Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reflections

Two things today have caused me to reflect. The first came from comments by Pastor Billy Joe Daugherty, of Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, one of the largest congregations in the USA. We have had local pastors come to pray with our staff each week, and Billy Joe graciously agreed to be there today.

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...
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?
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.

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,
Tom

15 comments:

Larry said...

As an outsider I have been pleased reading the saga of Kirk of the Hills as the story unfolds. I would hope others in the PCUSA would read your commentaries so they could arm themselves with knowledge regarding the process for leaving the denomination.

The person who wrote: "If I were in a decision-making body in the epc and saw the content of this blog, I would advise against receiving you.", I would suggest they may be more reflecting the strong arm tactics used in the PCUSA to keep elders, ministers, and churches in line than what is the reality in the EPC.

But even if the EPC voted against receiving Kirk of the Hills, the vitality of the 2,700 members would not go away. There are many, many thriving independent Christian churches. Being associated with a denomination is not the only answer for a thriving church.

Jodie said...

Dear Tom, Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, Synod, whoever else is listening out there,

At some point someone has to take the high road. The tone of Tom's last post is a step in the right direction.

I imagine there are people at presbytery, maybe further up the chain of hierarchy, arguing about the best way to “deal” with the issue of the Kirk. Tom in his transparency has talked about discussions at the Kirk, wondering who are their friends and who are not… What secret plans others were making for them… Obviously some are still having too much fun to let it go – on both sides of the fence – and Tom is really being transparent or else he would not have published some of his posts. Both of you have to think about your witness, to the world at large, to the church, and to your own souls.

Somebody has to take the high road.

I nominate the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery. The best thing you guys can do is to treat the renunciation of Tom and Wayne and the Session of the Kirk as a formal request to transfer to our sister denomination the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I say you give them a formal letter of transfer as you would to any pastors who made such request in good standing and in good faith. Just do it. It is not like they became a cult or tried to leave Christianity. They didn’t even leave the Presbyterian Church. They are just changing flavors of Presbyterianism.

As far as the property is concerned, I say you sell them whatever interest you have in it for 100 dollars. Seriously. There is plenty precedent for such a thing. The PCUSA and the UPCUSA before it have given away millions of dollars of assets over the years to institutions that have had little success as a church. The Kirk is a strong and viable church. I think we should do everything in our power to help it stay that way. If they want to do it under the auspices of another Presbyterian denomination, we should bless them and wish them well on their way.

I think this would be a path that God would bless. There really isn't any other.

With respect,

Jodie

Luke Foster said...

Tom,

Thanks for being our pastor.

Richard Wilson said...

Tom,

I have not been following your blog for sometime but something caused me to go to it last night where I found "Reflections" and now feel moved to comment. I especially appreciated you confession that your attitude has not always been right even though you believe your interpretaion and understanding is correct and also your statement that it is hard to be dispassionate because you feel your family is under attack. I understand that since I have felt that my family (church, presbytery and denomination) have been under attack unfairly. I pray that my words will not be understood as intending to inflame.

Hopefully we can agree that some things will become fully known to us only when we are called to stand in judgment by God. While it sometimes differs from yours I also believe my interpretations and understanding is correct while acknowledging that I may be wrong which is why I continue in my efforts to discern as God intends. I pray that my words will be understood as my intention to inform others of my beliefs and my sincere desire that we can all examine ourselves and find God's will in the process.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow elder who compared your campaign and that of The Layman and other groups to the Crusades where Christians were willing to destroy anyone and everything that stood in their way. Perhaps the same comparison could also sometimes be made to those you have chosen to oppose. I believe we all must be careful to avoid doing damage in a campaign that may or may not ultimately meet with God's approval.

In regard to the congregational vote to disaffiliate, have you given consideration for those who voted in the affirmative only because they did not want the church to be split and separate them from their friends. I know that this happened with some of your congregation.

Having been in a new church development within our denomination I understand that while a presbytery may set the ball in motion it is the effort of the congregation that largely determines the success of a particular church in a particular location. The Kirk property is a magnificent place of worship but could it be that the actions you have undertaken is making it into a "place to be worshipped" instead? Personally I have come to understand why it is appropriate for the property to be held in trust for the denomination. Certainly the Kirk of the Hills would not be as it is if not for the congregation over the years but would not exist as it is at all if not for the denomination.

At the time I could not understand a former pastor of mine who decided it was important for him and his congregation for him to not stay too long--I now understand that! Could it be that you have stayed too long at The Kirk? Would it not have been better for you to leave The Kirk and PCUSA when you determined you could no longer uphold your ordination vows? Certainly that option was available to you as it is for all of us in a particular congregation or denomination.

Clearly we have a responsibility to act when we discern that our congregation or denomination needs to change but we must be resposible to act in a way that does not destroy. It was appropriate for the presbytery to try to be pastoral and compassionate in dealing with the irregularities undertaken by The Kirk's leadership. I hope as a presbytery we recognize that it was a mistake to continue ignoring those irregularities when it became apparent that The Kirk was acting not as a connnectional church but as a congregational church in violation of the denomination's constitution. The result we now see is that great harm has been done not only to the denomination but also to your colleagues and many of the local congregations that they lead.

Would it not be appropriate to work toward repairing the damage that has been done? Should our prayer not now be that we will all receive wisdom and courage to not only do what is right in the sight of God but also the ability to discern God's will so that when we stand in judgment we will not be condemned for the harm we have done to others? Unless we become convicted that we have erred in our beliefs can't we find a way to hold to those beliefs without doing harm to others. I pray so!

Richard Wilson

EPC Ruling Elder said...

It appears that your "anonymous" correspondent has little if any association with the EPC. One thing that this person failed to note is that majority of churches in the EPC have been where you are now. We have been there, unlike your correspondent, and we recognize the symptoms of a church needing healing, because we have been similarly afflicted. We know how to walk with you and your congregaion through the recovery period which we recognize might take days or even years.

However, what that person wrote is nonetheless a timely word in that it may keep you from following a personal path which could be very destructive. I have found that the Lord speaks to me in a multitude of ways - Scripture primarily, but also through those with whom I may disagree. At first glance it appears that you have recognized that, and God's Grace will be reflected by you through this very difficult time. Ensure that your Elders read your blog.

arthur.woodling said...

Tom,

You said: "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."

That's quite a statement! From my perspective, I haven't seen this at all. Could you give us some examples (apparently you think there are many) where free exchange of opinions were prohibited?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

thank you for the explanation, Tom. As much as I rallied toward the cries of justice, true worship of God instead of tolerance and progressive thought, etc., I hoped in the same breath that the bitterness I felt in me was not being mirrored in your thoughts. The power of prayer can and does help us all overcome what our sinful nature would otherwise tilt: the will of sinners vs. the will of God.

Your candid nature may lead those who are on the outside looking in to leap toward unfavorable conclusions, yet trust that those who have seen the saga from within know your heart and are just as ready to drop, and have dropped, the issue from our hearts and minds.

Blessings,

Andrew Strong

Anonymous said...

Richard,

Since no one else has responded to you I will. My gosh, your post shows one of a couple things in my opinion. 1. you are so far left it would take a series of right tuns just for you to see moderate, or 2. you clearly have no real grasp of the issues Tom and numerous others has posted or 3. you dont care about our point of view, which IMHO the pcusa chooses point 3.

"Certainly the Kirk of the Hills would not be as it is if not for the congregation over the years but would not exist as it is at all if not for the denomination"

Exactly what has the denomination done for us over the last 30 years, have they paid the electric, or any of the upkeep, no the congregation has. The denomination has done nothing to support the Kirk's mission.


Then you call our leadership irregular??? The PCUSA leadership is the irregualr one by picking and choosing which parts of the B.O.O. to follow, departing from basic biblical beliefs just to name a quick few. How are we/our leadership irregular, please explain that since you make that charge.

And no it would not have been better for Tom to leave. We need his and Wayne's leadership to maintain strong bibical beliefs. Any pastor from the PCUSA I feel, would not and thus truly destroyed a wonderful church congreation.

As I said, you have so little grasp of the actual matter, you claim we have harmed the denomination, other churches etc. Just how on earth, in your infinite wisdom, have you arrived at such a conclusion? What evidence to you have from afar, where ever you come from??? Please enlighten us.

I just get so annoyed at someone (numerous others) that have to chim in about a matter in Oklahoma that you dont have any first, or even 2nd hand actual knowledge about.

Sorry about my venting, but I feel it is about time for something like this to be said.

Wayne W(ard) said...

Jodie...and any of those others reading,

Upon reflecting on your 04 comments regarding the 'Reflections' blog, it does indeed seem someone has chosen to 'take the high road'.

Who are they?

It is 'they' who remain silent when being unjustly accused and without supporting information for those accusations;
it is 'they' who do not attack a person who has attempted to be honest in expressing their heartfelt feelings;
it is 'they' who do not respond to malicious statements and 'thought provoking' and misleading statements directed towards 'making a statement'; that demeans their 'opposition' (shown who they are along with undefined accusations), I avoid using the term 'spin';
it is 'they' that remain silent on the pronounced issues even though being maligned in them;
it is 'they' who do not need to be sorry and then say so for all the world to see, for what they have done in this blog.

You can likely define more characteristics that describe 'take the high road', even giving them $$$ value. These serve to make the point.

Based on the tone and content of the blogs/statements, Kirk is doing the accusing here. It is the 'they' who do not agree with Kirk that are being addressed negatively in this blog and other modes of public communications. It is the 'they' being maligned because what others presumably are doing that 'might' adversely affect Kirk's plan... again, although it has not happened, so far, etc. I believe you can recall more.

