Friday, July 10, 2015

Schism, heresy and control

So what is schism? How does it fit with heresy? Part of my thoughts are at the moment centered on a little church in Northern California, Burney Presbyterian Church. The Sacramento Presbytery held a special meeting to vote on a motion to place an administrative commission over the Burney church. This is the motion:

With the determination of the Administrative Commission appointed to the Burney Presbyterian Church on February 28, 2015, determining that there is a schism pursuant to the Book of Order (G-4.0207), that the presbytery take immediate action and take original jurisdiction of the Burney church, and continue the relationship with the PC(USA) in all means of its ministries.

The first AC appointed to the church simply determined that they were in schism but were not allowed to act on their assumption. At the meeting, to the Presbytery’s credit, members of the church were allowed to speak. But commissioners were not offered the first AC’s report and so the only reason given to commissioners for stating the church was in schism was that several people, including two session members, did not wish to leave the PC (U.S.A) while the other four session members did. Most Burney church members want to leave and spoke out at the meeting.

The above means that in the Sacramento Presbytery if a church wants to leave the PC (U.S.A.) but a few members do not, the church could easily have an administrative commission placed over them.

During the debate about an amendment to the motion, I noticed that the parliamentarian kept pointing to a paper and stating that it was already there. It turns out this was to be the instructions for the new AC, but none of us had seen it. After a bit of protest the moderator read the instructions. I had trouble hearing her and later voted with those who wanted the instructions added to the motion. After reading them at home today I am sorry I voted yes, but the amendment failed anyway. Here are the instructions:

The Administrative Commission shall:

1.       Confer with the members of the Burney Presbyterian Church to explain fully the process of resolving the discord within the congregation. Special attention is to be given to those members who have stopped attending yet wish to be faithful to the PCUSA.

2.      Dissolve the Session of Burney Presbyterian Church.

3.      Become the governing body of the Burney Presbyterian Church.

4.      Assure the conduct of worship and the preaching of the Word on a weekly basis and assure that pastoral ministry and meeting financial obligations continue.

5.      Identify accurately the members of the congregation who wish to be part of the PCUSA and those who do not want to be a part of the PCUSA.

6.      Identify members of the congregation who are willing to accept necessary leadership roles and responsibilities for the ministry of the church; and, furthermore, give direction and supervision to these leaders.

7.      Assess the viability of the Burney Presbyterian Church as a continuing congregation made up of those members desiring to remain in the PCUSA.

8.     Explore ways of providing assistance, financial or otherwise, to facilitate the viability of the congregation should that be the course of action taken. Such exploration can include, but not be limited to, financial aid from the Presbytery, developing a mission strategy, exploring a “yoked” relationship with another PCUSA church, exploring a federated church arrangement with a church in correspondence with the PCUSA.  

9.      Facilitate the individual transfer of members who do not wish to be part of the PCUSA to a congregation of their choice and with whom the PCUSA has a corresponding relationship allowing transfer of members.

10.  Carry out any other necessary actions to bring this matter to a final resolution.


And yes the motion to place an AC over the church passed.

So what does Calvin have to say about schism and heresy? Well for one, they are not the same. And for another, unity only exists within a body that holds to the essentials of the faith or “sound doctrine” as Calvin puts it. The PC (U.S.A.) has cast aside the authority of Scripture; even half of the denomination’s constitution is now in conflict with both scripture and our confessions. I have quoted Calvin on this just recently. I will do so again:

“The name of heretics and schismatics is applied to those who by dissenting from the Church destroy its communion. This communion is held together by two chains—viz. consent in sound doctrine and brotherly charity. Hence the distinction which Augustine makes between heretics and schismatics is, that the former corrupt the purity of the faith by false dogmas, whereas the latter sometimes, even while holding the same faith, break the bond of union (August, Lib. Quaest. In Evang. Matth.). But the thing to be observed is that this union of charity so depends on unity of faith, as to have in it its beginning, its end, in fine, its only rule.”

It is the PC (U.S.A.) that is causing schism because every church, elder and official that denies or twists scripture, denies the faith and breaks unity with the church universal. A great many, not all, in the denomination, have moved on and are now celebrating the vile sensuality of our fallen culture. Even the stated clerk. Schism has come slithering into the door of our churches by way of deceit, worldly pride and political correctness.

Peter speaks of those who speak arrogant words of vanity. He says they entice by “fleshly desires, by sensuality”—they live in error. Jude speaks of those who have, “crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” John speaks of those who fail to bring their sin to the Savior and his shed blood. (1John 1:5-9)
Yes, the denomination is experiencing schism but not by those departing to other reformed denominations but by those who have so torn apart the truths of scripture that they have left the faithful without a true home.



Gary W Miller said...

Dear friend, as I read your account of yet another congregation in stress and another presbytery trying to bring order to chaos my gut begins to quake with anxiety. I chaired two ACs and gave leadership to a departing congregation. I was forced into an early retirement. I left the PCUSA after the COM and EP assured me that I would never serve another congregation. I now serve a small membership EPC church. God is slowly mending my wounded mind and smoothing myself my troubled heart. I think I need to revisit the whirlwind that Satan stirs up in the PCUSA. You can't begin to imagine how sorry I am that you and this congregation are in the throes of what I believe is a Roaring Lion that God has permitted to purify you.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Gary,
It isn't my church, but my church is in discernment too. I am so glad to hear that you are pastoring again. And that you are healing.

Jodie said...

I don't know how anybody can build churches in this environment.

While most of the time I don't agree with your Biblical interpretation, I find the outright biblical illiteracy among the ranks of the PCUSA leadership just as distressing.

However, the illiteracy goes across the political gamut. Do you really think it is possible to reason, or even want to reason, with somebody who holds up a half a dozen bible verses or so to label fellow disciples of Jesus as heretics? It's a different kind of illiteracy.

I strongly disagree with the metaphor that God is allowing a Roaring Lion to purify anybody. The theology of "purification" in the Gospel is that Jesus purifies the Church by decree. It's called 'Grace'.

As long as we refuse to live into the grace that is poured out on us daily, we will continue to fail to offer a compelling reason why anybody should remain in fellowship with us. We are mired in a culture of strife. We worship in word and deed the god of War. Inside and outside the Church. Liberals and Conservatives alike. That, in my mind, is our true joint heresy.

The Prince of Peace offers a culture of peace.

When the Church returns to the culture of the Prince of Peace, we will experience the fruits of the Spirit that are hanging there for the taking.

The real metaphor that applies, I think, is that even though it feels like the cool refreshing waters God's Spirit have warmed, and the healing hot waters of God's Holy Spirit have cooled, that we are somehow far away from God's Holy Spirit, the fact is that Jesus is standing just outside the door and is knocking. All we have to do is open the door, and he will come in, and dine with us. The Prince of Peace. In our dinning room. The neighbors are going to want to be part of this. It will be like the block party we had on the Fourth of July. everybody bringing food and drink, kids playing, singing and dancing, fireworks, the Mayor and the Chief of Police will drop by, and 20 year old traffic problems will be solved with a simple conversation while eating tacos.

Nobody wants to be part of a Church that does not offer God's alternative to the culture of strife that engulfs us all, not just the Church, not just America, not just the whole world, but the whole Universe in space and time.

Not even the Holy Spirit.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Anonymous said...

I believe the issue you are referring to without naming it is marriage equality. All the pastors in my church are very supportive of marriage equality. Our organist/choirmaster is openly gay and recently celebrated his marriage to his long time partner. The session is divided on the issue but moving in the direction of full marriage equality. The music director had a private wedding ceremony at their home, A choir member who is an attorney officiated and our Sr pastor gave a blessing. A large reception was held at the church. Our pastor wants to take things slow until the rest of the church "catches up" to everyone else. I am ordained and served more than 20 yrs in full time ministry as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I came out I was no longer welcome in my home church. My partner and I feel so fortunate to find our PCUSA congregation. We have set our wedding date and the same attorney will officiate and our pastor will be there to offer a blessing. I do not believe being gay/homosexual is a sin no more than being heterosexual is a sin. God has created me to be who I am and and God says it is good! We are all unique and accepted into God's family. I've been with my partner for almost 13 years. We know LGBTQ couples who have been together for more than 30 even 50 years. It's finally great that society/culture is catching up to what God has already said is good. Being gay is not wrong it is just different.

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous, when commenting here you must leave your name and city/state. The Bible does not state anywhere that the practice of same gender sex is good. God did call his creation good when he created, but humanity fell and a gay lifestyle is a part of fallen humanity's sin as is greed, stealing, or any other sin. God in his love and kindness calls us to repentance.

But the real issue is denying the authority of God's word and Jesus as the only way to salvation.

Viola Larson said...

Jodie, you really do need your own blog. And yes, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. After all the angels did sing at his birth peace to men of goodwill. However not all are men of goodwill. What did Jesus tell his disciples:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. And a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household."

Jesus does promise us his peace in the midst of our trials and some day, when he returns, there will be complete peace. But in the meantime too often because we hold on to our faith we do make enemies.

Viola Larson said...

This is written by Sherry L. Kirton who couldn't get it to post.

Grace is offered, but only those who repent experience the fullness of it.

I believe, Viola, you said it clearly here, "The PC (U.S.A.) has cast aside the authority of Scripture; even half of the denomination’s constitution is now in conflict with both scripture and our confessions."
This is what the whole of our conflict comes from. Not singular issues. It is that our leadership is accepting sin that God has declared otherwise and it appears in different areas in the changes enacted in our Book of Order. That is faithless, to say God wasn't clear, or He changed His law, or He was always wrong. Salvation requires repentance, not just a human declaration that what God called sin is no longer sin to us. We don't get to dictate to Him what truth is and what sin is to Him. His people must remain repentant and forgiving, without compromising either. Without the Holy Spirt's help neither is possible

Jodie said...


Not sure if your were quoting Mathew or Luke, but in both cases it seems you may have quoted that passage out of context. The reference in Mathew, a quote from Micah actually, is in reference to the persecution the followers of Jesus should expect at the hands of unbelievers, such as the recent beheading of the Christians in Libya, the wholesale murder of the Jesuits in Japan, and many other examples throughout history, starting with the Crucifixion of Jesus himself.

They are worshipers of the god of War as well. The only recourse for us is to convert them to being followers of the Prince of Peace, and to lead by example.

(Or, do as Mars teaches, and kill them back)

I do hope you did not mean to use it to justify fratricide among Christians, bitter and biting disputes between disciples of Jesus who disagree on matters of biblical interpretation, or the excommunication and / or persecution of non believers at the hands of Christians? It sounded like you might be suggesting that?

Jodie Gallo

Linda Lee, Washington said...

When God wanted to prepare the Isrealites and Egyptians to accept the Exodus of the Jewish nation to withdraw from
the land of Egypt he allowed ten plagues. The plagues also worked on the people of God to make them ready and willing to move as God was directing. On the surface the plagues were unsettling, much like how we feel at every event that moves the denomination away from orthodoxy and scriptural integrity. The plagues were also evidence of God's power and ability to bring about His will over the resistance of the Egyptian people. We cannot lose sight of how big God is in our midst.
God's will is being born amoung us by GOD to create a place where those who listen, hear and understand God's best ways are willing to let go and move out of the slavery being perpetrated by the PC(USA). The only way I can make sense of why God is allowing Presbyteries like Sacramento and the events of the last GA is to see that God is showing us the darkness so we will move closer to the light. That may mean leaving all to seek a place God calls us to for the sake of the Gospel being shared with power.

I do not believe Jodie can understand any of this and instead, like many, will remain Luke warm and in limbo. That is a dangerous place to be.

Jodie said...

Linda Lee,

That is an interesting re-imagining of the Exodus story.

My favorite gospel is Matthew, but I am indeed warm, not cold, towards Luke. And quite right, I do not understand the us vs them dichotomy between the us who believe we "listen, hear, and understand God's best ways" and them whom we believe do not.

(I am not sure which of these you are saying are being shown the darkness in order to move towards the light?)

It kind of reminds me of when my 5 year old son tried to tell me that God had said I was supposed to stop at AM/PM and get him a hot dog on the way home. I told him that the next time God told him that, please ask God to tell me too. His reply was that God had, but I was not one of those kind of people who can hear and understand what God says to me, but that he was, and God had told us both that I was to stop at AM/PM and get him a hot dog.

It would be so much easier if God told everybody the same thing, don't you think? It would save us all a lot of trouble.

(In my son's case, he would have gotten the hot dog he so craved, or been happy to wait for dinner at home)

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Andy Vloedman said...

Citing Augustine and Calvin you have stated the issue clearly. "Unity only exists within a body that holds to the essentials of the faith". Moderator Rada can protest all he wants but the reality is the PCUSA ordains Pastors who publicly profess their atheism. The denomination has taken the position that there are no essential tenets of faith. The position isn't that any particular one is not essential it's that there aren't any that are essential. Freed from the Confessions a PCUSA pastor in his blog declares he has placed God on the table for dissection. He has taken on the weighty task of determining whether the concept of God has a future. In doing so he appears to have answered the question posed by Nietzche's madman "must we ourselves not become Gods to appear worthy of it" The answer according to this Pastor is yes. Having dismissed the concept of the Triune God he promotes the concept of a god that emerges from the human mind. Sherry is right there is no single issue separating us.

Ron said...

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