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.

Welcoming the sinner: worshiping communities

My last posting, $1.6M set aside-but is it God's gift or our sin is about Sacramento Presbytery attempting to use money taken from two evangelical churches to finance some of the 1001 worshiping communities the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is working toward. Because of the progressive leadership in my presbytery and progressive outsiders offering friends to fill out applications, there is a strong possibility that the money taken from evangelicals will be used to finance progressive communities.  

It was because of a tweet I read in July during the General Assembly that I begin to understand that the movement to grow new worshiping communities presented a great temptation to those who love all things progressive.

I saw a comment made by Brian Ellison the new executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, an organization which advocates for the ordination of LGBTs and same gender marriage. During the 220 General Assembly, he tweeted, “Am I the only one who sees the opportunity for a link between growing worshiping communities and, oh, welcoming LGBT people?”

But in this posting I want to say a little bit about real worshiping communities. They would not only welcome LGBT people they would welcome all sinners: the greedy, the thief, the murderer, those who sass their parents and those who yell at their children, those who commit adultery and yes those who are attracted to same gender sex. They would welcome them with the truth of God’s holiness, compassion and love.

There can be no lasting communities, small or large, growing in maturity and knowledge, without the pure word of God being proclaimed to the people who come. It doesn't matter what the music and programs are like—it matters that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proclaimed.

It matters that the Christians who are a part of the communities know only Christ and him crucified. The cross must be the center. Not as a mere model of self sacrifice, but as God’s ultimate act in the midst of a lost and broken world. Jesus died for our sins, therefore we worship. Jesus rose from the dead therefore we praise God. Christ forgives and transforms our lives therefore we reach out to those in need.

A redeemed people are a gathered people who worship. And because of their redemption, and their worship, the Holy Spirit working through them begins to draw others to Jesus. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

$1.6M set aside-but is it God's gift or our sin

What comes to mind when you read a twitter post by a well known progressive Presbyterian author asking if any Presbytery has funds available for starting new church developments and you see a progressive pastor, in your presbytery, who advocated for LGBT ordination, answering her with, “Sacramento approved grant process last week. Applications ready in 2-3 months. $1.6M set aside.” She tells him she knows a few people who would be interested. He tells her and others where to look for applications, and you know where most of that money came from.

The money mostly came from two vibrant evangelical churches, Fair Oaks Presbyterian and First Presbyterian Church ofRoseville [1]that were punished with unreasonable charges in order to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with their property. When I argued many months ago in presbytery that at least half the money, which was nearly 2 million, should be returned to the churches, the main argument against that was the need to help members who didn't want to leave. 

But in a Presbytery Report Attachment C - Report of the Congregational Care Committee it is stated that “The Committee determined there was not the climate or the interest among those who remained part of the PC (USA) or who were presently unaffiliated to create the core needed for a traditional new church development process to be pursued in these particular geographic areas.” So now the money will be used for the new 1001 worshiping communities for the PC (USA.)

My thought here is that some may not want to be a part of a new community that is funded by money forced from those who themselves have flourishing ministries that both feed the poor and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. How can that which was forced from brothers and sisters in Christ be of any use to God? It isn't stealing from Peter to pay Paul; it is stealing from Christ to feed our own arrogance. And the use of this money in this way is harmful, not to the two churches who are now Evangelical Presbyterian Churches, but to the PC (U.S.A.) churches who use the money.

God does give gifts. As James puts it:
Do not be deceived my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shifting shadow.” (1:16-17)
Douglas J. Moo in his commentary on James points out that the two verses quoted above refer to God’s creative power and the difference between his unchanging nature and the changing nature of his creation. God’s gifts come from his unchanging nature; they are not founded in our troubled and sinful brokenness. They are not pulled from troubled situations. God will build his church in truth, unity, love and purity. But none of those attributes entails the use of monies that are not ours to take. Instead we should be waiting on the gifts that are given by God alone.

Friday, October 26, 2012

About Israel, about defense, about fairness

Recently a letter signed by 15 mainline American church leaders asked Congress “to make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s ‘compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.’ The troubling part of the letter was the insinuation that Israel was the main perpetrator of all unrest in the area. While those who signed the letter admitted they had witnessed the pain of the Israelis caused by “the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings” and the “sense of insecurity and fear” such attacks had caused Israeli society, they nonetheless failed to make a true distinction between Israel’s national defense needs and human rights violations.

More importantly, although involved in such political matters, both Presbyterian leadership and members are not being provided with enough information. All of those advising and informing are totally aligned with one side rather than both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

On the morning of October the 23rd, I read on the news site, Algemeiner that a barrage of rockets hit Southern Israel the night before and the Israeli Air force had responded by bombing militants in Gaza. The article Barrage of Gaza Rockets Slams Southern Israel, IAF Responds also stated that an IDF office had been injured by a roadside bomb. Perhaps more importantly, in another report, a man carrying eight pipe bombs was stopped at a checkpoint in Northern Jerusalem. The article Terror Suspect Nabbed with 8 Bombs in North Jerusalem stated that the bombs “were fully assembled.”

