Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sacramento Presbytery passed their "gracious" dismissal policy: some thoughts

Sadly some bloggers in Pakistan have been hacked to death for their atheism. And a blogger in Saudi Arabia has been flogged weekly for his political views. But we, in the United States, are supposedly a democracy, I should be able to blog freely about the discernment process my church, or any Sacramento church, belonging to the  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is going through.

And that is a real problem because today, May 14, 2015, despite pleadings by several, the presbytery passed a dismissal policy that was anything but gracious.

It starts with biblical and gracious words but continues on in a controlling mode, setting churches up, not for reconciliation, but to flee the whole horrific process. For instance the part I have focused on as I began this posting is:

“Concurrently with the appointment of the PET [Presbytery Engagement Team], the chair of COM shall advise the pastors and Session as well as the Moderator that the General Presbyter or Stated Clerk will serve as the sole spokesperson with all media agents throughout the process. Any exceptions to this policy shall be approved by the Stated Clerk or General Presbyter in consultation with members of the COM and Presbytery Council.”

Now blogging about dismissal does not make me a spokesperson for my church or anyone else, but since I have been quoted in other publications I have been used by the media to gain information. Needless to say, I insist on my right to freely inform others and express my opinions.

For instance today, at our Presbytery meeting, an administrative commission placed over a small church in Burney California, declared the church in schism. If there is not reconciliation those few who do not wish to leave the PC (U.S.A.) will undoubtedly be declared the true church and be given the property. If there is reconciliation and the congregation all decide to leave together they face a daunting situation. With the new policy they will need to run a gauntlet of control and expense. For example the presbytery can hire a lawyer and the church, a very small church, will have to pay for the lawyer.

The need to control is the outward problem with the dismissal policy but there is a deeper problem, an unspoken problem. Today we had several teaching elders and some of their ruling elders speak on a panel about how they were dealing with the diversity in their congregations and the issues the denomination is facing today. It was almost as though they were showing us how we could ignore the elephant in the room. But the elephant is still sitting there and many members of Sacramento’s presbytery want those who are concerned about the elephant to stop caring.

Ten churches have already left the presbytery. Three, including Burney, are in discernment. This exodus really does spell defeat for an agenda that some wanted the whole church to embrace. The agenda was to bypass Scriptures and Confession and have the whole denomination embrace a cultural mandate to lift up unbiblical sexuality. In this case sexuality has turned into totalitarianism because churches are being forced to either ignore what they believe is sin or pay a huge penalty for the sake of their faith.

The many churches leaving in an attempt to be faithful to the authority of God’s word are a judgment on an agenda that has nothing to do with obedience to the Lord of the Church. It is the powers of darkness, which Paul speaks of in Ephesians, who are influencing the misery that some churches now face. And yet, still, Jesus is Lord of his Church, He is with us in the midst of uncertainty and sorrow.  To use Karl Barth’s German (Luther’s) translation of Psalm xlvi. 5: “Still,” it is said, “still, shall the City of God abide, lusty beside her tiny stream.”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A new dismissal policy for Sacramento Presbytery?

Sacramento Presbytery, my presbytery, will be voting on a new dismissal document at the next presbytery meeting. You can read the policy here: Gracious Dismissal Policy Review Task Force- Proposed Policy. This change comes just as three more churches in the presbytery are in the midst of discernment. The policy is supposedly meant to bring the dismissal policy up to date with the most recent church court cases. For that reason the writers of the document cite, “Tom v Presbytery of San Francisco, GAPJC (General Assembly 30 Permanent Judicial Commission) Remedial Case 221-03 (2012).” [1]

But I think this dismissal policy goes much further than anything intended by the remedial case. As I read the policy that will be voted on at the next presbytery meeting, May 14, I had a question which hopefully my readers can answer. Does anyone’s presbytery have a policy that is like this policy or is this something new? I will highlight some of what I think is important.

Property is a big part, of course.  Here is what it says about the property of a church that is leaving

“Care for Property

 Within the important constraints set out below, and as long as it recognizes its fiduciary obligation to the entire denomination codified in G-27 4.0203 "The Trust Clause" and G-4.0207, Presbytery may permit options in dealing with PC(U.S.A.) property being used by a Congregation. These 1 options include:  (1) retaining the property for those members of the Congregation who wish to remain in the PC(U.S.A.); (2) leasing the property to the departing Congregation; (3) selling the property to the departing congregation; (4) leasing the property to the departing Congregation with an option to buy; (5) selling the property to a third party. The choice of which option to offer shall be made according to which option is in the best interest of the PC(U.S.A.) in consultation with Presbytery's Congregational Support Ministry Team or its successor.”

