Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook & Noushin Framke on Iran: forgetting the lost

Noushin Darya Framke, Armenian/Iranian-American, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elder and activist, has written a pleasant and informative article about returning to Iran to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. But in the article, “Burning Frankincense in Iran,” found in the Presbyterian internet magazine, Unbound, Framke, writing about religious freedom in Iran, repeats her too often defense of Iran. Writing of her mother’s faith, she insists:

“Being a member of the ancient Christian community, Janet was part of a protected and well-respected religious minority. (On the other hand, converts from Islam to Christianity are not protected, as Islam considers them apostate, but that’s another story).”

This is a statement that Framke also made in a comment to an article published by the Presbyterian Outlook. I searched for it as I was preparing my material for this posting but could not find it. However Framke enlarges on this idea in her report in the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook. First she explains that the Christian groups who are indigenous to Persia (Iran) are respected and allowed freedom of worship by their Muslim rulers. Of the others Framke writes:

“But evangelical Christians—Protestants who converted, most from Islam, when Presbyterian missionaries began proselytizing in Iran in the mid-19th century—are indeed persecuted. Because they are converts “out of Islam,” these Christians are considered apostates—people who have abandoned their original faith. They are for this reason treated very differently from Christians whose roots are pre-Islamic and are honored by Islam. …”

In the end Framke insists that the reader must understand that it is not Iran that is at fault but Islam. And that if we hold Iran accountable for the persecution of Christians we must also hold other Islamic countries accountable. Well, yes we must, but there is more to be said …

First, Framke should have read the first part of the mission report written by Rev. Dr. Jean-Claude Basset. Of the indigenous Christians, Basset writes:

 “In spite of such declarations [about religious freedom by Iranian authorities], religious beliefs continue to be restricted by ethnicity. Christians from minority ethnic groups, such as Assyrians and Armenians, are able to worship only in their own ethnic languages and churches. Persian Iranians (Farsi-speaking) are not free to convert from Islam to other religions. Churches in Iran are coming under increased pressure to stop all activities in the Farsi language, and some congregations have closed their doors to Persian converts to Christianity.”
Secondly, while Framke places the blame on Islam rather than Iran, insisting that to hold Iran guilty we must hold such countries as Saudi Arabia guilty—she is covering up a lie with a truth. Yes! We must hold all of those countries which persecute Christians or any other minority faith guilty. But the truth is, Iran persecutes its Christians. It doesn’t matter which ones. It persecutes Christians.

Thirdly, and this is important, the reason Iran and its Islamic leaders rarely harass some of Iran’s indigenous Christians is because they rarely participate in the Christian calling of evangelizing.  David Garrison in his recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam writes, “As a respected minority in Iran, Armenians were tolerated, so long as they did not proselytize the Muslim majority. All of this begin to change, though, in the mid-20th century when a Holy Spirit awakening began to stir in the hearts of the Armenian Christians.”

Garrison points to a Christian who was Armenian, and during such an awakening helped form the Iranian Assemblies of God. He also refers to a Muslim convert who was a part of the same awaking. He writes of the martyrdom of both the Arminian Christian and the Muslim convert.  The fruit of their ministry continues:

“The story of courageous Christian witness for the sake of Iranian Muslims’ salvation is not limited to the Armenian or Assemblies of God community. The many testimonies emanating from Iran today are filled with bold and sacrificial witness from ancient Assyrian church members, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Brethren, Pentecostals, and others “who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

And this is the true and troubling problem with Framke’s small mission piece, it not only makes a trifle out of the pain and suffering of fellow Christians, it ignores the need the Muslim has for Jesus Christ. It cares little for the Muslim in her steps toward the gaping mouth of hell. Framke’s piece forgets the very foundation of mission—that Jesus died to save sinners.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Telling truth, doing truth and Jesus' kingdom

Picture by Stephen Larson

This afternoon, December 13, the presbytery negotiating team, (PNT), held a meeting in the Sacramento Presbytery offices, inviting all of those interested in why they were asking for an administrative commission to be put over Journey Church. They also invited those interested in staying in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Many of us attended, both those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Several items presented by word and paper are not true. In a handout the PNT team, who did not negotiate with those who voted to leave, stated this:

“The pastor orchestrated those members being selected by the Journey Church Nominating Committee so that those who did not agree to the dismissal were eliminated from consideration. The climate became so unpleasant that some members felt it necessary to leave. Many of them have not found a new church home.”

