Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Biblical Women, Contemporary Christian Women: Finding Courage to Follow Christ: Part 2

The first time I heard some one equate the cross with child abuse was in Berkeley at the GTU class I wrote about earlier. It was a woman who stated that unchristian notion. So as I write on biblical women and contemporary Christian women I also want to look at some ways that Christ’s redemptive death on the cross intersects with the faith of women.

And going beyond that, but looking still at the cross of Christ, I want to explore the objection that some men have to women being in ministry because supposedly, according to the men, they can’t represent Christ since they are women.

As you will hopefully see, these thoughts will all merge together. I should add that I am going to reach back to early church history and forward to the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

Last year, during the celebration in the PCUSA of the ordaining of women as Deacons, Elders and Pastors, the Women’s Ministry Area as well as Presbyterian Women included the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in their list of honored women. Louisa M. Woosley was ordained in 1889 by the Nolin Presbytery in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. On the Women’s Area web site is an article about her, “
From Preacher in the Field to Mother in the Church: Reverend Louisa M. Woosley.”

What the article does not stress at all is Woosley’s very definite orthodoxy. Surprisingly in her little book Shall Woman Preach? Or The Question Answered, she uses a woman to emphasize her understanding of the crucifixion.

That text of terror, as some have called it, is the story of Jephthah and his daughter who ran to meet him after his victory against the Ammonites. Jephthah had vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came from the door of his house if God gave him the victory. The first to greet him was his daughter.

Woosley believed this story to be somewhat like the one of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac to God. (The difference of course is that it is God who called Abraham to obedience; Jephthah acted out of rashness.) But Isaac is a picture of Jesus who gives himself for the sins of humanity. And Woosley sees the daughter picturing the kind of obedience Jesus offered to the Father in his death. She writes:

"In the history of this heroic woman, who gave her life to vindicate her father’s words, we have vividly brought before our minds the promised redemption through Christ. God said that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. In the fulfillment of this promise, ‘we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.’ ‘He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ The sword which was the instrument of her death, reminds us that they came out against Christ with swords and with staves. He, too, invited the fatal blow: it came; he passed out and now appears in the presence of the Father for us. We have a faithful high priest, one that is easily ‘touched with the feelings of our infirmities.’"(39)

But going back much earlier is the slave girl Blandina. Eusebius tells her story in his Ecclesiastical History. Her story occurs in Gaul, and it is during a time of great persecution. Others around Blandina, including her mistress, were afraid that because of weakness she would deny her faith in the midst of torture. But Blandina proved to be a faithful witness.

After much torture and time in prison she is led into the arena with three other Christians. Eusebius writes of Blandina:

"Blandina, however, was bound and suspended on a stake, and thus exposed as food to the assaults of wild beasts, and as she thus appeared to hang after the manner of the cross, by her earnest prayers she infused much alacrity into the contending martyrs. For as they saw her in the contest, with the external eyes, through their sister, they contemplated Him that was crucified for them, to persuade those that believe in him, that every one who suffers for Christ, will for ever enjoy communion with the living God. " (176)

Faith in the redeeming death of Jesus Christ on the cross is in deed an essential doctrine of the Church. And women are not allowed to stand idly by either denying or ignoring this glorious truth. Rather they are called, as are men, to live out what it means to be a witness for Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Biblical Women, Contemporary Christian Women: Finding Courage to Follow Christ: Part 1

Picture by Derek McHenry
Most Christian women relate to biblical women as role models. For instance, to Deborah as a mother and judge in Israel or to Jehosheba who with foresight hid one of the sons of King Ahaziah away from his murderous grandmother. (Not that I know any murderous grandmothers). Because of Jehoseba's care Judah had a King who "did right in the sight of the Lord,"for at least a small time.

Or, what about Samson's mother? She is not named in Scripture, but she is used by God because of her commonsense. I think this is one of the funniest stories in the Old Testament and I am sure I have related it elsewhere in something I have written. But I will tell it again.

Samson's mother, before he was conceived, was alone and the Angel of the Lord came to her telling her she was to have a baby and he should be raised as a Nazirite. The Angel gave her instructions about how to raise the child. She informs her husband Manoah of the good news and the text gives the reader the feel that he felt slighted by the Lord. So he prays and asks the Lord to send the Angel to him so they would know how to raise the child.

So once again the Angel of the Lord comes to Manoah's wife while she is alone and she dutifully runs and gets her husband who proceeds to ask for instructions. The Angel of course repeats himself. Then Manoah's curiosity gets the better of him; he invites the Angel for dinner and also asks the Angel to reveal his name.

The Angel, instead of accepting the dinner invitation, tells Manoah to make a sacrifice to the Lord. And he asks Manoah this beautiful question. "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" In other words, "Manoah, don't you know who I am?"

When the Angel of the Lord ascends in the flame of the sacrifice Manoah suddenly realizes that this Angel is the Angel of the Lord, meaning he is a theophany, that is, a manifestation of God. So now Manoah is fearful and believes that both he and his wife will die. It is as though he has not heard a word that the Angel said.

It is the commonsense of his wife, and her faith, that saves the day and perhaps gives him courage. She tells Manoah, "If the Lord had desired to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would he have shown us all these things, nor would he have let us hear things like this at this time." (Judges 13:23)

Far better is how the Angel of the Lord's description of his name directs our attention to Isaiah 9:6:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

But now about some contemporary women of faith whose walk with Jesus Christ I find inspiring. One of them, Sophie Scholl, did not live beyond her twenties. A movie was produced about this young woman just last year, "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days."

Newly discovered documents and historical interviews provide the information for the movie which features members of "The White Rose," a group of students and academics who published papers against Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during that era. The main character Sophie Scholl is a Christian who intellectually and morally defeats her interrogator Robert Mohr with both her humanitarianism and her faith.

The director Marc Rothemund in an interview writes, "I admire her courage. She turned down the 'golden bridge' offered to her by the interrogation officer Robert Mohr--thus practically signing her own death sentence. I find this approach to death quite startling: how does such a life-affirming, positive minded young woman like Sophie Scholl come to terms with the fact that her life is being taken away from her? How does she find meaning in her death? And, of course, as an atheist I ask myself; Is it easier to face death as a believer?"

Another woman who showed faithful courage in the face of other's Utopian dreams is Irina Ratushinskaya. The Story of her experiences in a Soviet prison can be found in her book "Grey is the Color of Hope," published in 1988. She is a poet with beautiful soft but piercing poetry.

The charges against her were, "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." Many of her poems were written in prison and smuggled out on small pieces of paper. Here is the one that caught my attention.

"Believe Me"

Believe me, it was often thus:
In solitary cells, on winter nights
A sudden sense of joy and warmth
And a resounding note of love.
And then, unsleeping. I would know
A-huddle by an icy wall:
Someone is thinking of me now,
Petitioning the Lord for me.
My dear ones, thank you all
Who did not falter, who believed in us!
In the most fearful prison hour
We probably would not have passed
Through everything - from end to end,
Our heads held high, unbowed-
Without your valiant hearts
to light our path.
(Kiev, 10 Oct. 1986)
found in "Pencil Letter: Poems" ---
found at Ratushinskaya -

One other woman I want to write about is a contemporary historian who started one of the first Women's Studies departments in a university. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese founded the Institute for Women's Studies at Emory University.

Fox-Genovese became increasingly concerned about radical feminism's anti-life stance and it was partly this that drove her to Christ. Amazing the ways the wooing Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus Christ. She writes of her conversion to Jesus Christ via the Catholic faith in an article she wrote for First Things. The article is entitled A Conversion Story . In that story she writes:

"For practical purposes, I grew up a nonbelieving Christian. Wait a minute, you may fairly protest, is that not an oxymoron? How can a nonbeliever describe herself as Christian if faith constitutes the essence of Christianity? Time and again throughout the Gospels, Jesus evokes belief in himself and the Father who sent him as the only test or standard. Think of Martha at the time of Lazarus’ death: "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world" (John 10:27). And Martha is not alone. Time and again petitioners receive what they seek because Jesus fulfills their belief. As he tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 10:25-26). A Christian, by definition, is one who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior and, no less important, as Lord. Everything depends upon belief. "

For those interested one of her books on history is: "Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South," and another good book by her is "Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life: How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women."

