tonight. I don't want you all to leave us. I still pass the Kirk and feel love for the place. I was a member from 1978 to 1980. I pledged to follow Jesus there. Your cat story, so true and sad

Mark Smith said...

I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your cat. I'll say an extra prayer tonight and pet my cats a little more.

Jason said...

Tom,
I wish that I could be there tonight to caste vote and to sound my voice in affirmation of where you and the elders are leading us.
But obviously we cannot be there tonight, but you should know that many people in Brazil are praying for you and the Kirk.
We love you guys and miss you very much.

Jason & Liliam

Anonymous said...

Tonight will be quite a spiritual lead occasion, which I am going to be blessed and honored to be part of. Likewise, I am honored to support the decisions made by the Kirk Session and to follow the true biblical teachings.

Thank you to the Kirk Session and Pastors. Our prayers are with all in this journey.

Anonymous said...

"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."

You want grace for your less than adequate words, yet you pounce on every word you disagree with. Be thankful that grace abounds....

I used to think I was sorry that you were leaving the PCUSA. After reading this blog for the last two weeks, I'm not so sure. Your words are too often judgmental and dismissive. I'm glad it's God I have to stand before after I die, and not you.

By the way, I'm truly sorry about your cat.

Emily Wooley Rhodes said...

As a former member/deacon of Kirk of the Hills (1988 to 1995) I do not beleive Tom, Wayne, the Session, nor the congregation are acting out of maverick disregard for authority, but through the convictions in their hearts, molded by beliefs grounded firmly in faith and based on biblical knowledge and practice. Sometimes we pass laws that are not "constitutional" and we have the right as citizens to appeal those laws; and some laws ARE repealed after this process. I am proud that the Kirk is willing to take a stand on this issue and not stand down to political pressure, but respond to God's calling in their hearts.

My prayers are with the Kirk tonight, and always.

from Washington State... said...

Our prayers are with you all tonight. The Lord honors those who follow Him in all ways. Blessings to you and the many in your congregation.

Stushie said...

I'm sorry that your church is leaving because of the sexuality issue, but here's a conundrum, Tom. You can no longer stay in the PCUSA, but you continue to blog with blogger.com, which is filled with pornographic blogs.

How can you leave the denomination and yet stay with blogger? If you remain with this blogger company, you are not applying those high principals to your own church's website ministry.

AmyCate said...

The meeting is going on as I write this, if all is going according to schedule. I am 1235 miles away from you, as the crow flies (I just looked it up on a website that calculates the distance) - give or take a few. But my heart, my mind, and my prayers are with you there tonight, Uncle.

I wish I was a member of the church, and I could be there to vote with you, your colleagues, and most of your congregation on this. Because philosophically, you know I'm right there with all of you.

Anonymous said...

Great outcome at the Kirk this evening….yeah!!

Tom, one question that was posed this evening that may not have been given the full response as you intended involved what are the current ordination standards for our pastors? I do not believe this question is in any reflection upon you or Wayne, but was asked to ensure no precedent was set this evening on the vote #3.

Thank you for the clarification.

TomGray said...

Dear stushie,
WOW! What logic. May I point out that you're using the same blogger for your blog. Even the same internet.
Tom

Anonymous said...

Stushie,

I am no fan of Tom or what his church is
doing, but have to come to their defense in light of your comments.

Guess what? The whole internet is filled with "porn", not just Blogger. Do you think that Tom and Kirk should give up email, web surfing, a website, etc. because they are a part of the same overall network? Furthermore, YOU are connected to the same "sinful" network as well. Should you give up all your internet activities?

Using Blogger is fine for Tom and I credit him for saving the church a little money too since it is free.

Anonymous said...

"Dear stushie,
WOW! What logic. May I point out that you're using the same blogger for your blog. Even the same internet.
Tom"

See, that's what I mean about judgmental and dismissive. Slice 'em and dice 'em, Tom. There's nothing like treading on the high road when it drips with the blood of people who disagree with you, is there, Tom?

O victory in Jesus?! I think not. Speak the truth with love, Tom, not with pride.

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous judge (pansy)

State your name

Have a point, not just a barb aimed at a humble man you obviously have not taken the time to know personally; he would welcome that chance. Would you?

Grow up

Jesus loves you, myself, and Tom, and those that participate in the pornography industry despite our human nature: throw the first stone if you dare.

Andrew Strong

DrMom said...

Why would someone making a smart-alec remark expect to get a "lovey" response? Lots of folks are making very judgemental remarks about Dr Gray and the Kirk (many doing so anonymously), yet if he or any of the members respond, we're accused of being judgmental for defending or explaining ourselves? Give me a break!

