Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook & Noushin Framke on Iran: forgetting the lost

Noushin Darya Framke, Armenian/Iranian-American, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elder and activist, has written a pleasant and informative article about returning to Iran to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. But in the article, “Burning Frankincense in Iran,” found in the Presbyterian internet magazine, Unbound, Framke, writing about religious freedom in Iran, repeats her too often defense of Iran. Writing of her mother’s faith, she insists:

“Being a member of the ancient Christian community, Janet was part of a protected and well-respected religious minority. (On the other hand, converts from Islam to Christianity are not protected, as Islam considers them apostate, but that’s another story).”

This is a statement that Framke also made in a comment to an article published by the Presbyterian Outlook. I searched for it as I was preparing my material for this posting but could not find it. However Framke enlarges on this idea in her report in the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook. First she explains that the Christian groups who are indigenous to Persia (Iran) are respected and allowed freedom of worship by their Muslim rulers. Of the others Framke writes:

“But evangelical Christians—Protestants who converted, most from Islam, when Presbyterian missionaries began proselytizing in Iran in the mid-19th century—are indeed persecuted. Because they are converts “out of Islam,” these Christians are considered apostates—people who have abandoned their original faith. They are for this reason treated very differently from Christians whose roots are pre-Islamic and are honored by Islam. …”

In the end Framke insists that the reader must understand that it is not Iran that is at fault but Islam. And that if we hold Iran accountable for the persecution of Christians we must also hold other Islamic countries accountable. Well, yes we must, but there is more to be said …

First, Framke should have read the first part of the mission report written by Rev. Dr. Jean-Claude Basset. Of the indigenous Christians, Basset writes:

 “In spite of such declarations [about religious freedom by Iranian authorities], religious beliefs continue to be restricted by ethnicity. Christians from minority ethnic groups, such as Assyrians and Armenians, are able to worship only in their own ethnic languages and churches. Persian Iranians (Farsi-speaking) are not free to convert from Islam to other religions. Churches in Iran are coming under increased pressure to stop all activities in the Farsi language, and some congregations have closed their doors to Persian converts to Christianity.”
Secondly, while Framke places the blame on Islam rather than Iran, insisting that to hold Iran guilty we must hold such countries as Saudi Arabia guilty—she is covering up a lie with a truth. Yes! We must hold all of those countries which persecute Christians or any other minority faith guilty. But the truth is, Iran persecutes its Christians. It doesn’t matter which ones. It persecutes Christians.

Thirdly, and this is important, the reason Iran and its Islamic leaders rarely harass some of Iran’s indigenous Christians is because they rarely participate in the Christian calling of evangelizing.  David Garrison in his recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam writes, “As a respected minority in Iran, Armenians were tolerated, so long as they did not proselytize the Muslim majority. All of this begin to change, though, in the mid-20th century when a Holy Spirit awakening began to stir in the hearts of the Armenian Christians.”

Garrison points to a Christian who was Armenian, and during such an awakening helped form the Iranian Assemblies of God. He also refers to a Muslim convert who was a part of the same awaking. He writes of the martyrdom of both the Arminian Christian and the Muslim convert.  The fruit of their ministry continues:

“The story of courageous Christian witness for the sake of Iranian Muslims’ salvation is not limited to the Armenian or Assemblies of God community. The many testimonies emanating from Iran today are filled with bold and sacrificial witness from ancient Assyrian church members, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Brethren, Pentecostals, and others “who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

And this is the true and troubling problem with Framke’s small mission piece, it not only makes a trifle out of the pain and suffering of fellow Christians, it ignores the need the Muslim has for Jesus Christ. It cares little for the Muslim in her steps toward the gaping mouth of hell. Framke’s piece forgets the very foundation of mission—that Jesus died to save sinners.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Telling truth, doing truth and Jesus' kingdom

Picture by Stephen Larson

This afternoon, December 13, the presbytery negotiating team, (PNT), held a meeting in the Sacramento Presbytery offices, inviting all of those interested in why they were asking for an administrative commission to be put over Journey Church. They also invited those interested in staying in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Many of us attended, both those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Several items presented by word and paper are not true. In a handout the PNT team, who did not negotiate with those who voted to leave, stated this:

“The pastor orchestrated those members being selected by the Journey Church Nominating Committee so that those who did not agree to the dismissal were eliminated from consideration. The climate became so unpleasant that some members felt it necessary to leave. Many of them have not found a new church home.”

