Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A dialogue: "Is Jesus the Way?"

The Los Ranchos Presbytery has a discernment page for their people as they face the changes in the denomination.  It is both unique and a great example for other presbyteries. Recently they provided a dialogue between Laird Stuart, Teaching Elder and  member of the Covenant Network, Jack Haberer, Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook and Dana Allin a Teaching Elder who has recently left the PC (U.S.A.). 

There are several videos and perhaps it is not fair to present just one video since they are talking about three issues, the authority of Scripture, LGBTQ issues and Jesus as the only way of salvation. To me the Christological question is the most important, although the other two issues feed into that one. But I am profoundly interested in the opinions of others including my readers on this issue. Andrew Purves is quoted as the person who refers to  "the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ,"  and if you listen to the whole video you will know why I refer to him. (I believe that is an important term-it covers all we need to say)

I would suggest going to the You-Tube site and listening to all of the videos, but in particular the three videos that feature each guest separately. They are all kind, polite and informative.  

I do want to make several comments about the dialogue. Haberer insists that Old Testament saints were saved without knowing Jesus Christ as savior. In a sense he is right, but I think that is too simplistic a way of putting it. Their faith was not just in God but in his promises. Haberer refers to chapter 11 of Hebrews the great faith chapter and speaks of those who waited for the fulfillment of the promise, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. (Heb. 11:39-40). But we need to look at another place in Scripture where this is clarified.

As Calvin points out when he is writing of the Sacraments:

Since the apostle speaks in no higher terms of the one than of the other [the sacraments of the Old & New Testament], when he says the fathers ate of the same spiritual food, and explains that that food was Christ (1 Cor. x.3.) who will presume to regard it as an empty sign that which gave a manifestation to the Jews of true communion with Christ?[1]

Calvin also insists that in either Testament there is no true sacrament that does not either “shadow a promised Christ” or bears “testimony to him as already come and manifested.”[2] It is Christ who saves, and his sacrificial death whether by promise or event is the reality of the Old and New Testament.

The writer of Hebrews explains that Moses chose to suffer with the people of God, rather “than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” The author writes:

All these died in faith without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13)

This issue is the ultimate issue—if you comment here do it politely and kindly.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, reprint, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1989) Book iv. Chapter xiv., 23.
[2]Ibid, 20.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What if the fallenness within all of us was on a rampage and the only righteous One was Christ?

A few nights ago we watched Horton Foote’s Alone. Like most of Foote’s other movies, such as Tender Mercies, Alone is a quiet movie with ordinary people.  Foote’s plots usually pull in deeper plots that revolve around themes of goodness versus self will, contentedness versus constant strife. Tender Mercies sets mercy, both God’s and humanity’s against bitterness. In Alone, The possibility of an oil well and money amplifies the character of each person and also begins to shape their personalities.  As I watched the movie I understood the story to cover the human condition in ordinary times.

Children rebel against their parents; parents are harsh and uncaring; wealth supposedly would solve such irritations. But kindness, goodness and order prevailed as it generally does in most of Foote’s movies.

But what if Foote wrote a script about times that are not ordinary times, times that are filled with more than surly teenagers or angry controlling parents? What if the fallenness within all of us was on a rampage and the only righteous One was Christ? That is the reality of our world. And because of it, we may be more open to the absolute glory and goodness of our Savior.  

I saw the movie the same day that I read a report about Belgian Catholic Arch-Bishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard being attacked by topless protestors cursing and screaming at him, as well as pouring water on him from bottles with pictures of Mary on them. This was about his stand on abortion and homosexuality. He remained in prayer while this was happening. We are in those extraordinary times. We have a calling to a world that is in relentless rebellion. As in the sixties, among the flower children, the rebellious have found an outlet for their frustrations. They want a freedom that will not set anyone free.

This is a give away on the movie, but it is an old movie.  In the end, after extraordinary digging the company finds, not oil, but salt water. There will be no wealth and only the main character, Hume Cronyn, and his two friends, one of them James Earl Jones, are left alone on the front porch musing over the past and singing “Shall we gather at the river where bright angel feet have trod.” But the metaphor of salt water rather than oil is not lost.  

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matthew 5:13)”

Matthew reports that Jesus not only spoke of disciples as salt, but also as light. “Let your light shine before men in such away that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The call of Jesus is to be both salt and light in the midst of needy—sometimes demonic—people. 

I thought of this, on the day that I read the article and watched the movie. The teenage girl in the movie, who is sullen and sassy, and is slapped by her mother, could well become like one of the girls who yells and screams at the Arch-bishop. Extraordinary times produce extraordinary sinners. They also produce painful times for those who love Jesus. But the Arch-Bishop sets praying for her and the others. That is salt and light.

God gifts us with the love and righteousness of Jesus, and he calls us into a battle that is not easy. It is not easy because first we must acknowledge our own sin, and then we must love the sinner who hasn’t repented. Love them when their words sting and hurt. Love them as Jesus does and did when he was dying on the cross.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Belhar, the committee & our disunity

The Presbyterian News Service has posted an article on the Belhar Confession, “Belhar Confession recommended again for PC (U.S.A.)’s adoption: ‘Statement’s themes of unity, reconciliation and justice are three gifts we most need’ special committee says.At the very beginning, the statement that unity, reconciliation and justice are the three gifts we most need is wrong theologically as well as pastorally. We have disunity and cannot be reconciled to each other because we are not committed confessionally and biblically to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Such a commitment includes upholding the authority of God’s written word and agreeing that the Confessions are truly authoritative in the life and government of the denomination.

After writing  for over two years, about the problems that are inherent in the Belhar Confession as it will be applied to the PC (U.S.A.); after participating in the debate about Belhar as an advocate for Sacramento Presbytery’s 2010 motion to not adopt, listening to Janet Edwards plead that our motion not be passed because the LGBTQ community in the denomination needed Belhar in the Book of Confessions, I am totally discouraged with this new attempt. Already the Presbyterian News Service is not giving correct information about the issue.

The PNS reports that both the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church has adopted the confession but this is not totally true. The CRC newspaper, The Banner, reports that their Synod did not adopt the confession but rather put it in a new category as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration.” The churches themselves voted  down the motion to adopt, as one elder put it:

Synod chose not to further study it. “We have studied this and studied this and studied this,” said Elder Jerry Heinen, Classis Wisconsin. “The churches have spoken, and it doesn’t make any sense to kick it down the road again.”

If the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.)had reason to worry about how Belhar would be used before the Presbyteries voted to ordain those who are gay and lesbian, they have far more reason to be concerned now. Now the orthodox have the issue of same gender marriage to contend with as well as the Covenant Network of Presbyterians’ new guidelines for ordination. The guidelines insist that those candidates who cannot ordain someone because of conscience should be disqualified. If their argument works it also applies to marriage as a function a teaching elder must perform. This is all leading to the perfect storm.

As I wrote in a different posting, “because Belhar focuses on unity rather than confessing Christ it will reinforce the call to be in unity no matter what standards or theologies are in force in the PCUSA. Unity will [and has] become the all encompassing value over all other issues.” The new committee working toward adoption is, as the news article states, looking at the confession in terms of its ideas on unity, reconciliation and justice.

Belhar insists that those who break unity are sinning. It states, “Therefore we “Reject any doctrine which denies that a refusal to earnestly pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin.” When this was first written it was aimed at sin. It was aimed at the teaching that God had created boundaries between races and therefore the races should not mix. But given that now leaders and others in the PC (U.S.A.) are insisting that there should be unity over the issues of LGBTQ ordination as well as same gender marriage, and to the point that one advocacy group is insisting that those who will not participate in such activities should not be ordained, this confession and its wording will undoubtedly be aimed at the orthodox in the PC (U.S.A.). 

True unity which comes under the Lordship of Christ cannot be conjured up and mixed with worldly aspirations and attempts to conform to contemporary society. Jesus in his high priestly prayer (John 17) which is very clear about Christian unity prays that his disciples will be sanctified in truth. Jesus states that he sanctifies himself that we might be sanctified in truth. And he gives of his glory that we might be one in him along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  

First of all this truth is the truth of Christ’s great sacrifice because of his love. As R.V.G. Tasker puts it, “They [the disciples] will only be dedicated and sanctified because Jesus dedicates Himself to a death which has cleansing power. Similarly, they will not be able to show love one towards another without the inspiration of the love of Jesus for them.” [1]

Secondly, the unity comes from our contemplation and understanding of the glory of Jesus. Once again as Tasker points out this comes from Jesus, such unity and love is perfected in the knowledge of Jesus. Tasker writes:

But the perfection of this unity will only be reached so long as the believers keep in touch with their exalted Lord and contemplate the glory which has been His from eternity. He has always been the object of His Father’s love; and the mutual love of Christian believers must have as its effective cause and its sustaining power their insight into the glory of their Master.

We are broken on the wheel of our own lustful desires; our love affair with the world and our desire to be united outside of the righteousness of Christ. It isn’t Belhar that the denomination needs as it shatters apart; the PC (U.S.A.) needs to return to its faithful walk and fellowship with the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ.