The intent of both those who fired the rockets and the person, who attempted to enter Israel, with bombs, was to maim, frighten and kill innocent people. The checkpoint and the guards at the checkpoint undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives. While checkpoints can be misused, they are meant to save the lives of both Israeli and Arab citizens. They are a part of Israel’s national defense. The next morning, the 24th, up to eighty rockets had been fired into Israel. Part of Israel’s defense against the rockets is funded by military aid from the United States.

This is a complex problem that mainline denominational leaders, as Christians, cannot solve except by peaceful exhortation and love toward both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Since there are human rights violations on both sides, Christian leaders are not fostering peace when they ask the United States Government to take action against the Israelis but not the Palestinians.
Too many times leadership in the PC (U.S.A) sees Israel’s defensive actions as acts of aggression. And they close their eyes and hearts to such actions taken by Hamas and other terrorists from Gaza. If the checkpoint mentioned in the one news article had not existed hundreds of people in Israel would be dead. Of course Israel has committed acts that are also reprehensible but they are not the only actors in the Middle East and they certainly are not the worst. Strangely enough, in PNS’ article, about the letter to Congress, they link to the 2011 State Department country report on human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, which begins:
Terrorist groups routinely fired rockets and mortars into Israel during the year. There were 924 terrorist attacks against citizens, both from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which included the firing of 388 rockets and 247 mortar shells from the Gaza Strip into Israel (compared with a total of 235 in 2010).  In total 25 persons were killed and 119 were injured in these attacks.  For example, on April 7, an antitank missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit a school bus in southern Israel, killing one student.  On August 18, a Sinai-based group of gunmen crossed the Egyptian border into the country and killed eight citizens near the city of Eilat.
 Most mainline denominational leaders pass over that without real comprehension of its seriousness. Connected to the human rights report is a report about religious rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories. While there is a great deal to read and problems on all sides under the “Occupied Territories” is this summary of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Hamas:
 Religious freedom in various parts of the Occupied Territories falls under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel, or Hamas (in the Gaza Strip). The laws and policies of the PA and Israel protect religious freedom, and in practice the two governments generally respected these rights. Neither the PA nor Israel demonstrated a trend toward improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom. The “de facto” Hamas authorities in Gaza restricted religious freedom, and the regime’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice remained problematic during the year.
There are also outside problems, antisemitism that feeds into the mix. Recently a leader and founder of the Free Gaza movement, Greta Berlin, tweeted such an anti-Semitic diatribe, (Her statement: Jews controlled the concentration camps of Nazi Germany), that even one contributor to  Mondoweiss, Bekah Wolf, chastised her pointing out that the Facebook site she administrated was truly anti-Semitic. These are real issues that never turn up in Presbyterian news, and therefore Presbyterian leaders like Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons who signed the letter never consider that there might be a great deal of one sidedness occurring in their decisions.

Ignorance has lead many down the wrong path. Both the PNS and the news links provided by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network leave PCUSA members and leaders without any clues at all about Israel’s real needs or concerns. The reader will find nothing about the pipe bombs at a checkpoint, or the antisemitism of the founder of the Free Gaza Movement on either news site or ministry site despite the fact that Presbyterian leaders and mission workers are heavily involved in issues that affect both Palestinians and Israelis.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A great article on battling same sex attraction

Prodigal Magazine offers one of the more helpful articles on battling same gender attraction. The article, “On Homosexuality: it’s OK to Fight,” written by the person experiencing the battle, Christy McFerren, is filled with integrity, truthfulness and good moral models. Even the comment section, which is very long, is helpful. McFerren starts her article:

It was 1994. I was 15 years old when the epiphany hit me that times were changing and I was eventually going to have a socially acceptable problem.
This sudden awareness started the clock on a grueling battle for my sexuality. I was conscious of the fact that I was different from the other girls at the age of five, and I had lived silently through ten years of gender confusion and attraction to women by age fifteen. I wanted desperately to be “over it” by the time it was going to be acceptable, even normal, to be gay. 
Further into the article, under the sub-title “Homosexuality is not a tender enemy,” McFerren writes of the help she experienced from the Christian community:

But, I’m thankful for the affliction because it made a warrior and a lover of me.For my entire twenty-three year search, I was never alone. When I made the decision to reach for help, people loved me. They prayed, listened, cried, and held me. They believed the best was coming and waited tirelessly for the seeds of life to bear fruit in my soul. By patient love they demonstrated my Father’s heart. The best of them never violated my will, created forceful situations, made rules for me to follow, rushed me to conclusions, or prescribed remedies. They gave me no reason to mistrust God by their own leadership styles. They didn't make my sin any bigger than theirs. They didn't freak out when I fell. They just spoke truth, and waited with me until I could see God. Because that’s the promise for the pure in heart. They see God.

McFerren writes of the process that God and the Christian community worked in her heart, and it is a good lesson for all of us sinners:
 There was never a pinnacle moment when I knew, “I’m not gay anymore. I feel different.” My liberation was unceremonious. Freedom matured in me through a process, from the seeds of truth that God planted and people watered along the way. It wasn't one decision I made not to be gay, there were many. Like Proverbs 4:18 says, “… the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”
This is so very good—please read it all, even the comments: On Homosexuality: it’s OK to Fight

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Our Story/Nuestra Historia: The Experience of Three Hispanic Churches in the Texas Rio Grande Valley in Leaving the PCUSA by Renouncing Its Jurisdiction

Pastor Rev. Hector Reynoso of Genesis Presbyterian Church has graciously ( a gift to me) asked me if I would post the history of the three historical Hispanic churches, who, after leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), became a part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Their history is fascinating, and their faithfulness inspiring. I am happy to do so. 