In contrast to this statement it should be noted, a committee selects new members for deacons and elders. I came to Journey from Fremont Presbyterian Church when they were leaving the PC (U.S.A.) because God called me to renewal work in the denomination and I wasn’t finished. I couldn’t leave. Not until the 2014th General Assembly where I experienced so much corruption I felt it was time to go. But I was already an elder at Journey, and no one in the nominating committee, including the pastor, asked me if I thought we should leave. At the time I would have said no! What they were concerned with was my views on Jesus and biblical authority. They were concerned also with spiritual gifts—mine are discernment and teaching.

The paper also states:

“On November 19, the PNT met with a larger group. Most of the people had been leaders in Journey Church. They had called members they thought would be interested in staying in the PC (U.S.A.). They reported on what the members said. Some of the members indicated that they had voted to dismiss without understanding the full implications. Others indicated that they would be interested in coming back if there were a PC (U.S.A.) Teaching Elder who did not have an agenda of dismissal. Others said that Journey was their church and that they intended to continue attending no matter what denomination. They talked about their long term, mostly more than twenty years, relationships and leadership.”

First the constant abusive references to our pastor in this paper is unacceptable. Even if the words were spoken by others they should not have been placed in a paper seen by the congregation and strangers alike. The PNT needs to apologize.

The other problem, which has to do with truth, surfaced in the conversation. At first one team member made a remark about how anyone could be a member of the group that wanted to stay even if they had never set foot in Journey Church, but when I asked they stated they were just making a point about how the church would grow and be viable. But as the conversation went on it seems that the PNT invited those who had not been members for many years to become a part of what they consider the “true church.”

 I had an example of this while going to the restroom during the break. There was a lady behind me I had never seen. We exchanged greetings and I asked her if she was from Journey. She said no, she went to Journey a long time ago but now goes to a Methodist church. I asked how she happened to be at the meeting and she stated that a friend had invited her.

It is one thing to use the word schism as it relates to a small group of people who voted to stay, it is another thing to maneuver the statistics by adding people who have not been members of Journey for many years. It is far easier to use one’s authority to create the appearance of a schism than it is for an actual schism to occur within a body of believers. The PNT team freely admitted that they wanted to keep the property for the PC (U.S.A.) and so their desire led their actions.

Journey Church has many ministries. Children and young people, families and an older generation. They reach out in their ministries to a food bank, Teen Challenge, a school in Africa, ministry in Russia and Mexico. There is so much more, but I make this point that the PNT is only focused on the PC (U.S.A.) as though that is the only important part of the ministry of Christ. While God will surely be our help, our ministries will suffer as we transfer to another place.

I made one of the PNT members angry tonight as I left. I told him, I believed they cared more for the PC (U.S.A.) then they did for Jesus and his kingdom because they did not care for the harm that will be caused to His ministry in Folsom. But I still believe this. Jesus said where your treasure is there will your heart be also.  Jesus is Lord of His Church which includes all of the saints in heaven and on earth.

Perhaps the property belongs to the PC (U.S.A.), they will make it so it seems, but they cannot unmake the transforming work of Christ in his Church.  And where He is not they cannot build His kingdom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

For you ... accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one

Picture by Stephen Larson
We live in a time of false teaching and apostasy. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) carries this burden of apostasy. It usually cost something to stand faithfully in such times. In JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, as a new evil Shadow arises and creeping darkness engulfs their universe, Frodo, the Hobbit, says, “I wish it need not had happened in my time.” Gandalf, the wizard, replies:

“So do I,” … “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

After going through the correct process of discernment, voting and obtaining enough yes votes to leave the PC (U.S.A.) the session of Journey Church in Folsom received an e-mail with an attachment telling us that the church buildings and name would be given to  those who voted against leaving. Among other items the negotiating team wrote:

“Having discovered a healthy group of Journey members who wish to continue Journey church as a PC(USA) congregation, The Transition Team made a motion to COM  in accordance with the Book of Order and the new Dismissal Policies, that Presbytery appoint an Administrative Commission with original jurisdiction in order to move forward with this intended plan. COM passed this motion unanimously.

Subsequently, we mailed letters to the membership list that you provided, explaining the COM action, especially informing any who had voted against the dismissal request, that Journey, PC(USA)  church will continuine [sic] at the present location  assuming that Presbytery adopts the motion.”

The Old Testament reveals several ways the devout were faithful to the worship of God and the authority of scripture in times of apostasy. There is the prophetic tradition which stood against the idolatry of the Israelite culture. The prophets were made conspicuous by their own words and faithfulness. In the midst of a time when leaders profaned their religion with idols and false teaching the prophet was very much a member of the community and yet—too often they stood alone.

