Saturday, July 31, 2010

John Vest answers my questions and I reply

This posting is an answer to a posting that John Vest wrote as he answered some questions of mine. It may seem scattered if you do not go to his post and read it. See: Thoughts on Jesus and the Trinity

Thank you John,

You have given me a good day because I can delve into my favorite subjects Christology and the Trinity. You have also raised some important points about the humility of Jesus and how that relates to the Trinity. And another subject that I have noticed turning up often in post-modern Christian conversations is about the seeming lack of attention to the Holy Spirit.

I think that I would first start with the symbol of the Trinity that you have with your posting. In actuality the symbol contradicts your words about the Trinity and I believe that here is the beginning of misunderstanding. (And here I am writing about your thought that Jesus is ‘part’ of the Trinity.) The symbol is meant to show three things:
1. That God is One
2. That God is known in three distinct persons
3. That each person is fully God

The point here is that no person in the Trinity is a ‘part’ of the Trinity, but all are the Trinity, otherwise there are three gods. The other important point concerns your thought that each person of the Trinity relates to humanity in a different way. I believe that is turned around. Each person of the Trinity relates to each other in a different way, that is, the Father begets the Son, and the Son is begotten, while the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (That is the great distinctiveness of the Trinity.)

But toward humanity all, both one and three, are involved in creating; all are involved in the redemption of humanity. And all of that focus of both creation and redemption is on and through the Son. I am thinking here of Colossians 1:15-20. For instance all things hold together by the “beloved Son.” He made peace through the blood of his cross. All things are created through him and for him. Etc.

And what of YHWH? Is YHWH not both one and three? And isn’t each person fully the one God? So didn’t YHWH take on flesh? (I know that is a mystery.) But consider, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him …” (Col 1:19a) or “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him,” (John 1:18) which reinforces “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14)

Now about both the humility and the worship of Jesus Christ. It is certainly true that what we know of God we know through Jesus Christ. And Jesus was humble. But it is Jesus who defines that humbleness. He is the one who took the time to set little children on his lap and bless them. But he also chased the money changers out of the Temple with a whip. He called some people really bad names. And he allowed many to worship him, including Thomas and the woman who broke the jar of perfume and poured it over him. He did not discourage the children who shouted “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”

What he did do was turn worldly values upside down. Leaders were to be servants. Those who considered themselves sinners and turned to God were forgiven. Those who thought they were righteous because of their works were not forgiven. Little children were important. One should always take the low seat not the high and important one. Etc.

So it is how we see Jesus in the Biblical text that shows us how we are to understand God. As Thomas Torrance writes, there is no God behind Jesus Christ. And it is in worshipping Jesus that we worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is, as Dale Brunner writes, the shy member of the Trinity. He writes, referring to John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8f., 13f., “The work of the Holy Spirit is the honoring of Jesus Christ. The work of other spirits is the honoring of themselves or other realities. We are not necessarily in the presence of the Holy Spirit when we are in the presence of a great deal of talk about the Holy Spirit. But wherever a Church or a person centers thoughtfully … on honoring the person, teaching, and work of Jesus Christ, there, we may be quite sure, we are in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit’s work is the thoughtful honoring of Christ.”

Brunner goes on to point out that the other members of the Trinity are also shy; each one pointing to the other. But then he concludes by asking where we should focus our attention. Brunner points out that by doing a proper constant exegesis of the scripture using Jesus Christ as our focus we will always be Trinitarian.

For instance you mention Psalms as praise to God, and this is how Bonhoeffer, who did write about the humility of God, writes about one particular psalm: “The much –disputed Psalm 45 speaks of love to the Messianic King, of his beauty, his richness, his power. Upon marriage to this King the bride is said to forget her people and her father’s house (v. 10) and to pay homage to the King. For him alone she is said to adorn herself and to be led to him with joy. That is the song and prayer of the love between Jesus, the king, and his church which belongs to him.”

I realize I have gone on far too long. But just one more thought. Jesus is not just an expression of God’s revelation. He is God’s revelation.

[1] That is from a wonderful tiny book that Bonhoeffer wrote and published despite the fact that the Nazi government had told him not to. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Even the angels sing praise

For the weekend – a praise to the Lord.

“And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the Elders a lamb standing, as if slain …

And they sang a new song, saying,

'Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign over the earth.'

Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice.

'Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.'” (Rev 5:6, 9-12)

And so may we praise Him.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My thoughts on John Vest's thoughts

John Vest who wrote Jesus, Bloody Jesus at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, has now written a clarification on his first posting, Further Thoughts and Clarifications. I wrote about the first at A high Christology and will address his clarification with this posting.

Here are two understandings Vest has concerning Jesus with which I agree.

1. “Any Jesus that can be reduced to a soundbite, slogan, t-shirt, or four spiritual laws is neither Jesus nor God. That Jesus is an idol.”

2. “In general, I am critical of any portrayal of Jesus that presents him as a magical solution to all of life’s problems, as if believing in Jesus (or a particular set of doctrines about Jesus) makes everything in life okay.”

But, to me, those are simply straw men.

