Thursday, June 25, 2015

Is the church of Christ queer? Presbyterians Today's blog

Is the church universal queer? Not at all! Oh the denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in its apostasy, might be. But that erases its claim to be the body of Christ. It erases Layton E. Williams’ claim that it is the body of Christ.

Williams, a teaching elder, has written a posting for Presbyterians Today at their site “Reimagining the Church.” Her posting is “Presbyhonest: relevant truth telling with a queer twist.” Various Presbyterians have been writing their visions of what the denomination should be. In a side column which serves as the writers voices they state:

 “We are part of a creative team commissioned by Presbyterians Today to ask questions about who's getting a platform to speak and who's not. And this is our canvas.”

And they go on to suggest that the site is “a holy place for reflection.” Presbyterians Today has made a statement that they do not represent either the PC (U.S.A.) or Presbyterian Today, however they are providing the place where the postings appear. And on their front page they have this: Read Presbyterians Today’s new blog, Reimagining the Church.

Williams is insisting that now, since the PC (U.S.A.) ordains members of the queer community, (and that is the term she use), and since we are one body we need to come out and admit the church is queer. As she puts it:

“When people ask, “What’s next?” I’m overwhelmed by how much more there is still to be done. I believe the hardest work for the PC(USA) and the church universal still lies ahead. What God calls for isn’t inclusion of queer people. It’s justice. And for that, the church—the body of Christ in the world—must name and embrace its own queerness.”

And Williams also insists that the church, until it does come out, is homophobic and queerphobic. This is not an appeal for diversity in the denomination nor does it embrace compassion for those who see the queer lifestyle as sinful. It is rather a call for the denomination to acknowledge that because it contains queer persons it is also queer.

But here is a paradox. It is true that when we come, as a church, before the Lord to confess our sins, we must confess that not only are we child murders, greedy, unkind and disobedient to Christ, we must confess that we are queer, that we have allowed sexual immorality to invade the church and offered no help to those who are in such bondage. In other words, as the church we must confess for the church the sins of the church.

We are truly sinners, but we are also saints. That means that our identity is not tied to our sin but to the new life given us by Christ Jesus. We possess the righteousness of Christ. He who is innocent and holy gives us our identity. There is neither homophobe nor queer in the body of Christ. There is only the redeemed who glorify their Lord.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1Cor. 6:9-11)


Sunday, June 14, 2015

We get Letters ... on forbearance

We get Letters! Well if you are an ordained member of Journey Presbyterian Church in Folsom, California you got a letter inviting you to a meeting. The invite came by way of what was the Sacramento presbytery’s discernment team but is now the engagement team. This is a requirement of the new dismissal policy. According to the letter this will be a consultation “with the leadership of the church.” The letter states the consultation will be:

·         To explore the possibility of reconciliation

·         To discuss the practical consequences of dismissal of the congregation

·         To discuss issues of disharmony and possible mitigation

·         To discuss how members whom hold deeply held differing convictions can work with members of differing views

 The letter also requests that we read an article which is attached to the new dismissal policy. The paper is Theology of Forbearance by James Calvin Davis(1). I have read it twice now and intend to read it again. The paper has some helpful points in it, but also is problematic. One problem is that it wanders back and forth between thoughts about people leaving a denomination for various reasons and people leaving the church universal. This is of course not the author’s intent but it happens unless the writer clearly defines the meaning of “the Church.”

In the paper the early Massachusetts Bay church is one example. A distinction is made between the church, which wanted to stay a part of the English Anglican Church while reforming it, and Roger Williams who thought they should leave because of the corruption in the Anglican Church. However the fact that the Anglican Church left the Roman Catholic Church over the desire for King Henry the VIII to divorce his wife is not mentioned in the paper.

And while the church was a leading example of a reformed congregation the officials of Massachusetts Bay not only exiled Roger Williams, they also hung one of the first Quakers to preach in the colony, a woman named Mary Dyer.  This is not a good example of a group of people seeking renewal without splitting off from the mother denomination. Of course it was, after all, the 1700s.

But the biggest problem with the paper is that no distinction is made between those issues that divide the church of God from those in apostasy and those issues that although divisive are still not worthy of broken unity. Instead forbearance seems to cover all issues—that is, no matter what, according to this article, one always must practice forbearance rather than leave.    

Now, quickly I want to insist that there are those who are called to stay in such a denomination as the PC (U.S.A.), but there are many who are called to leave. After all the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has left the faithful behind—it is they who have broken the unity, first with the Lord of the Church and his word and then with those who are seeking to be faithful to that word.

What would John Calvin  have to say about forbearance and unity? What was his description of the visible church? The visible church is not sinless, not without impurities but:

“Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matth. Xviii. 20). (Italics mine.)

And Calvin, in this chapter, (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Fourth. Of the Holy Catholic Church. Chapter 1), lays out a strong case for not leaving a church which has these characteristics. As he states, “… let us learn from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since, there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until divested of mortal flesh, we become like angels (Matth. Xxii 30.).

One would do well to read the whole chapter and take it to heart. But Calvin goes on in chapter 2 of the fourth Book to explain the difference between the false church and the true. Calvin was forced to do this because the Catholic Church, insisted that the reformation churches, formed outside of the Roman Catholic Church, were both false and schismatic.  Calvin referring to Augustine shows the difference between schismatics and heretics. And in this is shown the difference between the true and false church:

“The name of heretics and schismatics is applied to those who by dissenting from the Church destroy its communion. This communion is held together by two chains—viz. consent in sound doctrine and brotherly charity. Hence the distinction which Augustine makes between heretics and schismatics is, that the former corrupt the purity of the faith by false dogmas, whereas the latter sometimes, even while holding the same faith, break the bond of union (August, Lib. Quaest. In Evang. Matth.). But the thing to be observed is that this union of charity so depends on unity of faith, as to have in it its beginning, its end, in fine, its only rule.”

Calvin goes on to state:

“Accordingly Paul, when he exhorts us to it, takes for his fundamental principle that there is ‘one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. iv. 5). Nay when he tells us to be ‘of one accord, of one mind,’ he immediately adds, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. Ii. 2, 5); intimating, that where the word of the Lord is not, it is not a union of believers, but a faction of the ungodly.”

When “two persons” is added to the PC (U.S.A.) Book of Order as a definition of marriage, when a person is ordained who does not believe in a personal God, when many in leadership insist that God’s truth is still unfolding or that not all of the Bible is the word of God there is the false church which denies God’s word. There is where there may be prophetic proclamation of God’s call to repentance, but not forbearance.   

(1) A Theology of Forbearance - James Calvin Davis