On the other hand is the witness of faithful priests, teachers and laity. Several times the faithful fled idolatry going instead to the one place of true worship. When the kingdom of Israel was split into two kingdoms and Jeroboam, the king of Israel but not Judah, set up false priests and created an idolatrous worship system, the scripture states:

For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord.  … Those from all the tribes of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel followed them to Jerusalem, to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers. (2 Chronicles 11: 14, 16)

Much later during a revival in Judah under king Asa, the king sent out officials, Levites and priests to teach the sacred law to the people. “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people. (2 Chronicles 17: 9)

The early Christians did not lose their worship sites until the last Roman persecution, but many undoubtedly lost their own property, their homes. The author of the book of Hebrews states:

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened’ you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle: through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. (10: 32-35)

We have a great possession. We have Jesus our Lord.

Here is the letter sent to all the members of the congregation:

“December 2, 2015 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

After prayerful consideration, study of the scriptures, and our conversations with those wanting to stay in the PC(USA), the Presbytery Negotiation Team (PNT) has determined that there is a viable congregation that can maintain Journey Church as a PC(USA) congregation. Anyone interested in this process is invited to attend an important meeting on December 13 at 4 pm at the Sacramento Presbytery office, 9983 Folsom Boulevard, Sacramento, to discuss the way forward. The PNT will conduct the meeting.

  On October 11, 2015, Journey Church’s Session voted, and the members agreed, to request that the Sacramento Presbytery of the PC(USA) dismiss Journey Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.

On October 22, 2015, the Committee on Ministry appointed a Presbytery Negotiating Team (PNT) to begin the process of negotiating the terms for dismissal.  Before the PNT could meet, a number of former and present leaders of Journey Church opposing the dismissal contacted the Presbytery’s Moderator and members of the team, inquiring as to what the Presbytery could do to maintain a PC(USA) presence in Folsom. The PNT met with these inquirers, first individually, and then as a group. The Book of Order (G-4.0207) and the Presbytery’s Gracious Policy for Reconciliation or Dismissal policy requires our presbytery to work with this viable group who wish to continue to use the church name, the property, and the assets to maintain a PC(USA) ministry and congregation.

 Please be assured that the PNT is not trying to disparage anyone who no longer feels at home in the PC(USA) from making a move to another denomination. We will be sad to see you go, but we know that everyone must follow his/her own conscience under the leading of God's Spirit. Please know that you will always be welcome to return.

The Committee on Ministry is making a motion at the next Sacramento Presbytery meeting to appoint an Administrative Commission (AC) to guide the process forward. You may copy this letter and give it to those who might not receive it in the mail.  Please feel free to contact any one of us if you have questions.  Blessings,

 Presbytery Negotiating Team”
Pray for all involved in this transition.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Marco Rubio's confession

This is a speech by presidential candidate, Marco Rubio. It is part of his interaction with a group of Evangelicals. He was asked about his relationship with Jesus Christ. His answer is outstanding. If you have not listened to this video yet enjoy.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The PC (U.S.A.) & the Presbyteries' view of mission and the Church Universal

The way presbyteries negotiate with churches seeking dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I believe, says a lot about how they view the church universal. And this includes the presbytery’s view of the mission of the church. The thoughts I am writing about here came together after listening to the speakers for three administrative commissions at the last Presbytery of Sacramento meeting. Adding to my thoughts was a letter the session of Journey Church, (My church), received from the Presbytery negotiating team.

And let me quickly add that I don’t believe questions about the PC (U.S.A.)’s view of its mission or its view of the universal church has yet been truly formulated and answered by either my presbytery or the denomination. So here is the background.

At the presbytery meeting first two speakers explained what an AC was doing about two Korea churches who had simply withdrawn from both the denomination and their properties. One church, Capital Korean, now has 49 people worshiping in their church and according to the speaker are in need of healing. They hope to emphasize their youth ministry.

Zion Presbyterian church is consumed with problems. At the first meeting with those who had not left, the speaker stated that 58 people were present but twenty of them were people who wanted to leave but not with the pastor. The situation at this church is troubling to the AC and the presbytery because the church owes a huge debt. As I stated in another posting members of the presbytery wondered if the people who left owned the property and should pay the debt. The report was confusing but it seems as though the Presbytery is acknowledging that the property with the debt is theirs.

The third report was about Burney Presbyterian Church. The AC speaker for this church stated that there were 10 people staying—this is out of around thirty people. He stated that in the small town of Burney there was a need for a mainline church and also for ministry to Hispanic youth. After the meeting, I asked him if the 10 persons were attending church, because I had been told by a friend that at first no one came. The speaker stated that no one was yet coming to the church for worship because they did not yet have a pastor. This church was taken from the members of Burney who wished to leave with their property and yet no one is worshiping there!

The letter, e-mail, that came to Journey’s session was to ask for a meeting and for a gathering of mostly financial information but we were reminded of the various information the PET would be looking at. They referred to the Presbytery’s new dismissal policy. “Before negotiating the terms of dismissal the PNT shall review, perform and/or obtain the following:” 

Among other bits of information PET needed to obtain they pointed to this:  “The Presbytery’s mission strategy in the geographic area, and the proximity of other PC (U.S.A.) congregations;” 

However the information the PET asked for was not about any of the ministries of Journey but about their property and financial status. For instance there is this:

“As the PNT interprets the policy, we are requesting specifically, but not limited to,   the following:

1.     Any tangible and  or electronic  check registers, check stubs, canceled checks, bank statements, and reconciliation statements, deposit books, statements of account, and all other books and records covering transactions from January  1, 2010, to the present date., with respect to any checking, savings accounts, credit union accounts, savings and loans associations accounts, investment accounts held in the name of, or for the benefit,  of the church or by any individuals or  business entities on behalf of  the church or in which the church  has, or will  receive,  an interest.  (Including funds not yet dispersed as a result of bequests of deceased persons.)”

And this:

   “ 13.  Any and all documents pertaining to employment of the staff , including but not limited all records showing the amount of accrued vacation sick leave, and comp time ,  applications for employment, notices of employment, notices of promotions, or salary/fringe benefit increases, notice of demotions, pay deductions, discipline or termination, notice of resignations of employment, written reviews of staff work performance, any and all payment vouchers and records reflecting contributions to and withdrawals and rights under any employment retirement program, retirement plans, including Individual Retirement Accounts, pensions plans, 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans from all employment.

   14.   Records of Journey Church’s Session and Deacon meetings, including but not limited to Minutes, confidential reports, emails, or other communications.

   15.    Records of financial reports including but not limited to treasurer reports to Session and  Deacons, the congregation, sub-committees, budgets, revised budgets, data bases containing financial information,   passwords to accounts held in electronic storage,”

This is all about money, but there is that other question about the church universal—how do these requests reveal the presbytery’s view of the ministry of the whole church? And if one ignores the ministry and mission of Journey or any other church what does that say about concern for mission. Is the PC (U.S.A.) the only denomination who has a worthy mission?

Not far from my house is a huge Salvation Army church. They have a large gym so that the youth in the area can participate in sports. There is a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in the midtown area and a well-known artist, a member of the church, hosts’ city artists who work with clay.  He even built a kiln for them to fire their work. Likewise, Journey Church is filled with ministries—prison ministries, a food bank, Teen Challenge, an African school, the list goes on and on.

The heart that is generous and full of the love of God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will rejoice in the Holy Spirit’s work in other places of the vineyard. When the PC (U.S.A.) begins to value the universal church in all of its true diversity—yes, including the Southern Baptist and the Assemblies of God, many of our battles will be over. When the presbyteries see the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and that of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians as enhancing the Kingdom of God there will be true unity under the Lordship of Christ.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I am thankful for a lot this year. Physically, I made it through a major operation; after reading the doctors notes I realize that even the doctors seemed uncertain and pessimistic of the outcome, but God was merciful and kind. I am thankful for all of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am looking forward to my 10th great granddaughter in 2016.*

Brad and I, this year, admiring an afghan our daughter Andrea made for us. 
I am thankful for my loving husband who, as far as I am concerned, despite his mild cognitive impairment, is my spiritual rock. I love watching him interact with his great grandchildren. Almost every morning if I peek into his study I see him with the Bible or in meditation.

I am thankful for my church, Journey Church in Folsom. Together many of us, most of us, have fought the good battle of discernment and after negotiations will leave for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I am thankful for my old church Fremont Presbyterian; they kept Brad and I fed after my operation and many sweet people have given rides to Brad, both to choir practice and church. I am also thankful for all of the renewal people in the PC (USA) who are still standing in the faith.

Most of all I am thankful for the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and bled so that I might be forgiven and walk in new life.
* Oh dear-I said we were expecting our 9th great grandchild in 2016, I meant 10th. And yes, they are all girls.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees and our debates

There is a troubling debate growing in the United States about admitting 10, 000 refugees from Syria. All of the concerns that have plagued our country throughout its history are surfacing. But the biggest concern has to do with terrorism. Perhaps there will be terrorist hiding among the refugees. There are the kinds of stories that some Facebook patrons link to; Sweden is in chaos because of the refugees and according to some reports all of them are young men; no families, no women and children. Even the burning down of some migrant centers in Sweden by rightwing extremist is seen as the fault of the refugees. But of course there is, rightly, concern about terrorism.

