Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Let me contrast my experiences being received in the various presbyteries of which I have been a part:
I was ordained into the UPCUSA through the Presbytery of San Gabriel in California. My examination—both before the candidates’ committee and on the floor of presbytery—was thorough. I was asked questions on theological subjects, polity, and the Bible. The examinations may have been more thorough because so many seminary professors were in the presbytery, including Jack Rogers (Fuller), Paul Jewett (Fuller), and Burton Mack (Claremont).
We moved to Scotland where I had to go through a complete ordination examination again. I was told that they weren’t simply accepting American ordination certificates because of problems they had recently had. It turned out that those problems were a result of their confusion over the difference between Methodist candidates ordained to the deaconate rather than the pastorate.
Anyway, I had to stand (sit?) oral exams on theology, polity, Bible, and church history. I was also required to translate significant passages of Scripture from the Hebrew and Greek, something I might have trouble doing today!
When I came to Oklahoma in 1982 I was twice interviewed. There were two consistent sets of questions: “Did I support the ordination of women?” I confidently answered “yes,” but was suspect because I was a Fuller grad (this was said by the committee up-front). The other question was about prayer. At my first meeting with the committee one pastor asked me if I really believed that God answered prayer. I answered “yes,” as I still would.
They were not satisfied with my answers, so I had to return from California to Tulsa for a second examination. Again I was asked if I would support the ordination of women. Between the first and second meeting there had been the crash of an airliner in Louisiana, and the same pastor asked me “do you think that the people in that plane’s prayers weren’t answered?” This, to me, demonstrated a naive understanding of prayer and a complete misunderstanding of Reformed theology.
Before the presbytery I gave my testimony and (wouldn’t you know it) was asked by someone on the floor if I supported women’s ordination. My answer must have been satisfactory, because I was admitted without a negative vote.
Today, Wayne and I were examined over the phone by two teaching elders (pastors) of the EPC presbytery. This was a preliminary examination, since both the Kirk and the EPC are at the inquiry stage. The examiners asked us to describe the Kirk. They then wanted to know our basis for the interpretation of Scripture, as well as our acceptance of the theological essentials of the EPC and the Westminster Confession. This presbytery has not ordained women to the office of teaching elder although women are ordained as deacons and elders, according to individual churches beliefs. The fact that we would prefer that the presbytery ordain women as pastors was not received with hostility or incredulity, but grace.
Following the time together, the lead examiner emailed Wayne and me, thanking us for our time and interest, and even suggested further reading for us better to understand them.
I don’t know what the future holds. We may be admitted into the EPC. We or they may decide that we will do something different. But what we have experienced so far indicates a commitment to Scripture, Reformed faith, and Truth that I have not experienced in a long, long time.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Saturday, October 28, 2006
This morning we've been observing the examination of candidates for ministry. Unlike our previous experiences, this denomination does a rigorous examination on the floor of presbytery. Candidates must answer specific questions from and about Scripture. One candidate was asked to give a detailed outline (verbally, without notes) of the Gospel of Matthew (someone else asked him to outline the book of Revelation). Another candidate was asked to respond with theological depth on points from the Westminster confession. Each candidate was asked questions of doctrine and where they, if they did, disagreed with any point. As long as disagreement was not on one of the essentials, that disagreement was met with grace.
I was particularly impressed by the fact that the candidates answered all questions of doctrine with supporting Scriptures (from memory). Each one of them had not only done their homework, but had taken to heart Reformed teaching and, most importantly, the Bible.
Last night we heard the candidates preach in a wonderful worship service. The music was contemporary, thoughful, and Christ-centered. Even though I prefer traditional worship, I felt completely at ease and enjoyed the presence of God therein. We also appreciated the genuine fellowship and acceptance of us at this meeting.
We also heard some of the hurt that congregations like ours have encountered. Two churches besides us were there to observe as part of our process of seeking admission to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The other two churches were/are in the system, having asked for dismissal, as opposed to our action of disaffiliation. They both had horror stories of how their churches were treated in this process. Both of their presbyteries had, verbally and in writing, clamed to desire an amicable process, but it didn't turn out that way.
In one church's case, shortly after they'd asked for dismissal the presbytery formed an administrative commission and informed the congregation that they were officially "in schism." The net result of this was the presbytery taking control of the church.
The other congregation told a different story. What was unique to their story was that the presbytery slowed down the process so much that members who opposed staying in the PCUSA left for non-denominational churches in frustration. One of their elders told me that they were in negotiation for 20 months, thee weeks, and fourteen hours. They met witht the presbytery negotiation team every three weeks. Early on they felt that they had a fair offer and took it back to the congregation for approval. This turned out to be a pattern because, each time when they returned, the presbytrery added a condition to the deal that was unacceptable. As the process strung out, members, particularly the younger ones, simply left.
Having heard these sad stories, though, there was a balance from the joy they felt at joining with a denomination that is not only more gracious, but also firmly centered and set upon the Word of God.
Wayne and I will be examined for potential membership on October 31. There will be further meetings with our session and pastors in the next couple of months. The earliest we could be admitted would be in January. It is more likely that we will be admitted in April. Both the EPC and the Kirk continue the process of mutual examination until then.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Thursday, October 26, 2006
On the first demand, that the secular court suspend the case and refer it back to the EOP for judgment, the judge ruled in our favor. The case will not be suspended and handed back to the PCUSA. This was the most important part of the case for us, and we, thank God, prevailed. This ruling means that the case could go forward under neutral law principles, where our arguments and precedents are strongest.
