Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Turning toward home

Most of my family at a reunion this summer
I’ve been thinking about how to write this for several weeks now. Almost everything I am going to say is not absolute because only God knows the future. But now and then He hands me a little outline. The outlines mostly come by way of circumstances but once in a great while I hear Him speaking to my heart. A lot of my thoughts and future plans lie in devastation, at the moment, with a great sense of loss, yet underneath are God’s great arms.

Several things are converging in my life. I will try to explain:

First there is church. At the moment I am a member of Journey Presbyterian Church in Folsom California. A wonderful church with many loving and devout Christians. I am on session—this is my first year—and we have just begun to enter into discernment with Sacramento Presbytery. I am uncertain of where that will lead. But anyway, because of the rest of my story, eventually, in a couple of years, I will need to pull back and return to a church closer to my home, my old church, Fremont Presbyterian in Sacramento, which is now a member of the  Evangelical Presbyterian Church. (It is where my husband attends.)

There is now no other orthodox/evangelical Presbyterian church close to my home. They are all progressive.

And my husband, Brad, a gifted piano tuner and Bible teacher, is the other part of my story. Several weeks ago we went together to several doctors, including a neurologist for testing. Several days ago he had an MRI. In October, after all of the tests have been studied, we will find out a little more about why my husband is suffering with some sort of dementia. Oh yes, he still tunes (a little) and teaches the Bible at ‘fire camp,’ a minimum security facility for young inmates who help fight California’s wildfires.  But the problem seems to be progressing. (And just to let you know in the midst of this trial he is sweeter every day. His faith is very strong.)

And so in the midst of all of this I will only be blogging a little—undoubtedly a good thing—because I often feel I blog too much—it is the nature of blogging to do that. And when I eventually am no longer PC (USA) and find myself outside the gates so to speak, I envision that this very full blog, with well over a thousand postings, will end or turn to different subjects or morph into a different blog. But God for many months has put these words in my heart- Turn your face toward home. And so-slowly and carefully, I will turn.

There are those who continue to stand, like God’s faithful prophets of old, in the PC (U.S.A.). I had hoped to stand there beside them but I will not be standing there but for a little while longer. There are many who continue to leave—may God put them in just the right places proclaiming the good news of Jesus', life, death and resurrection.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on obeying a heretical church

Johan Christian Dahl: Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway, 1832
I have been writing about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminary, Finkenwalde, versus the Underground Seminary connected to the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis.[1] While reading old material and new, I discovered a lecture Bonhoeffer gave and then turned into a letter to his past seminary students. It is a letter worthy of our own times although there are, of course, some important differences. But the questions being answered are similar. So are the denunciations by enemies. And I must call them enemies because of their total intolerance.

The lecture and letter is about whether the Finkenwalde students should seek ordination through the consistories of the official German Christians, or go by way of the Council of the Brethren formed by the Confessing Church. To go by way of the Council of the Brethren make the students illegal pastors and their future was at stake. But as Bonhoeffer saw it, if they did become pastors through the consistories, their faith and the faith of those they would shepherd were endangered.

Bonhoeffer using both the Theological Declaration of Barmen and the Message of Dahlem,[2] and more importantly Scripture, admonished his past students to faithfulness. He considered the church under the direction of the German Christians heretical and its pastors self-called.

Some of the differences between our own church struggle in the mainline denominations and the German church struggle is that the German Christians were aligned with the German government. Although liberal in their Christology and biblical understanding, they were willing to embrace racism, anti-Semitism, and nationalism as a means of pulling more Germans into the churches. They were also eager for power. But within these differences is the shadow of similarity in the American church struggle, particularly in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The mainline denominations are not controlled by the government of the United States, however, they are willing to let go of biblical morality in order to conform to the culture and laws of progressive states that affirm same gender marriage and they fight to uphold laws that allow the killing of live aborted children. It must also be said that some of them embrace organizations who are anti-Semitic at their core. The shadow may be morphing into a solid reality.

One other similarity is that both the mainline denominations, in particular PC (U.S.A.), and the German Christians had and have confessions and creeds that affirm biblical truth. Both can and did say, “See in our confessions we affirm that Jesus is Lord,” or “Christ Jesus died for our sins,” or “Scripture is the written word of God,” while allowing [3]pastors and elders to deny the most basic of Christian truths.

So the answers for Bonhoeffer had to do with the connection between what he considered the true church and the heretical church. Bonhoeffer named some of the questions but refused to acknowledge them as legitimate and yet he is answering some of them. Here are some of the questions and his answers.

Can the order and proclamation of the church  be changed?

The German Christians attempted to change both the order and the proclamation of the church. Bonhoeffer turns to Scripture. “Eph. 4: 15 ‘But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined and knit together.’  Bonhoeffer acknowledges that the church is gathered around proclamation and sacraments but he goes on to insist that the church is more, it is the whole Christian life lived by the whole body with Christ as head. Bonhoeffer writes:

When the proclamation becomes false, the church’s concern must be true proclamation; when the church’s order is destroyed, then the church’s concern must be true order; when the practice of Christian life or love is hindered, then the church must nonetheless follow God’s commandments alone.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say that the Synod of Dahlem called for the use of the word to correct church order and proclamation. This was why the Councils of Brethren were formed so that pastors would no longer be ruled by consistories whose members were elected through a political system that had nothing to do with Scripture or calling.

The next question has to do with the ‘one church’ and church unity.

Bonhoeffer was clearly against schism and understood that the church was one. But his answer to the young theologians and others was that the German Christians were causing the division. He writes:

The entire church was threatened, so action was required for its sake. Let us remember that we stood up for the sake of church unity, in order to avoid schism and division. But who is causing the division; those who dissolve and destroy the teaching and order of the church or those who affirm and uphold it. … ‘One body and one spirit,’ this was the question, but how is this possible other than that there be also ‘one Lord, one faith’ (Eph. 4:5)?

Bonhoeffer then goes on to speak of how the body has joy together and suffers together.  But he reminds the young theologians that this is a natural part of being members of the body of Christ. And then he writes of the church’s need for leaders who will teach truth rather then falsehood. Here Bonhoeffer is pleading with his former students to stay with the Confessing Church for the sake of the congregations which leads to the next question.

Who should be leading the church? “The proclamation is bound to the church’s commission.”

This section has everything to do with God’s call or sending rather than human intentions. Bonhoeffer uses Jesus’ call to pray for workers in the field. He writes:

When Jesus sees the people [Volk], he has compassion for them because they are parched with thirst and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. But he does not awaken his disciples’ own offer to proclaim the gospel, nor does he appeal to their love for the people [Volk] and the church-community, but he says: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38) In a situation that is very similar to ours, Jesus calls not for self-empowerment action but to prayer, asking God to send preachers.

God builds his kingdom, not we. Nowhere in Scripture does someone come to his ministry without being called, since this is not a matter of pious behavior but God’s own work.

With these thoughts of it being all God’s call and his work, Bonhoeffer points out that this would not be true if one accepted a call from the enemies of God’s church.  And this leads to probably the main focus of the lecture and letter.

Is it disobedience to Christ to obey a heretical church regime [government]?

Bonhoeffer is very clear here, “A church regime is bound to become heretical when it acknowledges other bonds for its ministries … than that to the gospel alone.” In addition, and I believe this is being proven true in the American mainline denominations, “It[the church government] thereby necessarily becomes the oppressor of those who act only out of this bond, and it becomes the promoter of false teaching and lies.”

The German Christians acknowledged such bonds as Aryan ethnicity, new revelation such as, God was revealing himself through the Führer and Jesus as the noble hero rather than the crucified Savior.  These German bonds at first simply existed alongside the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection, but they became the means of a systematic elimination of the good news.

The post-modern denominations have also began ministries that have evolved from other bonds. The ministries based on nothing but equality or justice, minus the redeeming Lordship of Christ and the authority of his word, have shaped denominational ideologies which not only leave out the good news they ignore  their own values and create victims who suffer without mercy. For instance the millions of babies killed in the womb and the babies aborted alive who are also killed. The weakest in society are given no justice. This too eliminates the good news.

Bonhoeffer warns his past students to remember how the sin of Israel evolved from the sin of Jeroboam, who sat up a false worship system allowing whoever desired to become priests, to Ahab who allowed the worship of the Baals and the office of priest to be filled by the immoral priests of Baal. He also reminds his readers of how King Saul went from disobedience to consulting a witch.  

Bonhoeffer writes:

A congregation that no longer takes seriously its separation from false teaching    no longer takes truth seriously, that is, it does not take salvation seriously, and ultimately that means it does not take itself seriously, regardless of how pious or how well organized it is.  Those who obey false teachers, and promote and encourage them, are no longer obedient to Christ. Here it is said: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt 6:24).

Here a footnote states, “The NRSV here has ‘God and wealth,’ but Bonhoeffer’s German text is ‘Mammon”: he is referring here to the German Christian—controlled finance departments that were putting pressure on Confessing congregations.”

Bonhoeffer ends this pleading, and it is a pleading, with remembrance of God’s care and comfort. Like one of the first martyrs of the Confessing Church, Paul Schneider, he refers to the troubles as waves of the ocean, but reminds the pastors that Christ is stronger:

“We will become free of worry only when we abide firmly in the truth that we know and let ourselves be guided by it alone. But if we stare at the waves rather than looking to the Lord, then we will be lost. For many of us it is a huge temptation—we need to say this—when again and again brothers are urgently telling us to look at the waves; see the storm; there can be no happy-end. This is the temptation toward unbelief. We do not wish and cannot deny that there are waves, but we want not to look at them but at Christ who is stronger than them. If only this could finally be understood! In the world it is different, but in the church it can only be this way.”

[2] From the online Encyclopedia Britannica, “At the end of 1934, at the second synod of the Confessing Church at Dahlem, the church proclaimed its emergency law: the true church in Germany was that which accepted the Barmen Declaration, and, where church leadership was no longer faithful to the true confession, ministers and parishes were to follow the orders of the Confessing Church. Thus, in practice, two Protestant churches developed in Germany: the one under state control and the Confessing Church, which the state did not recognize. The Confessing Church, together with the churches of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Hanover (which had remained independent of Nazi rule), formed the provisional government of the German Evangelical Church.
[3] “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Lectures on thee Path of the Young Illegal Theologians,” Theological Education Underground: 1937-1940, vol. 15, German Editor Dirk Schulz, English Editor, Victoria J. Barnett, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2012) 422.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bonhoeffer's Finkenwalde: the Christian needs others because of Christ

I am following up my blog about the Underground Seminary with thoughts on Bonhoeffer’s views about community and theological education. While the Underground Seminary founded by teaching elder Jin S. Kim, John Nelson, and Laura Newby, of the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis, is supposedly modeled after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde seminary during the Nazi years, it is instead, evidently, influenced by progressive ideologies and sees community as a counter movement against western colonialism, consumerism and individualism.  It is meant to develop disciples by rooting out the ‘logic and impulses of empire.’

But Finkenwalde was created in order to train pastors who would be faithful to the word of God. Bonhoeffer clung to a realism that was grounded in the incarnation—Jesus Christ was truly human and truly God. Finkenwalde was not about un-doing fascism, (a worthy cause), Finkenwalde was about raising up pastors who loved the Lord of the Church and loved each other.

I am using Bonhoeffer’s Life together, written during the founding of Finkenwalde, to explore his views. I will write another posting, looking at a lecture which was sent as a letter to those seminarians who emerged from the illegal seminary and were struggling with faithfulness because of the German church struggle. The lecture is “Lecture on the Path of the Young Illegal Theologians of the Confessing Church, October 26, 1938.”

Almost immediately Bonhoeffer, in his book, Life Together, lays out the only real reasons for Christian unity and fellowship. This he hoped the seminarians would grasp. Bonhoeffer gives three reasons and then enlarges on each one. The first is that a Christian needs “others because of Christ.” Because humanity is sinful and can only live from the righteousness of Christ and can only live from the word of God they need to hear that word coming from the lips of others, “the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.” Bonhoeffer puts it strongly and clearly:

All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians springs solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.

The second reason for Christian community is “A Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.” As Bonhoeffer puts it, “without Christ we would not know God, we could not call upon Him, nor come to Him. But without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother” And Bonhoeffer goes on to explain that this bonding with our Christian brothers and sisters is an eternal bonding. That is found in the third reason.

The third reason for the fellowship of Christians is “that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” And this is where Bonhoeffer’s faith affirms the goodness of God’s creation and takes seriously the world in which we live. It is because Jesus has taken on human flesh and as a human he both lived, died and experienced a fleshly resurrection. And in our unity with Christ we are forever with brothers and sisters.

Pulling us all together in our unity with Jesus, Bonhoeffer writes:

We who live here in fellowship with him will one day be with him in eternal fellowship. He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united with him in Jesus Christ. Christian community through and in Jesus Christ. On this presupposition rests everything that the Scriptures provide in the way of directions and precepts for the communal life of Christians.

Here is a unity and fellowship that can only boast in Jesus Christ. A community without the center, Christ Jesus and his righteousness alone, is not a Christian community whether it is called church, is a simple gathering of friends or is a seminary. Its whole purpose comes naturally and grows naturally because of its unity with Christ. Outside of Jesus as center there is no real Christian purpose, since there is no real Christian unity.

The rest of Life Together covers the day’s activities from morning devotional with biblical reading in community to singing, eating, ministry and confession, etc. Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about biblical reading in the context of thinking about theological education is important. He speaks of families and seminarians or even those alone, reading the biblical books in sequence. And of how this places us into the actual events:

Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jorden into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s faithfulness. All of this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, however important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

Bonhoeffer could have changed theological training into political denunciation and re-education using all of the various ideologies of his day. He chose to emphasize training in the Scripture and proclamation. That was enough to make him an enemy, it is still enough to make enemies. Edwin Robertson in his biography of Bonhoeffer, The Shame and the Sacrifice, writes of the academic part of the seminary:

Bonhoeffer himself did the teaching—homilectics, [sic] catechetics, pastoralia, exegesis – and his lectures were given from very carefully prepared notes. His method of sermon instruction was peculiarly his own. He would set the students a very difficult text – often highly theoretical or remote – and require them to draft a sermon on it. These would be read out and then he would show by example how that remote text could be preached.

 After the seminary closed Bonhoeffer had his students, who were in ministry, send him their sermons and he sent out his own commentary on texts.

All of this is not to say that Bonhoeffer’s seminary neglected the social and communal life of his students. The church and its ministries are rooted in the incarnation. God both created and loved the world. A letter from one of Bonhoeffer’s students confirms the joy and meaning that Finkenwalde gave to the students. The student mentions “music, literature, sports, and the beauty of the earth; a generous style of life that favorably combined the culture of old homes with the uninhibited forms of community of young men.”[1] Nothing in any of the information given about Finkenwalde suggests that the students were pushed beyond their calling to do ministry and proclaim the gospel. Their subject was Christ and the word of God.

Finkenwalde was true to Barmen, the Confessing Church’s confession:

“The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, puposes, and plans.” (8.26-8.27)

Picture by Ethan McHenry

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theological Education Underground: 1937-1940, Vol. 15, Dirk Schulz, editor, Victoria J. Barnett, editor, English edition, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press  2012) 6.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The "Underground Seminary," Bonhoeffer, community and truth

Recently ChurchandWorld linked to a Presbyterian Today article about the beginnings of a seminary called ‘Underground Seminary.’ The school, formed under the leadership of teaching elder Jin S. Kim, John Nelson, and Laura Newby, of the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis, is supposedly modeled after the Confessing Church’s Finkenwalde seminary, led by Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the Nazi years. Kim, head of a large multi-cultural church, states that rather than just being an academic school the students will be preparing for an “alternative way of life that is a counter-imperial witness to our faith in Jesus.”

But looking at the school’s site and information I found, with a few good exceptions, little connection to Bonhoeffer’s Christian views. Rather the influences are heavily loaded toward Marxism and anarchism in general.  I believe the coming ‘Underground Seminary’ is a sign of the many ways the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is and will be fragmenting in their attempt to attract members from our decadent culture.

With this posting I want to explore some of what the school site calls their influences and how they are both a contradiction to Christianity in general and Bonhoeffer’s desires for Finkenwalde community life and teaching. I will follow this posting with another one that looks at some of Bonhoeffer’s seminary goals which will include the letters he sent to the pastors who emerged from Finkenwalde after it was closed by the Nazis. I will add to that Bonhoeffer’s views which he articulated about how those same theology students and the Confessing Churches they were involved with should view the prevailing ‘church’ at the time, that is, the German Christians. That information can be found in “Lecture on the Path of the Young Illegal Theologians of the Confessing Church, October 26, 1938.”[1]

On the Underground Seminary web site, under ‘About’, there is this as part of the explanation, “Our focus is on intensive character formation, a rigorous post-colonial critique of our present systems, and nurturing intimate and sustainable forms of community life - basically, equipping our students to follow Jesus uncompromisingly.” And under the ‘Rationale’ it states:

The modern American way of life has proven to be bankrupt. The ideals of individualism, production and consumption that have now been exported globally are destroying the environment, fragmenting local communities, and giving rise to alienated and anxious individuals who function as mere cogs in the global market.

We believe that future Christian leaders must be equipped to swim upstream and call to account the powers and principalities, the multinational corporations and their political lackeys, that are polluting the waters of our commonwealth. Our graduates will be expected to understand the way Wall Street, global economics and geo-politics actually work. And by decolonizing our very minds and bodies, we hope to truly equip our students to live differently, rooting ourselves in history, the land, and an intimate community that gives birth to new and sustainable forms of community life.

There are a lot of truths in that statement as one begins reading, however immediately one notices that the bankrupt society is totally tied to political and economic issues.  Individual immorality and soul sickness is missing. Scrolling down, the statement focuses on a final project for students. It would be about an individual who the student might use as a life model. And the names are good examples:   Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero, and Dorothy Day.

However clicking on the home page and scrolling down to the “Our Curriculum,” there are three tracks of study that follow in consecutive order. The first track is “Unveiling: Exploring the workings of empire.” Beneath that is a list of the names of those who have influenced the curriculum. Many of those influences are secular Marxist and/or liberation theologians in outlook.

One professor has taught Karl Marx’s Das Capital for forty years.  The most troubling name is the environmentalist Derrick Jensen.  Jensen is on the steering committee of Deep Green Resistance, an environmental and radical feminist group that advocates for the destruction of civilization by way of its infrastructure.  And this even when it leads to the death of innocent people. Their plans, including alternative versions, are published on their site.

Deep Green Resistance advocates for above ground groups who will ready humanity for the revolution by way of community, and underground groups who will attack, in many ways, the infrastructure of civilization. One of the jobs of the above ground groups is to cover for the underground and use the destructive event to push for solutions advanced by radical environmental groups. Those ideas are seen in the paper Four Phases of Decisive Ecological Warfare:

In this alternate future, aboveground activists in particular take on several important tasks. They push for acceptance and normalization of more militant and radical tactics where appropriate. They vocally support sabotage when it occurs. More moderate advocacy groups use the occurrence of sabotage to criticize those in power for failing to take action on critical issues like climate change (rather than criticizing the saboteurs). They argue that sabotage would not be necessary if civil society would make a reasonable response to social and ecological problems, and use the opportunity and publicity to push solutions to the problems. They do not side with those in power against the saboteurs, but argue that the situation is serious enough to make such action legitimate, even though they have personally chosen a different course.

The next curriculum track is “Reimagining: Reading the Bible as a Counter Imperial Witness.” Here some of the influences listed are Norman Gottwald who has been called a “pioneer biblical Marxist Scholar, and Laurel Dykstra who refers to herself as an out dyke and was a speaker at the 2014 Wild Goose Festival. In other words, while the first track influences are mainly secular and Marxists, the second track influences are religious with a progressive political focus.

The third track is “Birthing: Nurturing Sustainable Community Life.” The influences listed in this track are more in keeping with the original listing of models for Christian life and community. That is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. However there are also progressive theologians and activists such as Dorothee Sölle and Bell Hooks. There are no orthodox and/or reformed theologians in any of the lists except for Bonhoeffer. There are certainly no evangelicals despite the fact that Kim has, in the past, referred to himself as an evangelical. So to return to Bonhoeffer who in some ways stands alone in this list, why is his name and the seminary he led being used in such a manner?

Bonhoeffer, who was an opponent of a political régime, nonetheless focused the training of the students at Finkenwalde on biblical passages and the student’s relationships as that which is mediated through Jesus Christ. Reading the Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, both written during and after the time of Finkenwalde, gives one a clear understanding of Bonhoeffer’s views. He was no Marxist and he had a consistent biblical faith. In fact in one of Bonhoeffer’s first letters to his scattered students, after the school was declared illegal and many graduates were already in prison, mentions that he would have liked to have given them his new book, the Cost of Discipleship, as a Christmas present but was unable to. He then finishes out the letter with commentary on several biblical texts for advent. Here is one of those commentaries. May it bless the church today:

Ps. 25:10 “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” Are you, who have experienced hardship in this year, able to speak today with all your heart that the paths of the Lord are pure goodness and truth? Did you know that God was good to you when he sent you misery and imprisonment? Has God made himself known to you as the true and faithful one when he took so much from you? No one who says No to God’s promises and commandments is able to say Yes to his paths. Agreement with God’s will occurs in daily submission to his word. Something may appear to us as minor disobedience, and it will take from our hearts the gratefulness and praise for God’s paths. It is painful and difficult to walk under Christ’s yoke when we do it against our will. It is easy and gentle when God at Christmas has overcome and won our hearts for it.”

picture by Penny Juncker
[1] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theological Education: 1937-1940, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 15.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Moderator Rada & Ali Abunimah of the radical Electronic Intifada (Update)

The Office of the General Assembly has published, on the Presbyterian News Service site, a column by Moderator Heath K. Rada “Experiencing the breadth and depth of the PC(USA).” Rada writes about his many activities as moderator. One was his meeting with the founder of the TheElectronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah. Rada does not state that Abunimah is the founder of the Electronic Intifada, instead he writes:

When I returned to my home in Montreat I was offered the privilege of meeting with Ali Abunimah, a well-known Palestinian author and journalist and frequent guest on CNN and other news programs. Ali was in Asheville to speak at a gathering of Quakers, and to hold a book signing. Ali shared with me the gratitude of the Palestinian people for the help Presbyterians have given with interpreting their pleas for peace and justice. He understands we are a divided church over the best way to be involved, but said our historical stand for justice for all of God’s children is admired throughout the world.

Perhaps the Moderator does not know about the book Abunimah wrote, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, insisting that there be only a one state solution which should not be a Jewish state.
The Moderator fails to acknowledge that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while attempting to assure the Jewish people of the United States and Israel that we will hold to a two state solution, nevertheless, are looking at the possibility of changing that policy. And Rada’s visit with Abunimah is just a push in that direction. Remember a one state solution means that the Jewish safe haven would no loner exist; there would then be just one more Arab state.

Rada earlier wrote of his visit with Jewish leaders and Presbyterian pastors in New York City. He writes:

Next we headed to New York, where I had the privilege of meeting with several outstanding Jewish rabbis, as well as some equally outstanding Presbyterian ministers. The objective of the meeting was to hear concerns of those gathered who have been devoted partners over the years. As my mail and conversations have indicated, so many Jewish people were hurt by our decision to divest from certain companies doing business that supports war efforts in Israel. Those gathered listened carefully to a brief overview of Presbyterian polity (so they would know the Moderator has little power to influence or change votes) and to hear how our church discerned and deliberated decisions.

Oh, but the Moderator does have the power to influence and change votes for the next General Assembly. And he does so by whom he lifts up and praises. He also does so when he too easily accepts and uses praise as that given by Abunimah that the PC (U.S.A.)’s “historical stand for justice for all of God’s children is admired throughout the world.” What truly counts is God’s regard, concern and sorrow over his people. May we walk humbly before the Lord not allowing those who do not lift up the biblical God to influence us or our mission.*
*(Update) There is another side to both Abunimah and those who work with him that is applauded by some in the Presbyterian Church but is somewhat of a contradiction when it is aligned with biblical Christianity and that is his connection to Marxism. Just this June he was a featured speaker at Socialism2014. His lecture was on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that the PC (U.S.A.) insists they are not connected to although they have divested from three companies doing business with Israel. The Socialist conference supported by Haymarket Books in part of their description states:

"Socialism 2014 is a four-day conference bringing together hundreds of socialists and radical activists from around the country to take part in discussions about Marxism, working-class history, and the debates and strategies for organizing today."


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The seriousness of our faith in the death of children (Update)

My heart is sick. While writing about everything else going on in my world this great shadow, which is shadowing everywhere and so many, is making my heart sick. Tonight it is stories of children being beheaded and cut in half. Christian children who belong to Jesus. Yesterday it was women raped and sold into slavery—undoubtedly sexual slavery. It is about those crucified and those starved to death. A great and hideous darkness has arisen in the Middle East.
Oh yes there was already darkness there, the death of Coptic Christians, the horror of Syria, the ancient prejudices that shatter a hundred communities. But this, ISIS, is literally an army of demoniacs. They are hurting the many communities of Iraq.

The gates of hell—no—they will not prevail—but in the meantime the martyrs of Jesus are gathering beneath his alter. And many of them are children.
We write about being in exile because of the actions of this culture and the liberal churches but the Christians and others of Iraq know true exile. The Christians know it because they refuse to deny Christ. And they experience it in loneliness because many of the western mainline denominations ignore their suffering.

The Presbyterian News Service has barely mentioned the suffering, instead, today, picking up from the Religious News Service some trivial idiocy, “United Church of Bacon: May the Lard be with you.” Yes there is such a group, but who cares. It is like some of the sailors on Jonah’s ship making a gourmet dinner while others are throwing all of the tackle and cargo into the ocean.
I believe this is a time when all of us, progressives and orthodox, must take seriously our faith. It is a time to consider the reality of evil, the campaigns of Satan against the holy plans and purposes of God. God has purposed that there should be redemption (salvation) in the midst of death and misery, Satan always fails to see that from the planted seed, yes even the death of children, the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ grows stronger.

ISIS is darkness, evil in a thousand forms, facing millstones toward judgment.  And yet, the redemptive work, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is far, far greater. One of our Presbyterian Chaplains, Ed Fedor, preached at my church Sunday. His text was from 2 Peter, the end of chapter one. He focused on Jesus as the morning star. The sermon reminded me of the time as a young teenager going to church with a friend. I was not a Christian but the sermon about Jesus as the bright morning star stuck forever in my heart and head.
The Free Methodist pastor spoke about when you are sick and cannot sleep and are lonely. When you see that bright morning star, you know it is almost morning and you will not be alone anymore. I was sick often as a child and experienced that longing for morning and knew with the star shining I would soon be surrounded by family.

The darkness is here but the light of Jesus is brighter. The Child martyrs of Iraq are safe in the arms of Jesus and we are called to faithfulness in the midst of this awful darkness.

For excellent commentary and help read What We Owe Beheaded Children by Lori Stanley Roeleveld

(Update) Because Pastor Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition has suggested that the beheading of children in Iraq might be false I am putting a couple of links up. His, Factchecker: Is ISIS beheading children in Iraq? and Snopes who state that it is undetermined whether there is beheading of children although there is certainly killing of children.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

E-mails, Facebook, opinion pieces-the world of Presbyterian anti-Semitism

It seems that a Presbyterian pastor is straining under the weight of his own putrid anti-Semitism. He was clearly and properly admonished by Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in a Denver Post opinion piece. The two rabbis quoted first from a snarky Facebook comment made by Rev. Larry Grimm:

 "America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America!"
And then they quoted from an e-mail sent to Presbyterians For Middle East Peace:

"I favor the dismantling of the Jewish nation. By definition this nation is racist. It is as racist as our American roots were which sought to convert the indigenous population ... . Before long, the land of the Holy One will not have any indigenous Christians. Yes, I favor the elimination of the Jewish State."
And Grimm, unrepentant, and still snarky, his anti-Semitism intact, responded here: Israel must stop the slaughter in Gaza.
But the interesting exchange in all of this was the concerned Executive Presbyter of Denver, Anne Bond, who seemingly tried to put out some fire in her opinion piece “Presbytery of Denver's position on Israel, Palestine.” The problem is that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) doesn’t have any solid ground to stand on concerning their relationship with Israel or the Jewish people.
The answers Bond gives are half-truths. If one adds just another line of truth to each the whole and real truth will be shown. I have a friend who has done just that. I am leaving Bonds quotes in quotes. My friend’s additions will not be in quotes. With her permission are Bonds statements completed by my friend:
·         "This vote is one of many actions regarding Israel and Palestine over the past decade”

... because we hold Israel accountable above all other nations. Even when a resolution is on the table that criticizes another nation, we find a way to stick Israel in there.
·         "The church has a confirmed history of supporting the right of Israel to exist as a nation and the need to protect that right. It consistently affirms our commitment to peacemaking and a two-state solution”

... although we have begun the process of eroding that two-state solution with passage of 04-01.

 ·         "We continue to invest in peaceful initiatives in both Israel and Palestine”

... while never acknowledging that it was the anti-BDS contingent that steered us onto the right track there. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace's assistance in that regard will still not earn them a place at the table when it comes to naming official resource experts for future General Assembly Middle East committees. No, we will continue to rely on the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation for experts.

 ·         "The General Assembly did not vote, in any way, to boycott or sanction Israel”

... because the B and the S of BDS were already enacted with passage of 15-02 at the 220th General Assembly.

 ·         "The assembly was explicit: The selective divestment from American companies contributing to non-peaceful actions by Israel within Palestinian territory does not constitute divestment from Israel itself.”

... Yes, let there be no confusion. When we point to Israel more than all other nations combined and culminate with divestment from three companies doing business with Israel, we have no choice but to make the extra effort to keep our membership from thinking we’re going after Israel yet again with divestment.

 ·         "The 221st General Assembly (2014) recommends the following:  ... Declare the commitment to a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable and secure state for the Palestinian people.”

Even though we struck out the call for a negotiated two states for two peoples solution (see Sec 2 of 04-04), which allows us to abide by the Palestinian Authorities’ version of the two-state solution, we still technically affirmed the two-state solution. As for the next GA? Meh, not so much.
I return to my posting. The inability of Presbyterian officials to say what this person or that person said is heinous is part of the problem. That is why the PC (U.S.A.) is peppered with anti-Semites such as Grimm. Instead the party line is always given without further comment and the party line, as I have stated, is full of half-truths. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Responding to Jack Haberer's response

Jack Haberer has answered his critics in the comment section of his posting, “… with those who weep.” He did give praise to Presbyterians Pro Life and One by One for which I am very grateful. He also places his faith squarely with the Evangelicals. For that I am thankful
Haberer then gives a history of some of the work of the Presbyterian Coalition and Presbyterians for Renewal. The Presbyterian Forum makes it into the history with its founders Rev. Bob Dooling and Rev. Bob Davis. They, according to Haberer, corrected an error he had made which was basically failing to continue with the political arm of renewal, an arm that he says is now missing in most of the renewal groups.

He is right about the latter, but there is a reason and I believe a better answer then he gives. I will write about that at the end of this posting.

I did not enter renewal work until around 1999-2000; I am not quite sure of the dating but Haberer’s history is new to me. However there is a history that I know very well and it leads me to believe that it was not an absence of renewal people or their politics and votes that began the downward spiral but rather the work of the ‘Peace, Unity, and Purity’ Report,’ the so called Louisville papers, and the failure of the PCUSA courts to properly uphold the constitution. It was also the work of those who manipulated the process.

I know the history of my own presbytery and I am convinced that other presbyteries in some part followed Sacramento’s journey. I had just become a commissioner from Fremont Presbyterian Church for Sacramento Presbytery as the PUP report began to affect churches and presbyteries. Although the committee insisted it was not local option it worked that way in our presbytery.

First of all Sacramento voted in several guidelines which would have preserved our obedience to the authority of Scripture and helped the churches continue as connected bodies. A minister filed a complaint and the PJC of the Synod of the Pacific ruled against the Presbytery.

The same pastor who filed the complaint, David Thompson of Westminster Presbyterian Church, then ordained two practicing gay men as ruling elders. And remember this was after PUP but before any overture had been passed at either the General Assembly or in the presbyteries to ordain LGBT persons. When the presbytery asked a committee to look into the matter they ended up apologizing to the church and Thompson. And made fun of those on the floor of the presbytery who were upset over the church’s action.

At the 219th General Assembly, one of the gay elders went as a commissioner and he was also the speaker during the presbytery meeting when we voted for the overture that would defeat the fidelity and chastity passage in the Book of Order. His argument for the day was not about the need for LGBT equality but for those older people who found it too expensive to be married, who he believed should be allowed to live together and still be elders in the church. For the first time, with the help of PUP, Sacramento voted yes against fidelity in marriage between a man and woman and chastity in singleness.

Somewhat earlier, 2006, but after the PUP report, the new moderator of the PC (U.S.A.), Joan Grey, came to speak to our presbytery. At the time the Layman had revealed some secret papers about church property put together by the Office of the General Assembly. They were draconian proposals meant to keep any church from leaving with their property.  During question and answer time one of the pastors of a large church in our presbytery got up and asked her what she thought of the Louisville Papers. She said she had not read them, that she didn’t think they were important.

Grey did not see, but I saw the pastor’s face as he turned away, it was white and grim. This was a church that cared for many young candidates for ministry, guiding them with care, both spiritual and financial care.  This was a church that participated in the work of the Presbytery, with four pastors, two women and two men, their questions to young candidates desiring to enter the ministry were always biblical, kind and helpful.

And as they attempted to leave, alongside another large church, with a gracious exit, once again David Thompson filed a complaint against the presbytery for allowing the gracious exit. And Louisville guided the process, through lawyers, in an unseemly way. PUP and the Louisville papers created the damage. In the long run even the Presbytery would suffer.
What I am attempting to point out is that it was not failure on the part of the orthodox of Sacramento presbytery, rather it was the consistent push and manipulation of people to live unbiblical lives. It was a persistent intention of some to compromise over issues that biblically cannot be compromised. And it was dirty politics that only God can fix.

Above all it was a spiritual battle that God was allowing, not to compromise the gospel, but to clarify it. When one carries the righteousness of Christ one continuously puts aside, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the false morality of the world. The denomination and the world need to see that, even in the suffering of the saints.
Haberer believes the renewal groups and the orthodox in general need to keep a four legged stool. Not only do they need prayer, praise and worship, and proclamation, they need politics. I say no, it is too late for that. And it is certainly wrong to live in peace with those who push a sinful lifestyle as righteousness. In such a compromised denomination, one must live prophetically proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus, the authority of God’s word, the call of redemption and transformation, the need to walk in humbleness and holiness.

The need is to insist, gently and kindly, that one will not bless or ordain those who call sin righteousness but instead love with the kind of love Jesus modeled; love but keep stating even to ourselves, “go and sin no more.”

David Thompson, under an administrative commission, which had nothing to do with the above history, renounced jurisdiction, founding a religious organization that allowed all beliefs or no-beliefs. He went his own way.

Whether we go with the PC (USA) or to another part of Jesus’ Church, may we go in the only way there is, Jesus Christ, Lord.