Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tom's Preparing for Surgery

Tom is now in California preparing for his surgery which is scheduled for Monday, December 3, 2007 at 7:30AM pacific standard time. If you would like to keep up with his progress during surgery and recovery a website has been set up on CaringBridge.org at the link below. His site is listed under "pastortom", his wife Chrissie will be updating the information.

You can also leave messages for Tom and Chrissie on the guestbook on the site.

http://www.caringbridge.org/

Thank you for your prayers,

The Staff of Kirk of the Hills

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We're Back

I’ve been away from the blog for a long time. Truth is, I was wearied with the subsequent dialogue between blog commentators on each post. What I intended to be informational (with an edge to it) developed into extended battles between those outside my blog. I’ll try something different.
I’ll start again, this time with stricter controls on comments. I had previously blocked anything that used inappropriate language or attacked people other than me. From this point on, I’ll be far more discriminating. What I’m most concerned about is extended debates. Enough is enough.
What’s changed since I last wrote?
· I have a new cat, Max (best cat in the universe, google “bombay cats”).
· The Kirk is still in the legal process, almost in the same place as last reported. We have a short hearing with the judge late in November, asking him to require the denomination to respond to our discovery requests, as we have already with theirs.
· The Kirk has had the best year in its history by every way in which we measure.
· My granddaughter, Emily, is a LOT taller than last year and she’s become an ace volleyball player on her mid-high team.
· The Kirk and pastors are now full members of the EPC. We feel a new sense of freedom and a wonderful sense of welcome.
· My daughter, Audrey, finished her internship and is now a resident at OSU Medical Center, Emergency Medicine.
· Dan Bair finished his D.Min., so four of us five pastors have doctorates. (I wonder who’s left??)
· The Kirk has renewed our mission relationship with our sister church in Zelenograd. Three Kirk pastors met with Pastor Pavel, Zelenograd church members, and even an official from the Presidium of Moscow regarding work we can do together.
· I’ve lost a lot of weight.
This last item brings up a big event for me. My weight loss, in part, is due to a problem with my esophagus and stomach. I had a fairly common surgery in 2000, designed to control severe reflux. The surgery was successful but, in the last couple of years, I’ve had to deal with the effects of scar tissue and a constriction of my esophagus. It’s been hard to eat and, at times, very painful.
The reconstructive surgery for this condition is not a common one, so I’m going to have it done by the Head of Surgery at USC Medical School (Los Angeles), a surgeon renowned for this kind of repair. The surgery is scheduled for December 3rd. I’ll be in the hospital for a week to ten days and then in recovery for a few weeks. I’ll be out of my regular schedule until early 2008.
I’ll blog on until then and hope to continue it through the recovery. I treasure your prayers.
Tom

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Trivialization of Memory

It seemed, at the time, a pleasant—even innocuous—idea: take all the national holidays you can, consolidate them if you must, and place them on Mondays. In this orderly way there would be no interruption of the middle of the workweek. Factories wouldn’t have to pay time-and-a-half or more to close down mid work-stream. Offices and schools wouldn’t have to deal with a mid-week hiccup interrupting the flow or the curriculum. Oh, and—by the way—this would give everyone a long weekend that could be dedicated to the holiday.

The only problem is that the holiday and the memory are lost in recreation. Case at hand is Memorial day—the day I’m writing this. While the local and national news feeds featured appropriate remembrance, the greater focus was on the long weekend. Gas is more expensive, so people won’t travel as far. The lakes are suddenly up, creating floating hazards for boaters. It might rain and ruin the weekend.

Yesterday we remembered in church those who gave their lives for our country. There was a somber moment as we read together the official Memorial Day statement from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Since I preach three of the five Sunday morning services we have at the Kirk, I had time to consider my own thinking. The somber moment in worship changed into an at-the-door series of greetings, “Happy Memorial Day.” While I don’t want people to be inordinately sad, the “Happy” seemed out of place. This day of remembrance was for those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, but most of us—myself included—were already focused on the barbeque and the time off the next day. At the end of subsequent services, I reminded people that we would have a happy day tomorrow because people gave their lives to provide our pleasant security.

Today (Memorial Day) I watched the President’s address from Arlington Cemetery. I found it on Fox News. Perhaps CNN had it live, as well. The broadcast networks kept to their regular Monday schedule so that no one missed The Price is Right.

Is Memorial Day truly a memory for those who gave their lives for us, or is it just time off? Does Labor Day truly remain a celebration of labor? Are the memories of particularly important presidents trivialized because of a joint holiday that focuses almost entirely on recreation?

Recreation is so important to us—the free weekend being the sacred time of secular society—that nothing is likely to change. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a future long weekend “celebrating” a rescheduled Christmas, or even a change to “Easter Monday.”

We might get some extra time off, but what we lose is priceless.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Monday, April 30, 2007

Will the Evangelicals Please Stand?

I find it frustrating when progressives insist that they are “evangelical.” I have had such people complain that people like me have robbed them of the word. "After all," they say, "we are all evangelical." But progressives use the term in an overly literal, limited sense. When evangelicals such as I use the term, we not only mean we have "good news," we mean some very specific things:
  • Salvation through Jesus alone is our primary message: the Good News begins with Him.
  • The Bible is the only accurate, reliable revelation of God to humanity.
  • We are called to the Great Commission: tell the world about Jesus.
There are all kinds of news items but only some are good. According to Scripture, there is only one perfect good and that is the revelation of God in Jesus. The Good News that came from him, through the apostles, and to us is very specific: the Good News is only through the person of Jesus Christ.

Progressives have altered this term by pointing most often to the prophets of pre-Christian times. Their premise is that orthopraxis (right action) trumps orthodoxy (right belief). There is no question that Jesus used the words of the prophets when He made his pronouncement at the synagogue in Nazareth, but He had a new end in mind.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19)
Jesus was announcing a Good News that begins and endures in Him alone. Progressives, on the other hand, tend to be loathe to share that Jesus Himself is the Good News, preaching that good actions are the Good News. The rulers of the faith in Nazareth tried to execute Jesus because of His statement. They weren’t opposed to good deeds—they were opposed to His claim to be the source of the Good News.

This is the progressives’ most egregious departure from orthodox Christian faith: they have, I believe, substituted right-thinking and good deeds for the power that comes from a life personally transformed by Jesus. Having found a religious replacement for the “evangelical” Jesus, they are freed to reinterpret the Scriptural moral code and, even, reject the uniqueness of salvation in Jesus Christ.
"We don't know God; we experience God....as progressives we are always progressing, never letting it [our theology] get tied down in a simple orthodox answer....Our theology must be based on more than our own [Christian] scriptures…. We are too parochial, I think."
So—back to my frustration over the assertion that we’re all “evangelicals.” If the Good News is not first about the person of Jesus the “evangelism” is no more than a theology of works. Jesus calls us first to faith in Him, and in Him alone.

As an aside, I’ve challenged some progressives who claim to be “evangelical” to do something for me: put that description (i.e. “I am an evangelical Christian; this is an evangelical church) in their bulletins, their church publications, and on their business cards. So far there haven’t been any takers.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who Is Lord Revisited

The philosophies of progressive feminism have had a strong impact on mainline denominations.

The Rev. Susan Anderson-Smith, associate rector at St. Philips in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona, has restricted the use of the work “Lord” in her church.
"'Lord' has become a loaded word conveying hierarchical power over things, which in what we have recorded in our sacred texts, is not who Jesus understood himself to be."
The word “lord” has always conveyed hierarchical power. It has only become “loaded” because of the feminist denigration of all things implying hierarchy. While I would never want to go back to the days when women were pressured by society to fit one role—that of homemaker—I am loathe to reinvent God to fit our cultural sensitivities.

The Bible is clear that God is Lord; it is clear that Jesus is, too. The Early Church consistently called Jesus “Lord” in the same way they did God the Father. If you believe the Bible is not the Word of God, but just a cultural artifact, you can make all the changes you want, I guess.

Jesus’ own words when answering Pilate tell the whole story for me:
"Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mark 15)
Although Jesus stated that His kingdom was not of this world, He did not deny His status.
The Early Church fervently emphasized Jesus' Lordship, as in Revelation 19.
On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
A church that de-emphasizes the Lordship of Jesus is elevating humanity and cultural agendas over cosmic Truth.. Go online to mainline websites and you’ll see that they are more than willing to take stands on all kinds of issues. But don’t look for any mainline denomination to take a stand against such changes as those in Tucson because these changes match the direction in which the denomination wants to go.

You may think that this hasn't reached your church yet. I hope it has not, but there are key phrases that identify its arrival. If, instead of the "Kingdom of God" you hear "the Realm of God," it has arrived in your home church. If you hear the attributes of God regularly alternated between male and female terms, it has arrived in your home church. If the church leaders are so afraid to traditional, Scriptural language that they drop gender pronouns and replace them with newspeak terms like "Godself," it has arrived in your home church.

Expect that there will be further changes in mainline churches from feminist camps. More than half of the students in the mainline seminaries are women, and few of them are conservative, orthodox Christians.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Our High Holy Day

Easter is the High Holy Day of Christianity. The Biblical record clearly shows that Christian faith began not with Jesus’ birth or through his teaching. Christian faith began with his resurrection.

The disciples were not prepared to believe in the resurrection, even though Jesus had predicted it. When he died, they went into sorrowful and fearful hiding. When he rose there was hope, yet not a sense of faithful confidence. It was when the disciples met the risen Jesus that faith sprang into eternal existence.

I sorrow for those who proclaim Christ but doubt or disbelieve the resurrection. Theirs is a “faith” of philosophy served by a hermeneutic of skepticism, philosophical syllogisms, and clever turns on words. They often separate Jesus from Christ, taking one to be historical, the other metaphorical. They are, sadly, like those to whom Paul preached in Athens:
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered…(Acts 17:32a)
While modern-day Athenians in the Church do not all overtly sneer, their rejection of the clear reality of the Resurrection must certainly be an affront to God. Thankfully, on that day in Athens, not all mocked the resurrection:
…others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” …(Acts 17:32b)
This particular Easter was a reminder to us at the Kirk of the power of Christ through difficult times. While we’ve struggled with denominations, we’ve not struggled with who is Lord. Once again, in worship, we met the risen Jesus. Three thousand strong came to worship at the Kirk last Sunday, the highest attendance we’ve ever had on one Sunday. It reminds me that human arguments may seem powerful, but it is faith that has true strength.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

PS My son-in-law remarked on the Kirk's vibrant Easter saying, “Not bad for a church 'in schism' and 'internal division.'"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Who is Lord?

I frequently wonder how the GLBT agenda has gotten such a hold on mainline denominations. Recent scientific studies reveal that the “GL” portion of this group represents, at most, only 1.4% of the population. I would guess that the proportion is somewhat smaller in the church population, if only because traditional religion has proclaimed such lifestyles as wrong.

There is no way of proving this, but my best guess is that the GLBT forces in the church are more about obtaining official moral approbation than practicing deeply committed faith. It is quite a coup for GLBT forces to have convinced the progressive leadership of such denominations to turn traditional religious teaching on its head in the span of one generation.

Gay organizations have been very successful in redirecting the culture regarding their lifestyle. Using the progressive definition of "tolerance" they have effectively silenced disagreement by labeling any opposition as bigoted. Mainline churches once were good stewards of Biblical morality. Now, in the name of tolerance, the tables have turned with mainline denominations serving as important support in favor of sinful lifestyles.

One example of this cynical agenda was revealed in the comment of San Francisco Theological Seminary (PCUSA) student Doug Hagler. Hagler is opposed to the carefully thought out, Scriptural arguments that professor Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) has made for traditional teaching.
"[N]o matter how good [theologian Dr. Robert Gagnon's] arguments are, the conclusions he comes to are patently bigoted, so I reject them regardless of what apparent veracity they may have. Frankly, if Jesus Christ pried open the skies and leaned down into my living room right now and said 'Doug, it is a sin to be homosexual,' I'd say 'Okay Jesus, that makes things simple—I'm not Christian anymore. Now go away.'"
Hagler puts Scripture third in terms of authority, right after reason and experience. The problem here--notwithstanding its departure from Reformed belief--is that human reason and experience are utterly subjective. If God is not objectively revealed then God becomes an imaginary construct with a strange resemblance to the thinking of the one making up the construct.

The truth doesn't matter, if you feel that a particular sin is right, then it is fine to lead a Christian denomination to destruction. PCUSA seminaries are preparing people whose ordination has been made possible through the passage of the PUP recommendations last June. Your own presbytery may not endorse or ordain them, but if just one presbytery does, such a view has been officially welcomed into the denomination.

Such an ordination will be a de facto denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The sovereignty of sinful human beings is worshiped above all else. It is no wonder that the PCUSA and its sister mainline denominations are so unhealthy and so confused.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mea Culpa--a Correction is Due

Stephen Bates, a religion editor for the Guardian, wrote to my blog pointing out two errors, one of which was egregious on my part.

The first error has to do with the name of the newspaper. I referred to it as the Manchester Guardian. That name was changed decades ago to simply, the Guardian. Somehow, the old name for the paper stuck in my mind. I’ve been known to become personally irritated when my name is spelled “grey” instead of “gray.” My apologies to the newspaper for that error is due.

The second error was inexcusable on my part. I correctly described the paper as a bastion of liberal thought but I said that they uncritically supported Stalin in the 1930s. The opposite is true. My mistake was to repeat something I’d read elsewhere without doing my own homework.

Malcolm Muggeridge was the (then) Manchester Guardian’s reporter in Russia. He saw first hand the show trials Stalin put on and the forced starvation of Soviet people, particularly in the Ukraine. While other reporters and newspapers decided not to report the truth, he stood out, as did his paper, reporting with integrity exactly what was going on.