As a writer and in a culture which has lately been concerned with the issues of freedom of the press and freedom of religion I was very surprised at the new policy’s rules for the media. The dismissal policy states:

“Concurrently with the appointment of the PET [Presbytery Engagement Team], the chair of COM shall advise the pastors and Session as well as the Moderator that the General Presbyter or Stated Clerk will serve as the sole spokesperson with all media agents throughout the process. Any exceptions to this policy shall be approved by the Stated Clerk or General Presbyter in consultation with members of the COM and Presbytery Council.”

And then there is the control of meetings which has been a joint project between the Presbytery Discernment Team and the Session of the church. Part of the policy states:

“If the vote of the Session is to continue the process, then the PET and the Session shall jointly decide on a procedure for taking the matter to the entire Congregation.  The congregational meetings, moderated by PET, shall review the earlier PET meetings, explain the options, and discuss the process to date. The PET shall determine how many meetings will be necessary.”

There is a lot more but this is enough to answer the question about other presbyteries’ policies. Does your presbytery have a policy that in any way resembles this one? If you were voting on this how would you amend it?


[1] The GA Junkie has an excellent article on Tom versus San Francisco Presbytery.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Panentheism, extreme preterism, evolving spirituality, emergents moving into the new age

Picture by Melissa Tregilgas
Part of the Emergent movement is developing a “new age” worldview through Doug Pagitt, founder of Solomon’s Porch, Riley O’Brien Powell, theologian-in-residence of Solomon’s Porch and Doug King president of The troubling religious ideas intertwined with this movement include panentheism, a preterism that denies bodily resurrection and the second coming of Christ, and the idea that true spirituality is evolving beyond any form of any particular faith. I will look at each one of these ideas.

I connect Doug King to Pagitt and Powell because of their writing presence on King’s Presence site. Also their theological ideas feed into the ideology that King is presenting. The information I am providing comes from the Presence site, Powell’s blog, Living the Question, and Pagitt’s latest book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth that Changes Everything We Know About God.

Panentheism: Both in his book and in an article on Presence, Pagitt states that God is not a separate subject and that he is existence. In his web article, “Inside-Out God,” Pagitt writes:

“God is not a separate subject that we talk about or relate to through belief, behavior, faith, or practice. Much better than that, God is the very existence of all things. We are called to live congruently within the existence that holds all things together. This notion resonates with beauty, intrigue, majesty, and mystery.”

The quote is also in his book. Pagitt also refers to this same idea as everything being in God. Putting the two ideas together, being in God and God not being other but instead being existence is a description of panentheism. Unlike pantheism, panentheism does not hold that all of God is creation, but that a part of God is creation. God is to creation as the head is to the body. This idea too often leads to other unbiblical ideas about what Christian faith involves. This is so with Pagitt’s ideas. He rejects the idea of sacrifice in Christianity and teaches that all people since they are in God are already connected to God.

Pagitt rejects any kind of religion that requires what he calls an adapter, that is, something (such as an idol or good works) or somebody to connect another to God.  Jesus rather than being the mediator between God and humanity becomes an example of humanity in God. While it is important to understand that there is no goodness of our own and certainly no idol that can connect us to God, we are all in need of an adapter, that is, Jesus Christ the redeemer.

Unable to see the symbol of redemption found in the story of Abraham taking his son to the mountain to sacrifice him to God, Pagitt believes that the first command came from the Canaanite gods whom he calls Elohim. Yahweh came to the rescue, calling off the sacrifice.

Panentheism also leads to pluralism, the idea that all faiths are valid. Pagitt writes:

“With the life of faith, one often feels that committing to one tradition requires closing our eyes to all the stories and ways of others.

That is another reason why the understanding of our Life in God is so powerful. We find crucial connections where nothing is left out and no one is left behind. It is a faith that beckons us to the big, open story of God.” (p146) (Pagitt always capitalizes “Life in God.”)

Full Preterism: Full preterism has never been endorsed by the Church, neither in its confessions or councils. It is not only the idea that Jesus came in judgement in 70AD, doing away with the Jewish Temple, but also that event includes the second coming of Christ and the resurrection. According to the teaching of full preterism there is no bodily resurrection.

Powell, both in articles on Presence, “The Coming of God- War and Peace,” and her own blog, “What is a “Coming of God?”, promotes full Preterism. Among those who she notes hold this view is R.C. Sproul, but Sproul does not hold to full preterism. He does not reject the bodily resurrection nor the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time. Powell’s idea of the Kingdom of God, does not fall far from the utopias envisioned by new age leaders—it is human centered. She writes:

“The empowerment in this message is that we can be a part of God’s story of renewal and rebirth in the world. God has chosen to work through us in the world, as co-creators of a Great Kingdom.”

She adds:

“Jesus’ coming, therefore, is not something that is going to happen “to us” in the future. Rather, Jesus’ life, light, love and presence – revealing God as our All-in-all Source – is coming into the world – through us, in us, and as us.”

In our contemporary world, recently filled with so much tribulation, full preterism offers little hope.

Evolving spirituality: King steps beyond Powell and Pagitt suggesting that the world’s faiths are evolving beyond themselves. In his article, “The Spiral Axis of Interspirituality: Evolving Beyond Religion,” King writes, “Simply put, the evidence has become overwhelming: Religion is evolving, and is now poised for an evolutionary leap – transcending religion itself. Tracing what he believes is the evolution of religion in general and Christianity in particular King believes humanity will move into a formless spirituality. He asks a question:

“Presence supports both interfaith and interspiritual discussions and fellowships as a beautiful movement from the violence, prejudice and even hatred that is the shadow of our shared religious past. Even so, we ask: “What would identity look like in a truly Integral setting, where all humans are simply spiritual offspring of that which we understand as God?””

So called Christian organizations cannot move away from the central teachings of Christianity, the Scripture, the apostolic witness, the confessions of the church and continue on as Christian. None of this is new, it is as ancient as the serpent’s words to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Leaving behind the biblical understanding of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, the resurrection of the body and the second coming of Christ empties any institution of the life giving power of God’s work, promises and hope. We desperately need the righteousness of Christ, the redeeming and transforming power of the resurrection, the final and absolute revelation of God’s living Word and written word. May God preserve his people in the midst of such blatant heresy.  


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday

Today is Holy Saturday A day to think about the crucifixion and what that means for us as his children and what it means for the world. Walk softly today and think of our Savior:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Juggernaut against religious freedom & the Stated Clerk of the PC (U.S.A.)

Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons,’ communication about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, published on the Presbyterian News Service reinforced my belief that a damaging cultural storm is pushing aside safety mechanisms that Christianity, as well as other faiths, enjoy in the United States. A mainline denomination with secular media and big businesses behind it all bearing down on freedom of religion reminds me of a juggernaut. As Merriam-Webster puts it:

“… a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path …”

And because progressive religion is attaching itself to the secular, the origin of the word, which is religious, fits perfectly. Webster states this: “Hindi Jagannāth, literally, lord of the world, title of Vishnu,” while Encyclopædia Britannica expands it to explain about the festivals of the god:

“… The image is placed in a wagon so heavy that the efforts of hundreds of devotees are required to move it, and it is dragged through deep sand to the country house of the god. The journey takes several days, and thousands of pilgrims participate. Reports of these processions in the past have been much exaggerated, although accidents are common and occasionally a frenzied pilgrim attempts to throw himself under the wagon. The English word juggernaut, with its connotation of a force crushing whatever is in its path, is derived from this festival.”

Parson’s posting, “PC(USA) anxiously awaits proposed revision to Indiana RFRA law,” picks up the false assumptions secular media keep reporting. For instance, he writes, “We are deeply alarmed about the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) recently signed into law by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, and are concerned that its current wording could provide a legal excuse for individuals and corporations to use religious conviction as a reason to discriminate.”

There are so many cases of Christian florists, bakers and photographers losing their livelihoods and vocations because they felt they could not participate in a same gender wedding and yet there have been no words of comfort coming from leadership in the PC (U.S.A.). No communication to those in the PC (U.S.A.) about remaining faithful to Scripture. No understanding that these artists and businesspeople did not discriminate but simply refused to be part of a ritual they believe to be sinful.  

How comforting it must be to be in a church where those who must take risks for the sake of Christ are nourished and prayed for by their shepherds even at the higher levels of the church. But instead there is a threat embedded in Parsons’ communication:

 “The PC (USA) affirms religious freedom and engages in ministry widely throughout the state of Indiana. Youth Triennium has been held for decades at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Over the next several weeks plans for the 2016 Triennium will be evaluated.” (Italics mine.)

PC (U.S.A.) pastors are already worried about being sued by same gender couples for refusing to perform same gender weddings. Their worry is that their presbyteries and other PC (U.S.A.) leaders will not defend them. The gods of sexuality are riding high on their festival wagons now, and politicians, big business, government officials, the media and progressive denominations are in the procession. The wheels are heavy and will grind the innocent beneath them. When sexual gods become the dominant idol their demands can and will overshadow all freedom.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) an apostate denomination

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. ("Should We Support Gay Marriage? No") Wolfhart Pannenberg

picture by Stephen Larson
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is now, with clarity, stepping beyond biblical Christianity by changing the Book of Order to allow for same gender marriage. In many other ways the denomination has turned her back on her own documents without changing them. She has allowed apostate ministers to teach her people heretical and damming doctrines. She has allowed her most precious gifts, her unborn children, to be killed. But none of this has entered into her constitution, the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order.

Now the Book of Order, in contradiction to the Book of Confessions and more importantly the Holy Scriptures, will contain a confirmation that is heretical. That is, that marriage can be defined as an institution that binds two people of the same sex. This pushes the PC (U.S.A.) into the historical groupings of those organizations that must be considered apostate.

Rather than standing with that Church which through the ages has been orthodox, faithful to the apostolic witness of Scripture, the PC (U.S.A.) stands with the Unitarian Universalist Church, the metaphysical churches of the 19th century, (which are still with us), the German Christians who placed a new revelation beside the biblical revelation, and all of those new and past, so called Christian religions, whose founders placed new revelation beside the biblical witness.

And this will not be the end of new revelation, new twisting of Scripture. When the door is open to darkness in the name of religion a deeper darkness occurs. If it was easy to put same gender marriage in the Book of Order in 2015 by 2016 it will be easier to push for the idea of pluralism to be placed in the Book of Order. That is, the idea that other religions are as efficacious toward salvation as Jesus’ life death and resurrection. The denomination already has officials who believe this.

The candle of the denomination is going out—it only burns in those who still hold tight to the biblical witness.


Friday, March 13, 2015

There will be blood: about Aric Clark's installation sermon for John Shuck

picture by Stephen Larson

In 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson produced the movie There Will be Blood. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, the movie begins with a man who is not blatantly evil but who in his quest for wealth and power becomes, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, that ‘monster’ who darkens our nightmares. There is no question—his obsession led to blood. I thought of the movie as I listened to teaching elder Aric Clark give the installation sermon for John Shuck at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton Oregon.

My thoughts were caused by the laughter when Clark spoke of John’s blogging about how the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not true. As Clark put it, “And of course he denied the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” There was interspersed in the service more denial, more laughter.

Now I suppose that there was something funny people were looking at as Clark preached. Someone referred to watching fades of pastors as Clark spoke. But for a Christian there is nothing funny about a pastor denying the resurrection. But perhaps the most troubling part of the sermon and the laughter is that generally a committee from the presbytery is formed to help with the installation. And generally that includes someone from the committee on ministry and the executive presbyter. Were there other people from other PC (U.S.A.) churches, teaching elders and ruling elders, who were there participating in the laughter?

And this is the main point of my posting—this is the probable future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The future of a denomination which allows the careless disregard of Christian teaching and leaves in leadership those who think it is all very funny is staggering with great speed into evil.  If one loves to make fun of the faithful, as this sermon does, and lifts up a non-believer as the epitome of faithfulness where can those who bear the righteousness of Jesus turn? Where can sinners (all of us) turn?

Clark uses the book of Job as a way of lifting up Shuck as someone who rightly scrutinizes faith. But no, Job questions God about why, since he has followed and obeyed the laws of God, he is suffering. He demands a hearing with God. None of this is disbelief. The book of Job carries some of the most fervent statements of faith in the whole sacred canon. And they aren’t just at the beginning or the end of the text, they are mixed in with the despair and questions.

Take for instance Shuck’s denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Here are Job’s words:

As for Me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take his stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God, whom my eyes will see and not another. (Job 19: 25-27)

Even in Job’s greatest despair, writing of death, in chapter 14, he asks and gives an answer:

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes. You will call, and I will answer you; you will long for the work of your hands. (14: 14-15)

Job’s great statement of faith, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” has not been spoken by Shuck. 

Is a whole presbytery complicit in making fun of the faith and will other presbyteries take this path because they now feel that it doesn’t matter what one believes? Striving for wealth and power (and the main character in There Will be Blood even attempts to use Christianity in his quest) leads to shattered broken lives and finally murder. Jesus speaks of the person (or a generation) who has had a demon cast out but is empty. He states that the demon will return bringing seven more demons more wicked then himself. Jesus states. “… and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” He goes on to say “That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

More doors keep opening to darkness and the Church must not laugh but weep, and pray and speak of the glories of Jesus Christ which are the redemptive purposes of God.