Sushie also clearly has not been following the explanations of why the Kirk has left. Once again, it is not an issue of sexuality in-and-of itself. It is because of differences in basic beliefs of Christian faith and Biblical basis of those beliefs. The sexuality issue has been made more central by the denomination's actions, not us, and it is only a single "symptom" of the overall problem.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

First of all, if the PCUSA is dying (not clear that it is), it is because people like you are doing their level best to kill it. Some people stand up above the rest. Some merely drag others down to make themselves look taller. If you were in the first category you would not feel the need all the time to tell how messed up the PCUSA has become.

Second, the division between “liberal” and “conservative” is a secular one. Our secular culture is divided along the boundary between what we perceive as conservative vs. liberal value systems, not because the Holy Spirit wants us divided, but because it suits the secular power brokers of our age. Rather than leading our culture out of the mess, you insist we embrace one side or the other. You try to capture God on your side, offering him up as a gift in exchange for services rendered. It’s a mistake – a sin – as old as when Israel asked for a King. The sexuality “issue” is merely a litmus test to find out what “side” you are on. To answer the question is to choose a side, a secular side. This is where you and the militant liberals you so despise are just alike. You bring pagan concepts into church and sanctify them. You put Mars up on a pedestal, put a Bible in his hand and kneel to him. The conservatives are no less apostate than the liberals! Do you really think Jesus is impressed with you?

Sooner or later, the gospel you preach will get us all dead. I think Jesus would tell you the same.

Those “in the middle” are there because they worship at feet of the Prince of Peace. It is not a small thing to choose Christ when so many loud voices are choosing Mars. They know that the message of the Gospel is supposed to be as refreshing as the cool waters of Colossae and as healing as the hot mineral baths of Hierapolis. If not both, then at least one or the other. We reject the teachings of Mars because they are neither. By the fruits we know the tree.

This is a tree we have come to know all too well.

Jodie

TomGray said...

Dear Jodie,
In your very first post you said that you had "no stake" in all of this. It seems you do. It also seems that you are confusing your opposition to war with the struggle in the PCUSA.
Your cool water/hot springs analagy is a good one, if taken to its appropriate conclusion. Jesus, in Revelation, tells us to be one or the other, not the tepid (muddled?) middle.
On another subject, many of my readers are wondering if you are a denominational official. Do you feel free to tell us a little about yourself?
Tom

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that you feel that the Mainline churches are lost. Part of the problem is that many of us feel that the discussions are too bitter and divided. I am sorry that you and your church felt that you had to go your separate ways from the General Assembly.. I feel that this is a weakness on your part and continues the trend of using the bible to meet ones own agenda.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

Jodie writes what can only be called a compelling piece of thoughtful prose, and, as a response, you question whether or not he/she is a denominational official. I guess the black helicopters are next. I have observed this blog now for a month or so, and am more convinced than ever that you and your congregation are making a wise decision, and that the peace, unity, and purity of the PCUSA will be advanced by your departure.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

You are wrong on the Cumberland Presbyterian issue. Check out www.cumberland.org for verification. You are also wrong on tons of other, far more damaging fronts, but it seems you are long past caring about that, or about the people you feign to love.

Anonymous said...

"If anything, competing scriptural citations stand a good chance of exacerbating tensions and fueling unhealthy, possibly destructive passions, for if both sides fight with what each considers the inerrant word of God, it is difficult to see how such battles can be reasonably settled. What is essential - and what has long been part of religious intellectual traditions - is to draw not only on scripture, but on reason and experience when contemplating the nature and problems of the world. In the 17th century battle between the Catholic hierarchy and Galileo over whether the earth revolved around the sun or vice versa, it was Galileo - a Christian - who understood better than his persecutors how to reconcile apparent contradictions between faith and science. "If Scripture cannot err," he said, "certain of its interpreters can and do so in many ways." In this Galileo was echoing Augustine, who wrote, "If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly." Guided by these lights, believers have (however slowly) removed the biblical support for the ideas that the earth, not the sun, is the physical center of the universe, that women are property - and that slavery is divinely sanctioned."

These are all quotes from Jon Meacham's newest book, American Gospel, which I highly recommend. I believe that science is already leaps and bounds ahead of the church on the question of homosexuality as well, and that one day it will be added to the list of ideas usurped by a more faithful reading of scripture in light of reason. There was a time when the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations were in the forefront of reasonable religion. Today, it seems we are inundated with thoughtless forms of evangelicalism parading as Reformed faith, but these forms are a disgrace ot our Presbyterian forebears. J. Gresham Machen would be proud of you, Tom, and that should trouble you greatly.