I also want to repeat that the problem I had with the posting on the Guardian blog was not with Mr. Bates, but was strictly with those who responded to him. I was not accusing him or his paper of hypocrisy. I am careful not to post comments on my blog that are ad hominem, racist, or crude. I feel that the published comments in the Guardian failed such a test. If the Guardian doesn’t have such a filter, they need one.

My apologies again to Mr. Bates and the Guardian.
Tom Gray

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Progressive Bigotry

The fracas between the The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA and the worldwide Anglican communion has revealed a racist rift. The TEC—a denomination dominated by progressivists—was recently warned by the Anglican bodies that they had just a short time left to commit to Biblical teachings on sexuality or be cut off from the larger body. The collective bishops of TEC almost immediately rejected the demand.

There's a problem for western progressives in the Anglican communion: their mission efforts of the 18th and 19th centuries were successful! While the progressivists dominate the western churches, the bishops in the 3rd World outnumber them, creating a liberal crisis whenever a global vote occurs.

The more civil among them criticize the 3rd World Anglicans’ conservative stance as “na├»ve” or attribute it to their assertion that they “haven’t grown.” I personally have run into this kind of accusation from some PCUSA pastors, trying to explain my conservative commitment away as some kind of ignorance. Such depictions are arrogant and demeaning but, for the most part, they are at least civil.
English morality is much closer to the Americans than the Africans. The problem is the church needs Africa to grow.
The less decent among them, including Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong, a darling of the left, have openly called some 3rd World bishops ignorant and stupid. People such as Spong have left the true Gospel to preach a gospel of their understanding of love. Unlike the love of God for us through Jesus Christ, their liberal love is limited to those who agree with them, or at least keep quiet about disagreeing.

The same thing can be said about the progressive public at large. A recent blog from the religious editor for the Manchester Guardian, Stephen Bates, has drawn a significant flow of bile from his readers. The Guardian is the British bastion of journalistic liberalism. In the 1930s it was the champion of Stalin in the USSR and the Fabian socialists in Britain. In more recent times it has been a voice decrying the place of Christian thought in the public square.

Listen to what some of their readers have said:
The whole history of the Christian Church has been one of controversy and schism, from the days of the Apostles on. Unfortunately this society of cantankerous polytheists keeps on going and causes strife over almost any change in society that does not fit their rigid codes.

American conservatives and the tree swingers probably have a lot in common but as always, an idea pushed through by hungover religious chimps and a half-cut gorilla will always lead to trouble from the Americans.

No doubt the Africans are being 'financed' (probably by extreme rightwingers) to be so hateful.

This is all so utterly utterly irrelevant. Who cares about a bunch of washed up has beens whose moral code is based on the hallucinatory ramblings of some pre-modern nomads. This pathetic line of hate the sin and not the sinner is so tiresome. 2000 years of sexual neurosis and blatant discrimination because of this guilt obsessed cult.

We can't keep on persecuting our ape cousins to the brink of extinction!
The above quotes are from readers of the blog, not the author, but they represent what I read regularly in the liberal blogs and editorials that I follow, and it bothers me that the author and/or the newspaper post such answers. There is a lot of hatred from the people who profess nothing but tolerance.

The sentiments of the people I’ve quoted could be a kind of victory dance on the purported grave of British Christianity. It is certainly true that active Christian faith in Europe has dropped into the single-low-digits percentage of the population. The dancers may think that they’ve won the day.

On the other hand, their hysteria may simply be fear of what is happening in the 3rd World. Biblical Christianity is on the rise in Africa and Asia. It is so strong that it is sending missionaries out to the darkest heart of Europe.

For far too long we’ve assumed that Christianity is a Western phenomenon. What is closer to the truth is that a distorted, institutionalized form of Christianity has dominated the West, most often in collusion with the State. In countries like ours, where there is separation of Church and State, the church is still strong. In countries where Christian faith is persecuted—including much of the 3rd World—it is growing in almost incredible numbers.

I am appalled by the hypocrisy in the progressivist movement. I'm not afraid for the faith, though.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Kirk in the News

The Presbyterian News Service ran an article about the Kirk today. The short article was straightforward and, for the most part, accurate. I want to clarify some points and address one misrepresentation that demands a response.

The article says,
The schism declaration came in response to a report from an administrative commission that was appointed by the presbytery in September 2006, shortly after the congregation voted to follow the lead of its session and pastors and bolt the PC(USA) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
The EOP has declared us to be in schism, which is the PCUSA equivalent of bell-and-candle with a papal rebuke mixed in. If their definition simply meant that we had split from the PCUSA, it would be accurate. The administrative commission report, though, is using “schism” to mean that the Kirk is internally divided. This is just not so.

Does that mean that there were no people who disagreed with what we did? No. There was a handful of Kirk members who either joined other churches or simply started attending elsewhere. The rest have chosen to remain with us, choosing the direction of the Kirk over that of the denomination.

The unity of the Kirk has never been greater. Since I’ve been at the Kirk for over 25 years, I have a historical perspective from which to speak. Morale is high primarily because we have moved on. The property issue must still be determined in court, but the denominational issue is concluded. Rumors of internal division have apparently been seeded by members of the EOP, possibly because they cannot envision unity through such a change.

Another inaccuracy regards a significant detail:
The session, acting as the corporation board, then hired Gray and Hardy as pastors and filed suit in civil court to gain ownership of the church’s property.
It was not the session that acted as the corporation board and rehired Wayne and me. It was the corporation board itself—the trustees. The Kirk has always had a separate Board of Trustees. The corporation is a separate legal entity, not to be confused with the congregation.

Finally, there is a misrepresentation:
Doug Dodd, moderator of the commission said that “over six months of efforts to achieve reconciliation and determine the nature of division” had failed.
Let me itemize their “six months of effort.”
  • A couple of public meetings, sparsely attended.
  • So-called “Kirk of the Hills, Presbyterian Church worship services,” held at another church and also sparsely attended (by presbytery members, not Kirk members).
  • A letter to the Kirk board, inviting them to a meeting that, since we are no longer PCUSA, was irrelevant.
  • The publication of a rather angry, ad hominem report.
The real point of this empty process is clearly stated in the article.
The presbytery, again on the recommendation of its administrative commission, authorized its trustees to protect the presbytery’s property rights over Kirk of the Hills. The PC(USA) Constitution states that church property is not owned by a particular congregation but is held in trust for the denomination.
Their effort dealt little with reconciliation--just read the report. The EOP cares about only one thing: the property. This was evident when a presbytery official, long before the Kirk seriously addressed the idea of leaving the PCUSA, told others "the Kirk may want to leave, but they'll never get their property." It was evident the next March when, in secret, the EOP went to the courthouse to file an affidavit against our property. It is evident in the AC report. The AC's "six months of effort" was unwanted and unneeded by the true Kirk that still meets on 61st Street in Tulsa. A church that is united in ministry and purpose has no need for reconciliation.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sound the Alarm

The fact that we’ve left the PCUSA doesn’t mean that we don’t have concerns for friends we’ve left behind. One of the principal concerns before them is what has been called “local option.” The liberals in the denomination say that, after the last GA, “nothing changed.” Others, like me, have said that everything has changed, and there are presbyteries that will exercise that local option to ordain practicing GLBTs. Everyone seems OK with this as long as it’s not their own presbytery. That may become a moot point.