My next posting I intend to look at other faithful Christian women including several in the Reformed tradition. But I will end this post with one more poem by Ratushinskaya:

The stars have flown, but we still dare wish.
A snowflake falls, no worse in size than a star.
Foretell us a miracle with a solemn childish faith,
Not in vain did the guest's bold hand burn you.

Then another rebelled and broke from the flock
And settled like a bird awkwardly on my shoulder.
It waits for the ineffable word, is slow to melt,
And I whisper hastily, stumblingly-
You know just what

Over us December bursts its banks.
It is brave as a Hussar, its generosity is without reproach.
But the winter is short,
But we are so eternally young
That the snows of all Russias are not enough for our wishes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Class in Berkeley, Redemptive Literature and J.R.R. Tolkien

I only took one class in Berkeley. It was through New College Berkeley which once was a part of the Graduate Theological Union and this class was a GTU class. Tragedy and Redemption in Literature, was taught by David Batstone, who is now Executive Editor of Sojourners magazine.

I enjoyed the class for several reasons. I traveled there every Thursday by train, often arriving late because trains are often late. But the trip was beautiful as the train traveled through the beautiful California countryside in the spring. Large white egrets could be seen in the wet grasslands and early planted rice fields which are always full of water. New foals ran in the spring green pastures with their mothers. At one point the train tracks hug the San Francisco Bay.

The class was filled with interesting people, writers, lawyers, hopeful Pastors to be, even a Catholic Priest. Batstone was/is a very good teacher and I enjoyed reading most of the books he assigned.

Still, several comments at the end of
Bill Crawford’s and my last posting started me thinking again about that class and about redemptive themes in literature. In our comments we were writing about being faithful to Jesus Christ and what that means. Toby Brown brought up J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And the conversation went on from there with Bayou writing:

“I'm reading The Organic Church right now and one of the great points he makes is that before the battle of Helms Deep Aragorn asks Théoden to ride with him into battle, instead Théoden chooses to go to Helms Deep - which is nearly overwhelmed and at the last moment as the last door is about to be crushed Aragorn asks him again ‘Will you ride with me?’ And as they do the rider in White appears with the Morning Star and rides to their salvation.”

With that last comment, about the rider in white with the Morning Star, I thought how this is a redemptive/transcendent theme piercing like the Incarnation into the world of humanity. But too much of what we read in the GTU class found its redemptive themes in only human experience. Nothing cut in from outside the material universe.

We did read some short stories by Flannery O’Conner, and she is always writing about the Incarnation. We read The Power and the Glory by Graham Green who writes with a sense of God’s redemptive movements. We even read Shusaku Endo’s The Samurai. A book in which the author places the terrible persecution of Christians in Japan in the seventeenth century into story form.

In that story Christ is pictured as the one who comes alongside of us. Yet Jesus Christ as coming King, ending history with his glorified, resurrected presence is not found in that excellent book. Jesus in his humanity without his identity as the One who is begotten of the Father is less than good news.

The other books we read failed in so many ways as far as offering a redemptive/transcendent theme that could truly touch our brokenness. Some were classics like Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, and some were new novels such as House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. But they were either set in a materialistic world, the Hurston book, or set in a materialistic world endued with a naturalistic occultism, the Allende book.

Another writer, Paule Marshall, author of The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, reverses many biblical themes as she under girds her novel with a kind of liberation ideology which is rooted in people. This story offers no transcendent Lord entering the material world in order to redeem humanity. Redemptive stories laced only with human experience give us nothing but unredeemed human experience.

For a Christian redemptive themes need to come from a place outside our reference point, out side of our humanity; they must reach down and take hold of our humanity. Like the Incarnation, God taking on humanity in order to lift us up to Him, the great exchange as Calvin and others have called it.