[1]R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, R.V.G. Tasker, General Editor, reprint (Leicester, England, Inter-Varsity Press 1995).

Monday, April 22, 2013

A concert called Firewind

In the seventies, when my family and I were attending Warehouse Ministries in Sacramento, a part of the Jesus movement, as I have written before, many of the musicians who were finding new life in Christ came there to give concerts. Barry McGuire who was well known for his song “Eve of Destruction,” and who sang with the Christie Minstrels had become a vibrant Christian and often sang at Saturday night concerts. Keith Green, John Talbot (before he became a Catholic) and his brother Terry Talbot also gave concerts there. At one point in time they began planning an album about the Book of Acts and Pentecost. It was Firewind.
They planned a concert at a school where they would sing some of the music before recording it. This was to be a concert that required buying tickets something that the Warehouse never did. I lined up with a group to buy tickets, feeling a little guilty since my husband had just had back surgery and we were living on almost no income. But when it was my turn to purchase a ticket I was told that someone ahead of me had paid for our tickets. So I have more than one reason to remember the concert.

The main reason I remember the concert was because the music was so good. You can imagine with all of the great sixties and seventies musicians that were performing.  When they did make the album they included the members of Second Chapter of Acts. I did have a tape of the concert—many years ago—and long ago lost. And for some reason I never got the album. So when I found, a few weeks ago, that someone had recorded each song separately I was extremely pleased.

One of my favorite songs on the album is sung by McGuire, “Die for my Jesus”:

Friday, April 19, 2013

An Administrative Commission of the Presbytery of Detroit & modalism & universalism

Another title for this posting could be what is modalism? And what is universalism?

The information given to the Session and Congregation [by the pastors of Grosse Point Wood] is often incorrect and inflammatory.  Much of the theology is poor and shows a lack of good teaching in the Church (Note the objection on page 215 [quotes from the session's letter to the congregation] to the Trinitarian God doing the redeeming as if Jesus alone redeems this is the heresy of Modalism).

In the meeting of April 25th 2012, they write:

They exhibit an early church heresy, Modalism- “God creates, Jesus saves, and the Spirit sustains” (three modes) when they say they believe in the Lordship of Christ and we are negating Jesus.

So what was written on page 215, which is a part of the GPW session’s letter to the congregation?*

"Point 4 & 5 [on problems with nFoG] Faith is no longer necessary for salvation.
The new constitution departs from the historic confession Presbyterian faith. nFoG begins by saying: "The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - creates redeems, rules and transforms all things and all people." (F-1.01) 

In Scripture and the Confessions, however, we read that while grace and salvation are available through Christ to all, not all are, in fact, redeemed. In our congregation we seek to be transforming lives into Christ. Our witness to this need is diminished if all are saved that there is no need for a life transformed by the sacrifice of Christ and the grace of God."

For the teaching and ruling elders of GPW it was never about the Trinity or who redeemed, but about who was redeemed.

In a large set of minutes that often attack teaching elders Liz Carlson Arakelian and Jim Rizer, such as the suggestion that the teaching elders are evil, the charge of modalism is laughable.[1] The AC also insists that the pastor’s heresies include rejecting universalism—the unbiblical belief that the redemption bought by Jesus on the cross automatically redeems every person. They write:

They also object to the idea that “God redeems .. all people.” This is based on Colossians 1:20 “and through him (Jesus) God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Italics authors)

After quoting Romans 5:18, in bold they write, “We are just trying to show that there has been either very little or biased Biblical work done to justify their position.”


Let’s make this a teaching moment. So first the question should be asked, “What is Modalism?”

In A Handbook of Theological Terms the definition is given:

Modalism is the interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity in which the persons of the Trinity are viewed as modes of divine action rather than eternal and essential distinctions within the divine nature itself. Such a view first flourished in the 3rd century A.D. as a form of Monarchianism. Its proponents insisted on the complete and undivided sovereignty (nonarchia) of God and thereby rejected any distinctions in the being of God, such as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sebellius (early 3rd century) appears to have argued that God is one individual being and that the terms Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply applied to the different forms (modes) of that one being and, therefore do not refer to eternal and intrinsic distinctions within the godhead.[2]

Reading the definition, please note the AC’s objection and definition of modalism has nothing to do with the pastors of GPW desire to maintain the biblical understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The pastors did not deny the distinction of persons within the Trinity. Emphasizing the understanding that Jesus has redeemed his people by his death on the cross does not preclude the actions of the Father and the Holy Spirit, it rather emphasizes, as does the Scripture, the work that Christ has done. Modalism denies the distinctions of the persons in the Trinity. They become actions rather than persons.

In Revelation, chapter five, the elders and the creatures sing a new song to the lamb, “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
As believers we often fail to understand that within the Godhead there now is the man, Jesus Christ. Now, forever, within the Godhead, humanity is represented in the risen Christ. And if we are redeemed we are in Christ, there present before the Father reconciled by the Holy Spirit. This all has to do with the three persons within the One as well as their actions. 

The author of the book of Revelation, is not reluctant to show that the death of Christ, the blood of Jesus, is the cause of our salvation, and this despite the fact that the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, being of one essence is essentially the maker, creator, designer and activator of our redemption.

The written word of God does not fail to single out Jesus as the One who lived, died and rose again for our salvation. This is not modalism, but rather the truthful proclamation of the good news. Jesus is confessed as Lord because of his actions, but this from eternity:

[Jesus] “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2: 8-11)”


And on universalism, the AC members failed to do a proper exegete of the texts. They used proof texts, as nFOG does, omitting the verses that encase the one verse. For instance Col. 1:20, God reconciling all things to himself is further explained by these words in the same chapter:

“And although you were formerly aliened and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in the his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation, under heaven …. (Col. 1:21-23b)
Add to this from chapter 3, “For it is because of these things [immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed] that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience …” 

 N.T. Wright speaks to all of this in his Tyndale commentary. Col. 1:18-20 speaks of Christ’s Lordship. As Wright puts it:

 “There is no sphere of existence over which Jesus is not sovereign, in virtue of his role both in creation (1:16-17) and in reconciliation (1:18-20). There can be no dualistic division between some areas which he rules and others which he does not. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter claimed by Satan.” (79)

Of  3:6 and the “sons of disobedience,” Wright writes:

‘The wrath of God’, it hardly, needs saying, is not a malicious or capricious anger, but the necessary reaction of true holiness, justice and goodness to wickedness, exploitation and evil of every kind. This wrath begins to take effect in the squalid and degrading effects of sin itself (Romans 1:18-32). But that process is not the whole of ‘wrath’: it leads to the final judgment (Romans 1:32; 2:1-16). (135)

In this case the judgment is the final reconciliation. That is, true holiness, justice and good are preserved because those who have rejected the reconciler are judged. That is not easy to say or write, but as Wright further points out, in their rejection the sinner begins to lose their humanity until finally, they in their death, which begins for them before death, lose any trace of the image of God.

All of this is to say; teaching elders Liz Carlson Arakelian and Jim Rizer were faithful in their proclamation. Although they and many members of their past church have moved on to a much healthier place than the Presbytery of Detroit or the PC (U.S.A.) there should be an accounting of members of an Administrative Commission who were willing to call people evil, accuse them of heresy and who publically, without proof of their accusations, or proper wrestling with Scripture, published their own misdeeds.  

* The letter written, approved and signed by the Session was not even signed by the teaching elders.

[1]“ Dianne expressed concern about the evil present in the GPW Church and suggested it might be
time to remove the pastor(s) as the center of the dysfunction.”
[2] Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms, reprint, (New York: Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster 1997).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How important is the written word of God & confessional Christology to Sacramento Presbytery?

When Fremont Presbyterian Church left the Presbytery of Sacramento, one of their reasons was because of the loss of commitment to the authority of Scripture in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Another reason had to do with Christology. Pentecostal and lesbian Bishop, Yvette Flunder, who, as I wrote in an earlier posting, is the speaker for the Sacramento Presbytery’s Pastor’s Conference is a glaring example of how the PC (U.S.A.) is failing to uphold the authority of Scripture and a faithful Christology. Flunder does not believe the Scripture is inspired although she claims she respects the word. In her book, Where the Edge Gathers: building a community of radical inclusion, Flunder, pointing to her identity as a woman preacher, an African American and a lesbian writes:

My position [about the Bible] is best explained by a response from an unnamed slave who, when she was told that the Bible said she was to be a slave, answered, “Not my Bible, I tore that page out!” [1]

Rather than do a proper exegesis of the biblical texts, Flunder goes on to suggest that those who take the Scripture literally are conforming their beliefs to the culture of the United States, an idea which will surprise the orthodox who find themselves in a fierce struggle within the prevailing culture.  However, in a workshop, Amplify 2012, held in Hong Kong, Flunder takes her argument with Scripture much further. Using Peter Gomes word, bibliolatry she states:

Bibliolatry, what is bibliolatry? It is the worship of the book. Somebody said this is the word of God. My response is that these are words about God. Jesus is the Word of God. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God—capital W-o-r-d. That means that everything else feels less, theology are words about God but if there were no words about God at all, if they all disappear, we would still have a word of God, Do you understand what I’m saying to you. …I love the book, I’m close to the book, I love the Bible I guess there are parts of the book that don’t love me.