Today I asked a pastor I greatly respect about his views on the refugees. The pastor works in several risky areas of the world. His answer was, perhaps, the only right answer. He was conflicted. As an American, he said, he was concerned about security, he would have our borders closed for the sake of the American people. But as a Christian he didn’t see how we could turn away needy people who were fleeing war, persecution and terror. He added that one of the problems was that Christians were not given any priority although they are badly persecuted.

I have read several good articles on the situation and posted them on Facebook. I will link to them here: an article by student, Kliton Silvey, “Something Christian Millennials “Don’t get,”” Silvey ends her article with this:

“Maybe I’m just wound up. I suppose it’s possible to be too wound up or emotionally stirred at something like this. But if you want to curb my youthful enthusiasm, here’s all you need to do:

Open up a Bible and make a convincing argument that Jesus wants us all to be safe more than he wants us to reach the lost and help the hurting. I was taught, after all, that Jesus trumps all — even those teaching me that Jesus trumps all. Am I supposed to believe that or not?

It’s not like I’m declaring all of us must quit our jobs and go. But not only will we not go, we don’t even want them to come to us? I am genuinely confused. Somebody help me out here.”

One is by Dave Bier writing for the Niskenen Center a libertarian  organization, and while I am not a libertarian I believe this article answers a lot of questions. “Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris,”

One is by Presbyterian teaching elder and artist, John Stuart, “ Christian devotion: Rescuing Refugees - Exodus 22:21” and there is even a small article about Condoleezza Rice’s views, “Condoleezza Rice: I Get The Security Concerns, But The US Should Accept Refugees.”

And finally, dispelling many myths is one at a conservative news site, Bearingdrift. The article is “Myths vs. Facts in the Syrian Refugee issue.” (Hat tip Phil Moran)

About the need to make Christians as well as Yazidis a priority because of genocide, a friend shared this link, “For Christians and Yazidis Fleeing Genocide, the Obama Administration Has No Room at the Inn.” I hope a lot more information on this problem gets published. Matthew 25 has a lot to say about standing with brothers and sisters when they are suffering. We do it for and to Jesus!

Please watch the video below; it is filled with good reasons why, as Christians, we must care for the refugees. (Hat tip Dave Moody.)

Introduction to the Refugee Highway - 2014 from IAFR on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Donald Trump and Christian conversion

I’m not usually political but tonight it is a matter of my Christianity. Tonight in the Washington Post I read a very well done article on Donald Trump and his 95 minute tirade in Iowa “With torrent of attacks, Donald Trump moves back into center of race.” (I watched some of the tirade.) At the end of the article there were over a hundred comments including some by, supposedly, Donald Trump. And there was a comment by someone else, kzic, who said “Donald Trump may have been elected President of the USA tonight,” referring to the attacks in Paris. And then on Twitter I saw this:

  1. Ann Coulter @AnnCoulter 3h3 hours ago

“They can wait if they like until next November for the actual balloting, but Donald Trump was elected president tonight.”

In case no one noticed, besides mocking Ben Carson, Trump insisted that there could be no transforming conversion such as Carson claims. One of the commentators on PBS’s news did note that tonight.

In this context one of my favorite blogs, The Anxious Bench, with some of my favorite writers, on the 20th of October, published an article about Trump. It was by Thomas Kidd, a historian, who concluded his article, “Donald Trump and the Coming Christian Political Realignment,” with this:

“I will not vote for someone so boorish, who has no clue about most basic political issues, much less those most important to Christian conservatives (including religious liberty and abortion). I will not vote for a misogynist reality tv star whose campaign is based on starting stupid fights. I won’t do it, and I hope that millions within the supposed GOP “base” would join me.”

I agree.
 But now I have more to say.

In history we know of another man who gave long rants, pretended to be a Christian and wanted to rid his country of all “foreign” peoples. Hitler was just a painter who gave long speeches and could coldly insult people without a care but somehow some Germans thought he was capable of elevating their nation to greatness. Christians, faithful to the Lord, cannot think like that, must not think like that. If a candidate doesn’t believe in Jesus, that is one thing, but a candidate who makes fun of the redeeming, transforming power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection should be rejected by Christians.  
The video below is the speech. It is long and boring. To hear what I am writing about go to 1:26:29- but note that in another part Trump says he loves war if it is winnable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christian progressives, racism and the chosen people of God

The greatest of divide is often caused, at its deepest root, by ideological errors. Both evangelical and progressive Christians are concerned about racism. The concern happens because of the reality of the 21st century in the United States. We are overwhelmed by racism and its brutality. But the differing world views and theology of the orthodox and the progressive lead to different solutions. The progressives who insist they are for peace, for equality and for following the “way” of Jesus are bending away from their ideals. The orthodox are beginning to understand their oneness in Jesus which is held in place by each bearing the righteousness of Jesus rather than their own righteousness.

The oneness is inclusive of all races—each belonging to Christ and therefore belonging to each other.

Several postings, one by a progressive teaching elder, who is a friend on Facebook and one by a lesbian teaching elder, whose opinion piece was on the Presbyterian Outlook, led me to this subject. Both postings are, in my opinion, extremely offensive.  The first was simply a cartoon:

The site the cartoon was taken from also holds offensive pictures. It is a Facebook site called Bay Area Intifada. Its profile picture is of a Middle Eastern revolutionary, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, and a Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata. But the really troubling picture is one of blacks stabbing whites. In its real context, the slave uprising in Haiti in the 18th century, the picture makes sense but on this particular site and given its context the picture is racist and scary:

How is posting such a cartoon from such a site pastoral? How does it lift up the love of Jesus Christ? How does it speak peace?

The other posting, “Language matters: Finding common ground in faith narratives,” is about the concept of white privilege and how the author, Beth Buckingham-Brown, believes the idea of chosen feeds into and affirms white privilege. She writes:

“As a pastor who preaches every Sunday, I am aware of the language I use. Over time I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the following claims: “We are the people of God.” “As God’s chosen people, holy and beloved …” “God chooses us and sends us.” In addition, some Reformed concepts like “God’s elect” or “God’s predestined” or “God’s holy ones” or “the saved” are equally troubling. How did we get from the Israelites (a concept that is at best confusing based on timing and definition) being God’s chosen people and the inheritors of God’s promise and blessing, to the church in the United States, Presbyterian in particular, becoming God’s chosen – which has meant, in part, that we mount a militant defense of the land which we have taken by force and the democracy which only applies to some? We are not Israelites. And yet we (some of us) claim the favor of God and the chosen status by inserting ourselves into the narrative. …”

Buckingham-Brown goes on to conclude “.”What I hope is the promise, though, is that if we can once and for all separate church and state (and not let the state determine theology), we will be able to re-envision a theology that is centered on Jesus. In Jesus’ world, either we are all chosen or none of us are chosen (which really means none of us are!).

This is all theological confusion. The first posting the cartoon, leads away from the fact that we are all sinners and in need of redemption. The far, far right, “Christian Identity” which sees the white races as Israelites and the Jews as literal children of Satan is the same. Both the progressive and the radical right are scapegoating. Two things happen with this. Everyone’s sin and all evil get dumped on one group of people. And the individual sinner is not addressed instead she gets lumped into a group and is left without a chance for personal redemption and transformation.

This also leads away from peace. It is evil.

The second posting, about white privilege and chosen, is written by a teaching elder who does not seem to have a clear grasp of scripture or theology. The Nazis saw Germans as a chosen race but this was not a biblical concept. It had nothing to do with the calling of Jesus Christ. Biblically, being chosen has nothing to do with race but rather with God’s call to redemption. Such a call does not place one in any kind of worldly position but rather it is a call of service to the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is also a call to repentance and forgiveness. It means admitting to being a sinner unable to save oneself. The righteousness of Christ is our only righteousness. The life of Christ is our only life. Our chosenness unites us to Jesus and with that we are united to multitudes of every race and ethnic group on earth and in heaven.  It is the life and death of Jesus that has united us.

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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. (Rev. 4:9a-10)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Presbyterians Today, a blog and the person of Jesus

