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!


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.

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,

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,

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,

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

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,