Flunder then goes on to list her own identity, a lesbian black preacher and then she tangles with the apostle Paul: she states that she disagrees with Paul and that Paul is just like her. Flunder states that “he was a guy in process.”  So she forgives “Paul for not having the understanding that he needed to have, he died before he got it all.”

Clearly Flunder rejects the Bible as the written word of God.

Likewise, Flunder’s view of Jesus is un-biblical and un-confessional. In her book, in a chapter that is a sermon, she looks at the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman found in Mark. Flunder uses this story, about a non-Jewish woman who pleads for healing for her demon possessed daughter, in the same manner as other radical feminists. Flunder believes this is a teaching moment for Jesus rather than the woman. But she takes the error further making a heresy of it. Flunder writes:

He was a God-Man in a struggle—God extending the table to all, and man wanting to give priority to his own. My understanding of Jesus permits him to grow into his purpose. I don’t belief he understood the entirety of God’s will for him from the beginning, but rather his humanness lined up with his divinity overtime.

This is heresy to divide the two natures of Christ in this way. It is the reason for the existence of the Creed of Chalcedon, which is affirmed in the Presbyterian Book of Confession in The Second Helvetic Confession (5.078). The two natures are not divided. This is a problem that has occurred several times in the history of the Church and about every twenty to thirty years it pops up in some fringe Pentecostal circles. One can seem very clear about the deity of Jesus and then destroy the affirmation by rending apart God and man in the person of Jesus.

Flunder is in this sermon is also, without stating it clearly, stating that Jesus is not totally innocent. She writes:

Jesus was about to be challenged internally with destroying the idea of clean and unclean people. Jesus the Jew was not truly at home with this concept. He was in transition—his cultural prejudice was showing—he wanted to gather the Jews first as a mother hen does her chicks, but they would not fully receive him.  He was not respected by the Jewish powers but he was not yet ready to be radically inclusive.

When a denomination, or a presbytery, or any denominational entity denies the inspiration of Scripture they will soon begin to listen to any person who affirms their desires. Flunder’s mission is to teach that in order for denominations to enter the ‘new’ thing God is doing they must become radically inclusive, meaning they will accept LGBTQ persons into leadership and celebrate same gender marriage. If they do not she believes they will miss a new Pentecost. Pastors in this presbytery, Sacramento presbytery, are being set up to deny Jesus, the living word and the authority of his word, the written word of God.

[1] The idea that the Bible encourages slavery, or that one, must be forever trapped in slavery is a ruse.  In the most highly cited words of Paul in Ephesians where Paul tells slaves to be obedient to their masters because they are serving Christ and will receive their reward from him.  This is meant as a rule where slavery is imposed by a culture which enforced slavery. It is spoken to encourage the slave—he will receive a reward. The master is commanded to follow the same rule of servanthood, he is also a slave, a slave to Christ. There is no “partiality” with God.

In 1 Corinthians the slave is encouraged not to be sad about his position when he becomes a Christian but to seek freedom if it is possible. “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” (1 Cor. 7: 21-24) Notice the text does not say each one is to remain in the condition but each one is to remain with God while in their condition. The whole theme of the chapter as it looks at marriage, circumcism and slavery is about all Christians possessing the same position in Christ, and in that position being both loved impartially by God and accountable to God.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gosnell, those responsible & a confession of sin

There must be constant reminder that many people are accountable for the horror that happened in Philadelphia in Kermit Gosnell's house of horrors where women and new born babies suffered and died. They died because it was considered politically expedient to ignore the filth, untrained employees, the pain and suffering occurring in Gosnell’s phony operation.  The word abortion or women’s reproductive rights is now considered sacred, any such operation connected to those words cannot easily be touched. In case you have forgotten or did not know about this  hearing (see video) it is important.

"State Senator Kim Ward questions representatives from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office regarding state oversight issues and criminal charges brought against Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his abortion clinic in Philadelphia."

The Church has a confession of guilt to be made on this issue, in particular, my denomination the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the women’s groups,  and myself for not speaking out more fervently.

“The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers [and sisters] of Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer Ethics

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Speaker for Sacramento Presbytery retreat teaches others how to move the orthodox to accept 'new' truth

Sacramento Presbytery has over the past several years developed an unusually good program of pastor’s retreats.  In the years past they have invited speakers who were great teachers of the proclamation of the word. However, now the Pastoral Support Committee of the Presbytery of Sacramento is set to undo their past good work. Bishop Yvette Flunder is the speaker for this year’s event.  The information is in the April Newsletter

In the Presbytery’s newsletter she describes her ministry to those at the retreat this way:

We will examine methods to exegete both the text and the listeners. New and difficult truths can be packaged in a familiar wrapping, so a common relationship of trust based on collective experience can be established. Preaching that is outside of the theological, intellectual or cultural reach of the listener is an insult to the life experience the listener brings to the preaching moment. It is not enough for the preacher to simply be profound but to seek to be a profound blessing, by hearing from God and paying close attention to the ‘voice’ of the listening congregation and embodying the message with the listeners in a divine circle dance!

Flunder, a United Church of Christ pastor, is also “Presiding Bishop of Refuge Ministries/The Fellowship a multi-denominational fellowship of 110 primarily African American Christian leaders and laity representing 56 churches and faith-based organizations from all parts of the United States and Africa.” Flunder is also a lesbian who speaks for the gay community seeing that community as God’s new thing and gift to the church.  And this is where the problem lies.

The pastoral support team has set up a teaching session, perhaps unknowingly, about how to preach the new thing. Notice, “New and difficult truths can be packaged in a familiar wrapping, so a common relationship of trust based on collective experience can be established.” So not only is Flunder’s message about something ‘new’ it is about how to  present the ‘new’ thing so that it can be received by those who might not listen to such a message. And certainly the message is new.

Flunder has established a foundation, the YA Flunder Foundation. The Foundation created “the Seminary Project in order to move conservative seminary students along a staged continuum, from a negative or questioning position to a theologically based positive position for the moral inclusion of LGBT individuals to the tangible advocacy of this position within their conservative denominations.”

Some of the resources provided go so far as to insist that David and Jonathan were lovers and possibly Ruth and Naomi. Sadly they also attempt to show that Jesus had a sexual relationship with the beloved disciple.

This is subterfuge, by the speaker and by anyone else who knew what something ‘new’ was about. There are still, surprisingly, orthodox pastors in Sacramento presbytery and this is a slap in the face to all of the orthodox who have remained faithful in this presbytery. The preaching and teaching of the pure word of God is the call of the teaching elder. The upholding of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son, the dying Lamb, the Savior who takes away our sins, that is what both laity and teaching elders need to hear.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4: 1-4)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Once again, the confessional controversy-between a rock & a hard place

This posting is connected to the one I wrote several days ago, “The Book of Confessions: A controversy with the Moderator, the Stated Clerk & Paul Hooker of the PC (U.S.A.). But before I even begin, I want to point to another article on this same subject which I was not aware of when I wrote mine. Reading at The Presbyterian Outlook, I found an article by Winfield Casey Jones, “How the 22oth General Assembly almost throw out the confessions.” His article is excellent; I’m not sure how I missed it. Casey Jones goes point by point through Paul Hooker’s (the chair of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution) speech on whether motion 1304 to amend the Book of Order at W-4.9000 to two persons would be out of order since it contradicted the Book of Confessions in four places.

My new posting is a further reflection on the subject of my post. I was reminded by friends of the fact that the moderator’s decision was appealed, debate followed and the moderator’s decision was upheld. And several other questions emerged because of that debate. So what follows will be guided by their words and resources. It will also be guided by some thoughts of Casey Jones. Finally I have some of my on thoughts to express which entails where this might all end.

A commissioner, Doug Megill, asked that the moderator’s decision, that the motion was in order, be appealed. I will quote his reasons for appealing the decision:

Yesterday’s ruling was based on a conflict with a motion involving church property with the trust clause, today we deal with a motion that conflicts with the Book of Confessions. I as a Christian for whose Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I've been instructed to be guided by the confessions and obedient to the polity of the church. Surely what is said repeatedly in the Book of Confessions is of more weight to our charter from Jesus Christ to use Roberts’s language then the trust clause that is in the form of government.

During the debate another commissioner, Amy Dame, stated that “If our concern is that the Book of Order never conflict with our Book of Confessions I should not be standing here as a teaching elder.” In other words she is insisting that when women were given the right to be ordained the Book of Confessions did not allow women to be ordained, thereby contradicting the Book of Confessions. However, it should be noted that Teaching Elder Mary Naegeli answered this commissioner’s question on her blog posting, “The Women’s Question and The Confessions.