Our Story/Nuestra Historia:
The Experience of Three Hispanic Churches in the Texas Rio Grande Valley
in Leaving the PCUSA by Renouncing Its Jurisdiction

In early 2012, the congregations of three Hispanic churches in the Texas Rio Grande Valley held meetings to vote on whether to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA). Throughout the years the congregations had been deeply concerned about the direction the denomination had taken; believing it had long ago departed from sound Christian Reformed Doctrine.  Finally, the recent constitutional changes in the PCUSA simply confirmed for them this departure; thus, the churches disaffiliated from the denomination.

Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani of San Benito, located in San Benito, Texas; El Principe de Paz Presbyterian Church, located in Mercedes, Texas, and San Pablo Presbyterian Church, located in Brownsville, Texas were organized approximately 100 years ago by the Presbyterian Church of Mexico and predated the PCUSA by more than 70 years.   When the Mexican revolution began in 1910, travel became dangerous and expensive.   A meeting was held in 1918 and a decision was made to transfer these churches to membership in the Presbyterian Church (US).  

A presbytery known as the Texas Mexican, or Tex-Mex Presbytery was started in 1908 for the Mexican churches.   At one point this presbytery had approximately 80 preaching points and about 50 organized churches.  They met independently and held their meetings and worship services in Spanish.  In the mid 1950’s, the Texas-Mexican presbytery was dissolved and the member churches were incorporated into the South Texas Presbytery [Presbyterian Church US].    

After the dissolution of the Tex-Mex presbytery, one by one, the Hispanic churches began closing down.   The total number of Spanish speaking Presbyterian churches in South Texas went from approximately 80 preaching points and 50 organized congregations in the 1950’s to about a dozen congregations in 2011.  The Presbyterian Church (US) and later the PCUSA provided financial support to some of the churches in the form of loans and grants.  Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani of San Benito received loans for its land and building prior to the mid-1960s; all loans were paid back timely and with interest.  In recent years El Principe de Paz received grants averaging $26,000 per year.

Throughout their existence, the three churches, located along the border with Mexico, have served in some of the most financially disadvantaged counties of the United States and have struggled financially; they have also remained relatively small.  At the beginning of 2012, Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani had approximately 78 members; El Principe de Paz had 55 members; and San Pablo had approximately 20 members.  Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani and El Principe de Paz each had full-time pastors; San Pablo PC was served by a visiting pastor. 

In March 2011, Mission Presbytery voted by a narrow margin to adopt what was now known as amendment “10-A,” which allowed congregations to ordain practicing homosexuals to the office of teaching elder and ruling elder; a couple of months later 10-A was approved by the whole denomination.  The sessions of all three Rio Grande Valley churches responded by calling congregational meetings to vote on whether to disaffiliate from the PCUSA.  Their reason was clearly stated:  They believed sexual relations should be “only between a man and a woman and only in marriage.”   They believed “the institution of Marriage to be between one man and one woman” and “refused to accept any other definition of marriage aside from the one given to us by God in the Bible.”  They saw this change to the PCUSA constitution as a clear violation of Scriptures and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

In early 2012, the congregations voted to leave the denomination.  The votes were as follows: 
- Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani of San Benito had 78 members on its rolls.  Of those, 45 members attended the annual congregational meeting on January 29, 2012.   40 members voted to leave the denomination; 5 voted to stay.
- El Principe de Paz had 55 members on its rolls.  Of those, 42 members attended the congregational meeting, held on January 29, 2012.  40 members voted to leave the denomination; 2 voted to stay. 
-San Pablo Presbyterian Church held its congregational meeting February 5, 2012.  Of the 17 members attending, 10 voted to leave the denomination; 6 voted to stay, and one abstained.

Thus, for the three churches, of the 104 members attending the congregational meetings, only 13 voted to remain in the denomination.  The departing members left without church property.  

The 3 congregations had serious concerns with the dismissal policy of their presbytery as presented in the June 2011 meeting and later ratified in October 2011.  Therefore they chose not to go by that route.  Thus, the churches elected to renounce the jurisdiction of the denomination.  They sent a letter to Mission Presbytery on February 10, 2012, declaring that they were “no longer under the jurisdiction of the PCUSA.”  They added that they understood “that the property clause in the Book of Order of the PCUSA makes us hold in trust our property, where we worship and serve, for the PCUSA.”   It was the churches’ desire to keep the properties but they were willing to turn everything over in a peaceful manner.  They appealed to Mission Presbytery’s:
sense of mercy and implore of you to dig deep within your hearts, and allow us to keep our properties, our assets and bank accounts.  We are not rich churches, we do not have a high income, we do not have big bank accounts, and we are all located in low income neighborhoods in two of the poorest counties of the United States.  So we kindly implore for the sake of the extension of God’s kingdom that you will let us go with the little that we have; so that we may continue to let His light shine in our respective neighborhoods.

This appeal was not acknowledged. 

On February 13, 2012, just three days after the letter from the churches, Mission Presbytery sent letters to the pastors of the churches instructing them to retrieve their books and personal items and turn in their church keys “[n]o later than Friday, February 16, 2012.”  When the pastors left the buildings, all those who voted to leave the PCUSA left as well. 

Because these were family churches and poor churches, members had made some of the pews, tables, communion paraments, banners and other items for use in worship.  Others had donated refrigerators and other equipment.  Since the majority had voted to leave, some members thought they could take items with them.  Members who remained in the PCUSA became alarmed and reported to Mission Presbytery that items were disappearing.  Mission Presbytery representatives started sending multiple e-mails, text messages and phone calls  to the pastors and elders asking where items-- folding chairs, portable communion sets, old computers, a push lawn mower—were located.  The pastors along with their respective sessions contacted the members and told them that all items had to be returned.    The reports to presbytery were based on personal—and sometimes faulty—memory.  Some items had long since disappeared or had been discarded.  Other items had never been stored at the churches. Alarmed by continuing allegations that property was being misappropriated, the churches sought legal counsel.   Over the course of the next four months, the departing pastors, sessions and members began the tedious process of accounting for all church property.  All items were accounted for. 

The former Pastor Tom Johnson and the departing members of Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani of San Benito vacated the church buildings and organized a new church under the auspices of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (“EPC”).  They rented space in other places and finally in another church.   They turned over more than $118,000 in funds, including a $3,000 scholarship fund for high school students, a $500 children’s fund and a memorial fund.  They also named the new congregation San Benito Presbyterian Church.  

The former members of San Pablo Presbyterian Church, the smallest of the three churches, vacated the church buildings and also formed a new church under the auspices of the EPC.   They turned over almost $14,000 in funds to the Presbytery.   Perhaps more difficult, they also turned over a Bible given to the church by the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.  The congregation now meets as Jesus Reigns Presbyterian Church

The former pastor, Rev. Hector Reynoso, and the departing members of El Principe de Paz also vacated the church buildings and a vacant lot adjacent to a shopping mall, believed to have significant value.  They transferred approximately $8,500 in funds.  El Principe de Paz also owned a cemetery adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery.  They began meeting in another church and also organized under the EPC and now meet as Genesis Presbyterian Church.

Despite walking away from church buildings, bank accounts, cemeteries (where loved ones are buried), historic Bibles, communion paraments, pews and over 100 years of memories, the congregations have largely remained intact and have continued the work of the church in their respective communities.   Jesus Reigns Presbyterian Church was able to operate its largest vacation Bible school program ever with the help of volunteers from Hope Presbyterian Church in San Antonio.   Attendance at all three churches is holding strong, especially in San Benito which averages more than 100 per Sunday. 

When the pastors and members left the PCUSA, they told Mission Presbytery:

[i]f you decide that it is important for you to keep our building and our finances please know that we stand ready to hand everything over to you.  Our convictions have led us to make a stand for Christ and the faith of the church, not the properties…We are grateful to God and you for all the years in the PCUSA and the friendships that have been forged; nevertheless our convictions have grown deeper and stronger and we sadly, yet with conviction, say that we can no longer remain part of it.  We pray for the PCUSA to walk with Christ according to His Word for the glory of God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Standing for Jesus….

Praising the One and Only omnipotent and Sovereign God who has existed eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and rejoicing in the midst of trials and tribulations, the three congregations are grateful for their new home in the EPC, where they have now graduated from “transitional members” to “full members,” and wish God’s blessings upon the PCUSA and their former presbytery.

The congregations have a renewed energy and commitment toward their vision of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in their respective communities.  They are working with youth and children, holding home bible studies using the shorter catechism (Westminster), hosting churches doing missionary work, holding community Bible studies and elder leadership classes.  The churches are grateful to have meeting places yet they hope to someday worship and serve the Lord in facilities of their own. 

If you are interested in partnering with these churches as they continue their ministries and spreading the Gospel to those in the Rio Grande Valley, you can send tax deductible contributions to the following:

San Benito Presbyterian Church
PO Box 444
San Benito, TX  78586

Genesis Presbyterian Church
P. O. Box 1422
Mercedes, Texas 78570

Jesus Reigns Presbyterian Church
PO Box 3071
Brownsville, TX  78523

For more information you may write to Rev. Hector Reynoso at or Rev. Tom Johnson at

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fremont Presbyterian Church & others leaving Sacramento Presbytery: good and gracious plans

Most of this posting will be about the good direction taken by the Presbytery of Sacramento and Fremont Presbyterian Church's negotiations. I will also add some other information about two other churches in the presbytery. I see people searching for information on my feed about Fremont and think that now that much of the work has been done, and it is good work, that others will both benefit from the work and will be able to let go of a bad beginning.

A good summary of the outcome of the negotiations can be found here:  Fremont Presbyterian Church. While both the congregation (Oct 28, 2012) and the Presbytery of Sacramento, (Nov. 10, 2012) have yet to vote on a final approval both the session of Fremont and the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry have approved.  Here are some of the highlights.

Fremont will join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and keep their property. They will pay the Presbytery $500, 000 over a period of ten years or a one time payment of $325, 000. The members who did not wish to join the EPC will be given office space and the chapel in which to have services for ten years. They will be allowed use of Fremont’s nursery and their children may attend the Sunday school.
The goals of the negotiating team were and are:

Result is God-honoring
Result reflects well on Christians to the community
Relief is provided to those who desire to change denominations (to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church – EPC)
Care is provided to those who want to stay in the PC (USA)
Agreement is accepted by both the Fremont congregation and by the Sacramento Presbytery 

The agreement fulfills all of those goals. A more detailed agreement can be found here: Dismissal Agreement and License Agreement. Be in prayer for all of the parties concerned that Christ will be honored.
There are two other Churches which have recently left the Sacramento Presbytery. In Weed California a small town at the far northern end of our Presbytery, Grace Presbyterian Church and their pastor, Jim Howe, have transferred to the EPC.

In Vacaville, California, Covenant Community Church has moved to a different presbytery, one that better fits their vision and theological outlook, that is Stockton Presbytery. The Pastor is Derek Richman. This was voted on by the Church, the Presbytery, the Synod of the Pacific and finally by the 220 GA.

All of these Churches and people are dear friends of mine and I will miss them very much. But I am very grateful that God has placed them in just the right places for their ministries. One of the interesting parts of this I have not mentioned is that Pastor Don Baird of Fremont is going to the EPC while Pastor Dan Willson of Fremont will go to ECO (A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians). 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing words of disbelief on our hearts

Today, October, 18, the Presbyterian News Service posted an article, Cycle of attacks on Holy land Churches continues: Third vandalism incident in a month; Israeli settlers suspected. The author Kelly Baker, who is now living in Palestine, goes on to write of a monastery door being set on fire, tires slashed and some homes in Jerusalem being vandalized. Yet, the place I want to aim at is the matter of some extremely bad messages being written on the monastery and several churches such as “Jesus is a monkey” and “Jesus is a son of a whore.” Also Jesus is dead.

But before I turn the conversation the direction I am turning it, which will have nothing to do with either Palestinians or Jewish settlers, I want to say this is horrid. To attack anyone’s place of worship or home, be it Jewish, Muslim or Christian, is vile and whoever has committed these crimes should be punished.

But as I read this article I couldn't help thinking of all of the orthodox in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who too many times have their faith insulted by much of the same disbelief. Think about it; to say Jesus is the son of a whore is simply a crude way of saying that Jesus was not born of a virgin. To say that Jesus is dead is to say that Jesus was not bodily resurrected. To call Jesus a monkey is not so much worse than stating that Jesus is less than the Wisdom and Word of God.

At least the vandals understood that Jesus is the object of worship in the churches of the Holy Land. Many in our denomination fail to understand that it isn't just that Jesus has a way to follow—it is that he is the way—the only way.

Too many of us have sat in official denominational meetings, enduring such faithless sentiments by those who should have given us the meaty word of God. Too many of us have been harangued after such meetings because we stood up for the truth.

Recently I wrote an article on some faithless material being carried by The Presbyterian The title is Presbyterian the little ones. The mix of authors used in the material carried all of the same sentiments written on the worship places in the Holy Land—just not with the same kind of crudeness written there, and surely not with the same kind of maliciousness.

The authors that were used deny the deity of Jesus and certainly deny the virgin birth. They deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They deny the uniqueness of Jesus. They deny the saving work of Christ. This is what too often the orthodox face, not from the world, their neighbors or their friends and family, but from their own denomination.

The progressives are not writing on our churches. They haven’t written Jesus is dead or there was no virgin birth on the doors of our faith communities. Rather they have written on our hearts with pins that cause great pain. And they have set fires, metaphorically speaking; fires that have driven dark smoke between us causing disunity and broken fellowship.

Kelly Baker and undoubtedly the PNS think that the messages left on the houses of worship in the Holy Land are insulting and wrong, as well they should. We all do. But what about the heresies that the orthodox hear continuously in the PC (U.S.A.)? The Lord of the church has been maligned and that is bad news.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stand for Love: marriage without covenant or God as witness

This posting is a continuation of my exploration of Scripture and the MLP’s “Stand for Love,” a page where Presbyterian teaching elders can sign a list of those affirming that they have either married same gender couples or are willing to do so. There is also a place for ruling elders to sign, affirming the positions of the teaching elders. I refer to this as rebellion since it is against denominational polity including the Book of Confessions. More importantly it is anti-Christian, that is it is unbiblical.

There is a Scripture text most of us tend to avoid or ignore; we in fact turn our face away, because it seems to fail the test of Christian love. That is the book of Ezra and the ending which deals with the sin of the returning Jewish exiles marrying non-Jewish women. In the end a huge investigation and ritual occurs which separates the wives from their husbands. Acknowledging that Reformed theology considers ancient Israel God’s church, this text provides a picture of rebellion among God’s people and a lesson about repentance. Clarifying the problems of the text helps to clarify the problems and responses one ought to make toward the rebellion fomenting in the PCUSA.

The best place to begin is in answering the question, “Why did the Jewish men marry the non-Jewish women?” Next one needs an understanding of why this was considered so heinous a sin that it needed to be undone.

Most scholars believe that mostly men returned with Ezra to Jerusalem. These single men also felt the need for acceptance within the regional culture. They were after all exile members of a despised people. M.J. Boda, author of the article on Ezra in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, explains, quoting D. Smith-Christopher:

Sociological analysis of the phenomenon of mixed marriages leads D. Smith-Christopher to conclude in the case of Nehemiah [dealing with the same issue] that the ‘guilty’ are males who are presumably  attempting to ‘marry up’ to exchange their low status of ‘exile’ for participation in aristocratic society.[1]
 And to go further Smith-Christopher notes that “intermarriage was encouraged as imperial policy to consolidate the power of the ruling elite.”[2] In other words, the elite of the region would have encouraged the mixed marriages as a means of controlling the Jewish population.

A prophet who was almost a contemporary of Ezra, Malachi, spoke against both those males who had married foreign wives and those who had ‘divorced the wife of their youth.” According to Douglas Stuart, ‘wife of one’s youth’ means the wife promised by one parent of a child to the other parent of a child. Because it was between parents, who were equal in the eyes of God, it was a marriage of equality—both parties stood on equal ground before God. Such a marriage was considered a covenant marriage. [3]And the covenant was between those married and God who was witness to their marriage. 

If a Jewish man married a non-Jew who worshiped other deities the covenant was broken. The marriage would have as its witness the god and goddesses of the wife. And the equality of the two before God was lost.

So some of the exiles of Judah married women from the region who were probably well off and who were not followers of Yahweh. But the real problem lies in the context of Ezra and his people’s history as well as the law of God. The issue was faith not ethnicity.

Ezra was only removed from the original exile by around a hundred years. And the reason for their exile was clear to Ezra. Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed because of the unfaithfulness of the Jewish people. Many of their kings, beginning with Solomon, married foreign wives and incorporated their false worship, their god’s and goddesses, into the religious life of Israel and Judah. This not only affected the people’s relationship with their God, it utterly crushed the morals of their society. The burning of their own children to false gods and the practice of sexual religious rites are among the sins they committed.

The connection between past judgments of God and the sinfulness of the marriages can be seen in the prayer of Ezra:

Now our God what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you have commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, the land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the land, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons …
Ezra’s prayer which is much longer then the small amount I have quoted is key here. It is a confessional prayer that, like Daniel’s prayer, includes Ezra’s own confession of sin. It is a prayer that is so fervent in seeking the will and forgiveness of God that those who have sinned gather to Ezra in repentance.
So to bring the text and thoughts back to the rebelliousness of those participating in the More Light Presbyterian’s defiance, marriage in the Old Testament was a covenant arrangement between a man and a woman and God. Although it might at times contain romantic love it was not based on romantic love but on covenant.  And as such it held back the night of paganism. The exiles repented and put away their wives. Now we live in a time of completed grace.

The blood of Christ answers our repentance with the righteousness of Jesus. Paul, although he commands that believers “not be bound together with unbelievers,” encourages the believer to not divorce the unbeliever because the husband or wife has within them via the Holy Spirit, sanctifying power that has the possibility of transforming unbelievers. (2 Cor. 6: 14 & 1 Cor. 7:12-16) But God’s grace establishes the law, it does not destroy it. God has never in either the Old or New Testaments affirmed or allowed same gender marriage.

Therefore, New Testament rebellion, like contemporary rebellion, when it asks the Christian to participate in sin is horrific. Paul would have none of it. Open rebellion opens the door to all kinds of sins, and it also, for the sake of mercy, calls for the judgment of God. But before God’s judgment it calls forth from the believer the kind of prayer that Ezra prayed: confessional and intercessory. In the PC (U.S.A.) such prayer is truly the only answer left since, at least for now, the denominational courts and many leaders will not apply proper discipline. Like Ezra we can only cry ‘mercy’ God.

“O Lord God of Israel, you are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before you in our guilt, for no one can stand before you because of this.”

[1]Mark J. Boda, “Ezra,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: historical Books, Bill T. Arnold & H.G.M. Williamson, Editors, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2005) 282.
[3]Douglas Stuart, “Malachi,” The Minor Prophets:  An Exegetical & Expository Commentary, Thomas Edward McComiskey, Editor, (grand Rapids: BakerAcademic 2006)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stand for love: rebellion in leadership

I am concerned over the rebellion that is churning under the banner of More Light Presbyterians. They have set up a page for individual teaching elders to sign avowing that they have married same sex couples or are willing to do so. There is also a place for ruling elders and sessions to sign affirming the right of teaching elders to marry same sex couples. When someone pointed out to me that a teaching elder in Sacramento Presbytery was a part of the rebellion I started thinking of scriptural answers to such actions. With this posting I will begin writing about the issue.  

When the Protestant Church speaks of apostolic authority it is speaking of the authority of Scriptures. It is also connecting to a tradition of upholding the authority of Scripture. This succinctly outlines a tiny book of the Bible, that is, 3rd John. In this book John addresses, among other things, the problem of a renegade leader, someone who ignores both the love, teaching and authority of John. Therefore when one looks at the problem the apostle John was trying to correct in his third letter the content can surely be applied to the rising revolt of the teaching and ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

As ruling and teaching elders attempt to change the biblical teaching about same sex marriage, by rebellion against biblical teaching, the confessions and denominational polity, one can understand better the scriptural issues John raises. He is concerned with truth, love and obedience. For the denomination it would be obedience to scriptural authority as well as truth and love.

In the midst of praising Gaius, John writes:

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Beloved do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (9-11)

There are two problems here. Diotrephes loves being a leader but he is not listening to the teaching of an apostle. He leads while at the same time rejecting godly authority and truth. He accuses the apostle of wickedness and refuses to receive those who have come to him. Further he does not allow anyone else to receive them.

Diotrephes rejects the apostles teaching which comes via a letter.  John’s response is to say, if he comes to the church he will point out the evil—but he goes further he admonishes members of the church not to imitate their leader.

Diotrephes is evil but the members must remain good since they belong to God. (Conversely, Diotrephes is not of God.) So here is a single image of what is happening in multi-duplicate. At least close to 400 leaders in the PCUSA (it will undoubtedly grow) are leading while rejecting the authority of God’s word, the confessions and denominational polity. They are doing so to encourage others in the denomination to also reject biblical authority, confessional authority and denominational polity.

There are several contrasts that should be noted in the text. John R. Stott, in the Tyndale Commentary, points out that 1 & 2 John are a contrast in their problems yet point to the same truth. Hospitality must be extended to those who hold fast to truth, but it must not be extended to those who reject truth. The second contrast is between John’s friend Gaius, to whom the letter is written, and Diotrephes. Gaius walks in both love and truth, Diotrephes has neither. As Stott puts it, “Gaius was a balanced Christian. He held the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15) He also loved in truth.”

To add to this Stott explains that those who were not received by Diotrephes were missionaries. And their message was concerned with truth. They went out “for the sake of the Name.” Stott writes:

There is no need for John to specify whose name is in his mind. For there is only one Name, exalted above all others (Phil. 2:9). Moreover, the ‘name’ of Jesus is the revelation of his divine-human person and saving work, and ‘jealousy’ for his name (zeal that it should receive the honour due it) is the most compelling of all missionary motives (cf. Rom. 1:5 and, for suffering for the name for the Name Acts 5:40-41).

Stott concludes that Diotrephes’ problem is not theological but moral. He loves himself above all else. But this means that his love of self causes him to reject John’s authority and to reject the messengers of the Name—those who preach Christ. In other words his unlawful authority even supersedes Christ’s authority and words. He loves himself over Christ. His push for his own rights held the possibility of destroying the church he led. As F.F. Bruce states:

Diotrephes, however, will have to answer for his behavior: the Elder [John] is no private individual, but one who is capable of speaking authoritatively to Diotrephes and to the church which he dominates. How far he could be sure of asserting his authority successfully cannot be determined, but presumably if Diotrephes could carry the church with him against the Elder their fellowship with the churches which did acknowledge the Elder’s authority would be endangered.[1]

If denominational courts and leaders do not step in and at least speak to the rebellion that is fomenting in the midst of the PCUSA, they care little for the unity of the denomination. Fellowship is broken, and it is both a moral issue and a theological issue.

[1]F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John, American Edition, (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company 1979) 153.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

As Francis Schaeffer stated: He is Not Silent

I am thinking of the lord and the work he does in troubled generations, I'm placing some very old Jesus music in this posting. One of my very first experiences with the Warehouse Ministries was when Chuck Girard came to give a concert on a Saturday night. He played on and on-we finally, when it was over, left quieted, we were deeply blessed.

Two fellows from England came often to give concerts. God took these hurt young people, the hippies caught in a drug culture trapped in a promiscuous generation and gave them good news by way of new song writers who carried a prophetic message.

Somewhere, hopefully, is a college professor by the name of Famous-he was one of my professors during the Jesus Movement. Famous had moved a long way away from the Christianity he once professed. I remember during the Idi Amin rule in Uganda, taking a book to class with the title Why I Love Idi Amin; it was written by a bishop in Uganda who lost his fellow bishop to the henchmen of Amin. He understood that he must love because of Christ. Famous asked to see the book asking why the person had to love Amin. I told him it was because of Jesus. Later I took a couple of records and gave them to him. This is a song from one of them-for Famous and anyone else who will listen.

May this generation hear anew-the very good news of Jesus' love and redemption.

Monday, October 8, 2012

From Madison Avenue to Out of a Far Country : from darkness to light

After writing Madison Avenue or the Holy Spirit: conflicted Presbyterians and reading the book Out of a Far Country: A gay son’s journey to God. A broken mother’s search for hope, a lot of ‘avenues’ came together. I have taken some time to try and pull them together in one posting. What I see is a vast circle of darkness—materialism, greed and decadence coming together to prey on people whose hurts and loneliness have driven them into a lifestyle that breeds the same darkness and returns the favor to others. And the people, the community, gladly welcome each other until the misery becomes too deep and problematic. All the while Madison Avenue keeps pushing the darkness.

I wrote about the Arcus Foundation that now funds a lot of LGBT activities, afterwards I saw on their site a Florida group connected to the LGBT community and how they were giving out money to various Florida LGBT causes. The money was given by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force who itself receives money from the Arcus Foundation. But the Task Force makes a lot of its money from several activities; one in particular reminded me of the book Out of a Far Country. The activity is the Winter Party Festival, a huge multiple dance party held on the beaches of Miami.

The story in the book Out of a Far Country is about a mother who in anguish over finding that her son is gay also finds that she is a sinner who needs Jesus. The book is also about the son who not only embraces a gay identity but also embraces a lifestyle of multiple partners, huge gay dance parties and drugs. The parties he writes about are in Florida as well as other places and are like the ones described on the Winter Party Festival site. On their ‘about’ page the promoters of the WPF write:
Winter Party Festival has evolved into a week-long series of events benefiting the LGBT community nationally and locally. A portion of the nets proceeds of WPF support the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s efforts to take action, build power and create change for LGBT people. The majority of the proceeds are donated to local service organizations through a grant-making process administered by the Miami Foundation.
Within an advertisement, Winter Party Festival: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Opportunities, meant to engage companies to economically support the Winter Party Festival are the financial demographics of the LGBT community. That part is self-demeaning. It is an encouragement for companies to financially support the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the WPF since, as they point out with their statistics, the LGBT community is mainly wealthy and “77 percent ‘believe in indulging themselves.” Among the layers of monetary commitments WPF suggests is an added VIP purchase, one called ‘Private Beach Cabana’-among the amities is this:
Cabana purchasers enjoy a hosted bar. The cabanas seat eight and include a variety of amenities, including a cabana boy, (or girl!) dedicated to your comfort, drinks and refreshments throughout the day.
Christopher Yuan, the gay son in Out of a Far Country writes of his first experience at such a party, but this one in Pensacola:
The dance floor was simply overwhelming. Huge, muscular dancers stood on pedestals, high above the crowd, and thousands of bodies, most with shirts off, gyrated to the music. Bars lined the outer edges of the bright and colorful dance floor, and bartenders sold mostly water to dehydrated partiers—high on Ecstasy—who danced and laughed with acquaintances and strangers alike. All around me people were hugging and having happy reunions with friends they hadn’t seen since the last circuit party they’d attended. …
Standing in the middle of the convention center floor I spread my arms wide and said, to nobody in particular, “This is heaven.”
Yuan’s friends gave him favors, companionship, fun, sex and drugs and he returned the favor. Eventually he started taking ecstasy and much harder stuff—he then begin selling and moving up into the world of parties and drugs, even jetting to parties-as well as planning his own—until he was arrested and imprisoned. Earlier he became sexually intimate with several partners who had AIDs and finally was infected himself. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable Yuan came home. He became a Christian in prison. He even went to visit the chaplain about his same sex attraction.

Yuan writes of the idols in his life and how God worked to remove them. First it was drugs and then dance music which he felt would draw him back to drugs. Then it was his promiscuous sex. Finally, because of Scripture, he dealt with his homosexuality. The Chaplain told him it was okay to be gay and gave him a book to read. Yuan writes:
I sat in the chapel’s small courtyard to read, with the chaplain’s book in one hand and my Bible in the other. I had every reason in the world to accept the book’s assertion that God was okay with my homosexuality and gay identity. If I could be a Christian and have a steady relationship, with a man, that would be just about ideal. I’d go to church with him and maybe even start a family. It would be such a relief if this could all be reconciled.
But as I started reading the book and reading the Bible passages it referred to, God’s Holy Spirit convicted me that the assertions from that book were a distortion of God’s truth. Reading his Word, I couldn’t deny the unmistakable condemnations of homosexual sex.
But, finally, after giving over all of his idols to God, Yuan needed to sort out his identity. He had always seen his identity as a gay man. Yuan, using Acts 17:18 came to the conclusion that “Christ should be everything—my all in all.” He continues:
My sexual orientation didn’t have to be the core of who I was. My primary identity didn’t have to be defined by my feelings or sexual attractions. My identity was not “gay” or “homosexual” or even “heterosexual,” for that matter. But my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone.”
There are a lot of contrasts in Yuan’s story and the advertising ploys of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Perhaps lessons for the church. In loud colors, thousands of male dancers gyrate on a YouTube video enticing companies such as Coca-Cola, Office Depot and Southwest to spend thousands of dollars in support of LGBT advocacy. In a prison in New York City in a small room where 40 Hispanic inmates sung Christmas songs to Dios—Señor, Yuan found his calling to preach, and that calling reinforced through a young man who took the time to see that new prisoners received their basic needs:
They brought me over to their locker where they had some stuff for me. They told me whenever guys first came to the unit, the church—this group of guys at 5 North—would give stuff to the new guys to help them get situated: shower slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap.
The malevolence is often loud and raunchy—the love of Christ often quiet and caring. The evil of this generation will keep pushing, attempting to build an empire, but the love of Christ held steady in the hearts of God’s people will become the haven needed for lost sheep. Materialism, greed, decadence—they can be traded for a Holy King who gives righteousness. Hurts and loneliness—the King was lonely and hurt, dying that all unrighteousness would be defeated and in its place the gift of abundant life.