The 'high roader' in this case appears to be the 'silent party'. The 'they' are those who have held back addressing things that have hurt them and loved ones deeply in all this - parents, children, family, friends, fellow Believers...

That 'high roader' would include Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, although you may have read or been told otherwise by others.

EOP is being attentive to needs of Presbyterians in their region, and being criticized for doing it by 'former' Presbyterians who 'choose' to disaffiliate from EOP and that body of Believers.

I see no need in involving SYNOD or PCUSA 'assumed undesirable behaviour' in all this, unless they unduly affect EOP. If they had done so (been 'heavy handed'), disaffiliation would not have happened, or should we say 'possible'.

Respectfully

Wayne W(ard)

Phillip J. Owings said...

Thanks jodie for your gracious suggestion to various PCUSA entities.


No thanks to Richard for his ill informed or uninformed comments.

Ditto and thanks to "anonymous" that took Richard's post apart.

Tom, Wayne, the leaders of the Kirk and many leaders of other PCUSA churches have anguished for years over how to deal with a mainline Christian denomination that wants to leave basic Christian doctrine and convert itself to nothing more than a social and cultural entity. This needs to be understood and appreciated. We should thank these leaders' for their courage and committment to Him, who is the Truth, the Way and the Life.

Anonymous said...

To wayne w(ard):

I think that there is a fair amount of evidence that the 'silent party' you refer to is not being silent because of nobility, but instead is doing it for stealth. After all, this is the 'party' that held an un-minuted meeting to authorize secretly filed affidavits against churches' property.

I think many would welcome some more 'sound' in the form of answers and explanations about what has happened, the reasons why it took place the way it has (coincident with the PCUSA's legal strategy), and what the EOP has planned for the future.

DrMom said...

Wayne Ward--

I know that you were on the Kirk's session, and I have been told that you voted for the Kirk to leave the denomination. Why are you now attacking the very position that you voted in favor of such a short time ago?

DrMom

Wayne W(ard) said...

Dr Mom and Anonymous...

I do not oppose Kirk or anyone else seeking the truth and comfort in His Word, and therefore have not turned away from anything in which I voted yes as an elected officer at Kirk. What was desired by Kirk was obtained by Kirk, disaffiliation from PCUSA.

I would do the same in any church environment that I had prayed for - seeking truth and comfort - and received at my 'point of need', and hopefully would be one in which I could be effective in service to the Lord and fellow Believers and others.

Don't complicate it.

And, regarding 'take the high road', I think somebody possibly labors with 'too much information':
When a Party A verbally addresses a Party B and their related activities in a negative, yet open, and compromising way; and Party B remains silent on the subject and chooses not to overreact, clearly Party B has chosen to 'take the high road'.

Probably we should leave stealth and other unsubstantiated information out of it. And, some may choose to put names to it, I don't. I simply indicated a Party B would qualify as a 'high roader'.

All the facts act not in...

Wayne W(ard)

Sean said...

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tom (and hopefully Wayne, too!) I am listed as anonymous because I didn't want to make yet another account somewhere, but my name is Sean McKeating. Much of this post is for you guys but some might be worth posting to the blog. Edit away! I was a member at the Kirk in 2000-2001. I couldn't believe it when I read about your odyssey as I am now Clerk of Session at FPC Laredo (EPC), until very recently PCUSA.

Our old PCUSA presbytery dismissed our tiny congregation and ancient building with a $60,000 exit fee, still in the process of being paid. If they did that to us, how in the world could you expect EOP to react with anything but fear and the whip hand with a congregation of your size and a building like yours? By the way, our vote to leave was UNANIMOUS with 100% of the members voting.

I do not see the EPC voting not to recieve you in any way. However, they will not seriously talk to you about unifying with them until and unless the PCUSA situation is resolved. They have no desire to look like vultures or worse in this process. Having attended one of your classes, however, there is nothing in the Kirk's faith or practice that would be anything but delightful to the EPC, and you get to go back to teaching the Westminster Confession alone as the confession of the church.

It has been with great sadness mixed with relief we are no longer a part of the PCUSA as we followed the event of the last GA and its subsequent events. How a connectional church can have a constitution that is observed only in the breach when it comes to essentials of the reformed faith and sexuality and ordination, only to become rigid and revengeful about the property clause is a cause for great sadness. Your stand against recent developments is a true witness for the cause of Christ and specifically historical Presbyterianism.

Know that there are others who have passed over the road you now walk and understand the alternating feelings of exhilaration at coming out from them, sadness for those true believers and churches left behind, worry sometimes about the property and also what the whole process is doing to your congregation and your personal walk with the Lord, and occasional anger at those who have great fear at what you are doing and believe that they have the power to hurt you and will try to use it.

When I lived in Oklahoma, there was no place I went in service where "Captain Kirk of the Hills" wasn't already there in mission (like the Goodland Home for Boys, for example). Know that there are those outside your walls who are praying on your behalf, even down here at the end of the country.