First of all Naegeli points out that when women were first given ordination rights both the “ (UPCUSA in 1955 and PCUS in the 1960s)” used only the Westminster Standards which says nothing about the ordination of women. Secondly she shows how as the two denominations united into one they adopted the Book of Confessions adding to those confessions the Confession of 1967 which as Naegeli puts it: “One of its particular objectives was to affirm the equality of all people (regardless of social-economic status, race, or sex [NB: not sexual practice], based on Galatians 3:28).” Naegeli concludes on this point:

So the GA commissioner spoke in error, that the Confessions alone would have prevented her ordination. The opposite is true, and not just conceptually but in historical experience. Our confessions formed the defining piece of the puzzle, “compelling” the GAPJC to make affirmation of women’s ordination a requirement for service in the church.[1]
Casey Jones also, in his last statement speaks to the real problem which solved the women’s ordination issue but has not yet solved the issue of same gender marriage. Both the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions would need to be amended. With his last paragraph Jones writes:

Probably the issue of same-gender marriage will come up again in 2014. At least the church has time to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28). The important change before the General Assembly at that time will not be (as will be argued) primarily about approving same-gender marriage. That could be approved decently and in order — though not quickly — by first amending or adding to the Book of Confessions. No, the real vote will be on whether the PC(USA) continues to be a confessional church.

And with that and an orthodox person’s question, “What if Belhar becomes a confession in the church” I will give my own thoughts. I agree with Casey Jones. If same gender marriage is voted into the Book of Order at the 2014 GA, we will have a broken constitution, and will not continue to be a confessional church.  

Under such circumstances, if Belhar becomes a confession in our  constitution it will have no more authority over the PC (U.S.A.) than any other confession which means no authority. Those who choose not to be guided by it will not need to worry about being guided by it.

However, if the General Assembly and the leaders of the PC (U.S.A.) bother to do the hard work (if they can) of changing both the Confessions and the Book of Order to allow for same gender marriage then Belhar will have some authority and that in itself will be a double whammy for all of the orthodox. Because unity is raised above Lordship in Belhar, teaching elders will undoubtedly be required to marry same gender couples, as well as ordain LGBTQ persons. Or they will have to leave the P.C. (U.S.A.).

But let us go back to the first thought, that we become a non-confessional church. As I stated in my earlier posting, all essentials, including the uniqueness of the incarnation, will undoubtedly begin to fall. And then the spiritual darkness that results will be unbearable. The cost will be everything that belongs to Christ and his church. In either case, a confessional denomination with same gender marriage or a non-confessional denomination,  relying upon the sustaining and keeping love, grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way forward for the orthodox.

[1]Naegeli lays out her argument in such a concise manner that one must read the whole posting to understand the difference between seeking to change just one section of the PC (U.S.A.)’s constitution and changing (correctly) the whole constitution. Please read her whole posting.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance day. Looking on You-Tube for a good video I was very disappointed to find that many of the videos were intent with denying the Holocaust. But I did find this video of Corrie Ten-Boon speaking about her experiences of hiding Jewish people during the Nazi era. She is the brave Christian who wrote the book The Hiding Place about how she and her family hid Jewish people in their homes. All but Corrie died in the Nazi concentration camps. 

There is written information about the family with the video which begins:

"For her efforts to hide Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) received recognition from the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" on December 12, 1967. In resisting Nazi persecution, ten Boom acted in concert with her religious beliefs, her family experience, and the Dutch resistance. Her defiance led to imprisonment, internment in a concentration camp, and loss of family members who died from maltreatment while in German custody.
The ten Boom family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, which protested Nazi persecution of Jews as an injustice to fellow human beings and an affront to divine authority. In her autobiography, ten Boom repeatedly cited religious motivations for hiding Jews, particularly her family's strong belief in a basic tenet of their religion: the equality of all human beings before God. Their religious activities had also brought the family a history of personal connections to the Jewish community. Corrie's grandfather had supported efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations in the nineteenth century. Her brother Willem, a Dutch Reformed minister assigned to convert Jews, studied antisemitism and ran a nursing home for elderly of all faiths. In the late 1930s that nursing home became a refuge for Jews fleeing from Germany."

The rest of the information can be found here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Book of Confessions: A controversy with the Moderator, the Stated Clerk & Paul Hooker of the PC (U.S.A.)

There is an ongoing controversy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) about the PC (U.S.A.)’s Book of Confessions. Although it is a serious controversy, which began with the 220th General Assembly, many members may be unaware of it or its consequences. It is, in fact, in my opinion, the most serious controversy in the denomination at the moment since all essential Christian beliefs could potentially fall because of the one ruling that occurred at the General Assembly.

The controversy began when the Stated Clerk make a ruling, using Roberts Rules of Order, that a motion was out of order because it contradicted the Constitution of the denomination. Before the debate over same sex marriage began with recommendation 1304 to amend the Book of Order W-4.9000 to two persons rather than a man and a woman, commissioner, Dr. James Goodloe, using the earlier ruling, asked the Moderator of the GA, if the recommendation should not be ruled out of order since it contradicted the first part of the denominations constitution, the Book of Confessions.

Goodloe stated this because there are at least three places in three different confessions in the Book of Confessions where marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. If the Book of Order was changed to two persons, implying that same gender marriages was acceptable the two different books which make up the PC (U.S.A.)’s constitution would be in contradiction.

The question was tossed to the Stated Clerk who tossed it to Paul Hooker from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Hooker advised that it was not a problem because the constitution was filled with confessions which spanned over a thousand years, that they were broad theological perspectives, and that some of them were in disagreement with others. What he failed to acknowledge was that not only is there no disagreement among the confessions on marriage consisting of a man and woman, there is no essential Christian teaching that is contradicted among the confessions in the Book of Confessions. The moderator ruled that the recommendation was in order.

Here is a video of that event:

Recently Goodloe wrote a letter to General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa and Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons advising them of additional statements about the Book of Confessions which he had found in the PC (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order, statements he believes add to his concerns about changing the Book of Order when it contradicts the Book of Confessions. (The full letter can be read at the Layman) The reader should note in Paul Hooker’s advice he seemed to give greater authority to the Book of Order which he states is more recent and “contains the standards by which we operate.”[1]

Moderator Presa now, via video and a written statement, has attempted to answer the letter without stating clearly why he is doing so. Here is the video of his statement:

The written statement can be found here

Moderator Presa in a sense paraphrases what the Book of Order states. Goodloe in his letter pointed to F-2.01:

The creeds and confessions of this church arose in response to particular circumstances within the history of God’s people. They claim the truth of the Gospel at those points where their authors perceived that truth to be at risk. They are the result of prayer, thought, and experience within a living tradition. They appeal to the universal truth of the Gospel while expressing that truth within the social and cultural assumptions of their time. They affirm a common faith tradition, while also from time to time standing in tension with each other. 

Presa states:

Reformed Christians from the 16th century to today have sought to respond to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ for their particular time, location, and context through various confessions, catechisms, declarations and statements. We take seriously the authority of these confessions balanced with the freedom and obligation of communities to discern the will and mind of Christ for their time and their context. We have sought to subscribe not to any one expression of faith, but a multiplicity of expressions: 11 creeds, confessions, catechisms, declarations, and statements. We recognize these confessions to be authoritative, not authoritarian. For at the end of the day, those confessions don’t press the voting keypads in our assemblies and councils.

But please notice the difference. The Book of Order is insisting that our forefathers in the faith, “claimed the truth of the gospel” in the midst of the “assumptions” of their society. Presa on the other hand sees them seeking to respond “to God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ for their particular time, location, and context,” adding that this was via their various confessional documents. The first view holds on to an essential and keeps it in the midst of changing times. The latter seeks for what to say in the midst of changing times. There is a difference. The first as Goodloe points out in his letter affirms a common tradition. The latter possibly changes the faith of the church.

Presa goes on to state, “So as a confessional church with a multiplicity of confessions of faith, we trust in the triune God’s divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the interplay of confessional authority with community responsibility.” But what does that mean that beside God’s divine sovereignty we trust in human (community) responsibility? (There is even a later hint that we must be careful of idolatry when using the confessions to guide.) We must not and cannot trust in human responsibility when it comes to our faith. We can only trust, and must, in the scriptures and use the Confessions as a means of understanding the essentials of the faith.  

The question has never been answered-instead both Hooker and Presa have simply ignored the issue. If the Confessions define marriage as between a man and a woman, and they do, then if the Book of Order is changed to say marriage is between two people there will be a contradiction within the constitution of the denomination. And there will be much more; rather than there being idolatry of the constitution there will be the idolatry of embracing decadent western culture and society.

And there is yet more. One by one we will let go of the essentials of the faith as we ignore our confessions. Now everything is technically up for grabs. One can envision in years to come a ruling that suggests it is possible that Jesus was not the unique Incarnation and it will not matter that the Confessions insist that Jesus is unique. It isn't just that Hooker, Parsons and Presa ruled that the recommendation was in order, at the same time, with their comments and advice; they have ruled that the Book of Order holds more authority than the Book of Confessions.

[1] It should be noted here that Hooker does not answer the main part of Goodloe’s question; he never states whether changing the definition of marriage to two persons would contradict all definitions of marriage in the Book of Confessions, which it would.