I leave you with a final quote: "Abraham Lincoln always kept a sense of perspective about himself and about man's place in the larger order of things. When 'a somewhat pompous and cocksure clergyman,' the historian William J. Wolf wrote, called at the White House, Lincoln remarked, 'Well, gentlemen, it is not often one is favored with a delegation direct from the Almighty."

The PCUSA will certainly survive the loss of a few "somewhat pompous and cocksure" clergymen (and congregations) from among us, and we wish the EPC well as they take them in.

Mark said...

Dear Tom,

I, for one, really appreciate what Jodie said. Your comment about "confusing your opposition to war with the struggle in the PCUSA" is another red herring comment, which I am learning is your style of deflecting substantive dialogue.

Extremists are throwing around labels, forcing people into boxes. I'm fed up with all extremists, liberals and conservatives alike. They preach mistrust and misinformation in order to gain the upper hand. Extremism is the root sin in this whole mess, not who is a better believer.

And yes, Christ calls us to be either hot or cold, not luke warm. However, he never meant for us to go around freezing and scalding people injurously with our words or actions, as I have seen you do on this blog.

The vote is over. You've been through a lot and now you're free of "us". Please set aside the acidic rhetoric and join the prayer for shalom, irene, peace, the healing wholeness that God intends. I believe God will bring us back together on the final Day of the Lord. No rhetoric, no vitriol, no accusations of apostacy from any side. Will you pray for that, too, please?

In Christ,
Mark

DrMom said...

Mark

Neither Dr Gray nor the Kirk members and supporters on this blog are the ones throwing about "acidic rhetoric."

Jodie said...

Dear Tom.

This is in reply to your 8:17 AM post of Aug 31.

My stake is the integrity of the Gospel. You wrote about what light pollution did to your stargazing experiences. That is what all this talk about apostasy and biblical standards and church affiliations seems to me: Light pollution that hides the true beauty of the Gospel. It is rather from the darkness of living by faith that we find ourselves not so much understanding the Gospel, but standing under it in speechless awe.

I do not agree with your understanding of the “appropriate conclusion” of the words of Jesus regarding hot and cold in Revelation. It is not about choosing between opposite sides or being muddled in the middle. The letter to the Laodiceans tells us what happens when a growing thriving church, full of grace, and rich in resources, gets too wrapped up in itself.

The water sources of Laodicea were from Colossae and Hierapolis. The cold refreshing waters from Colossae had to cross the desert to get to Laodicea. By the time they got there they had lost their cool freshness. The hot mineral spring waters of Hierapolis on the other hand could not hold their heat getting across the long distance they too had to travel. Both hot and cold were good at the source. They are not opposites, but complimentary manifestations of the same water of life, the same Gospel. Close to the source they are both refreshing and healing. Far from the source they are neither and useless.

The rich and thriving church at Laodicea is accused of being useless and of relying on its own wealth and resources, taking matters into its own hands rather than depending on Jesus for its vision. The gospel they are living stands convicted of being only good for inducing vomit.

Jesus ends the parable with the hopeful note that he is not as far as it seems. In fact, he says, he is right outside the door, knocking, and if invited he will enter and dine with them – Christ in community with His church, Emmanuel. Who knows, maybe he even brings a bottle of wine. The point is the Source has come to them.

What is at stake is whether the Gospel remains healing and refreshing to the outside world you live in. That is why I seem to have a stake in you. It is not about you, or me, or the Kirk, or even the PCUSA. It is about not making people puke on the Gospel. It is about restoring the refreshing healing powers of the News that is Good. This I do have a stake in.

I take comfort in the historical evidence that suggests the Laodiceans opened their doors.

About myself. No, I am not a denominational official (but what if I was?). I am a third generation preacher’s kid and missionary kid on both sides and by marriage who has a completely secular occupation. I got out of the “family business”. In doing so I discovered another church, the one made up of those who are not the clergy, the common folks, the silent majority. Our theological roots are all over, but we settled on Presbyterianism. I have two kids in college and I have been happily married for 25 years to only one woman.

I travel a lot, I read a lot, I live in the Global Village and I have friends from many walks of life, most of them un-churched. There was a time in my life when I was so angry with the PCUSA that I quit church altogether. But Jesus woke me up one morning and invited me back to church. He took the time to personally show me how to forgive, how to pray again, and how much he loves his church, all of his church, faults, and warts and all. Experienced up close, his love can be quite contagious.

Jodie

Mark said...

Dear Jodie,

Thank you. I leave this blog edified and hopeful.

Yours in Christ,
Mark