Presbyterians Today a PC (U.S.A) magazine now has a blog. Diverse Presbyterians write there and the side bar is careful to explain that “Our opinions are ours alone; they do not represent the policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or Presbyterians Today.” But the blog, “One Church Many Voices” is published by a PC (U.S.A.) magazine. On their home site they call it “our blog.”
There are several evangelicals who write on the blog. David R. Collins, see SWELL, and Jodi Craiglow, see SIMPLICITY ON THE FAR SIDE OF COMPLEXITY, are two and they are excellent writers. A favorite of mine is Brandon Gaide, see POKING AT ELEPHANTS.
But there is a place where a line is crossed and the person of Jesus is misconstrued in an ungodly manner, which is saying a lot since Christians believe that name should be exulted above every name. Today, October the 27th, on the blog, Layton E. Williams, a teaching elder, who writes under the title PresbyHonest, posted “I love Jesus but sometimes I don’t like him.” [1]
Williams believes Jesus has some flaws. Although she believes “deeply in both the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the world-transforming power of his teachings about justice and mercy,” Williams opines that “1st-century Jesus is not nearly as inclusive and feminist as I would like.” She sees him as not believing in the equality of women and not supporting the LGBTQ community, and insists that Jesus participated in oppressive systems.
Williams writes:
Only by accepting this full humanity can we trust that Jesus’ full divinity has the power to enter into and transform those oppressive systems and us. Jesus’ full humanity also means that he grows and changes over the course of his life. His experience with the Syrophoenician woman, for example, challenged him to confront his own human prejudices and realign himself with the radically inclusive gospel he proclaimed (Mark 7:25–30, Matt. 15:21-28). His growth is a living testament to the transformative power of that gospel.”
In other words, according to Williams, Jesus like the rest of us was a sinner who had to be transformed.
Well, I could make this posting an apologetic showing that Jesus was sinless and that the LGBTQ community like the rest of us are sinners who Jesus can transform by his death and resurrection. It is the blood of Christ that washes us from our sinfulness. It is the righteousness of Jesus that we cling to for our salvation. And we are called to walk in purity away from our sinful desires.
And I could make this an apologetic about Jesus’ honoring the faith of the Syrophoenician woman, healing her daughter because of that faith. But she did not transform Jesus—He was the Son of David—the righteous One, the one who had already ministered to Gentiles and reflected on their faith. (See Matthew 8:5-13; 12: 38-42) And the woman recognized Jesus before the healing as the Son of David.
Still, what really troubles me is that so many believe that this kind of diversity is acceptable in a Christian denomination. It seems as though many believe that dialogue is a Christian virtue. Sometimes it is if one needs to witness about Jesus Christ. It is if the object is to bring about peace in a community fighting over non-essential items such as worship styles. But the person of Jesus Christ is not up for grabs, He is instead the Lord of the church. His authority, his word, the written word of God, the Bible, call for obedience.
Williams says she loves Jesus but she wants to change him; to go beyond him, to insist that he evolved beyond his own human self. And yet the word of God states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13: 8)
And the leadership of the church allows Williams to influence the people of God on an official Presbyterian site.
The apostle Paul wrote of those within the church who would come and attempt to draw others after them into false teaching. He reminds the Ephesians that he admonished them with tears:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparring the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20: 25-30)
It wasn’t dialogue aimed toward diversity Paul was concerned about but that the sheep should be protected.
[1] The posting by Williams can also be found this morning, Oct. 28th, on the Presbyterian News Service page- see side bar. https://www.pcusa.org/news/

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The witness of the church

This isn’t about teaching elder John Shuck or his progressive skepticism as he writes a reply to moderator Heath K Rada’s request for thoughts on how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can change to better meet the twenty-first century.

But Shuck’s words set off a train of thoughts that I want to write about. It was this paragraph written by Shuck in the Voices of Justice Fall Newsletter that prompted my writing:

“The world has changed and we need to talk about it. I can’t be sure exactly what “rapid and profound change” Moderator Rada has in mind, but I think it has to do with theology. I think our theology is still in the 17t century while we live in the 21st century. The dogmas of our religious heritage do not meet the challenges of the world presented to us by science and by social science. All of the beliefs we are supposed to affirm such as Creation, Virgin Birth, Resurrection of the body of Jesus, miracles, original sin, atonement, heaven and hell, and a supernatural interventionist god called God are metaphors. At least that’s what I think. I also think many church members and teaching elders think like I do even as for various reasons they are not able to say it clearly.”

I look beyond the 17th century to Christians who have faced and lived through dire circumstances in modern and post-modern eras. They include both Catholics and Protestants, men and women. None of the great heroes of faith were skeptics in the sense that they no longer believed the teachings of the Apostles.  Two groups in Germany during the Nazi era held faithful to the biblical teachings of the church. A Catholic group of mostly young people called the White Rose and the Confessing Church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who went to his death as did members of the White Rose never laid aside his theology to accommodate the cultural immorality of society.

When Bonhoeffer knew that the officers who came for him, came to take him to his death, he told Payne Best another prisoner, “This is the end” “For me the beginning of life.”

I still remember when an Anglican, Archbishop Janani Luwum, in Uganda, was killed, because of his faith, by Idi Omin. Another Ugandan bishop wrote a small booklet, Why I love Idi Omin. His basis for love was that Omin needed Jesus; that Jesus died for him.

But there is no need to stay in the twentieth century, the twenty-first century is full of Christian Martyrs who did not toss away their faith. Old people and children who professed their faith despite the enemy’s promise of death. Little children who were beheaded because they love Jesus. They held on to the One who holds death in his hands and gives life to his saints. How poor and musty with the 19th century has the progressives become. God displays his faithful children before their eyes and they look away to find some new way to be a Christian.

Do not be afraid: I am the first and the last and the living One; and I was dead and behold, I am alive for evermore; and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Returning to the Korean Presbyterian churches: A Sacramento Presbytery meeting

It was the most unusual presbytery meeting I have ever attended.[1] It was about the Korean churches in our Presbytery. The meeting was very small; most Sacramento PC (U.S.A.) churches, both orthodox and progressive, seem to have just given up and are allowing a few to plan the future. And those few are often very confused and troubled.

