Sunday, May 24, 2015

Talking about Jesus, or not?

Recently the Laymen posted an article, “Moderator Rada, May I introduce you to the Rev. John Shuck?” The Moderator had stated at a Presbyterian Mission Agency board meeting that all teaching elders must vow to accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God. Speaking of the biblical and confessional doctrine that Jesus is the sole Lord and Savior, Rada stated:

“One cannot join a church in our denomination without answering the question in the affirmative that she or he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you do not, you cannot be a member in our churches. And I have not met one single person—member or officer of our church—who does not believe that as truth. There has been a campaign of hate and divisiveness built against us. And it is not a true reflection of our particular body of Christ.”

The Layman pointed out that the Rev. John Shuck does not believe in any of the biblical truths of Christianity; he does not even believe in a personal God. I want to add to this because I believe many in the denomination are totally unaware of the growing apostasy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Scripture and the Confessions may proclaim the Christian faith, but a growing body of people within the denomination are allowed to uphold unbiblical views. Without discipline and censure it simply does not matter what the Confessions and Scriptures say.

In 2012, teaching elder Landon Whitsitt, who was vice moderator of General Assembly at the time, was visiting various presbyteries, speaking about a book he had written, Open Source Church the Wisdom of All. Videos were made of his talks and in the last video he stated, “Just because God has called you into relationship through the work and person of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean everybody has to be in relationship with God through the work and person of Jesus Christ.”

I wrote about the videos at, “Landon Whitsitt, Open Source Christianity and the sovereignty of God.” I stated that Whitsitt was a universalist. He read the article and on Twitter, in conversation with me, said no, he was not a universalist but a pluralist. Whitsitt pointed me to a Wikipedia article which explained that pluralists believe that one can be saved without Jesus’ salvation. (See also by Whitsitt.)

One teaching elder who envisions God in female terms and rejects most biblical doctrine and ethics, is Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters. Desiring a god/ess that changes as humans change, Peters contends that:

“An unchanging God generates self-blame and feelings of abandonment in the face of the changing imperfect world. In contrast, a God/ess open to change is consist with images of divine partnership with humankind, working together in the ongoing process of co-creation.”[1]

Peters, using her theological meanderings, passes by Jesus and sees female sexuality as a revelation of god/ess’ attributes. This bolsters her advocacy for LGBTQ sexuality as well as sex outside of marriage.

Teaching elder Aric Clark, more a universalist than a pluralist, nonetheless applauded John Shuck’s unbelief as he preached the installation sermon for his term at  Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton Oregon.

The list is endless. There is Presbyterian, Dr. Eugene March, whose pluralist book The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity was studied by some members of the General Assembly Council during their 2005 meeting. It was meant for everyone but because of some protest its use was limited.

In the recent Sacramento Presbytery meeting we sang a song (I and some others didn’t) by Miriam Therese Winter. It was in the old blue Presbyterian hymnal. (Oh for a world-p 386.) The writer, who is Catholic, has written three books of liturgy for women which focus on women’ issues using female and goddess names for deity. In her book, Woman Wisdom, she has a poem asking about the name of the deity. Some of the verses are:

 I Am the Prehistoric Goddess/ I have many names and myriad manifestations.

Oh Prehistoric Goddess, reveal to us your names and myriad manifestations.[2]

The prayer goes on to name and pray to most of the known goddesses of ancient history as well as contemporary time. Not only is this blasphemous, it erases the very object of Christianity, Jesus Christ. He has no meaning in the context of pagan worship. As an example the song we sang began:

“O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways, where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.  O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved, where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.  We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice that opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.  The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise.”

The tune used is from “O for a Thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” That song is about Jesus:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

Winters replaced Jesus with humanity.

Moderator Rada and many others in the P. C. (U.S.A.) need to understand that eventually the Scriptures and the Confessions will have no meaning at all for those in the denomination who choose our postmodern culture.  A written text unembraced has no purpose or use in any organization. A living, divinely inspired text has life to give to those who embrace its words, because they are the words of God. Without the word of God both the individual and the church is dead. Over and over it needs to be spoken, “Jesus said to him. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

[1] Rebecca Todd Peters, “Embracing God as Goddess.” Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love, editors Marvin M. Ellison & Sylvia Thorson-Smith, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press 2003), 165.
[2] Miriam Therese Winter, Woman Wisdom: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter: Women of the Scriptures: Part One (New York: Crossroad 1997) 299.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sacramento Presbytery passed their "gracious" dismissal policy: some thoughts

Sadly some bloggers in Pakistan have been hacked to death for their atheism. And a blogger in Saudi Arabia has been flogged weekly for his political views. But we, in the United States, are supposedly a democracy, I should be able to blog freely about the discernment process my church, or any Sacramento church, belonging to the  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is going through.

And that is a real problem because today, May 14, 2015, despite pleadings by several, the presbytery passed a dismissal policy that was anything but gracious.

It starts with biblical and gracious words but continues on in a controlling mode, setting churches up, not for reconciliation, but to flee the whole horrific process. For instance the part I have focused on as I began this posting is:

“Concurrently with the appointment of the PET [Presbytery Engagement Team], the chair of COM shall advise the pastors and Session as well as the Moderator that the General Presbyter or Stated Clerk will serve as the sole spokesperson with all media agents throughout the process. Any exceptions to this policy shall be approved by the Stated Clerk or General Presbyter in consultation with members of the COM and Presbytery Council.”

Now blogging about dismissal does not make me a spokesperson for my church or anyone else, but since I have been quoted in other publications I have been used by the media to gain information. Needless to say, I insist on my right to freely inform others and express my opinions.

For instance today, at our Presbytery meeting, an administrative commission placed over a small church in Burney California, declared the church in schism. If there is not reconciliation those few who do not wish to leave the PC (U.S.A.) will undoubtedly be declared the true church and be given the property. If there is reconciliation and the congregation all decide to leave together they face a daunting situation. With the new policy they will need to run a gauntlet of control and expense. For example the presbytery can hire a lawyer and the church, a very small church, will have to pay for the lawyer.

The need to control is the outward problem with the dismissal policy but there is a deeper problem, an unspoken problem. Today we had several teaching elders and some of their ruling elders speak on a panel about how they were dealing with the diversity in their congregations and the issues the denomination is facing today. It was almost as though they were showing us how we could ignore the elephant in the room. But the elephant is still sitting there and many members of Sacramento’s presbytery want those who are concerned about the elephant to stop caring.

Ten churches have already left the presbytery. Three, including Burney, are in discernment. This exodus really does spell defeat for an agenda that some wanted the whole church to embrace. The agenda was to bypass Scriptures and Confession and have the whole denomination embrace a cultural mandate to lift up unbiblical sexuality. In this case sexuality has turned into totalitarianism because churches are being forced to either ignore what they believe is sin or pay a huge penalty for the sake of their faith.

The many churches leaving in an attempt to be faithful to the authority of God’s word are a judgment on an agenda that has nothing to do with obedience to the Lord of the Church. It is the powers of darkness, which Paul speaks of in Ephesians, who are influencing the misery that some churches now face. And yet, still, Jesus is Lord of his Church, He is with us in the midst of uncertainty and sorrow.  To use Karl Barth’s German (Luther’s) translation of Psalm xlvi. 5: “Still,” it is said, “still, shall the City of God abide, lusty beside her tiny stream.”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A new dismissal policy for Sacramento Presbytery?

Sacramento Presbytery, my presbytery, will be voting on a new dismissal document at the next presbytery meeting. You can read the policy here: Gracious Dismissal Policy Review Task Force- Proposed Policy. This change comes just as three more churches in the presbytery are in the midst of discernment. The policy is supposedly meant to bring the dismissal policy up to date with the most recent church court cases. For that reason the writers of the document cite, “Tom v Presbytery of San Francisco, GAPJC (General Assembly 30 Permanent Judicial Commission) Remedial Case 221-03 (2012).” [1]

But I think this dismissal policy goes much further than anything intended by the remedial case. As I read the policy that will be voted on at the next presbytery meeting, May 14, I had a question which hopefully my readers can answer. Does anyone’s presbytery have a policy that is like this policy or is this something new? I will highlight some of what I think is important.

Property is a big part, of course.  Here is what it says about the property of a church that is leaving

“Care for Property

 Within the important constraints set out below, and as long as it recognizes its fiduciary obligation to the entire denomination codified in G-27 4.0203 "The Trust Clause" and G-4.0207, Presbytery may permit options in dealing with PC(U.S.A.) property being used by a Congregation. These 1 options include:  (1) retaining the property for those members of the Congregation who wish to remain in the PC(U.S.A.); (2) leasing the property to the departing Congregation; (3) selling the property to the departing congregation; (4) leasing the property to the departing Congregation with an option to buy; (5) selling the property to a third party. The choice of which option to offer shall be made according to which option is in the best interest of the PC(U.S.A.) in consultation with Presbytery's Congregational Support Ministry Team or its successor.”

As a writer and in a culture which has lately been concerned with the issues of freedom of the press and freedom of religion I was very surprised at the new policy’s rules for the media. The dismissal policy states:

“Concurrently with the appointment of the PET [Presbytery Engagement Team], the chair of COM shall advise the pastors and Session as well as the Moderator that the General Presbyter or Stated Clerk will serve as the sole spokesperson with all media agents throughout the process. Any exceptions to this policy shall be approved by the Stated Clerk or General Presbyter in consultation with members of the COM and Presbytery Council.”

And then there is the control of meetings which has been a joint project between the Presbytery Discernment Team and the Session of the church. Part of the policy states:

“If the vote of the Session is to continue the process, then the PET and the Session shall jointly decide on a procedure for taking the matter to the entire Congregation.  The congregational meetings, moderated by PET, shall review the earlier PET meetings, explain the options, and discuss the process to date. The PET shall determine how many meetings will be necessary.”

There is a lot more but this is enough to answer the question about other presbyteries’ policies. Does your presbytery have a policy that in any way resembles this one? If you were voting on this how would you amend it?


[1] The GA Junkie has an excellent article on Tom versus San Francisco Presbytery.