Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holston Presbytery, Discipline and the Huguenots


Something that happened in Holston Presbytery collided with what I have been reading. They, rightly, refused to admit Dr. Don Steele into the Presbytery as a pastor. They used proper biblical discipline. (1 Cor. 5) He is a gay man working in John Shuck’s church in Elizabethton Tennessee. John Shuck is the teaching elder (pastor) who does not believe in God. So how did this collide with the book I am reading?

Let me start at the beginning. My husband and I were replacing a phone and in order do that we had to move a large amount of my books. That led to finding a lot of dust and dirt behind my books and that led to removing even more books, cleaning and reorganizing. And then behind one set of books I found some others, one I had forgotten about. The Huguenots in France: After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (With a Visit to the Country of the Vaudois) by Samuel Smiles was published in 1877. I found the book in a used book store in Oxford but had not paid much attention to it until now. I began reading from the middle of the book, a bad habit of mine—but I was amazed at some of the information.

After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, thousands of Huguenots fled France. This was because the elimination of the Edict of Nantes left French Protestants with no freedom at all. Their churches were destroyed, their leaders hanged, and those lay persons who persisted in protestant worship and were caught were severely punished. The men were sent to be galley slaves in the French navy. The women were sent to such dreadful prisons that many died within six months. There were few Huguenots left in France. But Smiles explains how the church began to reorganize again—and part of that story has to do with church discipline.

The part of the book I am reading centers on a Huguenot pastor Antoine Court. He became a preacher and leader within the secret meetings of the Huguenots.  He began dreaming of renewing the Church and gathered a few men around him to do so. Smiles writes:

He urged … that religious assemblies must be continued, and that discipline must be established by the appointment of elders, presbyteries, and synods, and by the training up of a body of young pastors to preach amongst the people and discipline them according to the rules of the Protestant Church.

Smiles points out that because of the persecution most organization had disappeared. He writes that “the training of pastors had become almost forgotten.” The first synod meeting was small. I smiled when I read it, only nine members met. But from that group pastors began to be trained. Young men who seemed gifted were chosen to work with someone who was already a pastor. They traveled together and studied under trees in safe places. Smiles writes:

“I have often pitched my professor’s chair,” said Court, “in a torrent underneath a rock. The sky was our roof, and the leafy branches thrown out from the crevices in the rock overhead, were our canopy. There I and my students would remain for almost eight days; it was our hall, our lecture-room, and our study. To make the most of our time, and to practice the students properly, I gave them a text of Scripture to discuss before me—say the first eleven verses of the fifth chapter of Luke. I would afterwards propose to them some point of doctrine, some passage of Scripture, some moral precept, or sometimes I gave them some difficult passages to reconcile.”

There is much more. The training of preachers and pastors as well as the appointing of elders was a part of the beginning of revitalizing the church. Biblical training was the second great task. As Smiles records:

When a Testament was obtained, it was lent about, and for the most part learnt off. The labour was divided in this way. One person, sometimes a boy or girl, of good memory, would undertake to learn one or more chapters in the Gospels, another a certain number in the Epistles, until at last a large portion of the book was committed to memory, and could be recited at the meetings of the assemblies. And thus also it happened, that the conversation of the people, as well as the sermons of their preachers, gradually assumed a strongly biblical form.

A very important part of the recovery of the Huguenot Church was the discipline of those who lived in disobedience. And that is where I circle back to Holston Presbytery and their actions. They were faithful in their actions, faithful to their people, faithful to Christ and faithful even to Steele as one in need of discipline. But many presbyteries and members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), after reading Smiles words, must stand in shame when faced with the faithfulness of the members of the persecuted Huguenots: 

We have said that part of the duty of the elders was to censure scandal amongst the members. If their conduct was not considered becoming the Christian life, they were not visited by the pastors and were not allowed to attend the assemblies, until they had declared their determination to lead a better life. What a punishment for infraction of discipline! To be debarred attending an assembly, for being present at which, the pastor if detected, might be hanged, and the penitent member sent to the galleys for life!

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

But didn't Holston Presbytery, part of the PCUSA, do well NOT to admit the pastor? Didn't it administer discipline correctly? If so, why the shame?

Perhaps you mean shame in that much of the PCUSA is neglecting proper discipline, unlike the Huguenots (although Holston did well)?

I have often wondered how John Shuck gets away with his faithlessness and rebellion in Holston. Perhaps the presbytery will apply the screws to him as well?

Jim Berkley
Roslyn, WA

Viola Larson said...

Jim,
I did mean, that much of the PCUSA is neglecting discipline. Guess I better fix that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Viola. That is a good fix!

Jim Berkley
Roslyn, WA

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am being overly sentimental, but I like to think I am just being compassionate, but as someone who has frequently blasted John Shuck for his theology, I would not want to use the term "apply the screws" to a man who is still grieving a terrible loss. I've appreciated his reflections on grief and loss very much on his blog.

Don't get me wrong: I wish John Shuck thought differently about faith. I wonder how he can derive comfort from what he believes. I think he would be better served by faith in the God revealed in the Bible, the "traditional" God if you like. I think he has the potential to be a great evangelist for the faith.

But I know you can't force it. I don't know how one can lovingly use church discipline in a situation like this. But surely the purpose is not to "apply the screws" to someone in pain, even if we agree he has been in grave error doctrinally for a long time.

Blessings,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Thanks John,

You are right-a wrong choice of words perhaps, but it is not helping either Steele or Shuck to allow them to defame the Lord of the Church. I waited a long time praying for Shuck in his grief (still praying) but he is becoming a hindrance not only to his own spiritual well being but to many, many others.

Vic Lee said...

I am shocked by the purely evil & hateful comments made here. Hiding behind religion while promulgating your bigotry is offensive & absolutely indictive of your superstitious ignorance.

Andrea Frye said...

I have been attending First Presbyterian in Elizabethton for about eighteen months. My children and I have gone to several churches, and this is the only one we have found that is truly satifying, both spiritually and intellectually. John Shuck is a pastor who engages with the Bible; I have heard many more "traditional" ministers who do not possess anything approaching his knowledge and depth of understanding. Because of Reverend Shuck and Reverend Steele and the wonderful congregation, First Presbyterian is a truly inclusive and welcoming place. I am delighted that I've found a church that doesn't ask me to leave my brain at the door before entering.

Viola Larson said...

Vic Lee,
I would suppose that by superstitious ignorance you mean that I and others believe that Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord. That we believe the Bible is God's word. That because we have been redeemed by Christ we try (we are all sinners after all) to conform our lives to him in obedience to his word. That is the Christian position for two thousand years.

Viola Larson said...

Andrea Frye,
Satisfaction is a good thing if you are hearing the truth. But John does not believe in any Christian teaching at all. Perhaps you were not seeking a Christian church but some other kind. I’m sure that John’s church is a friendly one, probably a fun one too, and I know they do some good works like concern about removing mountain tops. But what about Jesus and his death and resurrection? He suffered and died so that you could be forgiven and have new life in him. You don’t have to give up music and concern for nature, etc. but why should you give up Jesus Christ and the love he offers you?

Noel said...

There is more bile and vitriol in Vic Lee's few words than in the rest of the page altogether. What is Vic's moral high ground from which to sling such judgment?

Alexandria Skinner said...

All I can say is "wow". How dare any of you presume to limit God to a creature of your own imagining (as you must, in order to proclaim whether or not John Shuck believes in your definition of God), sow dissension and strife within the church, show yourselves hateful to another and so defile the teaching of Jesus, and dare to judge the faith of another man? Just remember that when one finger is pointing away, there are three pointed backwards. May God spare you the judgment you would so easily proclaim for others.

Viola Larson said...

Alexandria,

This is what John says he believes about God. It is on his blog:

"that "God" functions as a symbol. The concept of "God" is a product of myth-making and "God" is no longer credible as a personal, supernatural being. For me, "God" functions as a shorthand for the Universe and sometimes for qualities and aspirations I wish to pursue or to emulate.”

This is what he says about Jesus:

“that Jesus may have been historical but most of the stories about him in the Bible and elsewhere are legends. But he's cool. He serves as a human ideal and a focal point for devotion (like an ishta deva).”