There are two things Vest believes which I think are right but incomplete and confused:

1. Vest believes the incarnation is not simple and that is true. And yet it is so simple that even a child can believe. A thing that is complex or even mysterious need not be difficult to comprehend. And for the Christian the Holy Spirit illuminates the heart and mind as they read and study scripture. Vest writes that the incarnation is so complex that it took “the church four centuries of convoluted theological and philosophical wordsmithing to develop a formulaic doctrine that most followers of Jesus still find confusing.”

The truth is the church did not take four centuries to develop the Nicene Creed. Rather the church affirmed, with the creed, what it had held as true for those four hundred years. And the beauty of that creed is such that a poet can delight in it. “We believe … in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made …”

2. Vest writes, “Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, God’s will, and God’s way for me. I follow God in the way of Jesus. I fully experience God in the way of Jesus.” Yes Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, but there is something more then following the way of Jesus. Instead Jesus is the way. Scripture as well as the Theological Declaration of Barmen states it:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14: 6) Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheep fold by the door but climbs in by another way that man is a thief and a robber … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10: 1,9)

It isn’t Jesus’ way we follow, although we do follow him. Instead we receive, by the invitation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the life that Jesus gives. We are united to him. And our very life is the life of Christ. As believers we have no life outside of Jesus. We don’t experience God because we follow a certain way, not even the way of Jesus. We experience God because in our adoption as children of God we are united with Christ and enter in to fellowship with the Trinity.

As the Westminster Confession states, "All saints being united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection and glory: ... "(6.146) And the Confession gives on to lay this as a foundation for our unity with one another. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our unity.

There are several things that Vest believes that I believe are simply wrong.

1. He writes that “there is something undeniably divine about the mystery of the incarnation and the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. But, I don’t believe that the incarnation is as simple as YHWH, the God of Israel, taking on human flesh and walking among us.”

There is, in fact, nothing divine about the ‘mystery’ of the incarnation. We do not worship a concept or an ideal, but rather a real person who is nonetheless God. He is the God who loved us so much that he condescended to take on human flesh in a particular place and time. He is the God who with real joy faced the cross for our broken humanity.

2. Vest writes, “There is a disconnect for me between the way Jesus lived and died in humility, servanthood, and weakness and the way he is exalted in worship in ways that would make a truly humble person uncomfortable at best. There is a disconnect for me in exchanging the worship of YHWH with the worship of Jesus, no matter how we conceptualize the incarnation.”

Through all of Vest’s writing I find a total disregard not only for high Christology but also for the Trinitarian view that is both biblical and creedal. Jesus Christ is not simply a humble human. He is that but he is also God. God the Father lays before us the glory and the joy of worshiping the Son. And the Bible presents this In such a way that we dishonor the Father when we fail to give glory to the Son:

“Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. For this reason God also highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)

It is in our worship of Jesus Christ that we worship the Trinity. It is through Christ that we know and our known in intimate relationship by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we deny that Jesus is God, the eternal Son we deny the Trinity as well as the incarnation.

There is so much more that could and undoubtedly should be said. Is the Bible a book of diverse theologies, as Vest puts it? He writes that it is “a richly diverse array of theologies and perspectives on God and how God interacts with humanity.” Perhaps, but the true unity of the Canon is Jesus Christ, from cover to cover. It is really only one story. The story of how God redeems his people through the incarnation, the life, death and resurrection of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A high Christology

Another blogger, John Vest, who blogs at John Vest: posts from the blog of an (un) tamed cynic, posted some good news about the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. Oh he didn’t mean it as good news, but it was.

Vest, who is a pastor, commented about how the Triennium had affected his Chicago youth. He wrote, “In general, the constant emphasis on Jesus in worship, music, and small groups was more than they are used to.”

CHURCHandWORLD is linked to Vest's blog.

Vest also stated,

“I was most troubled by the music during daily worship. The rock band was excellent. And overall, worship was very creative and was quite inclusive and in some (sometimes subtle) ways progressive. But the music and the music leaders used pretty much exclusively male language to talk about God. Most of the songs were more christocentric than theocentric, and usually really christocentric. There was a whole lot of what I began thinking of as “Jesus, bloody Jesus”: a high christology that was almost exclusively informed by a theology of bloody, sacrificial atonement.”

For those of us who love Jesus Christ that is very good news. As Paul states in 2 Cor. 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Out of his bloody death we have life and a calling to live for others.

Since it is God the Father who spoke from the mountain telling Jesus’ disciples to listen to his Son, our focus on Jesus Christ, as long as it is focused on Christ, and not ourselves, is obedience to the Father. The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also leads us to Jesus.

“He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify me for he will take of mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:14) The Christian does not neglect the Trinity when speaking of Jesus Christ.

The end of the eighth chapter of Romans sets Jesus up as a mighty haven enclosing the Christian, in the midst of every evil, in a love that will not fail. It is the love of the Father but given in the Son. Humanity does not experience such love without the “bloody sacrificial atonement.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Authority of Scripture, the Enneagram, and faithfulness

Is the tent too big or is it too deep? But this isn’t about people; instead it’s about the Christian faith. How do we know who Jesus is? How are we sure of our salvation and the righteousness Christ has given to us? How do we know that the work of Christ is sufficient? Where is our authority?

Our new Vice-Moderator, Rev. Landon Whitsitt, referring to Phyllis Tickle and her book, The Great Emergence, states “Sola Scriptoria is dead most places and dying rapidly in others.”[1] So the emerging and progressive side of the church will now, it seems, look in all directions for authority.

The sign of this is the various kinds of technique that leaders within the church offer as a means of meeting what seems to be lacking in the salvation Jesus provides. If proclamation is not grounded in the word of God, hell will provide its own version of authority.

For instance in an upcoming conference on church transformation posted on the PCUSA web site, 2010 Transformation Conference brochure, it seems the Enneagram might override the authority of Scripture The lady chosen to deal with spirituality, Suzanne Stabile, is the expert on the Enneagram. A video introduction can be heard here: Enneagram Intro or quickerIntro.

In the introduction she states that Paul, in his 7th chapter of Romans would have had an answer to why he could not do what he wished to do if he had known about the Enneagram. She also tells her new students that their introduction to the Enneagram will be equivalent to having children or “Jesus coming into your life.” She also speaks of the emerging church and states that we need “an added value that stands aside from all our differences.” For Stabile this is the Enneagram.

The Enneagram, in reality, has its roots in the occult and was first introduced by George Gurdjieff an occultist and founder of Esoteric Christianity. (Although many including Stabile consider it to be ancient there is no prove that it is.) The Ennagram filtered into the Catholic Church through the teaching of Chilean Oscar Ichazo, another occultist who developed, alongside others, a numbering system which supposedly applies to personalities. Father Robert Ochs trained with Ichazo as did others in the Catholic faith.[2]

I use this as an example, although I think this particular teaching in the church should be addressed. What can the orthodox in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do as they watch their faith be torn apart, the Holy Scriptures devalued and the morality of the Church dismissed as unimportant?

Only what Christians everywhere and in all times have done. Remain faithful to the Lord of the Church and the word of God. Keep proclaiming, teaching, praying and worshiping according to the apostolic witness of God’s word. That is, keep proclaiming that Jesus Christ died for our sins. Keep telling the good news that in our union with the resurrected Jesus we are adorned with his righteousness. His work is sufficient.

Keep insisting that the word of God written is the Bible. Sola Scriptoria: our authority.

In some cases faithfulness means participating in renewal work. But above all it means walking straight ahead on the path that Jesus Christ has chosen for each of us individually and together as his Church. Some will leave this denomination. That is the judgment God gives as he begins the work of blowing out the candles of the western mainline churches. (We can still repent and be renewed but that is God’s other business) Some, including me, will remain because God has called us to be faithful in this place.

Paul’s advice to Timothy comes as truth for now and a bit of a pun for our moment.

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn to myths” (2 Timothy 4: 1-4). (my italics.)

[1] See my posting Sweeping Church History: A review of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why
[2] An excellent article about the Enneagram is Tell me who I am O Enneagram by Mitchell Pacwa S.J.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Presbyterian Church USA's General Assembly Worship and everyone's opinion

More thoughts and information about the Presbyterian General Assembly Sunday Morning processional.. This is a shorter video from a different side of the room then the one I posted several days ago. There is another one with an eagle which I did not post.

Since I started the conversation I should probably add the additional information I have found. It seems that many have their own interpretation of the meaning of the procession of the 219 General Assembly’s Sunday worship.

And there are those who were elated by it such as the person who wrote a letter to the Editor of CHURCHandWORLD. Rev. Walter J Wilkins wrote, “It was the most powerful two hours of worship I have experienced. The opening hymn was "All Creatures of Our God and King" and what a way to sing it – with representatives of all God's creatures streaming into the place of worship.”

It seems that someone who posted on the Hudson Presbytery web site was also thrilled with the procession. And they had an interpretation although I don’t know if it is the correct one. They wrote:

“The service began with a Call to Worship and Processional that recalled the Native American history of this Land of 1,000 lakes. Dancers entered, representing the North, South, East, and West from which we come. A vibrant parade of characters then followed – giant puppets allowed the turtles and eagles, the deer and the butterflies to join in God’s praise, accompanied by huge depictions of Indian ancestors, welcoming us to their home.”

But then there is the program as well as the official interpretation of the liturgy of the service. However, they only speak slightly to the procession but it is interesting. I think I may have had the program but somehow lost it. It is on the web. 219th General Assembly (2010) Service of Opening Worship Excerpts. The first part of this states:

“Please rise in body or in spirit and turn slowly and carefully to the four directions, as indicated by the worship leaders.

We are called to worship this day in the tradition of my people, who, for generations, lived here, at the Big River where the prairie meets the woods. Please rise in body or spirit, and join us as we turn to the four directions of God’s creation.

Leader: Come, Holy Spirit, as we gather in your name. We turn to face East:
[We welcome the color of this direction – yellow for the morning star.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the eagle which soars ever upward in praise of God,
For your lessons calling us to balance of mind in discernment.
We pray for your spirit of illumination and far-sighted vision.]