In contrast to this statement it should be noted, a committee selects new members for deacons and elders. I came to Journey from Fremont Presbyterian Church when they were leaving the PC (U.S.A.) because God called me to renewal work in the denomination and I wasn’t finished. I couldn’t leave. Not until the 2014th General Assembly where I experienced so much corruption I felt it was time to go. But I was already an elder at Journey, and no one in the nominating committee, including the pastor, asked me if I thought we should leave. At the time I would have said no! What they were concerned with was my views on Jesus and biblical authority. They were concerned also with spiritual gifts—mine are discernment and teaching.

The paper also states:

“On November 19, the PNT met with a larger group. Most of the people had been leaders in Journey Church. They had called members they thought would be interested in staying in the PC (U.S.A.). They reported on what the members said. Some of the members indicated that they had voted to dismiss without understanding the full implications. Others indicated that they would be interested in coming back if there were a PC (U.S.A.) Teaching Elder who did not have an agenda of dismissal. Others said that Journey was their church and that they intended to continue attending no matter what denomination. They talked about their long term, mostly more than twenty years, relationships and leadership.”

First the constant abusive references to our pastor in this paper is unacceptable. Even if the words were spoken by others they should not have been placed in a paper seen by the congregation and strangers alike. The PNT needs to apologize.

The other problem, which has to do with truth, surfaced in the conversation. At first one team member made a remark about how anyone could be a member of the group that wanted to stay even if they had never set foot in Journey Church, but when I asked they stated they were just making a point about how the church would grow and be viable. But as the conversation went on it seems that the PNT invited those who had not been members for many years to become a part of what they consider the “true church.”

 I had an example of this while going to the restroom during the break. There was a lady behind me I had never seen. We exchanged greetings and I asked her if she was from Journey. She said no, she went to Journey a long time ago but now goes to a Methodist church. I asked how she happened to be at the meeting and she stated that a friend had invited her.

It is one thing to use the word schism as it relates to a small group of people who voted to stay, it is another thing to maneuver the statistics by adding people who have not been members of Journey for many years. It is far easier to use one’s authority to create the appearance of a schism than it is for an actual schism to occur within a body of believers. The PNT team freely admitted that they wanted to keep the property for the PC (U.S.A.) and so their desire led their actions.

Journey Church has many ministries. Children and young people, families and an older generation. They reach out in their ministries to a food bank, Teen Challenge, a school in Africa, ministry in Russia and Mexico. There is so much more, but I make this point that the PNT is only focused on the PC (U.S.A.) as though that is the only important part of the ministry of Christ. While God will surely be our help, our ministries will suffer as we transfer to another place.

I made one of the PNT members angry tonight as I left. I told him, I believed they cared more for the PC (U.S.A.) then they did for Jesus and his kingdom because they did not care for the harm that will be caused to His ministry in Folsom. But I still believe this. Jesus said where your treasure is there will your heart be also.  Jesus is Lord of His Church which includes all of the saints in heaven and on earth.

Perhaps the property belongs to the PC (U.S.A.), they will make it so it seems, but they cannot unmake the transforming work of Christ in his Church.  And where He is not they cannot build His kingdom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

For you ... accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one

Picture by Stephen Larson
We live in a time of false teaching and apostasy. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) carries this burden of apostasy. It usually cost something to stand faithfully in such times. In JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, as a new evil Shadow arises and creeping darkness engulfs their universe, Frodo, the Hobbit, says, “I wish it need not had happened in my time.” Gandalf, the wizard, replies:

“So do I,” … “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

After going through the correct process of discernment, voting and obtaining enough yes votes to leave the PC (U.S.A.) the session of Journey Church in Folsom received an e-mail with an attachment telling us that the church buildings and name would be given to  those who voted against leaving. Among other items the negotiating team wrote:

“Having discovered a healthy group of Journey members who wish to continue Journey church as a PC(USA) congregation, The Transition Team made a motion to COM  in accordance with the Book of Order and the new Dismissal Policies, that Presbytery appoint an Administrative Commission with original jurisdiction in order to move forward with this intended plan. COM passed this motion unanimously.

Subsequently, we mailed letters to the membership list that you provided, explaining the COM action, especially informing any who had voted against the dismissal request, that Journey, PC(USA)  church will continuine [sic] at the present location  assuming that Presbytery adopts the motion.”

The Old Testament reveals several ways the devout were faithful to the worship of God and the authority of scripture in times of apostasy. There is the prophetic tradition which stood against the idolatry of the Israelite culture. The prophets were made conspicuous by their own words and faithfulness. In the midst of a time when leaders profaned their religion with idols and false teaching the prophet was very much a member of the community and yet—too often they stood alone.

On the other hand is the witness of faithful priests, teachers and laity. Several times the faithful fled idolatry going instead to the one place of true worship. When the kingdom of Israel was split into two kingdoms and Jeroboam, the king of Israel but not Judah, set up false priests and created an idolatrous worship system, the scripture states:

For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord.  … Those from all the tribes of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel followed them to Jerusalem, to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers. (2 Chronicles 11: 14, 16)

Much later during a revival in Judah under king Asa, the king sent out officials, Levites and priests to teach the sacred law to the people. “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people. (2 Chronicles 17: 9)

The early Christians did not lose their worship sites until the last Roman persecution, but many undoubtedly lost their own property, their homes. The author of the book of Hebrews states:

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened’ you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle: through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. (10: 32-35)

We have a great possession. We have Jesus our Lord.

Here is the letter sent to all the members of the congregation:

“December 2, 2015 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

After prayerful consideration, study of the scriptures, and our conversations with those wanting to stay in the PC(USA), the Presbytery Negotiation Team (PNT) has determined that there is a viable congregation that can maintain Journey Church as a PC(USA) congregation. Anyone interested in this process is invited to attend an important meeting on December 13 at 4 pm at the Sacramento Presbytery office, 9983 Folsom Boulevard, Sacramento, to discuss the way forward. The PNT will conduct the meeting.

  On October 11, 2015, Journey Church’s Session voted, and the members agreed, to request that the Sacramento Presbytery of the PC(USA) dismiss Journey Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.

On October 22, 2015, the Committee on Ministry appointed a Presbytery Negotiating Team (PNT) to begin the process of negotiating the terms for dismissal.  Before the PNT could meet, a number of former and present leaders of Journey Church opposing the dismissal contacted the Presbytery’s Moderator and members of the team, inquiring as to what the Presbytery could do to maintain a PC(USA) presence in Folsom. The PNT met with these inquirers, first individually, and then as a group. The Book of Order (G-4.0207) and the Presbytery’s Gracious Policy for Reconciliation or Dismissal policy requires our presbytery to work with this viable group who wish to continue to use the church name, the property, and the assets to maintain a PC(USA) ministry and congregation.

 Please be assured that the PNT is not trying to disparage anyone who no longer feels at home in the PC(USA) from making a move to another denomination. We will be sad to see you go, but we know that everyone must follow his/her own conscience under the leading of God's Spirit. Please know that you will always be welcome to return.

The Committee on Ministry is making a motion at the next Sacramento Presbytery meeting to appoint an Administrative Commission (AC) to guide the process forward. You may copy this letter and give it to those who might not receive it in the mail.  Please feel free to contact any one of us if you have questions.  Blessings,

 Presbytery Negotiating Team”
Pray for all involved in this transition.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Marco Rubio's confession

This is a speech by presidential candidate, Marco Rubio. It is part of his interaction with a group of Evangelicals. He was asked about his relationship with Jesus Christ. His answer is outstanding. If you have not listened to this video yet enjoy.