These are beliefs but they are not Christian beliefs—not even close. They are not who God tells us he is in his word the Bible. Millions of Christians through the centuries have understood who God is because of the written word of God and the living word of God, Jesus Christ. In Christ we know the love and mercy of God. In the Son we see the triune God.

Thousands—undoubtedly millions have died in order to stay faithful to God. It is John Shuck's right to say what he wishes about God and Jesus, but as a pastor in a Christian denomination, he has made vows that he is not keeping. And as a pastor he is not caring for the sheep. It is not wrong to write this.

“Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)

Snad said...

Viola -

Yes, John did write those words. Notice the quotation marks? That's because, when he says he thinks "God" is a fable, a symbol, perhaps even a mockery. That is because of what so many "Christians" have defined as "God."

You read out of books a lot, I see. Sometimes you read into things, too.

Oh, and by the way, we are not sheep. (I have a couple of nice recipes, though, if you would like to have some for dinner one night.) We are thinking, questioning people. Sheep require management, herding, maintenance. Have you ever been around sheep? You have to shave a sheep's anus to keep maggots from eating it alive. True story.

Viola Larson said...

Snad,

Sheep are a very good metaphor for the people of God. If left to ourselves we can wander away to our own hurt. And it is so easy for the people of God to be snared by false teachers—the Bible calls them wolves but maybe maggots are not a bad substitute for those who prey on the sheep.

If you are not a sheep, biblically speaking, does that mean you have no need of the 23rd Psalm? I keep thinking of all of these wonder texts that have to do with God’s people as sheep in need of a shepherd.

“Know that the Lord himself is God; it is He who made us, and not we ourselves; We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” (100:3)

“I am the good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them…” John 10:11-12…but read on.


Snad said...

The metaphor of sheep and shepherd fit the times in which it was written, when there were no consultants, middle managers, CEOs, or Boards of Directors. It is no longer pertinent.

Viola Larson said...

You will have to explain that a bit more for me to understand why you are saying that. Maybe I need a second cup of coffee.

Dwight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dwight said...

Just a couple thoughts to share. I was a Presbyterian but left the denomination for the United Church of Christ as a gay man, deciding to forgo the culture war fights which have plagued the denomination of my childhood. But I have a lot of respect for Rev. John Shuck, enjoy his writings and find an interest in his theological direction.

It's not that I don't have criticisms of his writings, but they are the kind had within the church, not something to be used to exclude folks pushing them outside of the church. And this particular discussion and how it plays out has an antecedent in debates at the University of Chicago Divinity School in the 1920s and 30s. A number of theologians Edward Scribner Ames in particular are pretty close to John Shuck's position on God. His 1929 book on Religion is worth a look at.

But a number of the newer process theologians coming into the school such as enry Nelson Wieman (who was a Presbyterian pastor himself before going into academia) couldnt help but notice that if you place God thoroughly in the natural world, something happens.

What happens is that the objectivity of God, not the subjectivity of God becomes more evident. If we can talk about God in this life and world, we have a reference point that calls to account our religious ideas. It no longer suffices to argue tradition vs. one's personal feelings, both are relevant to be sure but they have to be able to coincide with what we know about the world we live in.

In this religious naturalism can provide a basis for criticism I think that can make us more honest, whether we find ourselve liberal or conservative. Maybe it can help us find a way out of some the debates we find ourselves entangled in or at least a way to produce more interesting and helpful debates.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Dwight,
Thanks for commenting. I know Shuck has his posting on his thoughts about God linked to this posting. But this posting isn’t really about the fact that he doesn’t believe in God. Your comment is interesting but also left me with some questions and thoughts.

You write, “If we can talk about God in this life and world, we have a reference point that calls to account our religious ideas.” In a sense I don’t think the orthodox would disagree with you. But rather than seeing “God in this life” as the understanding that creation is a part of God, therefore God is in creation, they look to the unique Incarnation, a personal God taking on flesh, living, suffering, dying and resurrecting in the midst of humanity. They-we-are accountable to this God who has experienced what we have and do experience. There is compassion, love, transformation and real peace in knowing Jesus.

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