Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and withered grapes

When I returned from a month long trip at the end of July, I was sad to find that my grapes, which had hung in long bunches of tiny green orbs, were still tiny and withered.  In the past the grapevine was huge and covered a patio, which we have since removed. For several summers I would bring in large bunches of grapes spreading them across my kitchen counters and bag them to give to children and friends. Perhaps they did not receive enough water or too much shade from the pecan tree next door. I will never know. God has a vineyard; the metaphor is used of God’s people in both the Old and New Testament. And he knows when something is wrong with his people; he also knows why.

In Isaiah 5, the text, pictures the owner taking great care with his vineyard. He digs up the ground, which is already fertile, and removes the stones. He picks out the “choicest” vine to plant. But it only gives him worthless grapes. Rhetorically the Creator asks what he should do with his vineyard and then he states with anguish his actions.

I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become a trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” (5b-6)

Now, notice while this is toward Israel, who at the time was a nation, it is directed at a religious body of people, God’s church, the people of Israel. The text today speaks not only to the ancient Israelites; it speaks, not to a nation, but to the church. The text has to do with those people who are in a covenant relationship with Yahweh. And clearly there is a message
here for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Just yesterday, Oct 30th, the highest court of the denomination ruled on three separate cases that in many ways will devastate all embroiled in the sin and hurt of the PCUSA, in particular the orthodox within the denomination. [1]

Putting it very simply, the General Assembly Permanent Juridical Commission ruled that it was not unconstitutional for ordained leaders to be married to someone of their own gender as long as the ceremony was not performed in a Presbyterian Church or by a Presbyterian teaching elder. They ruled that a presbytery had no right to adopt standards to use for all candidates entering their presbytery or seeking ordination, and they ruled that a presbytery must consider the value of church property, rather than per capita or mission funding, when negotiating with a church that wishes to leave the denomination. All of these decisions are rooted in immorality and greed. Isaiah chapter five speaks very clearly to these issues.

Isaiah marks out the practical matters. The Israelites would not listen to the cry for justice or the need for righteousness. The leaders of Judah grabbed up as much property as they could. They added house to house and field to field. They were greedy and denied God’s righteous laws in order to gain what they wanted. God promised them desolation. Houses will stand empty; the harvest will be very small. The leaders of Israel were only interested in parties and drinking. They lifted up and honored immorality. Because of their immorality they will find themselves in exile, both hungry and thirsty.

Isaiah goes on to show how fervent the people were in promoting evil. The text states, “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as with cart ropes.”  J. Alec Motyer in his commentary on Isaiah writes of this verse:

Isaiah pictures people harnessed to sin, like animals harnessed to carts. Thus they are voluntary practitioners of a sinful lifestyle but, as such, they are living an animal existence beneath their true dignity as humans, and as victims of sin’s deceit (cf. Eph. 4:23; Heb. 3-13), they are involved in an increasing bondage as the movement from cords to ropes indicates. [2]

And very much like some of the actions during the PCUSA’s General Assembly and the rulings of the GAPJC the Israelites attempt to turn morality up side down.  They “call evil good and good evil.” They “substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. They are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”  They justify the wicked for a bribe and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.” Motyer writes of all this:

The moral code has been rewritten. People no longer feel guilty when they depart from what was once considered right. Just as ‘one man’s meat is another’s poison’, so personal taste now rules supreme; if a course of behavior seems bitter or sweet to someone, then that’s what it is.

Everything is reduced to individual reaction and opinion.

This is the context of the orthodox in the PCUSA; they are in the midst of an organization that has lost its way—the PCUSA’s cords are speedily turning into ropes. Using capricious human experience and desire, Presbyterian leadership is turning biblical morality upside down. And any guilt that exists is hidden under layers of disbelief. There is little left to do, the fruits are already withering, but …

Make confession of our sin and the sin of the whole denomination;

Constantly proclaim a Savior who died on a cross for the sins of the world;

Keep lifting up our resurrected Lord;

Continue to strife to live, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the resurrected Christ, a life both of holiness and compassion.

Keep insisting that the Father has called us out of darkness into the light of his Kingdom.

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; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 20-23)

[1]  Mary Naegeli has written two excellent postings on the court’s decisions, GAPJC Decisions Put the Squeeze on Evangelicals & Larson v Los Ranchos: A Case of Presbydoublespeak Paula Kincaid has written for the Presbyterian Layman, GAPJC declares presbyteries must consider property when dismissing congregations and GAPJC pronounces presbytery resolution ‘unconstitutional, and therefore, void.’”. UP-Date-add to this Tightening the screws on conservatives at every conceivable turn by Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Layman.

[2] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, D.J. Wiseman, General Editor (Inter-Varsity Press 1999) 65.

No comments: