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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Talking about Jesus, or not?


Recently the Laymen posted an article, “Moderator Rada, May I introduce you to the Rev. John Shuck?” The Moderator had stated at a Presbyterian Mission Agency board meeting that all teaching elders must vow to accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God. Speaking of the biblical and confessional doctrine that Jesus is the sole Lord and Savior, Rada stated:

“One cannot join a church in our denomination without answering the question in the affirmative that she or he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you do not, you cannot be a member in our churches. And I have not met one single person—member or officer of our church—who does not believe that as truth. There has been a campaign of hate and divisiveness built against us. And it is not a true reflection of our particular body of Christ.”

The Layman pointed out that the Rev. John Shuck does not believe in any of the biblical truths of Christianity; he does not even believe in a personal God. I want to add to this because I believe many in the denomination are totally unaware of the growing apostasy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Scripture and the Confessions may proclaim the Christian faith, but a growing body of people within the denomination are allowed to uphold unbiblical views. Without discipline and censure it simply does not matter what the Confessions and Scriptures say.

In 2012, teaching elder Landon Whitsitt, who was vice moderator of General Assembly at the time, was visiting various presbyteries, speaking about a book he had written, Open Source Church the Wisdom of All. Videos were made of his talks and in the last video he stated, “Just because God has called you into relationship through the work and person of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean everybody has to be in relationship with God through the work and person of Jesus Christ.”

I wrote about the videos at, “Landon Whitsitt, Open Source Christianity and the sovereignty of God.” I stated that Whitsitt was a universalist. He read the article and on Twitter, in conversation with me, said no, he was not a universalist but a pluralist. Whitsitt pointed me to a Wikipedia article which explained that pluralists believe that one can be saved without Jesus’ salvation. (See also http://landonwhitsitt.com/2012/02/08/good-theology-bad-theology/ by Whitsitt.)

One teaching elder who envisions God in female terms and rejects most biblical doctrine and ethics, is Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters. Desiring a god/ess that changes as humans change, Peters contends that:

“An unchanging God generates self-blame and feelings of abandonment in the face of the changing imperfect world. In contrast, a God/ess open to change is consist with images of divine partnership with humankind, working together in the ongoing process of co-creation.”[1]

Peters, using her theological meanderings, passes by Jesus and sees female sexuality as a revelation of god/ess’ attributes. This bolsters her advocacy for LGBTQ sexuality as well as sex outside of marriage.

Teaching elder Aric Clark, more a universalist than a pluralist, nonetheless applauded John Shuck’s unbelief as he preached the installation sermon for his term at  Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton Oregon.

The list is endless. There is Presbyterian, Dr. Eugene March, whose pluralist book The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity was studied by some members of the General Assembly Council during their 2005 meeting. It was meant for everyone but because of some protest its use was limited.

In the recent Sacramento Presbytery meeting we sang a song (I and some others didn’t) by Miriam Therese Winter. It was in the old blue Presbyterian hymnal. (Oh for a world-p 386.) The writer, who is Catholic, has written three books of liturgy for women which focus on women’ issues using female and goddess names for deity. In her book, Woman Wisdom, she has a poem asking about the name of the deity. Some of the verses are:

 I Am the Prehistoric Goddess/ I have many names and myriad manifestations.

Oh Prehistoric Goddess, reveal to us your names and myriad manifestations.[2]

The prayer goes on to name and pray to most of the known goddesses of ancient history as well as contemporary time. Not only is this blasphemous, it erases the very object of Christianity, Jesus Christ. He has no meaning in the context of pagan worship. As an example the song we sang began:

“O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways, where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.  O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved, where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.  We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice that opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.  The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise.”

The tune used is from “O for a Thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” That song is about Jesus:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

Winters replaced Jesus with humanity.

Moderator Rada and many others in the P. C. (U.S.A.) need to understand that eventually the Scriptures and the Confessions will have no meaning at all for those in the denomination who choose our postmodern culture.  A written text unembraced has no purpose or use in any organization. A living, divinely inspired text has life to give to those who embrace its words, because they are the words of God. Without the word of God both the individual and the church is dead. Over and over it needs to be spoken, “Jesus said to him. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)




[1] Rebecca Todd Peters, “Embracing God as Goddess.” Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love, editors Marvin M. Ellison & Sylvia Thorson-Smith, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press 2003), 165.
[2] Miriam Therese Winter, Woman Wisdom: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter: Women of the Scriptures: Part One (New York: Crossroad 1997) 299.

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 Presence.tv. 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: