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

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being our Spiritual Leader and helping us to correct the course over the past years. We are inspired by your Courage and Strength and will tread water or swim as required. Give them the lifeboats, maybe they too will care to join us on the corrected course.

Doing what we know as Spiritual and 'correct' requires great courage and the Kirk membership has taken steps to get us back on course; thanks to our leadership. Maybe the kirk's actions will continue to inspire and strengthen others including Jim Miller.

Keep up the Lord's work. I could use your leadership at the Government. Correcting the course at times is foreign to those who serve the masses.

Your Servant at the County,
Ken Yazel

Anonymous said...

Wow. Right on the money. You speak of my journey as well my friend. Thank You - I shall use these words to help others see the truth. With appreciation and prayer - Kirk Johnston, Paola Kansas.

Anonymous said...

Jim,
Although I am not thrilled that Kirk pulled out of the PCUSA, I do have to acknowledge that your entry today was well-worded and heartfelt. I can respect the position that the staff and congregation of the Kirk have taken and wish you all the best.
-W.C.-

Toby Brown said...
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Toby Brown said...

Tom,

The youth in our church would have a pop phrase for what your post accomplishes. I'll use it too:

Oooh...snap!

And, might I add, quite brilliant! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The analogy of the denomination as a ship is flawed (although the 'bridge' idea is preferable to a 'fire in the engine room'). No one in the PCUSA (or any single person in the entire world) is being carried anywhere by any denomination.

Seems to me better analogy is that of a band of 'pilgrims'. On any spiritual journey no one needs a boat or an engine. We need a map (and perhaps a guide), and sometimes fellow travelers to help us along. We’ll all walking best we can.

I do agree with you though, the fundamental question in any journey is direction not motion for motions sake. As Tom said, the PCUSA isn't headed in the right direction. I hope and pray for those left in that band that they do set things right. With God's help I even believe they will. The question for me is where does the Lord lead me?

I still wonder, and ask – not facetiously – what’s the purpose of a denomination in the first place? I know the Church is the body of believers. I understand the reason for/benefits of a local group of like minded believers. I understand why people need to join together to cooperatively fund missions. All of this can, and is done without a ‘denomination’. Seems to me the main purpose (help me are there others?) of a denomination is ‘certifying’ the clergy (or guides on our pilgrimage). If ‘certification’ standards don’t mean anything what’s a denomination for?

I know the PCUSA does fund ‘good work’… but based on what I know about the efficiency of the organization, I can get more ‘bang for my mission buck’ by sponsoring purpose built organizations.

Ford

Pamela Cook said...

I truly hope the pastor that 'dissed' Pastor Tom in the pulpit was just not paying attention to PCUSA activites. I know very little about the PCUSA other than what I have heard over the years. I'm learning more since The Kirk decided to tip. The fact that Pastor Tom was willing to stay in a denomination where they were debating clearly stated in the word sin issues implied to me that he felt that things could change. He wisely left because he did not want to follow those that would play around with the essentials of the CHRISTIAN faith.

I just cannot believe that those comments could have been made. Any leader that is that woefully ignorant of events in a group that he has vowed to support is someone I would not be sitting under. Sounds like I knew way more that he did. How sad. I suspect the people attending his church probably were clueless as well.

Thankg God the people from The Kirk are not like that. From the few people I have known over the years I know The Kirk folk are very aware of things. Because of that I'm sure things can get pretty lively at The Kirk at times. I'm also sure that Pastor Tom would have it no other way. It probably keeps his juices going.

BTW I'm not a part of the PCUSA or any denomination. More and more I'm seeing that the bad side effects tend to outweigh the benefits. The bottom line is that every believer is to follow Christ according to what the Bible says, not the chains of denominations that for the most part have beliefs that are not mandatory from God's word. Sad to say at some point most of them end up trying and force those under them to accept false doctrines then punish those that want to believe the Bible. Either that or they demand that you believe things that are at best debatable in order to participate in missions, become ordained and the like.

Jim said...

Tom,

Thanks for a well written summary of the current situation. I would like your permission to print-out copies and give it to my session. I would give you full credit and a link to your blog.

This is a good explanation to give to those cry "stay and fight forever" or unity at all cost.

Anonymous said...

I am thankful that my wife and I have found The Kirk and "like-minded" believers. I resigned as as Elder at a local PCUSA Church in 2006 after realizing that PCUSA and my church were intent on following a path away from Biblical authority. We have been attending The Kirk for approximately 6 months and are satisfied that our service and commitment belongs here.

May God continue to guide and direct you, the staff, and session.

Glenn

Anonymous said...

Tom,
It is a bit of a disservice to Dr. Miller's sermon to leave the impression to all readers on this blog that the title of the sermon was "Let's Dis Tom Gray and The Kirk this week." For those that have not heard the complete sermon, the text was Acts 15: 1-5. The early church was in disagreement. Since then the Church has always had internal disagreements. The lesson was about the existence of arguement and dissension in the church, NOT about problems within EOP and The Kirk.

I would hope that readers on this blog would seek out a rebroadcast of the service or seek out a copy of the sermon on CD or DVD so they would understand that the comments were not meant as a "dis" to the Kirk, but were meant only to point out that the Church has had disagreements for centuries.

Regards to All!
Rob Berry

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that there is hurt on both sides and that there is a history here going back many years that contributes to this situation, in ways that we can't see.

It is very painful to feel that your sincere efforts to be obedient to God's leading are being publically misunderstood or misrepresented. This is probably true for both churches and both pastors.

However, in such a situation, I would hope we won't be tempted to "eat our own" and instead be filled with qualities of I Cor. 13 love. God is God and we are not. Let's leave it to God to guide and discipline His servants, not us. I speak from experience that this is very, very difficult, but God calls us to remember that he is in charge of his servants, not us.

God uses our different gifts to bring glory to him and edify the body. Some people may be gifted (or cursed :-) depending on your viewpoint) to discern problems before others do. Some are gifted with long-suffering grace and love. We need both. The main point, isn't who is right or who saw it first, it's obedience to our particular call from God.

Hope I'm not being pretentious to say this. But this situation brings back to me a very difficult time in my life when I discerned problems in my church and spoke up. I had to leave and spent a few years in the wilderness before the leadership of the church saw the same problems I did and resolved the problem. In the meantime, I had to focus on my own obedience and attitude, not that of other servants of God.

-Cathy

TomGray said...
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TomGray said...

To Rob and others who might think I'm "dissing" Jim Miller in this blog,

First, I don't think I used the word "diss" nor did I intend the blog to be that. What I did do was ask some pertinent questions since Jim essentially accused the Kirk of shirking its denominational duty.

Jim did intend at least to paint a negative picture of the Kirk's actions. The illustration he used of us was not about simple disagreements within the church. He stated that we were wrong. Even worse, he failed to list our theological concerns and, in my mind, dismissed our serious concerns as trivial.
Tom

TomGray said...

Jim, and others,
Anyone who would like to print out and distribute my blog posts are welcome to do so. If you print any of the comments, please be careful to indicate that they are not part of the initial blog. Thanks.
Tom

mike said...

hi rob berry... glad to see you still atleast do something with the Kirk.(read Tom's blog) I noticed you at the vote even though you haven't been to the Kirk in years, and you were planning on becoming a member of 1st Pres. That's the kind of person we need deciding the future of the Kirk.

Bill said...

There you go again Mike. Personal attacks are not necessary.

Bill

mike said...

hi bill....again, i've only written the truth. is the truth an attack? how come you didn't complain to rob about his attack on Tom? Any sane person can understand what Tom was writing about, but good 'ol Rob still has to attack. Again, bill, it would be nice if you were the protector of people's good name, then please protect Tom's too.

Anonymous said...

Hey Hey Slow down! I was not attacking anyone Mike (wish you had left your full name, because you obviously know me). I was only pointing out that the comments in Dr. Miller's sermon were less than 30 seconds in a very good sermon about arguements and dissension in the early Church. The text was Acts 15: 1-5. Check it out.

Good 'ol Rob

Enoch said...

Proverbs teaches us that the prudent see danger and take refuge while the simple keep going and suffer harm. It is time for prudent believers in the PCUSA to see the danger and take refuge. The denomination is on a course that many prudent believers disagree with. There is virtually no chance for change. Take refuge! Take action! But don't buy the smooth talking placaters who would dismiss the danger till it's too late.