On the second demand, that the Kirk be forced to hand over membership records, the judge ruled that we must give the EOP a printed mailing list for our congregation as well as a copy of up-to-date names, addresses, and phone numbers. While we preferred not to give away membership information, it is not something that should adversely affect us. So far as we can tell from their last mailing, the EOP already has an up-to-date list that some member gave them, so this ruling grants them nothing new.
Expect to get another letter from the presbytery in the near future.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support-they mean everything to us. As soon as I find out the details I'll let you know what is next. We still have the quiet title suit, where we hope the courts will require the presbytery to clear our title.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
We began our afternoon meeting with our attorneys. After a time of prayer together we walked over to the courthouse and up to the district courtrooms on the seventh floor. As we waited for the judge to appear we were joined by a significant number of Kirk members. No one from the presbytery offices appeared with their attorneys.
The presbytery's attorney was first to make his presentation, since this appearance was about the EOP's petition to 1) have the entire process referred back to the PCUSA and 2) for the court to force the Kirk to hand over its membership records.
The arguments were nothing new. The EOP's attorney argued that the court could not interfere in what was a church matter. The EOP's attorney was very competent yet not eloquent. Certain "facts" were stretched to make a point. He insisted that the PCUSA is a hierarchical church, like the Episcopal or Roman Catholic church. He insisted that, since we "only"had a little over a thousand people at our congregational meeting, 60% of the Kirk was opposed to our move.
He also gave two examples of the presbytery graciously letting churches go with their property. The first was the Hevener church, which had dwindled down to nothing. When the congregation was dissolved, the church property was given to a Methodist congregation. The second was a similar case where the property--a burden to the presbytery--was disposed of after dissolving the congregation. Of course, none of these details were offered to the court. Nor was it mentioned that neither case remotely matched what the Kirk was doing or wanting.
Our attorney was magnificent (of course, it's hard for me to put prejudice aside). John O'Connor was joined by Kirk member Sean McKee and two of John's associates who had done much of the legal research. While the presbytery essentially presented only two cases--one from 1871 and another from 1972--our side presented a plethora of cases and evidence supporting our rights.
The judge asked questions that indicated that he was not just listening, but understood what was going on. For instance, when the EOP attorney said that 60% of the Kirk membership was opposed to what we had done, the judge asked us how many attended the Kirk of a typical Sunday. The judge understood the 1871 precedent that had led to the "deference rule" (secular courts stay out of church business) that secular courts had applied to church cases before 1979. Since that time, in accordance with another US Supreme Court ruling, allowing secular courts to rule in church property cases according to State laws.
My gut feeling is that we have a good case. Should we lose at this level, we will appeal as would, I assume the presbytery should they lose. But, whichever side prevails on Thursday afternoon will certainly be in stronger standing than the other.
The judge said that he would rule on Thursday afternoon. I and our attorneys continue to pray for God's will. We have the spiritual conviction that we should pursue all reasonable legal avenues to retain our property, but our decision wasn't made for the sake of property. Whatever God decides will prove to be best.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
I usually write most of my blogs myself. Occasionally, though, someone else writes something important enough to pass on verbatim. Cindy, from the Western North Carolina Presbytery wrote to this blog to give an update on what happened at their most recent meeting. It is the proposal to this presbytery that prompted my blog earlier, entitled A False Unity.
Yesterday, Friday, October 20, The Western North Carolina Presbytery voted by a large majority to pass the Guidelines for Congregations Considering A Request to Presbytery to be Dismissed.Cindy and others--we will keep praying for you and your congregations. This is a sad time in Christian history. We hope and pray that mainline denominations will return to a belief in Scripture as revealed and the Lord Jesus revealed therein.
Tensions ran high and the vote was taken twice because the first vote had been taken after lengthy discussions on amendments and amendments on amendments. When the actual vote for the final document came many weren't even sure what they had voted on. No actual discussion re: the document had been held. (Many commissioners complained they had only seen the document for the first time a few days earlier or that morning as it was a part of the addendum.)
A vote was taken to resubmit the document for another vote allowing for full discussion. The document passed by voice vote nearly intact.
A related item voted on earlier in the day (before I was in attendance) was a recommendation in the omnibus motion in the addendum stating that churches not following the guidelines for dismissal would find themselves facing an Administrative Commission.
Also voted on were guidelines for examination of pastoral candidates which follow wishes of the PUP committee. Only creeds to which they will need to agree with are the Nicene, The Apostles' Creed and A Brief Statement of Faith. Scruples will be provided for, kept "confidential" and all must "allow for the discerning work by the Holy Spirit."
Also, just in case a church wants to discuss in private their difficulties with the denomination or the WNC-Presbytery, clerks of sessions will now be required to meet annually to review each others' session records under the watchful eye of Presbytery staff.
And, no distribution of any materials at Presbytery without prior approval from Coordinating Council.
Fortunately, before and during the grueling four-hour marathon on basically two items, we were able to pray: "That we would be open to new truth..." and that we would "breathe in the spirit and breathe out the spirit." A little New Age never hurt anyone, I guess (sarcasm off).
Very difficult days ahead for some churches here and individuals who are members of churches satisfied with status quo.
Pastor Gray, keep speaking out. You give encouragement and information so badly needed in these days. We will be praying for The Kirk as well.
In His Merciful Hands,
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Friday, October 20, 2006
- It’s in the Book of Order—“we wrote a trust clause and that means we own the property.”
- The money from the property is needed to continue the mission of the church (or the property is needed by the “true church” if they are large enough to support it).
- Previous generations of Presbyterians gave sacrificially, not to a congregation, but to the denomination.
First, the trust clause.
The trust clause appears only late in the PCUSA’s history. The denomination had assumed it owned the property, but congregations were able to leave with it. This necessitated an insertion into the Book of Order that came about with the new, reunified denomination in 1983.
Local denominational officials are almost gleeful to point out that I was at the meeting where this was approved. Technically, they are right. However, the clause was buried in a completely new constitution which we had to vote into force as a unit. We had no right to amend, protest, or vote against any single part of the constitution. This constitution had been assembled by a committee and approved by a General Assembly where the (then) 80+ churches in Eastern Oklahoma had only 4 representatives (none of them from the Kirk).
Even with the trust clause, there is the reality of state law. The Supreme Court of the United States directed that property cases for churches be decided by neutral law principles. Prior to this, they used the “deference” principle, meaning that they stayed completely out of church business. After this, the court stated that they had no business in the beliefs of a church, but had business in property matters.
For Oklahoma in particular, this means, as I understand it, that we can revoke any trust that we did not make ourselves. It makes sense. What if your mortgage company inserted a clause, years after you initiated the mortgage, claiming rights that had not been explicit before?
Second, the mission of the church.
Without the Kirk, the presbytery will be short $43,000 per year, which is the total amount we have been giving for the last few years. Around half of that went to pay GA per capita, so the presbytery is out part, the GA part.
There are several arguments about the “mission” that we at the Kirk have considered. The most important is whether or not we morally can support the mission of the PCUSA. This is the reason why the amount has lingered at the level it has been for the last years. In previous years we gave much more. With the PCUSA drifting away from not our cherished views, but Scripture itself, we wrestled for years with any kind of financial support. This doesn’t go away with our disaffiliation. Can we, in good faith, pass on millions of dollars to a denomination we didn’t trust with more than $43,000 per year?
Third, the previous generations.
The rationale behind this is that the local church is larger than its current congregation. I fully agree with this. Even the Kirk, as young as it is, has benefited much from saints who are now in Glory. There are two questions here of those previous generations: 1) is it true that they thought they were giving to the PCUSA and not the Kirk? Is that how any of you feel about your donations today? 2) Would those generations past feel right about giving to the PCUSA today, given the changes that have occurred?
My answer to both is a confident “no.” While people are a part of a denomination, they truly give to and support the local expression of it. Even denominationally-oriented folk find the national denomination to be somewhat alien from the local church.
Next, would people born 100 years ago approve of what the PCUSA stands for today? Would they approve of its stand on sexual morality? Would they approve of its bent toward politics? I don’t think so. In fact, if the generations of 75 years ago or more were in charge, none of the problems we are facing would even be here.
I have one last consideration on the “generations” issue. The Kirk is young enough to have some of our charter members still active. I haven’t talked to all of them, but for those I’ve spoken to, there is total support for our stand. One of the things that has surprised me most in the last three years is how the greatest opposition to staying in the denomination came from people I had previously thought would demand to stay in it, no matter what.
I’ll let you know what happens in court on Monday. It could be anything from a decision (unlikely), to consideration, to postponement.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The reason I continue to write is because there are so few who are speaking out about the denomination’s treatment of dissenting congregations and pastors. There could be many reasons for this, uppermost the fear of reprisal. As I’ve said before, I don’t have to fear that because I am no longer under the authority of the PCUSA. I am disappointed, though, in the lack of response by remaining pastors in the PCUSA.
I hear talk about renewed missions and a missional focus for the church. There is talk about simplifying governance with a more compact Book of Order. Such good things are overdue for the denomination, yet the current situation cries out for clarity and leadership and, dare I say it, reform. How can a denomination move in a positive direction when it is at war with its own members who feel so vulnerable?
Don’t any of you out there believe that what is happening is unfair, unpresbyterian, and unchristian? Do you think that it is right to selectively live to the utter letter of the law, suspending grace while, at the same time flouting other parts of the law?
I’m going to make a comparison that is odious, but pertinent. Most Americans have a shared opinion that moderate Muslims are not speaking out sufficiently against Muslim terrorists. But few speak. It seems obvious, even necessary, to us that they should speak out. Their silence on this one thing undoes anything else they might say.
While what is happening in the PCUSA falls far short of terrorism, it shows the same fundamentalist, monofocal dedication to a cause that does nothing but create fear and destruction.
All the PCUSA has to do—and this is well within its power, constitutionally, ethically, and morally—is say “stop” to the presbyteries and officials who are aggressively going after churches they think might disassociate or ask for dismissal. It can actually allow congregations to be dismissed—without a ransom payment for property they have sacrificially acquired, built, and maintained. It could even assure pastors and sessions that they could speak freely without fear of punishment.
One would think that, in a time when there is such theological division within mainline denominations, dissent and disaffiliation would be expected. Those responsible for it should approach others apologetically. Instead, it seems that those who have led the PCUSA toward a completely different theological foundation are hell-bent on punishing anyone who might disagree.
I know that many in my former presbytery believe that, if the Kirk had just entered into dialog with them, we would have reached a mutually satisfactory conclusion. I'd like to believe that, but the atmosphere set up by leaders in Louisville established and continues an attitude of reasonable suspicion. If every sign points to a potentially deadly encounter, it is wise to seek another route. Even the route we have taken is fraught with pain and danger--it just seems to be less so than the constitutionally-established route, given the present climate in the PCUSA.
Although I’m a “tall steeple” pastor, I am an unknown, except for what has been published through my blog and the Layman or the contacts that I have personally made in the PCUSA over the last decades. What I say is obviously supported or undermined (according to your point of view) by my own church’s disaffiliation. Others need to speak.
Leaders like Clifton Kirkpatrick, certain well-known pastors, or a group of such nationally-known leaders could make a tremendous difference. Even the gathering of tall-steeple pastors (to which I once belonged) would carry a lot of influential weight should they speak out unequivocally against the PCUSA’s attitude and actions toward dissenting congregations and pastors.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
A current example is from the Presbytery of North Carolina. They are proposing restrictive processes designed to go far beyond the Book of Order in terms of limiting a congregation’s ability to be dismissed. The extraordinary limitations include
- Requiring a 75% vote of presbytery commissioners.
- Requiring at least half of the congregational members voting.
- Limiting transfer to a particular denomination approved by the PCUSA Stated Clerk.
- Altering the way in which congregational meetings are called and run.
- Referring the results to a judicial commission on the request of any member.
All the above doesn’t even address the issue of property. Once the dismissal is approved, then a new, similar process is proposed to make a decision regarding the congregation’s property. The Layman Online says,
“If the vote is yes, the presbytery would consider whether to dismiss the congregation with “all or some of its property.” A presbytery task force appointed by the chairs of the Coordinating Council, the Committee on Ministry and the general presbyter would make a recommendation about the property.”My sense is that this proposal is designed to slow down the dismissal process to a glacial pace, giving the presbytery time (and “official” standing) to redirect the process as they see fit. In such a context a congregation would not just find it extremely difficult to discuss dismissal, but most congregations would rapidly dwindle under such manipulative force.
The truth is that “dismissal” doesn’t really exist in the PCUSA. The denomination will put a strangle-hold on the “true church,” however small, however unhealthy, while the rest of the members dismiss themselves as they go out the door for the last time.
Churches considering leaving the PCUSA are going to have to work fast, in light of the ever-tightening control the denomination is seeking to impose. The PCUSA completely controls every element in a deeply one-sided process.
The New Wineskins strategy team yesterday published their interim report for congregations considering leaving. They obviously sense the urgency and suggest the following:
- “… immediately retain legal counsel to evaluate the property issues that are specific to your individual church and to protect your trustees, elders, pastors and other church officers from potential litigation.”
- “… discuss with your attorney preparation for suit against governing bodies that attempt to implement the Louisville Papers … Your preparations should include petitions for temporary restraining orders that may be necessary in the event Presbytery attempts to take your church by force. While it is incomprehensible to us that a presbytery would employ such tactics, some have already done so. Ironically, during the same time the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA has called for a period of discernment.”
- “… local church officers (elders and trustees) may well have a fiduciary duty to the congregation/corporation” to protect the church’s property. “You should also protect your church officers through the purchase of insurance and/or making indemnification as Louisville may well sue the individuals personally (e.g., the ‘Louisville papers’). Consult your counsel and your insurance agent for the ‘hows and whys.’“
I am constantly surprised by the number of pastors and elders who have never read this, ignorant of what may be happening next in their neighborhood.
The NWAC strategy team is recommending preparation, but postponing action until the New Wineskins Convocation in February. It’s not a moment too soon to begin.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The meeting was remarkable—compared to our experience of denominational meetings in the past—in that it was rich with Scripture and prayer. We discussed how the EPC has formulated its stands on Scriptural, rather than social, foundations. When one of us asked a question of an EPC representative, more often than not, the answer was given in the context of what Scripture teaches. At one point in the conversation I stopped everyone just to remark on this.
We also talked about the creedal basis of the EPC. Unlike our former denomination, which lists many creeds while identifying none as operative or central, the EPC holds to the one historical Presbyterian creed, the Westminster Confession. They actually expect their pastors and elders to believe their essential tenets! The EPC sincerely holds to the Westminster Confession and does so in a gracious and thoughtful manner.
The only negative part of the evening (and this was but a small part of it) was addressing concerns that our former presbytery had sent to the EPC regarding the Kirk. Wayne and I addressed this mostly at a dinner we had with the EPC representatives before the session meeting.
Our former presbytery wrote to the EPC presbytery, complaining of the way in which we left the PCUSA. Their concern was for the “calculated series of irregular actions” by which we left and that our witness is “severely weakened by the shadows of these highly irregular actions.” They go on to ask the EPC to wait for us to go through the PCUSA’s process before admitting us into membership.
The EPC rightly needs to consider all these things. Having explained the events driving us to our “highly irregular action” I believe that they understand what has happened. In fact, the origin of the EPC was in reaction to similar forces from the [U]PCUSA against their charter congregations.
I am thankful for the time we spent together and, as a result, feel even more strongly that this denomination will be a good fit for us. We continue our conversations, though. Wayne and I and, perhaps, some of our elders, will attend the Midwest presbytery meeting later this month.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Saturday, October 14, 2006
The date set is October 23rd--just a short time away. We are legally prepared, but we must be spiritually prepared. I ask for your prayers--for wisdom before the court, for clarity in our words, and, above all, for God's will to be done.
I ask for your prayers in three contexts:
- first, in your regular daily prayers;
- second, in continuous prayer next week (I will have a sign-up sheet for 24 hour prayer the day and night before our court date;
- and third, to stay after church on October 22 for a few minutes following the 11am services so that we can gather in the sanctuary to pray together.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Friday, October 13, 2006
I'm not going to stop posting responses, but I'm going to become a lot more selective. I think that we've mostly exhausted the comments over why the Kirk disaffiliated, and the past actions and reactions of the EOP regarding us. I'm going to help us (me) move on a bit.
I'll still post anything that really seems pertinent, or that casts a new view on an old post or idea. I will still post responses that are opposed to what I say or believe, but I will be more selective on the tone of posts I publish. I'm a part of the problem, in that I truly love to debate an issue (sometimes to death) and my adrenalin flow may have exacerbated the problem I'm trying to solve.
I really appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read this blog and respond. You have made it come alive, and some of you have made great contributions to working through our issues.
Please keep reading, thinking, and (if you're civil and thoughtful) posting. God bless you all.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Timing of our decisions
Two responders react to the same quote in the Synod newspaper.
Mark (not Smith) writes,
"On June 28, less than a week after GA adjourned, the Kirk amended their articles of incorporation to eliminate all previous references to denominational affiliation and accountability."More of the same from Arthur,
It appears from this report that The Kirk (the Session?) planned, well before The Layman article about GA's "secret" property strategy and before the New Wineskins Convocation, to pull out of the PCUSA.
I can't believe I missed this.I repeat, we were responding to the affidavit filed by our presbytery. It had been discovered in May. We believe that we—legally and morally—own the property of the Kirk. The fact that someone in an organization of which we were a part declared (after we’d been a part of that group for 22 years) that they now owned our property does not make it so.
Is this true!
"On June 28, less than a week after GA adjourned, the Kirk amended their articles of incorporation to eliminate all previous references to denominational affiliation and accountability."
I’ve been trying very hard (with varying degrees of success) to be sympathetic to your plight. I'm absolutely appalled by this!!!
Oklahoma law allows any trust—even, or especially, one created by another entity—to be revoked. This is what we did. It did not involve leaving the denomination. We did not recommend leaving the denomination at that time. The decision to change our bylaws and charter was made by our session in May, before the General Assembly. The congregational meeting was also scheduled then. Our decision to disaffiliate came after the GA in June, in response to its approval of the PUP report.
A couple of responders question whether the affidavit was secret.
- First, no congregation was queried or contacted about the affidavit, so we were kept in the dark in that respect, regardless of whether or not it was announced at a later date.
- Second, one of our members, himself a trustee of EOP at that time, confirmed the irregularities of this action. When he inquired into this motion and meeting he was told that he had missed the meeting, and that minutes were not taken, but the chair had taken “some notes.”
On another subject, Jodie said,
Chill Tom,Here, as one other responder noted, Jodie fails to understand the nature of the old covenant, in the case of the Deuteronomy passage, and proper Greek exegesis, in the case of the Titus passage. The first is a law changed in Acts 15 (where the specific items retained from the old covenant are listed). The second is an indicative, illustrative statement which, correctly taken in context does not require us to believe that all Cretans are liars. Paul is ironically quoting someone else in this passage.
Are you saying that you do not ignore parts of scripture? Did you hand up your children for stoning or encourage other parents to do so when they answered back to you? (Deu 21:18-21) Do you really believe that Cretans are "always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons"? (Titus 1:12-13.)
Many who support the radical changes in the PCUSA revert to this argument that, if we do not literally act on every statement in the Bible, we have no right to insist on literally enforcing any standard of Scripture. In the cases Jodie cites, there are historical, Reformed interpretations that I have given above. In the case of sexual morality we have the specific retention of the Law as exhibited in Acts 15, as well as specific restatements of prohibitions elsewhere in the New Testament.
Essentials versus non-essentials
One person accuses me of attacking people who disagree with me. I really don’t think that I’ve done that. On the other hand, if you believe that taking a stand is an attack, I can’t help how you interpret that.
Mark (still not Smith) wrote,
Second case in point: women and ordination. In the past two months I have read at least two responders to your blog who asked you to clarify your understanding of women and ordination. The most recent request went unanswered. You answered the first request with the standard EPC view that the ordination of women is a nonessential issue, so it's left to local option. Frankly, I was stunned. Why would The Kirk, who spent so many decades in a denomination (the PCUSA) that stipulated adherence to the biblical and confessional doctrine of women in ordained leadership suddenly say that it is nonessential? You rail against those "godless" "faithless" "unbiblical" "unChristian" PCUSA denominational leaders, and yet you readily abandon a fundamental biblical principle that values the leadership of women in favor of local option? Your claims of biblical fidelity don't add up.I can make it clear: I believe in women’s ordination (which I’ve already written). I am fully in favor of women's leadership wherever they are gifted so to lead. My wife is a full professor in a university. My daughter is a physician. It is not essential that they be either, but for the fact that God has provided them with the gifts so to serve. I do not classify women’s ordination as an essential, as I would the infallibility of Scripture. Nor would I even classify ordination (as we practice it today for both men and women) as an essential. I’m sure I’ll get some response to that statement! I believe in music in worship, but don’t regard it as essential to Reformed faith. I believe that Sunday school is important, but it is not essential to Reformed faith. Is the pattern clear? Essentials are just that—without them, we are no longer Christian or Reformed. All else is non-essential.
Finally, from the ever-active Mark (not Smith),
Tom, I understand that YOU believe most, if not all, PCUSA leaders are in league with the devil, and that all they want is the money and property of dissenters. As one of your responders said, the great majority of the PCUSA doesn't agree with you. If YOU believe that puts us in league with the devil, too, so be it. You're entitled to your beliefs.Mark, I do not believe what you say I do. There are people in the PCUSA at all levels whom I not only respect, but admire. That doesn’t mean, though, that sinful agendas are not prevailing at this time in the PCUSA. Why is it that the PCUSA is abandoning its long-held respect for the essentials of Scripture? Why is it that the PCUSA system has only one outcome for congregations seeking dismissal? Where is there a sign of grace? There is clear evidence for my suspicion of some of our leaders. The clearest current instance is where the Louisville-leaked game plan plainly says that, if presbyteries are too generous toward departing congregations, the national denomination will step in, revoke the presbytery’s decision, and squeeze the turnip.
I have to resign myself to the fact that, whatever I say, people will believe otherwise. This is human nature. I await the responses.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Most of the time I can easily endure conflict directed at me personally. Sometimes it is harder, which is the case right now. My congregation knows that I have had to deal with chronic pain for most of my adult life. Usually it is just a background issue, but there are times, like now, when it is severe enough to sap a lot of my energy. With lowered coping skills at hand I’m more inclined to consider something others have been asking me to do.
Quite a few people have asked me to block anonymous comments, since most of the bile has been vented through those. After much consideration, I agree that their concerns have real merit. So, from this time on I’ll only post the comments of those who sign their names. In the very near future I will further limit access to those who register as members of this blog.
I don’t want to limit the dialogue, for I actually enjoy that. I’ll have to admit, though, that I could get by with a little less anger in some of the comments. I have publicly admitted to my own failings in that regard in a previous post, and I don’t want the value of the whole blog to be tainted by a few.
What I will not do is stop talking frankly about the issues we are encountering as a church, as denominations, and as Christians. It is not just the PCUSA that is in theological turmoil, but almost every mainline denomination—and the turmoil is over the same issues. There are Christians in the pews of these denominations who have no idea of what is happening in the greater church, and need to find out if there will be any chance for substantive change.
There is something happening in the Christian world today that may bring about huge change in the future, and I’m excited to be alive and active in the church at this time. I believe that the value and function of denominational structures is becoming largely irrelevant to younger Christians. I also believe that devotion to mainline denominations will be fading into obscurity within the next generation. What replaces them is what interests me right now.
We are witnessing unprecedented interaction between conservative and evangelical leaders of different denominations. What we have discovered is that we have far more in common with each other (because we hold to orthodox beliefs) than we have had within our own denominations.
This is ironic because the mainline denominations have worked hard over the last 60 years to build up ecumenical relationships between the different church bodies. It has been largely ineffective, consisting mostly of meetings and joint statements on world conditions. What is happening between conservative and evangelical pastors and church officers, though, is truly ecumenical. We are fellowshipping and worshiping together. We are looking at joint missions. We enjoy each other.
If there is any hope for denominations in the future it will be because the people in the pews rebuild them. The people at the “top” have demonstrated little ability to keep them alive.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
The EPC is sending a small team of pastors to meet with our session next Monday, October 16. The purpose of that meeting will be to discuss our theological beliefs as well as how we view Presbyterian polity and the church. The team will also meet with Wayne and me, doing some preliminary examination prior to our formal examination to be admitted.
Wayne and I will be attending a meeting of the Midwest Presbytery of the EPC later this month. There we will be able to witness first-hand just how this denomination operates. A formal examination of both of us should follow this meeting between now and Christmas.
There may even be a question about Wayne and me entering the EPC as Reformed pastors. Since we disaffiliated from the PCUSA, our former denomination will not transfer us. In fact, the PCUSA and Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery do not even consider us to be ordained pastors at all. The EPC will have to decide how to receive us, possibly requiring a more strenuous examination.
The earliest that we could be admitted to the EPC, both as a church and as pastors, will be in January. It is possible that this will not take place until April. As in all denominations, there are processes in place through which we must go, decently and in order.
Jeff will have to go through an examination in slightly more depth than us, because he’s transferring in from a non-Reformed denomination. There will be no impediment to his becoming an EPC pastor, and I know that he will more than match their expectations of a pastor.
Dan and Sean both must be ordained before they are admitted into the denomination. This can be done by us as a congregation, since we currently are not a part of any denomination. Many denominations ordain pastors within a congregation and then accept them into the denomination.
We are preparing an ordination process for them similar to that which I and Wayne experienced. I was the chair of the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry for a number of years, so I have significant experience in this. We will also involve our Kirk officers, along with pastors from some other churches, in this process. After we ordain them, both Dan and Sean will have to sit an examination similar to Jeff’s in order to be admitted to the EPC.
I look forward to entering this process, and I feel that we will be very satisfied being a part of the EPC.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Saturday, October 07, 2006
The Administrative Commission of the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery started worship services last week, held at Southminster Presbyterian Church, for the "true church" of those from the Kirk who wish to remain in the PCUSA.
Several of you have reported that people in other PCUSA churches have indicated that I have prohibited people from attending such a service.
[Correction: one of those who told me this said that the words she used were: "They said that you had intimidated us and that's why we aren't attending special meetings of EOP or the worship service at Southminster."]
Nothing is further from the truth. As I have said a number of times before the congregation, we are concerned for those who have been hurt by our decision. They are welcome to remain in the Kirk. If, for any reason, they feel they must leave us, they are free to join any of the PCUSA churches in Tulsa or attend the services at Southminster.
At the same time, I feel the need to clarify what this ad is for. It is not a worship service of Kirk of the Hills. It is a worship service of the EOP, designed to provide for those who have left the Kirk and have not joined another congregation. It also, I believe, is designed to demonstrate to the community at large that there is a significant group of people in disagreement with our disaffiliation. Whether or not you go is simply, always up to you.
I wish every blessing of God upon you all,
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I got to know Billy Joe and his wife, Sharon, on a trip we took together years ago. I admire his integrity, his love of Jesus, and his passion for the Gospel. All of that came together as he spoke to us this morning. He told us of two statements that had made a strong impression on him. One was from the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Church. In response to a question about the Bible, he answered, “I’m an inerrantist, but I’m not mad about it.” He was talking about our tendency to hold to a view that may be correct, while out attitude is not. I have to confess that this has been me in recent months, from time to time.
The other remark was one that Billy Joe received early in his pastoral career. Asking a mentor if there was one piece of advice he could give for a successful ministry, the mentor, without pause, remarked, “If you don’t get bitter, you’ll have a successful ministry.”
A lot of Christian laypeople out there might find that to be a curious, even cynical remark, but it’s simply wise. Whenever you deal with people there is conflict. When you lead people, that conflict is often pointed at you, even if it is undeserved. That’s life. It becomes a problem when you point it back in a spirit of anger.
I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Readers of this blog may or may not believe me, but there really have been only a couple of times when I’ve been angry as I’ve responded—once was in response to a person’s post regarding a Kirk member (whom I mentioned by name). I am truly sorry for that. Another was in a letter I (very) rapidly posted to The Layman a few months ago. Most of the time I’m bemused, incredulous, or relatively calm as I write.
Over the years I’ve developed a slight thickening of skin that has helped overcome what once would have angered or even defeated me. It’s not 100% effective, but I do better as I get older. A lot of you have requested that I limit comments, because so many of them seem angry and vindictive. They’re just the tip of the iceberg. You haven’t read the ones I have not allowed to be posted. I’ve had to remind myself that the remarks reflect the writer more than me. But this is also true of what I write.
The hard part here is to speak the truth and not be arrogant, angry, or even seem to be so. I’m sure that my success in this is varied. This brings me to the second thing which I read today. A post to my blog said this,
Anonymous said...If you attend the Kirk you know that our worship, conversations, and activities are not centered on the disaffiliation or on the legal process. We have clearly communicated issues to the congregation at special meetings, but I think that a new person coming to the Kirk might not even be aware of the process we are in, unless they read what I blog, or what I put into the church newsletter.
I know of a church that left a denomination in very similar circumstances to yours. There was a lot of energy generated; some good, some bad; that was centered on the conflict. The dirty little secret about standing as a church against a so-called “apostate” denomination is that it gives your congregation a rallying cry and a certain unity. The downside is that as soon as the conflict subsides, all the old issues come up again. In the case of the church I am referencing, many, many members were unable to get past the original “us versus them” posture, even when it was no longer relevant to their situation, so they turned the negative energy inward. The congregation is now a shadow of its former self.
I say all this in order to issue a friendly warning. Tom, it may be time to turn your congregation’s energy in a different direction. A good start would be to steer this blog in a less negative and confrontational direction regarding the pcusa. You are not doing your folks any favors by keeping this fire lit. I feel at times that the only real identity your congregation has is its identity vis a vis the pcusa. This is unhealthy, unmanageable over the long term, and contrary to the spirit of Christ.
Each time this has been raised with you, you have said, in essence, that you will keep this alive until later, when the pcusa releases you or you are accepted by the epc. If I were in a decision-making body in the epc and saw the content of this blog, I would advise against receiving you. What denomination needs another unhealthily disputatious congregation?
Still, I must speak to the congregation about what is going on. Rumors fly, and they multiply like a cancer without the truth to balance. Sometimes the truth is a hard thing to write and read about, because it is dealing with sinful acts and attitudes. I don’t want, though, to add to that.
I am quite aware of the danger of self-consuming anger in a process like the one we are in. My staff and officers can tell you that I have talked about avoiding this, and that it is one of the central focuses of my prayer life. Our congregation is turning toward the missions we already have and also toward the effort to establish new congregations from ours. I honestly believe that there are no “old issues” that will come back to us. We didn’t leave the PCUSA as a tactic to cover other problems; its actions have been the problem for a long time.
That brings me back to my blog. I still feel that it is very important to keep the true nature of what the PCUSA is doing toward dissident churches public. The Book of Order process is one that, at least as practiced today, prohibits the free exchange of opinions, favoring only the denomination over dissident congregations. PCUSA pastors cannot speak out without justifiable fear. I want people to know what is happening, not just to the Kirk, but what will happen to others.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that reacts to criticism and critical judgment as if they are bigotry and intolerance. This thinking plays into the hands of those who twist systems to overcome the Children of Light. Everything we do should be in the light. This is why I write the blog, so that people can know not only what is happening, but what and how I think. Knowing this, they can make a judgment themselves as to the truth of what I say, and the possible impact of the issues I raise.
I’ll try to keep the tone more dispassionate. It’s hard, because I feel at times like it’s my family that is under attack. I am always open to honest criticism, and I realize that many of you who respond don’t really know me and cannot know the full picture of what the Kirk is going through. I’ll strive to be accurate, and I’ll continue to post comments, negative and positive, because I feel it helps the reader get a picture of what it’s really like out there in the mainline denominations.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Monday, October 02, 2006
He said that the service was led by the Southminster pastor, with three other presbytery folk up front. He estimated that the remaining 16 people who attended were evenly split between Southminster members and Kirk people. What this means is that 8 or so people attended from the Kirk. We knew that we had 36 “nay” votes at our congregational meeting. I am also aware that four Kirk families have moved to First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa.
What is astounding to me is the presbytery’s insistence that there exists a great number of Kirk people who have been excluded from fellowship because of our recent disaffiliation from the PCUSA. I am sad about every person who no longer feels a part of the Kirk, but those numbers are incredibly small. Rarely does a church have such agreement on a controversial issue.
The presbytery (or at least some in the presbytery) evidently passed on to the Southminster congregation that more than half of our congregation was opposed to the disaffiliation. The rationale given was that, since we only had a little over 1,000 people at our congregational meeting, the almost 1,800 who weren’t there represented a sizeable contingent of those who opposed our action. Such an analysis comes under the category of lies, d***ed lies, and statistics.
Controversial issues bring lots of people out, especially those who are in opposition and this was no exception for the Kirk. While 1,000 people doesn’t sound so big in proportion to our entire congregation, it is actually a huge turnout. Most churches, ours included, have trouble attracting a quorum of members (10%) to attend typical meetings.
I looked up the statistics for Southminster Presbyterian Church on the PCUSA website. What I found was this:
Your congregation had 506 members compared to the average PC(USA) congregation's 212 members. Your church gained 6 members and lost 47 members.
Christian Education Enrollment
Your congregation's Christian Education Enrollment was 138. The average for all PC(USA) congregations was 124.
Overall contributions to your congregation, which were $356,574, were larger than the 2005 average of $225,440 for all PC(USA) congregations.
My guess is that they would be ecstatic to have 200 people come out for any congregational meeting and consider such a turnout to be a huge affirmation for whatever issue involved. I’d also assume that they’ve not seen those kinds of numbers in worship lately, much less congregational meetings.
The Kirk’s numbers for the same year are as follows:
MembershipWe are sad to see any of the 36 people leave. But we are still growing. We currently have a new member class with more than 40 people attending. We've got inquiries for another class to start. Our attendance at worship and Sunday school is growing. Giving is steady, at an increase over last year. Our annual retreat had twice the attendees we had last year. Mission trips are ongoing, with one group in Mongolia even as I write. We are healthy, we are growing, and we are united.
Your congregation had 2,665 members compared to the average PC(USA) congregation's 212 members. Your church gained 108 members and lost 54 members.
Christian Education Enrollment
Your congregation's Christian Education Enrollment was 1,605. The average for all PC(USA) congregations was 124.
Overall contributions to your congregation, which were $3,152,380, were larger than the 2005 average of $225,440 for all PC(USA) congregations.
We are not united in opposition to the PCUSA--that issue is limited to pastors and elders except when the membership gets letters from representatives of the old denomination. A common attitude here is "that is past, let's get on with our future."
While we have legal issues with the EOP and PCUSA, the "past" still has bearing on us officers at the Kirk. This blog will continue to inform the Kirk membership of what is going on in that venue. It will also speak out on PCUSA issues on behalf of those who feel that they cannot speak out, for fear of retribution.
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Dear Member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church,I don’t know how many PCUSA-Kirk members will attend the 5pm service for them at Southminster Presbyterian Church. It may be hard to determine accurately, since the letter invited “Kirk members and friends of the Kirk” to the service. My guess is that anyone from the presbytery will be deemed a “friend” of the Kirk, just so that numbers can be padded.
You are invited to a new series of Worship Services for members and friends of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church here in Tulsa.
You have received this invitation because we understand you are or have been a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church.
Our Administrative Commission has been charged by the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery with providing pastoral care and worship opportunities to any members of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church who do not desire to leave their Church or the Presbyterian Church, USA.
Because the former leadership of the Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church and some members have expressed their intention to leave our denomination and affiliate with another, we are not currently able to meet in the church building on East 61st Street. For the month of October we will be meeting on Sunday evenings in the sanctuary of Southminster Presbyterian Church at 3500 South Peoria here in Tulsa.
Worship will begin at 5:00 p.m. each Sunday beginning October 1st. Pastors and members from Presbyterian Churches in the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery will conduct the worship services.
We Christians who have been raised in or drawn to the Presbyterian Church have some challenging days ahead, but we believe that with God's grace and the support and love of our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ, our church will grow and continue to do God's work in our world.
We hope you will join us as Christian and as members of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church. If you have questions about the special services, call or e-mail me.
Yours in Christ's Love,
S. Douglass Dodd
What is the EOP doing, or thinks it’s doing, regarding the Kirk? They have been blindly following process, ready to send missives to those who don’t want them, ask for lists they already possess, and to create a sub-Kirk that barely, or doesn’t, exist.
The EOP is certainly free to do whatever it wants, for its own sake. It would be a better thing if they founded a new church and expanded it from there. I think, though, that they’re just trying to score points they think that they will need in future legal developments. If they can identify a “true” church—of any size—they can argue that it needs the Kirk property.
One thing that the EOP says it is doing is setting up a congregation to occupy the Kirk’s facilities after they take the property.
What the EOP should do for PCUSA-Kirk members is encourage them to find a place in a congregation that already exists. Are they doing them any favors by encouraging them to be a “holding” congregation to receive the Kirk property? Not really.
Most experts agree that it takes at least 100 people to form a congregation successfully. If all Christians tithed, it would only take 10 families to support one pastor. Facilities, missions, and program costs would be above that. So, 100 people tithing (25 or more families) could pull it off—that is, if they are not overburdened with buildings and maintenance.
The Kirk facility is around 100,000 square feet. It is heated and air-conditioned in a number of zones, any one of which represents multiples of the cost of a large house. Maintenance requirements would be overwhelming to a small congregation. Attendance of 36 to 100 people in that facility is ludicrously out of proportion to need. The fact is, there has been no PCUSA congregation in the EOP that needs a space as large as we have—except us.
The EOP’s so-called claim on the Kirk’s property goes further than the buildings. It includes all the computers, printing equipment, vehicles, phone systems, furniture, bank accounts, and supplies. These are owned by us in the proportion to the ministry that we do. If the Kirk property’s use were to move from a weekly attendance of 1,400 down to 30, all this equipment would be wasted.
The PCUSA and the EOP state that the Kirk property must be best used to the mission of the church. My guess is that they want the Kirk property just to sell it. The denomination is cash-poor and in desperate financial need. They might sell the property to us, if they can get enough money to make it worthwhile to them. I don’t think that they are interested at all in those few people in our congregation who may want to continue together as a small congregation. I believe that those folk are just leverage, ultimately to be pressed to the limit for the PCUSA’s legal purposes—to get Kirk property in order to sell it.
Keep praying—keep the faith,