This is all to write that since I mentioned, in the comments section, Debbie Berkley’s article on The Lord Of the Rings but did not properly link to it, I want to do so now. I will give the reader a taste here:
"The times we live in

Near the beginning of the story, Gandalf, a wise and good wizard, is speaking with Frodo, a hobbit (a human-like creature, but only half our size.) Gandalf has just told Frodo some very distressing news about imminent danger to their world, Middle-earth.
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "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 us."I certainly feel the way Frodo does, about our world today! For example, I'm sure we all wish that the events of September 11 had never happened. I wish that the issue of gay marriage were not being pushed in our society. I wish that Christianity were respected in our society the way it used to be, so that, at my very secular workplace, for instance, I didn't have to be constantly on the defensive as a Christian. There are so many things that I wish need not have happened in my time. "
The Article What I Found in The Lord of the Rings by Deborah Milam Berkley

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Leaving or Staying? Responding to faithlessness in the PCUSA: Part 3

This is part three of a three part conversation between Viola Larson and Bill Crawford. It is being posted on my blog, Naming His Grace, but will be linked to at Bayou Christian Blog.

On Bill's part - a discussion about something theoretical. No part of this document should be considered in anyway as a declaration of final intent, or renunciation of jurisdiction.

“What hope for the Future?”

Viola: Bill is right don’t burn your bridges Journeyers. Recently in a conversation with a friend we talked about how one of the Reformed Churches which was extremely conservative not many years ago now has activists pushing the homosexual agenda within their church. Additionally, I believe that pluralism has this culture in such a grip that in the future every orthodox Christian will be affected by the cultures intolerance toward the Lordship of Christ.

Unless God intervenes, all of the cultural problems that are tormenting Christians in the Presbyterian Church USA will enter the safety you are seeking. You may once again need the experience, materials and clarity the renewal groups possess. And we just might need your journeying experience. While you still and always need our fellowship, we most definitely need yours.

Sunday morning, as I reached for my Bible, I discovered that one of my daughters had placed a card in it. So along with devotions I had a beautiful picture, a photograph of a young girl eating breakfast while beside her stood a gigantic lion, also eating breakfast from a larger bowl. Although the card was not meant to be a Christian card, I could not miss the symbolism of the “Lion that is from the tribe of Judah,” who has overcome. And that verse in Revelation about Jesus dining with us in our relationship with him came to mind. (Rev 3:20) There is a fellowship that enfolds all who belong to Jesus Christ, and we are all little children having breakfast beside a great Lion who draws us into his circle of redemptive love. There, in the slain lamb and the kingly lion is our hope.

Bill: Vehicles for united mission already exist. The Presbyterian Layman is already geared to be ecumenical, as is Presbyterians Renewal Ministries International. I believe both PFR and the Coalition could be revamped rapidly to straddle a multi denominational structure. It is also foundational to the current vision of the New Wineskins Association of Churches to straddle both realities – Remaining (Standing or Leaving (Journeying) Faithfully. We must face the reality that the target is small and unless the Spirit guides us we will not hit the mark.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Leaving or Staying? Responding to faithlessness in the PCUSA: Part 2

This is part two of a three part conversation between Viola Larson and Bill Crawford. It is being posted on my blog, Naming His Grace, but will be linked to at Bayou Christian Blog. Our third posting with address the question “What hope for the Future?”

Again this is - on Bill's part - a discussion about something theoretical. No part of this document should be considered in anyway as a declaration of final intent, or renunciation of jurisdiction.

"How do we go about upholding one another?"

Bill: Anyone who really knows Viola (I must confess that I do only through her writings and mutual acquaintances) believes she is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. I would find it a little presumptuous for someone like me to suggest a manner in which I could “uphold” her. None the less this is our call as Christians. I have found it important in this journey to try to avoid judging the faithfulness of others on any side of this debate (I can name about 5 sides at this time!). Ultimately the best way that we can uphold one another is to release our institutional bonds upon one another and seek to maintain our relational bonds.

Ultimately those who will finally Journey separately from the PCUSA are at the mercy of those who will stay. If those who are journeying are in the grip of a Call from God then it is for those who stay to have the ultimate power to release with or without acrimony. Journeyers can only remain in relationship with those who remain if they choose to allow journeyers to do so. Like all relationships freedom is a prerequisite. It is a function of our current state of affairs that I have already had to discuss with my wife the possibility of our unemployment. Many who will stay think we are off having a jolly time tilting at windmills, they would do well to appreciate the danger we face as a result of our conviction to follow Christ. We may journey with joy but it is also with dutiful purpose.

Conversely for those who leave there needs to be great care. To take a Journey one must have a desire, and if any stand in the way of that desire they often become viewed as an obstacle. Obstacles are usually removed, gone around, or gone over. I am still not sure how we will negotiate this matter. How do journeyers state their need for holiness and their conviction of the presence of apostasy without offending the sensibilities of those that are left behind? I believe at this time the only hope is to endeavor to try. I will be honest here; as I have been with Viola, I am beginning to believe that the “more” faithful option looks like it might be leaving (O the times we live in). If the journeyer can avoid burning bridges, and shooting the wounded then they will have been faithful to the hope for ongoing relationship.

Viola: Now, I am wondering if I should come up with a different adjective for those who stay): Perhaps “standers,” or “non-journeyers,” or maybe even “walk aloners.” I do respect Bill and I am encouraged by what he writes on his blog, besides anyone who fishes among alligators should be respected. But kidding aside, I believe that, after all, this may be the hardest part of this writing project. Asking those who stay to release the institutional bonds of those who journey as a means of upholding journeyers is in some ways asking them to perform an unfeasible task. The reason is simply because we are part of an institution that includes all shapes, sizes and shades of Presbyterians.

Presbytery Council Committees are not made up of just the orthodox reformed but they include a host of others including Progressives. Certainly, I do believe that the orthodox in the church, who are staying, need to make it as easy as possible, if they are able, for those who truly desire to leave and affiliate with another Reformed body to keep their property. Questions about keeping vows aside, God calls us to peace and not to constant turmoil.

Beyond releasing the other to another part of the body of Christ, treating each other with dignity and respect as brothers and sisters in Christ is very important. But, I believe the most important aspect of upholding each other is seeing the other in relationship to Jesus Christ. I cannot call the other person unfaithful if I see them following the call of Jesus Christ, while upholding the faith of the church universal, whether standing or journeying.

I like this statement by Bill, “Like all relationships freedom is a prerequisite.” It sounds like Bonhoeffer. Although Bonhoeffer is writing of living in a Christian community, I believe his words apply to the relationship between those who stay and those who leave. “Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes. This is the preposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ.” (Life Together 36)

If others lose their positions, property and future hopes in the midst of following Christ I as a member of the body am called to suffer with them. If others are insulted, isolated and refused positions in their faithfulness to Christ, within a church with a mostly liberal, progressive leadership I as a member of the body of Christ am called to suffer with them. The first set of problems might call for financial assistance, a bag of groceries or a word of encouragement. The second set of problems would certainly call for a private word of encouragement as well as Christian fellowship.

We simply must uphold each other in Christian fellowship.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Leaving or Staying? Responding to faithlessness in the PCUSA

This is the first part of a three part conversation between Viola Larson and Bill Crawford. It is being posted on my blog, Naming His Grace, but will be linked to at Bayou Christian Blog.

Viola: A fellow Christian, Renee, on Bayou Christian’s blog suggested that Pastor Bill Crawford and I write something together about leaving or staying in the Presbyterian Church USA. We thought about it, prayed about it and decided to give it a try. Since we are generally in agreement over the essentials of the Christian faith, (and not afraid or ashamed to name the essentials) and since we are in disagreement over other issues, we thought our conversation might be both helpful and interesting. We are looking at two questions: “What does faithfulness look like” and “How do we go about upholding one another?”

Bill: It is a sign of the times that I must first make this statement: I have made no official decision regarding affiliation nor has my congregation had any official conversations regarding the matter. The need to make that statement is one of the many issues that affect faithfulness at this time in the life of the institution called the PC (USA). My final year of seminary, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a month in Scotland, where I made a practice of studying every pile of rocks and or bricks I could find, many of which were the remains of Churches destroyed during the Presbyterian Reformation. Why the violence? Because to leave something so important behind, there must be good reason and there most be enough social energy to gather breakaway momentum. It has always been more difficult to make the case that there is “a better way” than the case that “this is the only way” other wise our instinct to just live with it kicks in.

"What does faithfulness look like?"

Viola: I know this will be the question we have the most disagreement over. I think it is in fact what is driving the whole issue. I think biblically it revolves around the Lordship of Christ. We each want to look at the other and justify our own action but only in Christ can we find any kind of justification for any action we take. It is toward Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ that we stand or fall.

First of all, I think I understand that those leaving are leaving because they feel it is the only faithful thing they can do. They believe that the Presbyterian Church USA has become so apostate that to stay and support it is unfaithful. I suspect others are leaving because they simply feel called to leave.

On the other side, the place where I stand, many believe that the Presbyterian Church USA can not yet be considered apostate and would not be until their official documents contain absolute heresy. And here too, some of us are staying simply because we feel called to stay. But the main problem I have is with the attitudes the different sides have toward each other. That is actually the main reason I wanted to explore these issues with Bill.

I don’t think it right when those staying malign those leaving. I know there is despair and a feeling of abandonment on the side of those staying, yet the Church is God’s Church and certainly He has not abandoned any part of His Church. I don’t think it right when those leaving malign those staying. I know there is a feeling of despair and weariness of the battle on the part of those leaving yet the Church catholic is God’s Church and he will not abandon any part of His Church.

“Blessed be the God and Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ (2 Cor. 1:3-5).”

Still, I need to lay out what I believe is a biblical view of faithfulness. I believe faithfulness usually looks like an argument and the argument always entails, for the Christian, obedience to the Lordship of Christ.

The arguments are sometimes personal such as Paul and Barnabas’s argument over John Mark. (Acts 15: 36-40) (This, by the way, led to a greater mission field and more workers in the Kingdom of God.)

Another kind of faithfulness involves Church government. For example the Jerusalem Council making a decision about God’s grace to the Gentiles and what it means for both them and the Church since God included them in his promises.

Their faithfulness lies in their use of scripture to make the decisions and their use of church authority as a means of carrying out church directives. (Acts 15:1630) Both those in authority and authoritative letters were sent to enforce the decision.

In this case faithfulness can also be seen in the work of Paul and others who presented the true gospel to the Gentiles. But, there is unfaithfulness too. The “brethren” who go about preaching a different gospel to the churches which Paul founded and the Church leaders who seemingly do not discipline the disruptive brethren are unfaithful. And historically those early churches infected by a graceless and perverted gospel did eventually die.

And then there is the kind of faithfulness that confronts an argument and simply stands still in faithfulness, insisting on the truth of the Gospel. (Eph 6:13) This is the church to which John is writing his first epistle. The church was confronted by some early forbearer of Gnosticism which denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. The false teachers in this church were also undoubtedly teaching that Jesus was not the Christ and that they had some greater or “new” knowledge that the others did not possess.

From the text we get the feel of Christians who were harassed because they stood their ground about the identity of Jesus Christ and who they were in him. The members, as they stood, watched their numbers dwindle, but were reassured by John that, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us; they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)

And before anyone jumps on this verse and measures departing Presbyterians with it, let me remind the reader that those leaving in this text were undoubtedly returning to a culture that would gladly receive them, a culture which honored “enlightened belief systems” but excluded early Christianity because of its exclusive claims about Jesus Christ. These false members were joining an array of inclusive and pluralistic religious groups. To stay would have meant suffering with the church that existed at the time.

My point here is that there is a time for a faith that simply stands and lets God work out the details. One of my favorite preachers, Dr. Darrell Johnson, Professor at Regent College in Vancouver, tells of the time, shortly after he became a Christian, when walking home with his best friend, the friend gave him a choice. He must either renounce his faith or continue his walk home alone. He soon found himself walking alone while his friend took a different route. He said that was the loneliest walk he ever took but Jesus was with him. Faithfulness simply means following Jesus Christ which entails his Lordship.

And to end my part, I think that the viewpoint piece, “I am going to leave the PC(USA)But possibly not before my death...” written by Hans Cornelder of Presbyweb is still the best reminder of why many of us intend to stay in the Presbyterian Church USA.

Bill: I have the advantage of Viola having written first, therefore let me say an amen and restate her warning – affirming those who will stay while making a case for faithfully leaving this institution is as difficult as trying to fly between the ground and the fog. Whenever one makes a case, no matter how hypothetical, for leaving, those who would stay are criticized.

We all agree that the Bible must be our source for defining faithfulness. The witness of the Bible is clearly one of God’s faithfulness and humanity’s unfaithfulness. Also we can clearly see there is not one reference to what we today call denominations in the Bible. They did not exist until much later in history. The first important premise in considering faithfulness is to make a clear distinction between “The Church” and the “Institutional Church”. This distinction is at the heart of anyone considering “Leaving Faithfully” (I should note that many if not most who consider “leaving” reject that word – most would say “returning” or “journeying”).

A person who considers Journeying is likely to begin with the question of Holiness:
Leviticus 11:45 45 I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

The debate over apostasy is incredibly complex. Many in the PCUSA assure us that there are no changes and that in our written documents there is Orthodoxy. This is true to a point. Many who have begun a journey are learning that words in our written documents do not mean the same thing to many of us. The Bible being “Authoritative” has proven not to mean the same thing as “Infallible”. We are also discovering that “Paper Orthodoxy” does not lead to” Orthodox Praxis”. I became all to aware in seminary that the words we use even the most common theological terms often do not have the same meaning. When the definitions of words depart from the Word, they become like the houses on my beloved gulf coast. Hollow shells that are full of emptiness. Paper Orthodoxy cannot preserve us.

Classic reformed theology states that the Church is represented where the Word is rightly proclaimed, where the Sacraments are rightly performed, and where Discipline is rightly practiced. The PCUSA clearly strikes out on two of those three. So in the classic sense there is no holiness. Therefore if we are not in a state of clear apostasy in one simple matter we are certainly suffering an “apostasy of a thousand cuts.”

So then one who is Journeying begins to ask, “If we are not holy as an institution must I remain as a faithful remnant?” If we accept the premise that the True Church exists where God calls it into being, then we acknowledge that the PCUSA is not the True Church (although it surely contains members of that Church). If the PCUSA is not the True Church (or the nation of Israel) then remnant theology does not apply. Journeyers would likely apply texts such as this to our situation:

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." 17 "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." 18 "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

Classically the idea was for the Church to come out of the World. Other scriptures refer to the pushing out of those who reject God to allow them to receive the admonishment of the World in their lives (see the Letter of Jude). But what is one who is Journeying to do when the leadership of the institution is Worldly? How do you separate from a systemic breakdown of belief and practice? For over 30 years the renewal movement has attempted to follow this mandate and failed.

Matthew 28:19-20 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

For those who are journeying (and likely all others) this is the most important mission of the Church. They are discovering that the institution (PCUSA) is a hindrance in this pursuit. Their congregations are losing members, people are refusing to join them because of their institutional affiliation, they are distracted from sharing their faith locally. To remain and be holy is to continue to dispute but to leave is to let go and pursue the better thing. This journey is perceived as a calling of God as much as a response to facts that can be listed on a page. As they gird themselves for the trip, journeyers are beginning a transition from the dispute to the “new thing”. Whether one group or the other is the “True Church” really becomes an abstraction, as journeyers are growing more excited about the concreteness of a New Journey than the reason for starting the trip.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Faith & Theology on God as Father:

A wonderful post on the "Father" at "Faith & Theolgy, A very short dogmatics: eight theses. There is also a comment, a quote from Barth on the Father that is so very good.