If a PCUSA task force has its way, local option will be subtly enshrined in the Book of Order. The Form of Government (FOG) task force was empowered by the GA to rewrite the Book of Order, making it simpler to use. Instead, it appears that the task force is dedicated to making the BOO local option-friendly.

Terry Schlossberg has written an excellent summary of what has transpired so far in this committee. While many, including me, thought that the work of the task force would be to maintain the first four foundational chapters and rework the rest, it is obvious that they want to rewrite everything. On top of that, the meat of the document will move from constitutional status to that of a manual of operations or handbook.

Some have reacted to this with horror, recognizing that it will pave the way for individual presbyteries to rewrite their own standards of ordination. Schlossberg’s article cites one pastor saying that the new document “looks like, smells like local option.” The co-moderator of the task force replied, laughing, “Of course it does…What do you think we are doing here?”

Individual presbyteries will be empowered to define standards of inclusiveness, including sexual preference, if they so choose. Presbyteries could choose to eliminate examination of candidates on the floor, restricting such examination to tightly-closed committees. Each presbytery would essentially become autonomous, pounding the last nail into the already snug coffin lid of what used to be a connectional church.

The entire PCUSA, if such a document prevails, would be sacrificing its unique tradition in the name of the new gospel of inclusiveness. Such a goal is attractive to some on the task force. “The representative bodies of the church shall give full expression of the rich diversity of the church’s membership and shall guarantee full participation and access to representation in decision making and employment…[developing] procedures for promoting and reviewing that body’s implementation of the church’s commitment to inclusiveness and representation,” states the current draft document.

Will anything remain the same? Apparently so. The clause on denominational ownership of property will stay (probably strengthened so that it will stand up in court), medical and pension participation will be mandatory, and the frustrating limitation of terms for elders will remain. Oh yes, per capita will cease to be voluntary. Good luck.

Keep praying—keep the faith.
Tom

PS I’ll be coming back at you with some additional information on the EOP’s administrative report soon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tom the Intimidator

One of the many problems with the EOP’s Administrative Commission report is how it deals with supposed intimidation by the pastors and officers of the Kirk. The underlying thesis is that, if we had not been so intimidating, the Kirk wouldn’t have disaffiliated. This simply is not true. I can imagine that members who disagreed with our action felt outnumbered, but neither I nor any one else intimidated anyone. The fact that they spoke out at both the congregational meeting where we changed our bylaws, and at the disaffiliation vote clearly shows that every person was free to have a voice and express opinions. Everyone was respectful and polite to each other.

The few people who opposed disaffiliation, a few of whom left for other churches, are good people now missed by us. We respect their decisions and, in my conversations with some of them, they respect ours, although they still disagree.

The AC report gives an “example” of how I supposedly intimidate people:
“At a required clergy self-care worship of June 2, 2006, Rev. Gray told several people present of a situation he had confronted early in his call as pastor in which the resolution he reached was speaking to one of the elders of the Kirk after the meeting and saying essentially, ‘Tell me where you want me to send you letter of transfer.’ When the elder indicated things weren’t that bad, Rev. Gray reported repeated, ‘No, I’m serious. Tell me where you want me to send your letter of transfer, because we’re not leaving tonight until I’ve written that letter for you.’ While this incident reportedly happened many years ago, Rev. Gray’s recent reporting of it was done in such a way that expressed no regret at this occurrence. This appeared to the AC to be Rev. Gray’s expression of his present approval of such tactics when approached by members of his congregation who expressed concern about him or the church.”

I hardly know where to start:
  • This quasi-legal report bases its conclusions on hearsay.
  • This quasi-legal report doesn’t have the facts behind the story.
  • This quasi-legal report jumps to erroneous conclusions thereby.
Some Kirk members did approach me with concerns over our decision. They received respectful treatment, and most of them remain as active members of the Kirk. The representation of me in the AC’s report is certainly not how I behave, nor was their representation accurate about what I actually did and said.

Let me tell you the story as it actually happened. It was in 1987 (not 2006 some might think with a casual reading of the report) and the Kirk was in crisis thanks to a couple of very serious problems. Tulsa’s economic crisis at the time meant that hundreds of our members had lost their jobs or were in danger of losing their jobs. On top of that, the Kirk was still reeling from the shock of the pastor previous to me leaving the Kirk over a serious moral failure.

In the midst of these crises, one elder began to be quite divisive in the Kirk. This person was (prepare for a big irony here) trying to talk people into having the Kirk leave the PCUSA. Additionally, he was advocating issues that, while possibly in line with the Kirk’s ethos, were presented in a divisive manner, setting member against member and members against the session.

The incident cited in the AC was not after a meeting, as they say. This elder walked into my office on a weekday and said, “This church isn’t big enough for the two of us—one of us has to go.” Obviously, he meant that I should be the one to go.

I’m surprised to this day by my own response, but am equally sure that it was the right one. I asked him what church he would rather be in. He didn’t, as the AC report asserts, say that things weren’t that bad. What he did say was that he was going to make sure that I would be the one to go. That’s when I reiterated my statement. He suddenly seemed deflated, and then gave me the name of another large church in Tulsa. That’s when I wrote the letter of transfer.

I agree that this situation was not typical. I’ve never experienced something like this before or since. I did not come out of that encounter feeling good. I was shaky, upset, and even fearful for my future. Thanks be to God, it was the right decision for me, the Kirk, and that elder.

There are further inaccuracies that I’ll deal with in future blogs.

Keep praying—keep the faith.
Tom

"The Intimidator"--I'll be back.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Report is Online

The report of the Administrative Commission of Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery is now on the Kirk Website. All you need to do is go there, click on the picture with the words "Important Legal Documents" and the report will be the blue text at the top of the list. Just click that and begin reading, or click here and do the same.

I have been informed that the EOP has established a sub-committee to edit parts of the report to soften some of its more strident language. The gist of the report remains.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Official Administrative Commission Report on the Kirk

Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery (EOP) met today, March 6, 2007, and received the report of the Administrative Commission (AC) established to investigate the Kirk. Most of the information therein is old news.

There are supposedly factual assertions—assertions that are arguable, at best. One is that 92 Kirk members have affiliated with or are attending other Presbyterian churches in Tulsa. We wouldn’t be able to affirm exact numbers since the Tulsa Presbyterian churches (unlike our sister Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, et al churches) haven’t let the Kirk know that any of our members have transferred. We always have a few transfers within Tulsa each month—both into and out of the Kirk.

We know that a few families have joined First Presbyterian because our members have seen them on the TV replay of Sunday services. Only three families have informed us that they have so moved. One woman informed me that she was changing her membership to John Knox church (we didn’t receive notice from them, either). There are also people who settled in other Presbyterian churches in Tulsa years ago without changing their membership. At least one such person came to the congregational meeting when we voted on disaffiliation and was one of the most vocal in opposition to it. He actually made a scene at the registration table because we had officially removed him from our rolls for inactivity several years ago and, thereby, should not have attended the meeting. He went in over our protest and was one of those counted in the votes.

Another complaint in the AC’s report is the so-called discrepancy between claimed membership numbers and actual numbers. The paper makes a big deal of the fact that I have claimed 2,700 members when the number reported to the GA in 2005 was 2,665. I was rounding numbers, and this 2,700 was almost a year after the 2005 report. As their paper says elsewhere, the Kirk has never shown a year with a decline in membership. When the EOP lawyers demanded our membership rolls, they received between 2,300 and 2,400 names. This is because we removed the out-of-town members as well as inactive members. However, the PCUSA includes these non-active names in their “official” numbers, and the EOP has used this number to assert that these people are opposed to the Kirk’s disaffiliation.

All of the above boils down to the AC’s assertion that there is a “true church” loyal to the PCUSA that should receive the Kirk property. How they will do this as members of other churches, or even if they want the property, is not addressed.

The actual wording of the document is this:
“Evidence of member disagreement with the decisions made by leadership of the Kirk:
  • At least 92 Kirk members have joined or are attending other churches.
  • At least 18 Kirk members have either requested additional information about remaining with the PC(USA) or have indicated that they intend to stay with the Kirk despite their disagreement with the decision to leave the PC(USA).
  • Between 327 and 500 Kirk members have been inexplicably removed from the member lists presented to the AC.
We thus conclude that there is ample evidence that a significant number of persons wished to remain in the PC(USA) or for the Kirk to remain in the PC(USA) despite concerted efforts at the Kirk to alienate dissenting voices, block direct communication with representatives of the EOP, and intimidate those who disagreed. Therefore, the Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church is determined to be in schism. We further believe the number of members who the Book of Order would describe as the ‘true membership’ of the Kirk (See, G-8.0601) would be impossible to accurately determine without the cooperation of the Kirk leadership, but ranges from at least 110 to several hundred.” (page 7)
Later, the report states,
“The Kirk is in schism and thus, according to Chapter VIII (G-8.0100, et. seq.) of the Book of Order, its property, real and personal, is to be used for the use and benefit of the PC(USA) and shall be held, used, applied, transferred, or sold by the Presbytery….We therefore declare the Kirk to be in schism, submit this report to the Stated Clerk of the EOP for report to the EOP at its next meeting, and direct the EOP trustees to take all necessary next steps in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).” (pages 8 and 9)
A lot of the paper is anecdotal reportage of how anonymous people in the Kirk are supposedly feeling about the disaffiliation. I have no interest in identifying individuals; but a serious problem with the AC’s report is that it’s easy to claim member dissatisfaction without having to back it up with facts:
“Reports have been received by the AC of Kirk members who have been strongly discouraged from talking to anyone in the EOP and of Kirk members who suspect there is a larger percentage of members who would like to remain in the PC(USA) but are fearful of speaking up because there has been too much intimidation and outright shunning of those who have spoken up against the move toward ‘disaffiliation’ or who have left the church.” (page 4)
Of course the Kirk has never intimidated its members or shunned anyone. I believe that people at the Kirk will find the above description of intimidation and alienation to be utterly false. I’ll address that tomorrow, and thanks to the EOP and this report, I’ll have much to discuss for a long time to come.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Things to Come?

With a new law regulating how Britons are to support homosexual lifestyles, it was only a matter of time before this enforced tolerance would become legalized intolerance against any who disagree.
LONDON, March 5, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After this April's implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's), British religious schools may no longer be allowed to teach school children that the Christian viewpoint on sexual morality is "objectively true," a government report says.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of members from Parliament and the House of Lords, has issued a report on the implementation of the Regulations recommending that religious schools be required to modify their religious instruction to comply with the government-approved doctrine of "non-discrimination".

Although religious schools will be allowed to remain open and may continue to give instruction in various religious beliefs, instruction must be modified "so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong."

The report says the Regulations will not "prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful," but they may not teach "a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true".

Published February 26, the report says, "We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations."
(emphasis added)
Just think of how much has changed in just 30 years of relentless campaigning on the part of GLBT forces in the western world. In the name of “non-discrimination” has come legalized discrimination redefined as "tolerance." Don't think that the same thing isn't happening in your neighborhood.

Universities regularly require entering students to take "orientation" courses where Biblical values are routinely dismissed, if not ridiculed. Elementary schools throughout the US are including early sex education designed to undo the teaching of traditional morality. Mainline denominations like the Episcopal Church and the PCUSA are marching in lock-step with the revisionists' agenda.

Progressivists know that faith standards must be removed in order for the world they envision to arise. They know that they must somehow counter what children are taught in the home and, especially, in church or synagogue. As in Britain, the most obvious target is the school. There you have a trapped audience made up of fresh minds upon which all kinds of truth--or falsehood--may be written.

I have long believed that we need to teach our children not only the Christian worldview, but the worldview of others, so that they will not be surprised or twisted by unbiblical ways of thinking and living. This will be increasingly difficult to do as our culture is increasingly influenced by small groups with big agendas. It will also be harder to stand out from the crowd. But any alternative is too dangerous for our children and, ultimately, our culture.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
This passages commands us to hold fast to what we believe and teach. Written in a time not too different from ours, it reminds us of just how important the Truth of faith is. It is more important now than ever.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Kirk's Legal Documents

Now that the legal process is fully underway, our trustees decided that it would be appropriate to post links to them for your reading. I’ve given a short abstract of each document, along with a link to take you to that document. In order to go to the document, just click on the blue title in italics.

Motion for Summary Judgment with Exhibits
This was filed on January 22 of this year. Essentially, it asks the judge to make his decision based upon the information that has been presented.

Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery’s response
EOP responded to our request by asking for more information from us (the “discovery process”). Note that this list of 94 separate requests is entitled “Eastern Oklahahoma Presbytery’s First Interrogatories and First Request for Production of Documents” (emphasis added).

Petition to the court

This document is our original suit to have the affidavit removed from the Kirk’s property. This went to court because the Presbytery, upon our request, refused to remove it, therefore placing impediments to the clear ownership of our property.

PCUSA's Response and counterclaim
The PCUSA’s response to our initial petition lays out their claim that they own the Kirk land, buildings, and everything in the buildings (excluding, one hopes, the pastoral staff).

It is our hope that linking these will serve several purposes:
  1. We have nothing to hide in this process and believe that as much as possible should be shared.
  2. The Kirk’s membership should be allowed to read these documents for themselves.
  3. There may be other churches who can benefit from some of our experience in this process.

Note that laws regarding property are judged differently in each state, so what is presented here is focused on Oklahoma laws.

Good reading!

Tom

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Good Ship PCUSA

Jim Miller, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, recently commented on the Kirk in his sermon (Sermon, 2/18/07, available on the their website, at 18:15 into the sermon). His comment took the form of an analogy. It was presented in an affable manner, and I appreciate his affirmation of friendship with us. What follows is taken verbatim from the sermon:
“They left the presbytery because they believed that the Presbyterian Church is the Titanic. And if you’re on the Titanic, the best thing that you can do is get off the Titanic….”
“I believe that if you use the analogy of a ship [and] there is a fire in the engine room, in the boiler, and if you have a crisis in the engine room you don’t need to have people getting off the ship, you need to have people getting in the boiler room and beginning to put things right.”
Trying to Make Things Right
“Beginning to put things right?” Where were Jim and others in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery during the fight against the Re-imagining scandal? When the Kirk session withheld denominational funds, Jim came and talked with our session, downplaying the problem and assuring us that it was just a group of “academics” acting up, as if it were nothing important.
Where were Jim and the others seven years ago when hundreds of evangelical pastors and elders met in Denver to strategize ways of moving the PCUSA back onto a Biblical course? Where were Jim and others at other open meetings concerned evangelical pastors have held every year after 1991?

I have a serious problem with Jim’s subtle assertion that the Kirk has shirked its responsibility to work on correcting the problems in the PCUSA (fight the “fire in the boiler room”). I, Wayne, and a significant number of our elders attended many General Assemblies and were participants and officers in various renewal groups. We’ve met with denominational officials over the years, written letters and articles, caucused with sessions and pastors of like mind, and generally have invested a tremendous amount of time and treasure in trying to turn the ship back on course.

I’ve spent at least two weeks of every year since 1991 devoted to addressing the PCUSA’s wayward course. I’ve made hundreds of phone calls in that service. I hesitate to compute the tens of thousands of miles I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. working with others in an effort to redirect the denomination. I’ve taken stands that have made me unpopular at home, and I’ve had to hear the general presbyter complain about people like me who are “at the extreme” for wanting the denomination to remain true to its traditional beliefs.

Jim has now awakened to the problem. I am aware that he attended the Global Mission conference this last year, but the problem in the PCUSA goes way back and has had people like us agonizing about what we saw and foresaw for many, many years. I remain unconvinced that an emphasis on “being missional” at this late date—and in a denomination that has increasingly ignored mission—will turn the ship around.

The Analogy of the Titanic
The analogy is just wrong. We don’t think that the PCUSA is in imminent danger of sinking, nor did we leave in fear of that. We also do not believe that the problem is a “fire in the boiler room.” The problem is at the ship’s bridge.

The ship of PCUSA is heading in the wrong direction even though it has a clear map of where it is supposed to go, found in Scripture and in the denomination’s confessions. Sometime between 1950 and today, in the denominations from whence the PCUSA was formed, there was a very slow and subtle mutiny. Those opposed to the direction of Scripture gained control of the rudder.

Many of us thought that the problem might be that the correct course change orders were somehow muddled and could be clarified. That’s what we worked on so hard and for so long. We came to find (at the GA in June, 2006) that the wrong orders are being given from the top. Not only that, but every location in the ship—sessions and presbyteries—are now given permission to issue orders completely contrary to the course directions indicated on the map.

If I had paid fare to travel, say, from New York to London, and found that the ship had, without permission or announcement, changed its course for Antarctica, I’d have good reason to get onto another ship—one going in the right direction. This is what the Kirk did when we disaffiliated. The fact that other churches (passengers) are willing to hope that the ship goes back to its rightful course is their business. We found that the officers on the bridge were deaf to our concerns, so we came to the conclusion that the rudder is now lashed in the wrong direction.

Good, sincere pastors like Jim who seem to have just awakened to taking the problems seriously are complaining that I and the Kirk are abandoning them. I wish him and others the best in continuing the fight if they so choose. But please don’t tell us that we have left the denomination (or them) in the lurch. For almost two decades we were at the forefront of dedicated, hard work trying to reform the PCUSA and, as far as the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery is concerned, we were alone.

Abandoning Ship
Jim’s sermon comments parallel what he wrote the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery upon our disaffiliation. In that letter, he used an expanded metaphor, saying that we had “abandoned ship, taking the lifeboats.”

We certainly have left on our lifeboat, seeking a ship that is going to the destination Scripture indicates. For the duration of our struggle the EOP showed no desire to address our concerns or even show real concern for us. The PCUSA and the EOP now seem bent upon insisting that our lifeboat be returned to them empty, unconcerned that the Kirk congregation would be left adrift. Should that turn out to become truth, we are ready to tread water or swim for the nearest passing ship—but only if that ship is following the Scriptural map.

Finally!
Jim ended his paragraph about us in his sermon with the comment, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it.” By this, I believe he meant (in our case) the perfect denomination. We agree that no such thing exists. But we do know that there are Reformed denominations, unlike the PCUSA, whose leaders and followers are struggling to keep the ship on the Lord’s course.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Monday, February 12, 2007

Conspiracy Theories

A person who regularly posts comments on this blog has made a couple of accusations against me that I think are typical of how progressives view orthodox Christians. He read things in my blog that are not even there.
But what really scares me is the kind of stuff I read on blogs like this: the threat of conservative extremists in lockstep to "take back" the country "for Jesus".
Conservative Christians are out to “take the country back for Jesus.” This is a common conspiracy theory some progressives make against people of orthodox faith. What orthodox Christians believe is that Biblical teaching is healthy for all people, and we long to let people hear the Good News. Orthodox Christians cannot seem to express an opinion about morality or the nation without being accused of being reconstructionist.

Reconstructionists are a tiny fringe-group of Christians who propose turning the USA into a Christian theocracy. This is something I find to be unbiblical (read Romans 13) and frightening. I believe in the separation of Church and State. As I told this commenter, I frequently have to remind my liberal friends that the separation of Church and State doesn’t mean that I cannot express opinions. I should be able to express my opinions without being classified with a fringe group.

The US print and airwave media are particularly guilty as they propagate and promote suspicion of orthodox Christians (fundamentalists, in their terms). While liberal Christians have organized politically for decades, when evangelicals do the same, it becomes an issue of separation of Church and State.

The next conspiratorial accusation has an element of truth in it. I hadn’t realized that I was part of such a conspiracy as I participated in the New Wineskins (NWAC).
I should also point out that Tom is a leading member of a group that has been criticized for attempting manipulation through secrecy (the NWAC).
“Are you now, or were you ever a member of the NWAC?” is the kind of McCarthy-esque question I can hear progressives in the PCUSA asking. My answer to both questions, proudly, is “yes.”

NWAC wasn’t and isn’t a conspiracy. We weren’t meeting to take over the denomination. Originally, we wanted to influence the denomination through its existing structure. Eventually, we just wanted to leave in peace without persecution or penalty. I cannot remember us manipulating anyone, since we never pressed churches, pastors, or elders to join with us.

We’ve published all of our papers (the results of our “conspiratorial” conversations) in a timely fashion. We’ve invited denominational people and the press to our planning meetings.

Other meetings were public. Denominational officials—including the PCUSA legal officers—were at the convocation held at the Kirk last summer. We spoke openly about what we wished for and advocated. We spoke so openly that my former general presbyter informed me that he had at least seven justifications to have me removed from the pastorate.

I am, though, aware of some behind-the-doors meetings amongst PCUSA leaders. One such meeting resulted in secret legal filings against our property. Another such meeting produced the PCUSA take-no-prisoners legal game plan. That “secret” is still being kept. Ask your denominational officials if they’ve read the paper. The current moderator of the General Assembly told the Montreat church that she hadn’t. The phrase “plausible deniability” comes to mind when I hear such responses.

Oh—there is one secret the NWAC has kept throughout. That is the list of churches belonging to us. Why is this secret? Because, at the time of our planning, presbyteries like Kiskiminetas were making plans to thwart churches from even talking about the possibility of leaving. Pastors of such churches were—and are—particularly vulnerable if they simply say what’s on their minds.

Conspiracy theories are always grist for the gossip mill. NWAC is no conspiracy—it is an up-front movement to help orthodox Presbyterian pastors and congregations find an alternative to a future in the theological wasteland and mean spirit of the PCUSA.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Worship or Blasphemy?

When read the first paragraph of the following I thought it was a joke. I’d made a mental note to contact the webmaster of the site I found it on when I figured I could Google the Episcopal Urban Caucus and see if this was for real. It is.
The Sunday after General Convention I returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with Go-Go girls. The queen of St. Mark’s appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” As I stood singing among straight men and women, young parents with their children, gays and lesbians, teenagers in hip hop clothing, Asians, whites, African Americans and Spanish speaking people I realized I was part of the realm of God and I was glad to be there - in a place where God’s creation of a new thing was being lived out.
God’s new creation envisions a time of joy, prosperity, health and peace - a new social order whose goal is transformation. As members of the EUC let us not rest until every member of our family is fully accepted at every level of our Church.
--Nell Braxton Gibson, Coordinator of the Episcopal Urban Caucus, describing a "disco Mass" at her home congregation in New York City.
Gibson was writing in response to last summer’s Assembly of the Episcopal Church where, much to her horror and anger, the bishops voted to tell the worldwide Anglican Communion that they might consider moderating their stand on gay ordination, gay bishops, and same-sex marriages (something yet to happen). The way she put it was, “I am still appalled at the General Convention’s decision to support B033, a resolution that calls on the Church to sacrifice the humanity of a group of people for the sake of institutional unity.”

Can’t she see the disconnect that the average Christian might find when she says that the ECUSA “sacrificed the humanity” of a group of people who worship in the manner above? I’ve heard of the Virgin Mary referred to as the Queen of Heaven. I consider Jesus to be the King of Kings. What on earth is the Queen of St. Mark’s? Why is Jesus not even mentioned? While God loves all his creatures, He is very specific about what true worship is:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:9)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23, 24)

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’’” (Matthew 4:10)
Christian worship is designed to be God-centered. Note that the closing hymn was about the people in the church, not God; the opening hymn was the “anthem” of Judy Garland, much beloved of gay groups. This was not true worship, but a sad, sick parody of it.

What she described in this “Disco Mass” is the worship of self. Worse than that, it is the glorification of what Scripture teaches to be a perversion of the very Image of God. When I mentally picture what the worship must have been like, the names of Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind.

When people put an aspect of their lives—their sexuality, their social standing, economic status, intellect, or any other thing—above the revelation of God through Scripture, they are committing idolatry. To do this and call it Christian worship is blasphemy.

The “new social order whose goal is transformation” that Gibson proposes is completely at odds with God’s plan. We are not called to transform society to match our confusion and weaknesses. We are called to transform ourselves, the church, and the world in conformity to Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live... (Romans 8:12, 13)
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
If this is the direction of mainline denominations—even if it is limited to a few churches as blatant as this one—then such denominations are not in the business of transformation. They’re simply glorifying the brokenness of humanity. No wonder so many mainline churches are empty.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29)
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Truth Shall Set You Free—But You’ll Have a Hard Time Finding It

It is increasingly difficult to determine the truth of what we hear, even on major news suppliers. Two examples came up this last week, both of which seem to be twisting facts to promote a progressivist agenda.

The first came out of the New York Times about marriage. We know that progressives have moved beyond the stifling limitations of one man-one woman marriage and the nuclear family to all kinds of innovative permutations. Their media supporters march in step with the Times.

The Times article is entitled, 51% of Women are Living Without Spouse. The Times’ own abstract of the article says,
“Analysis of census data shows that 51 percent of American women were living without spouse in 2005, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000; married couples became minority of American households for first time, trend that could reshape social and workplace policies; factors range from women marrying later or living unmarried with partners to those living longer as widows or delaying remarriage after divorce because they prefer their new freedom.”
Their agenda is clear in the passage I highlighted for you above. The problem is, their stats are deceptive. How would you define marriageable age? 21 to 40? As a pastor I can tell you that the average age of couples marrying has gone up from, say 23 to 27, but the number of marriages I do has not declined.

The Times’ statistics include women aged 16 years to death! For them, marriageable age starts at 16! I was married young at 18. I know of very few 16-year-olds that are not considering marriage because of the reasons the Times gives. Most marry between their 20s and 40s—very few before or after those ages.

Who else would you put in the category of married women? I’d add in widows because they were married and did not choose to lose a spouse. I’d include women whose husbands are off at war, even though they are home alone. Not the New York Times. According to them, these women have “chosen” not to live with a spouse.

Progressives are fighting to redefine marriage in non-specific terms. Some of them are vehemently opposed to the traditional family. Some want to redefine marriage to include gays, bi-sexuals (inherent polygamists) and almost any other novel concatenation.


The other issue twisting in the news is about personal savings. The Associated Press reports the following:
"WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans once again spent everything they made and then some last year, pushing the personal savings rate to the lowest level since the Great Depression.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the savings rate for all of 2006 was a negative 1 percent, meaning that not only did people spend all the money they earned, but they also dipped into savings or increased borrowing to finance purchases. The 2006 figure was lower than a negative 0.4 percent in 2005, and was the poorest showing since a negative 1.5 percent savings rate in 1933 during the Depression."
I blithely accepted this until I found out that the statistics did not include 401k plans (403b, in pastors’ cases), or any other form of investment. With savings account interest rates so low, most people are not keeping their nest eggs with banks. Do you have any investment other than a bank savings account? No matter how much you have in it, this news bite lumps you in with those who are “spen[ding] everything they made and then some last year.”

There’s also a huge difference between today and the Great Depression. Then, the falling stock market destroyed banks. The average saver had little or no access to forms of investment other than bank savings accounts. Today, the entire investment spectrum is open to almost anyone who desires to put a few dollars away for retirement.

It is perhaps a more subtle progressive agenda here. Many on the left believe that any financial program not run by the government is, because it has no federal guarantee, not secure. I think that some of them will not rest unless the feds control all the money.

So, read carefully. Google news items to get greater detail than the reporters are supplying. Whatever you do, don’t go into a panic over what you read in the paper or see on TV.
Keep praying—keep the faith
Tom

Monday, February 05, 2007

Are PCUSA Churches Leaving This Week?

The New Wineskins Association of Churches is meeting for a winter convocation in Orlando, Florida. At this meeting, it is said, there will be a group of PCUSA churches “gracefully disaffiliating” from the denomination. Numbers as high as 130 congregations have been rumored.

The PCUSA leadership has sent a letter, predictably, with a plea for unity—a plea that essentially disregards the problems causing the disaffiliations.

One thing we’ve heard constantly is that “nothing has changed.”
"Among the reasons of those wishing to leave are perceptions of particular actions of the 217th General Assembly last summer. These perceptions include concerns that our ordination standards have changed and that the PCUSA no longer believes in the Trinity. Neither of these is true."
It is true that the words in the constitution were not changed, but the application of them has officially become relative. If presbyteries may ordain openly practicing GLBTs without discipline, then MUCH has changed regarding ordination. The words remain, but the standards have been changed.

The denomination says that it still believes in the Trinity. That may be so. It is, however, up for broad interpretation. The PCUSA is becoming increasingly modalist, defining functions of the Trinity (i.e. creator, sustainer) rather than living with the mystery of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three and one. Much of the impetus for such redefinition has come from progressive feminist circles unhappy with the Father and Son part.

So, churches like the Kirk have left a denomination which has demonstrated that it would rather include anything but strictly orthodox Reformed belief. The PCUSA stated clerk and executive director have given several reasons why it would be better for those churches to stay in the denomination.
"It is our deep conviction that we are better together than we are apart:
"We are better followers of Jesus when we stick together, mutually encouraging one another in the work of discipleship. "We are better together and more effective in confronting the enormous problems in the world – dire situations like Darfur, HIV/AIDS in Africa, and ongoing human tragedies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."
Just how effective is the PCUSA in confronting the “enormous problems in the world”? If what they mean by confronting is making statements and having endless meetings, they fail to see that such effort does nothing to effect change. Even the amounts of money and resources applied by the PCUSA to human tragedies like Hurricane Katrina pale in comparison to much smaller denominations, like the Mennonites.
"We are better together because the Presbyterian Church (USA) as one expression of the whole body of Christ needs all of its parts in order to function well (1 Cor. 12)."
It is true that the whole body needs all its healthy parts. The problem with the PCUSA’s assertion is that, once again, it deems itself to be the whole body. The Church Universal is the body; the PCUSA is just a small part, like an inflamed appendix or ingrown toenail. Oops—those parts need to be removed, don’t they?

Lest you think that I am being unbiblical, listen to what the Word has to say about parts of the body that have become diseased and useless (i.e. those that ignore sin).
If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Matthew 18:8, 9
Let me remind progressives that this is not Paul speaking (the progressively-dismissed writer of 1 Corinthians 12) but Jesus himself. I also would remind progressives in the PCUSA leadership that Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 12 was most certainly not that we are better off in big numbers. Rather, we are to recognize that the smaller parts (if not inflamed, etc.) are just as important as the bigger ones.
"We are better together because our resources of time, talents and treasure have a larger and farther reach."
There are many larger bodies with which Christians of any ilk may associate with better effectiveness than the PCUSA. The old mainline denominations are administratively top-heavy, theologically lightweight, and missionally challenged. There are mission associations today doing far better work than all the mainline denominations combined. World Vision is one that comes immediately to mind. Even better, World Vision is committed to Biblical, orthodox Christian faith!

One must take a cold, hard look at the reality that belies the PCUSA’s statement. Do the people in the pews really believe that the money the denomination receives is being used better than members would? If that were so, would not giving to the denomination be up instead of dramatically in decline?
"We are better together because our discernment and deliberations on tough topics need our many perspectives to reach the most faithful decisions."
So the PCUSA makes more faithful decisions because people remain in, regardless? Let’s think again of recent stands taken by that august collection of denominationalists:
  • Abortion on demand is supported (with the exception of partial-birth procedures)
  • Authors of fully discredited papers (particularly the horrendous sexuality report voted down in 1991) are still pulled out regularly by the denomination as “experts” in Christian views of sexuality.
  • Presbyteries can deem themselves of greater authority than the Bible when considering the behavior of those asking to be ordained.
  • Last year’s “deliberation on tough topics” out of the “many perspectives” came up with the Trinitarian re-description of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “Rainbow, Ark and Dove,” (crazy, but at least not modalist), “Speaker, Word and Breath,” and “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb.” Even national editorials realized the nonsense in this, suggesting that we might as well describe the Trinity as “Rock, Paper, and Scissors."
The same Apostle Paul who wrote the words of 1 Corinthians 12, also penned the words found in 2 Corinthians 6:17. In the context of that verse, Paul argues against continuing with so-called believers who put up with sin in their midst:
“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
2 Corinthians 6:17
In all this time of change for me and the Kirk congregation, we’ve never gone out to encourage any other congregation to leave the PCUSA. But, if people have come to us, we’ve been honest about what we believe is best.

It will be interesting to see developments from Orlando this week.
Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Looking Ahead to a New Year

I believe that 2007 will prove to be a banner year for Kirk of the Hills. We came out of 2006 in great health:
  • Mission giving in 2006 exceeded $1,000,000 for the first time.
  • The number of Kirk people participating in mission and service is way up.
  • Even though we had unplanned substantial legal expenses, we may come close to being in the black for 2006.
  • Pledges are significantly up for 2007.
  • The congregation’s response to the New Wineskins Convocation demonstrated that we can effectively host national events.
  • We have had incredibly encouraging support from local (non-presbyterian) congregations during our disaffiliation. The Tulsa church community, apart from some mainliners, are solidly behind us.
  • There has never been a greater sense of unity in the Kirk congregation (at least in the 25 years I've been here).
What about 2007? What can we expect of the new year?
  • We will increase the number of mission trip opportunities for Kirk members.
  • We will greatly expand our mission work in Tulsa.
  • We will be close to starting one new church in the Tulsa region.
  • Worship attendance and membership will increase.
  • We will know where we stand on the 61st Street property.
  • We will be admitted into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.
  • A significant number of PCUSA churches will either disaffiliate or ask for dismissal. The New Wineskins’ task force anticipates that more than 100 will leave. We’ll see.
What else?
  • Don't expect the PCUSA or EOP to be kinder or gentler to us or churches like us.
  • Typical church problems will not go away: we'll still need to remind folks to give, to minister to difficult (and lovely) people, and we will still need to solve problems as they present themselves.
  • The new denomination (EPC) will not be perfect for us, but it will be Biblically faithful.
  • On any give Sunday I'll get two notes--one saying that the hymns are too fast, the other saying that they're too slow.
  • My sermons won't get any shorter; Wayne's won't get any longer (he won't get any taller, either--even though I'm getting shorter).
Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom