Friday, May 31, 2013

On the OGA's paper "Misrepresentations about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Recently the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released a paper in an attempt to answer and refute other papers being used by different churches that are in discernment concerning leaving the denomination. Entitled “Constitutional Musings: Misrepresentations about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” the paper begins:

The Office of the General Assembly has had an increase in the number of inquiries about printed materials from outside of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), being distributed within congregations, that ascribe to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) beliefs and standards which are meant to show that the church is no longer worthy of support.  Over the past years the list of these misrepresentations have varied little and most have been answered in detail in the religious press, study papers adopted by the church or by specific action of the General Assembly. i Whenever possible, the Office of the General Assembly directs those who inquire about specific conclusions drawn by these papers to resources which give a broader understanding of the issues.[1]

As someone who has seen one or two of my papers listed as resources for churches in discernment and more importantly because I believe the OGA has misunderstood the importance of the papers they are referring to, I will address what I think is the misunderstanding. But first I will note two important points.

1.Most of the papers, including mine, were not written with the intention of encouraging churches or church members to leave the PC (U.S.A.). Neither were they written to encourage members to stay. They were simply written to alert the church to various actions or statements by PC (U.S.A.) organizations and leaders which were harmful to God’s people. They, in many cases, were written as prophetic admonitions; most are attempts to speak truth to power from a biblical perspective.

2.The OGA and other leaders are failing to listen to their own churches. They could speak volumes concerning those who deny the deity of Christ, the atonement and the authority of Scripture. If they will not speak God will use others who do and will continue to speak!
The emphasis in the OGA’s paper is that the PC (U.S.A) already has in its constitution (The Book of Order & the Book of Confessions), as well as other study papers, the proper theological views concerning basic Christianity such as the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. They believe that all of this answers any questions churches may be asking. On the whole this is true although there are some sections in the new Book of Order that one must quibble about. And certainly the moderator and the 220th GA have clearly untied the denomination from the Book of Confessions.

 However, there is a larger problem that the OGA fails to understand. The beginning of the Theological Declaration of Barmen as well as its history addresses their apologia about correct theological views in the PC (U.S.A.)’s constitution and study papers.

 In the history of Barmen when the main denominations in Germany united, they also voted on a constitution.  The Confessing Churches did not dispute the constitution; they, in fact, based their right to confession on that constitution. And it was because many church leaders failed to abide by the church constitution that the Confessing Church arose. In the introduction to Barmen the author speaks of what is threatened:

This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of Church administration. (8.07b)

And that is the problem today in the PC (U.S.A.). Simply stating that our constitution is orthodox does not speak to or about those who are continually and systematically thwarting and rendering it ineffective. The Confessing Church leaders called for those who agreed to stand with them. In their view those, even though leaders and administers, who were ignoring and tramping on the confession of the church were no longer members of the German Evangelical Church.

 When pastors broadcast or write that the Bible is a myth and/or deny the deity of Christ as well as the existence of God they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective. When Presbyterian professors and pastors insist that the death of Jesus Christ was unnecessary they thwart and render the constitution ineffective.  When one past vice-moderator lowers the New Testament on to equal ground with gnostic texts, and another past vice-moderator insists others can come to God without Jesus, when the contemporary moderator unties the denomination from the confessions they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective.

 One can point forever to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s constitution and other study papers but if everyone including leadership does what is right in their own eyes there is good reason to see the denomination as withering on the vine that is Christ.


   [1] Here it should be noted that the PCUSA document gives this information in their footnote, “For example: the 1993 “Reimagining God” conference is often listed as proof of a move away from reformed standards.  Seldom do those making this accusation include the response of the following (1994) General Assembly which replied to critics of the church of this conference by, among other things, overwhelmingly adopting the following statements:
 We affirm the one triune God.
 We affirm the uniqueness of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ.
  We affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.
  We affirm that the Scriptures, by the Holy Spirit, are the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ.
  We affirm, again and again, the faith once delivered historically expressed in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, and the other historic confessions of our church.
        We reject teachings that deny the tenets of our faith. Let there be no doubt that theology matters, that our Reformed tradition is precious to us, and that we intend to hand it down to the next generation-our children and our grandchildren.”  [Minutes of the 206th General Assembly (1994) page 88] “


Anonymous said...

Poor Viola,

The Book of Order is the only definition of the PCUSA. Yet she cannot accept it. She wants personal opinions to define the PCUSA, and then she wants to say the PCUSA is apostate because some of those personal opinions are unorthodox.

This is how you sow the seed of dissent and disunity in the Church. So I ask, by which spirit does Viola sow her discord?

Jeff Winter said...

I am not sure what Anonymous is talking about? Viola is very clear that we need to heed the BOO. However, many leaders and pastors in the PCUSA don't heed it. They follow what is best in their own eyes. I have been ordained for over 30 years in this denomination. I have been a part of 5 presbyteries. Time and time again I see Presbyterians disregard the BOO for their own progressive agenda

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Viola is pointing out that having an orthodox standard on paper is meaningless when those in authority ignore it at will. There are countless examples of them ("them" being leadership in Louisville, seminary administrators and faculty, and presbytery leaders) doing so. THAT is how discord has been sown in the PCUSA over the years. Now how about responding to her concerns without an ad hominem–think you're up to it?

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Stushie said...

Ad hominem? Log in the eye comes to mind.

Viola is only pointing out the truth of the situation. As usual, the OGA is attempting to clamp down on dissent, adopting the role of the medieval RC Church against those who truly knew what re-form actually meant.

Viola Larson said...

I would have just deleted, but thanks everyone for your comments. You have affirmed and added to the post. Anonymous, don't post again.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Carl Trueman has a blog post titled "No Country for Old Men" that, among other things, addresses the topic of how you know what a denomination believes not only by its official statements but by what it allows. It is a brief, easy to understand, and convincing piece I highly recommend. It is especially helpful in this discussion as it shows how you cannot state a denomination is faithful to the faith once delivered simply by pointing to official documents. Here is a link to Dr. Trueman's article:

Matt Ferguson
Hillsboro, IL

Mike Armistead said...

Well said Viola! On paper the PC(USA) is a very fine denomination. It reality it is one with no discipline or enforcement of what everyone has taken a vow to uphold.

Mike Armistead
Fayetteville, NC

Viola Larson said...

I read that once before and read it again just now. I still believe God calls many to stand in place and speak truth to power. But I am not against those who chose to go either.
But in this case I see ECO hanging on in the same way the Confessing Church of Germany did. They have not ditched the Book of Confessions, instead they will treat them as real confessions. Perhaps in the future they will remove some or add to the book but they at least are able to respect their own vows, something those in the PCUSA cannot do.

Viola Larson said...

That last was in response to Matt.

Viola Larson said...

Mike that is the BIG problem, no discipline or enforcement.

will spotts said...

It is the broad systemic failure of the PC(USA) to follow ITS OWN standards - as contained in both its book of order and its confessional documents that is at issue.

Pointing to those documents that are not being followed as evidence of ... what exactly? As if somehow having the non-followed policies and statements were in itself virtuous or said anything at all about the PC(USA) ...

It seems like a worse than useless exercise. Though it will, no doubt, persuade those who wanted to believe this in the first place.

The issues were simple: 1. there are myriad examples of violations of the book of order at multiple levels of the denomination's leadership. 2. there are myriad examples of misrepresentations and violations of the express instructions of various GAs - which amounted to violations of the PC(USA)'s "on-paper" process. 3. there are myriad examples of doctrinal issues affirmed in the confessions, but rejected by denominational officials and offices. 4. there is appalling toleration for gross rejections of both 'on-paper' PC(USA) doctrines and definitionally Christian doctrines throughout the denomination.

That has been and remains the situation in the PC(USA).

The net effect of this is one of gross deceit. (Ironic, since, "on-paper" the PC(USA) rejects even dissembling language). By what spirit is such lying spread? And whose native language consists in such lies?

will spotts said...

Additionally - if the PC(USA) were to "update" its documents - maybe to reflect practice or even the current beliefs of the majority, then what?

Would that make it any more less egregious to the churches and individuals who joined the PC(USA) believing it affirmed ("on-paper") historic Reformed doctrines? These would still find themselves in an impossible position.

Not to mention the semi-official celebration of things rejected by the PC(USA)'s "on-paper" positions.

The very example cited by the OGA in this instance is ironic. Yes, 2994 rejected the re-imagining conference in order to affirm historic reformed and biblically Christian doctrines. But with what result? How many voices of Sophia breakfasts have GA moderators attended since? How much influence have ideas from re-imagining carried forward by that group had (especially after merger with Witherspoon) on policies in the PC(USA)?

No - Viola is not sowing the discord. The disharmony is real - it comes both from violations of 'on-paper' PC(USA) policies by the PC(USA) and many of its component parts, and from the utter heterodoxy (at least functionally) that dictates that biblical Christianity will be opposed within culture of the PC(USA).

Viola Larson said...

Several extra things Will, many who participated in the re-Imagining conference are still working in various PCUSA committees and their influence is often felt by decisions the GA makes such as having a Commissioner's item to have a quota on diversity of theological perspective in committees voted down in committee. I have seen it happen. Also having one of the Re-imagining women write a history of the women's movement for the PW's Horizons which included praise for the Re-imagining conference. The list is endless.