When we addressed the first item, which I wrote about earlier:

1.                          With the determination of the Presbytery Engagement Team (PET) appointed to the Capital Korean Presbyterian Church, El Dorado Hills, determining that there is a schism pursuant to the Book of Order (G-4.0207), that the presbytery take immediate action and appoint an administrative commission with original jurisdiction of the Capital Korean church, and continue the relationship with the PC(USA) in all means of its ministries

Which had as its explanation, ““The Presbytery Engagement Team of Capital Korean Presbyterian Church has become aware of members, pastor and session who are departing the church, and others who request maintaining their membership with the PC (USA).

I asked if some more information could be shared, for example, did the session vote, did all of the congregation leave. But no leader attending seemed to have any information. The chair of the Committee on Ministry, who presented the items, in fact tried to answer the question but said he didn’t have any information.

However, Dou Sub Lee, a teaching elder, but not at the moment the pastor of any church, spoke about Capital Korean Presbyterian Church. He suggested that there was a large enough group of people left that could make up the church, perhaps thirty to forty. And then later expanded the number. What bothered me was that he stated he was not a member of the church, and when I asked him afterwards he said he had not been a member for ten years.

The next item:

2.                         Whereas Zion Presbyterian Church announces its departure from the PCUSA, the Committee on Ministry requests that presbytery take immediate action and appoint an administrative commission with original jurisdiction of the church, including, but not limited to determining and completing the next steps of the church. 

And the explanation:

“Leadership and members of Zion Presbyterian Church, Sacramento, have declared their departure from the PC (USA) and from the property on 9501 Folsom Blvd.”

This item held some interesting conundrums. David Kim spoke saying that Zion had voted using a hand vote which was considered a 97% yes vote. He suggested they would have to vote again and could then expect a lower percentage.

One speaker said the church had a large debt. And several people including a lady from the church stated that the debt was for a loan to their church. It was 1.9 million dollars, but it was not borrowed from the PC (U.S.A.). Then an interesting discussion ensued. Who was responsible for the church debt and who owned the church?! So someone stated the PC (U.S.A.)’s name was not on the title implying that the denomination did not own the church so the presbytery was not responsible for the debt. Hmmm—so if a church owes money not borrowed from the PC (U.S.A.) they own the church and if they don’t the PC (U.S.A.) owns the church?

This is what happens when a presbytery writes a “gracious” dismissal policy a great part of which was written by a lawyer in a manner that is impossible for an ethnic group, whose second language is English, to understand. In fact, it seemed to me that most members at the meeting, whose first language is English, were confused and needed answers to some very important questions.[2]

The dismissal policy does not answer some of the questions that were being asked and although it starts out with words of grace most of the text is pure heartless legalism and incredibly confusing. Within a Christian biblical context grace must prevail. Here are some biblical answers that do not come from the dismissal policy but ought to give clues about how to treat the Korean Christians. All of them:

Although it is nice having a building—the church is not a building. (A building often helps with fruitful ministry.) Still, it is those who belong to Jesus Christ, who have been washed by his blood and are gathered in fellowship under his Lordship that are the church. Here I am speaking of the Church universal, not just of the PC (U.S.A.) or any other reformed body. That means that we must care for the ministry that flows out of other gathered fellowships.

Several years ago the Presbytery met at Capital Korean Presbyterian Church. The pastor preached a sermon that was excellent and many members of Presbytery asked that the sermon be placed on the Presbytery’s web site. Also a video of CKPC ministries was shown. I remember that they had a ministry to Native Americans in Nevada. I was deeply touched by this. This is ministry that flows from the universal church.

I believe that Sacramento Presbytery needs to put aside its dismissal policy and return to the authority of Scripture. The confusion and mess looming among the churches can only be answered by the wisdom, grace and authority of Scripture.

Several years ago when I, with a motion, tried to get the Presbytery to give at least half of the money back that the Synod of the Pacific had demanded of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church and Roseville Presbyterian church[3], some of the members cursed at me and others. I could not hear this but at the end of the meeting a young pastor, new to the presbytery, disappointed, got up and complained that those around him were cursing those who spoke.

God calls us to love:

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

This is where it must begin, confession, truth and fellowship with all who are His.

[1] . I wrote about the Korean Presbyterian churches that are leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in an earlier posting We are chasing them away: Presbyterian Koreans looking for a faithful place.
[3] It was around 2 million dollars, at the time a huge amount. It is no longer—the greed of some in the denomination grows. For instance, Menlo Park’s payment of almost 10 million to San Francisco’s Presbytery.