…Help us to love you and one another with all our heart, mind, and soul, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face South:
[We welcome the color of this direction – red, the hue of revelation.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the turtle, close to the earth, and intuitive,
For your lessons calling us to balance of body in renewal.
We pray for your spirit of innocence, trust, and love.]

…Help us to open our eyes to the sacredness of every living thing, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face West:
[We welcome the color of this direction – black, still and quiet.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the bear, mighty and purposeful,
For your lessons calling us to balance of emotion in wisdom and honesty.
We pray for your spirit of introspection, for seeing within.]

…Give us your strength and the courage to endure, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face North:
[We welcome the color of this direction – white of clarity and brightness.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the buffalo, strong and nurturing.
For your lessons calling us to balance in harmony with brothers and sisters everywhere.
We pray for your spirit of wisdom and grace.]

…Give us the goodness of the ages, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to complete the circle and to look up:
[To God who cleanses the earth with snow, wind, and rain.
To Jesus Christ who fills us with the wideness of mercy and embraces us all, and to the Holy Spirit who inspires us.]

And then finally the interpretation of the liturgy:
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENING WORSHIP. These interpretations and the liturgy itself are, of course, by a committee. The opening interpretation is written by Elder Elona Street-stewart:

“The fresh awakening of that deeper memory begins with the voices of Elders Fern Cloud (Dakota) and Elona Street-Stewart ( Delaware Nanticoke) inviting the congregation to pray the church’s ancient cry “Come, Holy Spirit, Come!”

Although written long before the eco-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it now feels providential that the Committee chose to open worship with this cry – “Come, Holy Spirit, as we gather in your name” – expressed liturgically in the profound creational reverence of America’s First Peoples, by turning our bodies to face “the four directions” of Earth and to “complete the circle” by looking up “to God who cleanses the earth with snow, wind, and rain; to Jesus Christ who fills us with the wideness of mercy and embraces us all, and to the Holy Spirit who inspires us. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Come!’”

But perhaps the most provocative thoughts on this came from Paul Rack who blogs at Raxweblog:

"This is the Call to Worship that was used at the PCUSA General Assembly's Communion service on Sunday, 7/4/10. It is a version of the Native American "Blessing of the Four Directions," which has traditionally been part of the Medicine Wheel ritual. The actual performance involved processions from each of the directions, with large figures of the respective animal-spirits. It was very moving, in spite of the fact that it was in a very unconducive assembly hall. The text was not available at the full service, but I was able to obtain a copy from the Committee on Local Arrangements. I don't know who the author is, but it was given to me by someone named Elona Street-Stewart."

Perhaps that is why I was bothered by the interaction of the animals and the dancers.

Another thing that bothers me terribly in this particular document is the prayer of thanksgiving which is panentheism.

“Holy One, who holds us in the hollow of your hand, who holds us in the curve of a mother’s arm; whose flesh is the flesh of hills and hummingbirds and angleworms; whose skin is the leathered skin of an old Ojibwe Chief, and the smooth skin of a newborn babe; whose color is the color of the zebra and the brown bear and the green grass snake; whose hair is the aurora borealis, rainbows, nebulae, waterfalls and a spider’s web; whose eyes sometimes shine like the evening stars, and then like fireflies, and then again like an open wound; whose touch is the touch of life and the touch of death, whose name is everyone’s for a fleeting moment on the shore of time: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise

Perhaps if the word “is” had been changed to “like,” the prayer could have been more biblical. But as it stands it is not speaking to or of the biblical God who although caring, concerned with, and incarnated into the flesh of humanity is nonetheless not creation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Letter to the Board of Pensions: an addition

Addition: Although I plead for relief of conscience in this letter there is not any real way it can be provided, the only real option is to not use the tithes and offerings of church members to fund pensions and health care for same gender partners. See 18-06

Andy Browne,
Corporate Secretary
Board of Pensions,
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Dear Andy,

As an Elder in the Presbyterian Church I am deeply troubled by the changes that may come to congregations in our denomination. The recent General Assembly voted to urge the Board of Pensions (BOP) of the PC(USA) to:

". . . extend eligibility for spousal and dependent benefits under the Plan to Benefits Plan members, their same-gender domestic partners, and the children of their same-gender domestic partners, on the same basis as, and equivalent to, benefits made available to Benefits Plan members, their spouses, and the children of their spouses. "

That is troubling because the action, although not an absolute mandate for the BOP is still a possibility. And it carries two significant and weighty outcomes for congregations. The first has to do with the cost to congregations since the money used for this action will come from the offerings and tithes of the people. I am told that one commissioner, a pastor, walked out of the plenary hall when this overture passed, saying “I will have to find a new church because now my congregation will no longer be able to afford me.”

But the other outcome is even more problematic because it goes to the very heart of the freedom of the people of God not to offend their conscience in anything that is contrary to the word of God. As both the Book of Order and the Westminster Confession of Faith state:

"That ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.’" G-1.0301 (a) & 6.109

It is my prayer, and the prayers of many others that if you decide to be mandated by the GA you will find a better way to fund the extra pensions and if not you will provide a means of relief for those who wish to continue holding to the apostolic faith of the Universal Church.

But our greatest prayer is that you will not become involved in actions that contradict the words of Scripture, the Book of Order or the Confessions of the Church.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Viola Larson
Fremont Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Aslan and the Presbyterian Church USA's General Assembly

I did not attend the official worship service at General Assembly. Some of us gathered to sing songs about the Lord of the Church and someone did proclaim the word of God. I knew nothing about the official service until several people posted a video of the procession.

The person who posted the one I will post here discribed it as the Lion King meets the PCUSA. Perhaps an apt expression, because the Presbyterian Church USA will, must, face the Great Lion of Judah. But he does seem to be missing from the procession.

C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia celebrates the wonders of creation, the forests and valleys of Narnia and the huge variety of animals and creatures. But the creatures’ eyes are always searching into the shadows or looking to the tops of mountains or hearing rumors that Aslan the great lion is on the move.

But then sometimes the daughters of Eve and the sons of Adam try hard to avoid the Great Lion of Judah. But I heard a rumor ...

Here is the video:

And for those who have, in their sinfulness and need, been grabbed by that Great Lion:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Questions abound! GA, Israel/Palestine Mission Network & hate?

I am troubled. When I go to the General Assembly Mission Council page for groups and networks under World Mission Networks I find that the only listing for Israel and Palestine is the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, including all of their awful links.

Questions abound! Why did the IPMN bother to Twitter this bit of information. “Jewish leader in Egypt convicted of fraud 6:33 AM Jul 14th”? It’s not about Israel but about a small barely surviving group of Jews in Egypt. Sometimes I think that the people of the IPMN hate the Jewish people.

Another question. Why has IPMN’s linked to this article on James Wall’s blog.
“This is No Longer Your Daddy's Presbyterian Church (USA)” I dislike many things about this article but two in particular:

First, the article comes with a picture. The woman in the picture is a friend of mine. She is a pastor and she is always in prayer as you see her in the picture. In fact, there are several waitresses in Minneapolis who were surprised when she asked “When we say grace what may we pray about for you.” The picture is from the LA Times, and there the reporter pointed out that she was in prayer. But not Wall.

He is using the picture to suggest she is the parent who can no longer claim ownership of the PCUSA. Besides misusing someone’s picture just to make a point, Wall seems to forget that any Christian church or denomination belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Unless, of course they have kicked Jesus out and are following the enemy of their souls. But then he still has power over them.

Second, Wall glosses over the good editing done on the Middle East Study Committee’s report and hurries on to Item 08-09. That was the overture asking the GA to refer the two papers, "Christians & Jews, A People of God," and “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations”.

I wrote constantly about this overture because it included a paper from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network which stated that the Jewish organizations in the United States had threatened Louisville with a package which was possibly a bomb and had burned down a Church.
If commissioners wanted to refer the Jewish paper they should have voted 08-03 down and not passed 08-09.

The Muslim paper passed and it is far more troubling then the Jewish paper since in one paragraph it equates the Muslim god with our Christian God. I hope Wall is wrong when he writes, “What happened to the Jewish-Christian dialogue study paper is nothing less than an ecclesiastical tectonic shift in the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

Here is one more why question with a link and I believe it connects with my thought that IPMN hates the Jewish people. They hate them so much that they seem to hate those who sometimes speak for them.

Noushin Framke, the chair of the communications committee for IPMN, on her blog, which is connected to the IPMN site, writes of an organization I belong to. (This means that her blog is on the PCUSA site.) Her blogging is about the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace’s General Assembly breakfast:

“7 am breakfast at the "Presbyterians 4 Peace" event. This is a group with an Orwellian name - Why Orwellian? because they think working for peace means to stand in the middle and not take sides... meantime, everything they stand for makes for anything but peace ~ many of the people who had shown up expected the breakfast to be an IPMN event and they found out it was run by IPMN's opposition within the church. The purpose of the breakfast was to attack the MESC report and cmt."

I was at that breakfast with my husband. It was a wonderful event which brought a lot of clarity. The lady we sat beside was a commissioner. She was not pro Israel but she was there because she wanted the information. She knew where she was. A reporter sat behind us.

“Henderson of Auburn Sem spoke, then a J-Street rep, then Byron Shafer who was on the MESC cmt and i guess resigned in the end of the process?? not sure - maybe not - but he was the sole dissenting vote. Word is that the MESC bent over backwards to please him and he strung them along and then bailed on them at the end - nasty. Henderson and Shafer's pro-Israel propoganda [sic] was hard to sit through and they both had an air of lecturing from on high... and Henderson kept calling anyone who doesn't agree with her ‘partisan.’”

“Word is” is not very convincing- I would suggest that the reader go to the
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace site and listen to all of the speeches and find out what they really did say.

“the J street rep basically said that you presbyterians are great to work with but you need to NOT take strong positions (unless they are our positions) - and if you do, we will have to stop working with you - Is that a threat, i thought to myself, and the next thing i hear, the rep says "and i don't mean this as a threat, but...."

But what did Rachel Lerner, the Vice President of J Street, actually say:

“When I read this proposed study document I felt myself moving into a self-protective position. I was truly so disturbed by what I was reading unable to find a familiar or even a balanced narrative in these pages I found myself using language I don’t normally use clinging to defensive positions which surprised me to be honest ….

Every activist I talked to who read the "letter to our American Jewish Friends," the recommendations of the committee, the "Kairos Document," had the same reaction why would they do this, how could they do this, How can we work with them now?

This is to say that our grassroots who are standing up for justice in the Middle East who should be your partners who likely come down on so many issues and policies precisely where you do, who share your goals will not be able to work with you for peace if this document is adopted because this document will push them into a corner and force them into a defensive stance and I want to clear about this I do not mean this as a threat. If this report is passed we will not be issuing a directive to our locals that they cannot partner with Presbyterian Churches but with the passage of this study the Church will alienate us and as a result our actives will not want to work with you and this will damage terribly the possibility of a future relationship this would be a tragedy it would be a terrible shame not to have you at the table with us because we need you …”

This is a Jewish organization that wants an end to the Gaza blockade and an end to the settlements. If the Israel/Palestine Mission Network can listen to that being said and still put out such hateful speech-we still have very deep problems. Perhaps we need a new Presbyterian organization alongside IPMN dealing with peace in the Middle East. One that, as Byron Shafer says in his speech, will love both sides. And perhaps even love their fellow Presbyterians.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beginning at the End: GA, Confessing Christ against the darkness

Starting my GA experience from the end includes a train car full of Christian Reformed Church young people and their pastor heading to a youth conference in California.

The young people’s difference was immediately noticeable to me when I awoke in the morning. (We boarded at 11:30 PM and slept in our seats.) They weren’t spouting religious slogans or wearing WWJD bracelets, they just weren’t offensive with language or sexual innuendo. And they seemed to enjoy each others company without exclusion.

But as the morning evolved they each took out their Bibles and headed somewhere for worship or bible study. At the end of the trip as we neared Portland where we would change trains, the man setting in front of us, hearing our discussion, introduced himself as the pastor of the young people, and asked if we had just come from the Presbyterian General Assembly.
His concern was Belhar which the CRC is also in the process of attempting to adopt into their confessions. They also have a beginning battle over sexual standards. We talked a long time about Belhar and the growing decadence of our culture. As we finished the conversation and left the train I understood more clearly how large this battle is. This is certainly not a battle against flesh and blood, but a spiritual battle where some are being used by the enemy of our souls …

I noted in an early post that item [08-08]was introducing yet another confession into the PCUSA, the Accra Confession that is basically an economic document that slants towards socialism while caricaturing capitalism. While the General Assembly did amend the document to “encourage a study” in the churches and presbyteries and deleted the words “integrate and interpret,” this slight introduction is not unlike the first introduction of Belhar.

And they left intact this, “Request the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations to contact the coordinator for the Committee on Theological Education and seminary organizations to provide briefings on the new realities of WCRC/CANAAC, and to ask PC(USA) seminaries (including seminaries in covenant agreement with the General Assembly) to include the Accra Confession as a study document.”

Not only Belhar, which will be used in a non-confessional way to introduce sexual perversion into the Church, but also Accra is being promoted by huge ecumenical institutions which were meant to bring unity to the Church but will now bring harm. I say this because of all the various papers, conferences and organizations pushing this toward individual denominations and churches.

One of the lead up papers to Accra is “A Continuing Journey towards Confessing Movement for Economic Justice and Life on Earth (processus confessionis) 2001” This very long paper, which does contain some important thoughts, confuses orthodox & evangelical churches within the mainline denominations with the prosperity teaching of some Pentecostals. It equates evangelism with political propaganda.

And it also asks the church to create a space for the public and remember those who, "were dis-membered, marginalized and excluded by violence and exclusion in its various forms, and to strive for healing and justice, [which] requires us to stage protest against ongoing victimisation based on prevalent structures of class, gender, race, age,, dominating culture as in the case of Indigenous People and sexual orientation."

An important feature is how the paper has within it the connection between Belhar and Accra. It states:

"It is now time for the WARC to implement this decision [produce a confession that deals with economics] by getting its member churches involved in studying the Confession of Belhar ... in order to become an ecumenical confessing movement, facing the economic injustice and ecological destruction in word and deed and aiming at a common confession at the next General Council 2004 in Accra."

A series of article in the Reformed World, published by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches which is now, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, looks at many confessions and how they speak to economic and social Issues. One is written by Dr. Jane Dempsey Douglas, who also presented the recommendation of Belhar at GA. In the article she speaks of Calvin’s views on unity, community and social issues and ties this to Accra. She writes of Accra, “The solidarity of the human family and God’s special concern for the poor and for creation are emphasized as requiring resistance to an unjust economic order imposed by empire.”

Another author, Margit Ernst-Habib, a German theologian, writes of the Reformed Confessions. She looks at theology in general, but mainly examines many confessions including Barmen and Belhar, a Reformed Cuban Confession and Accra. The Cuban one is centered on humanity and social issues with this statement:

“The Scriptures teach us that salvation necessarily includes the emerging of a new fraternal solidarity that is made concrete in a ‘community of goods’ where ‘private property’ is abolished in order for all of us to be able to enjoy the goods produced.”

The point of many of these later confessions is their focus on praxis rather than confession. That is a focus on the action of believers rather than what they confess about Jesus Christ. But that misses the point of what a confession is, that is, the Church’s complete acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord. And it also leaves room for a misunderstanding of what it means to act in the name of Jesus Christ. That is why the Theological Confession of Barmen does not fit among these confessions although it occurred in some of the same contexts.

But to return to the train, the young people, the pastor and the mother and son I wrote about in my last posting are living examples of what a confession should be. Out of their confession of who Jesus Christ is, they act in the way God has called them in Jesus Christ. Confession comes first. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, obedience through grace given, this is the future of the Church. It does not deny the needs of the poor or the oppressed but it finds its footing in confessing the Lord of the Church even unto death.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beginning at the end; General Assembly

Sometimes I begin a book by reading the ending. I want to understand the author’s intent for the story so I look to the end where she has placed her character’s final destination. I am going to write about my experience and views of the Presbyterian 219th General Assembly by beginning with the end of my journey, my three day trip home on a train.

As almost every PCUSA member now knows the theme of this GA was "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38.) On our three day trip home, via the train, God allowed my husband and me to understand that verse in a very concrete way. But first, I must say that our train was surely covered from end to beginning with the many sweeping wings of angels because the train was filled with Christians. And they all blessed us on our way.

But one in particular became the living image of the believer filled with the living waters of Jesus Christ.

We sat for lunch in the dining car and waited to see who would be placed at our table. A woman and another person who we were almost certain was her son sat across from us. The young man, and he must have been in his twenties because he had a well trimmed beard, was autistic. He was constantly attempting to be reassured of the reality around him. He repeated the same phrases, comments and questions over and over, as he looked for clues that everything was going as it should be. Was this lunch? Could he have cheese cake again at dinner? Would they be greeted by grandma? Was he being good?

His mother constantly rubbed his back, and reaffirmed all that he said or asked. We were pleased when he asked his mother if he could order the same food we had ordered. And then the food came. Before we could even think about prayer he bowed his head and prayed. And as we entered into conversation with both mother and son about our mutual faith, the young man, Keith, rather than seeking for assurance about the material world began to talk of Jesus, he quoted verses as he went.

His mother told us of a time on another trip when a stranger sat between him and his parents and they heard him explaining to the stranger how Jesus had died on the cross for his sins. Here was one who needed constant assurance that the world around him was a reality but out of his being a river flowed of which he was very certain. Heaven was his homeland, Jesus was his reality.

In the midst of all of our uncertainty and sorrow over the immoral actions of the General Assembly, still there is that reality of the living water that is within us. Calvin in his commentary on John writes of this river and speaks of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, gifts such as faith to a young autistic man. But first Calvin points to Jesus the giver of the Spirit. Looking at the words “Whoever believes in me,” Calvin writes:

“Christ now points out how we come. We come not on foot but by faith. Or rather, to come is simply to believe—that is, if you define the word ‘believe’ properly. As we have already said we believe in Christ when we welcome him as he is shown to us in the Gospel—full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life and all the gifts of the Spirit.”[1]

That reality, the Holy Spirit that is within believers, was there at the GA. It was in the fervent prayers I saw one pastor commissioner praying as he stood behind another elder, a gay man, preparing to speak on the ordination of gays and lesbians. The Holy Spirit was in the words of one of the former candidates for vice moderator as he spoke of his determination to follow Jesus in the purity that he is. He was not counting the cost only following Jesus.

Let the world that is in the Church throw down the gauntlet of perverse sexuality, the faithful must not take it up in some worldly backhanded way. But rather full of the reality that Jesus gives they must keep speaking the words of life to those lost in this world’s darkness. The faithful must keep speaking back the righteousness of Jesus Christ to perverse antinomianism in the church. United to Jesus Christ we are full of his reality, his living waters, the Holy Spirit who will renew the church universal even in the midst of gross darkness.

We have a reality far greater than any insecurity. Jesus "as he is shown to us in the Gospel—full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life and all the gifts of the Spirit."

[1] Calvin, John: The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer, Editors, 196.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Perhaps it is God's mercy?

How hard it is to walk into a plenary meeting knowing that Belhar will be sent to the Presbyteries for a vote. It passed. How hard it is to walk into plenary knowing the Presbyteries will now need to vote on nFOG. It also passed. How hard it is to walk into plenary knowing of the other overtures and recommendations that may be passed. (The committees passed the elimination of biblical marriage language overtures & and the removal of the ordination standards, hopefully the whole GA will not, but ...)

But the Lord confronts and comforts his church. He confronts his church in every age for her waywardness; he surprises her from time to time with the gift of revival and renewal.

Judgment begins with God’s Church so says the word of God. Karl Barth refers to God’s ability to take away the candlestick of the Church in some areas. He reminded the Church of Germany that Jesus Christ was as capable of removing the candle stick of the German Church as he had removed the candle stick from the Church of North Africa, that Church of Augustine. Now God has brought revival to Africa. It is his gift to those beleaguered and persecuted people.

All of this is His will; if the biblical understanding of marriage and leadership is cast aside in the next two days, it is only because he allows it to be so. Perhaps to purify and strengthen those who hold tightly to the word of God and intend to follow Him where ever he leads. And perhaps God allows this so that hearts might continue to be hardened that he might display his power against evil and darkness, against those powers that bind the wayward.

If those who wish to find a blessing for sinful behavior use the church to justify their action God will allow them to move even further away from his transforming gift of mercy into a world of despairing emptiness. This is a two pronged action. To remind the sinner of her sinfulness and turn her sisters and brothers toward her in an act of love and mercy. That is why Jude tells the Church:

“But you beloved ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you that In the last times there will be mockers following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you beloved , building yourselves up on your most holy faith praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; and save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 17-23)

We all have a call; it is waiting for us as we return home. It is a call to be sorrowful before the Lord because of our Church’s waywardness, yet full of joy because Christ is with us. It is a call to keep reaching out to those whose hearts are hardened. And it is a call to protect, love and care for one another. It is a call to care for the little ones who will be hurt.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts on GA: Belhar, the Word of God, and faithfulness

"This is so inspiring!! The Belhar Confession offers wonderful help to us in the PCUSA to move into the world of diversity which we say we want but do not quite know how to reach. And restoring the English of the Heidelberg Catechism is the Presbyterian thing to do. Joining our sister Reformed churches in one common translation is an added blessing. Thank you so much to the committee for its prayerful work. by Janet Edwards on 07/06/2010 a.m.31 09:36am" (This was on the PNS site that ChurchandWorld linked to yesterday for some reason it can not be seen when one goes straight there.)

By now I am sure everyone is aware that Belhar was approved in Committee. Here are some details. But first some thoughts on the testimonies that occurred during open hearings.

Various speakers are allowed a few minutes, sometimes only one or less, to speak on the different overtures or committee recommendations such as Belhar. Two speakers spoke against Sacramento’s overture which asks the General Assembly to not adopt Belhar. The first one to ask the committee to not approve Sacramento’s overture was
Janet Edwards the pastor who has been troubling the church by attempting to marry same sex couples.

She asked for disapproval so that instead Belhar would pass and gays and lesbians would have a confession that allows them to be ordained.
[1] The second person was Elizabeth Henson Hasty a member of ACWC. She wanted Sacramento’s overture to be disapproved but her main thought was not only to allow Belhar to pass but she wanted an inclusive edition on the PCUSA web. In the committee’s actions they both received their request.

The moderator of the committee was very fair. As overture advocate I was allowed to speak for five minutes after the Belhar committee spoke. I was also allowed to answer questions after they answered questions. This was a golden opportunity because several people asked some very unique questions. I was able to speak of how a confession is meant to confess Jesus Christ. Just because Sacramento’s overture did not pass in committee, and it was debated since it became a substitute motion, does not mean that all was lost. I was able to read the section from the Theological Declaration of Barmen that gives a clear understanding of how Jesus Christ is confessed:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.) Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (The Book of Confessions, the Theological Declaration of Barmen, 8.10–8.12)

God’s word will not return void-and it is here in this passage from Barmen. And of course Belhar will be voted on again in plenary.

So far there have been many disappointments in most of the committees. But God calls us to faithfulness; our victory is in the cross of Jesus not in winning against human adversaries but in overcoming the powers of darkness. That battle includes our own sinful nature. So while God might be judging a denomination that is disobedient to his Word and denying his transforming grace, Jesus, Lord of his Church, is undoubtedly longing for all of our hearts.

Because my heart is filled with sadness from hearing bad reports, phrases like, "We all have different opinions about whether God cares for fetal tissue," or the equation of God's word with oppression I want to hear words of praise for the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus:

For Robert A.
[1] On the PNS about the passage of Belhar, she made a comment which was much the same rejoicing over Belhar’s passage. But for some reason that has been removed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Overture Advocate: a question?

Since I am at the moment an overture advocate, I am naturally interested in the subject of advocacy and the rules that apply to advocates who come from their churches to advocate for the wishes of their churches. Remember they are the only ones who represent the churches of their presbytery. Friday we had training. It was led by the PCUSA’ Mark Tammen.

There was advice and information. A lot of it was helpful except he did not mention the standing rules for advocates at all. Another advocate had to do that. But Tammen's presentation did leave me with a question which I thought would be interesting to throw my reader’s way. We were encouraged to be respectful to our committee’s Moderator which we certainly should be.

But Tammen was very forceful in suggesting that there had been too much challenging in past GAs of moderators on the basis of the standing rules of the Manual of the General Assembly. Tammen stated that no overture, where the moderator had been challenged, had passed. So I suppose he was suggesting that if we challenged our moderator our overture would not pass.

So my question, is it logical to believe that there is a connection between standing on the standing rules of the General Assembly and losing the overture, or is it possible that there might be all kinds of other reasons for losing? What do you think?

And to help you understand what I am writing about, here is a video of a commissioner who did a very good job of standing on the standing rules in a past GA.