Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The history and context of Journey Church becoming Hope Presbyterian Church as they transitioned to the EPC

I am writing a narrative of Hope Presbyterian Church's transition from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I felt I should place it within the history of the PC (U.S.A.) and the Sacramento Presbytery. This is my beginning.

Local history lies in the context of wider events. On January the thirty-first of 2016, the majority of members belonging to Journey Church, Folsom, California, a PC (U.S.A.) , church, registered and voted to become charter members in a new denomination. Hope Presbyterian Church of Folsom, a transitional church in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was formed becoming a part of the Pacific Presbytery of the EPC. This event developed out of the history of the evolving progressive culture in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
My introduction will set the event of a new church plant in the EPC within the history of the PC (USA), the Sacramento Presbytery and the local church, Journey Church of Folsom.
Report of the Theological Task Force of the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church
The PC (U.S.A.) and its General Assembly, in an attempt to solve the continuing debate about sexuality versus biblical principles, in 2006, voted to accept the Report of the Theological Task Force of the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church on the place of homosexuality as well as fornication (the act of unmarried sex) in the lives of those who sought ordination. Although, the authors of the report insisted that it was not local option, the right of different presbyteries and churches to set their own standards, for many local churches and presbyteries it became so.
The Sacramento Presbytery:
Because of the passage of what became known as the PUP Report, the Sacramento Presbytery, still containing many evangelical churches, passed, in 2006, four resolutions to guide the Presbytery:
 “1. To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery holds that all candidates for ordination, installation, and/or membership in this Presbytery shall comply with all standards for ordination set forth in the Constitution of the PCUSA, or shall be ineligible for ordination, installation, and/or membership.
2. To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall not receive into membership, nor recognize as a member, anyone who has been ordained or installed under a scruple (that is taking exception to any of the ordination standards as set forth in the Constitution of the PCUSA.)
3. To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall honor the protest of every congregation that chooses to exercise its right to withhold its per capita, therefore, only designated congregational per- capita funds shall be used to fulfill presbytery per capita obligations, and presbytery per capita assessments shall not be increased to compensate for such protests.
4. To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall take no action to enforce any general trust interest claimed against any property, real or personal, held by an individual congregation within the Sacramento Presbytery.”[1]
The resolutions passed. However a complaint was filed against the resolutions by David Thompson, then teaching elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sacramento and teaching elder, at large, Jack McNary. On June the 20th, 2007, the Synod of the Pacific overturned the resolutions.[2] At the same time David Thompson and his session ordained two elders who were practicing homosexuals[3]. When members of the presbytery complained a committee was formed to investigate the event. The committee instead of disciplining the pastor and session wrote a letter to Westminster apologizing for the investigation and then made fun of one pastor, on the floor of the presbytery, who complained about the letter.
The Louisville Papers:
In some presbyteries the ‘Louisville Papers’ may not have played much of a part in their history; I believe they did in the Sacramento Presbytery. The Louisville papers were secret documents uncovered by The Presbyterian Layman. Written by Presbyterian lawyers and leaders they basically encouraged Presbyteries to battle for church properties in civil courts. They stressed a hierarchical nature for reformed denominations and pointed out that judges who belonged to hierarchical denominations, such as Catholics and Episcopalians, would better understand the proceedings.
Shortly after the Presbyterian Layman’s disclosure the moderator of the general assembly, Joan Gray, visited the Sacramento Presbytery. In the midst of questions addressed to her, a pastor asked her what she thought of the Louisville papers. Her reply was that she had not read them because she did not think they were important. She did not see the pastor’s face as he turned away. It was filled with shock and disbelief. I have no reference for this; his expression is simply burned into my memory. Shortly after this two churches, the two largest churches in the Presbytery, Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church and Roseville, sued for their property.
They eventually began a discernment process to leave the PC (U.S.A) for the E.P.C. In the meantime the presbytery produced a reasonable dismissal policy. The presbytery voted to allow both churches to leave with their property with the requirement of a gift of money for the presbytery. The agreement was fairly evenhanded. And then, once again, David Thompson of Westminster filed a complaint against the presbytery for allowing the two churches to leave with their property.
The church’s suit for their property was reinstated and was eventually sent to the Synod of the Pacific since Sacramento Presbytery was going broke. The Synod demanded an exorbitant payment for their properties. By this time churches were losing their properties in court due to hierarchal property laws and the two churches settled and left with their properties as did many other churches in the presbytery.
Further actions by the General Assembly, 2010 to 2014:
In 2011, after the General Assembly in 2010, a majority of the presbyteries voted to remove what was called the fidelity and chastity clause in the PC (U.S.A.) Book of Order. That was, “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and / or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament (G-6.0106b).” [4]
One of the gay elders, who had been ordained by Westminster in Sacramento, was a commissioner to the 2010 GA. (In an uncanny way the PUP report had helped to move the denomination toward an unbiblical view of sexual ethics.) After this action LGBT members of the PC (U.S.A.), as well as those living with a sexual partner without marriage, could be ordained to the offices of teaching elder, ruling elder and deacon.
The General Assembly of 2014, not only voted to send to the presbyteries an item that would change words in the Book of Order to allow same sex marriage but also passed what was supposedly a clarification (an authoritative interpretation) of W. 4. 9000. The authoritative interpretation rather than clarifying changed the meaning of W. 4. 9000 stating that the meaning was “"...the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them [teaching elders] to perform."
The amendment that was sent to the presbyteries and passed changed the wording from “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.  Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.  For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.  In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.” To:
“Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.”
At this point the presbyteries simply made legal what many teaching elders, against Scripture, had already been doing. With the idea that Scripture could be interpreted individually via the Holy Spirit and against the traditional understanding of the whole universal church, the authority of Scripture was lost and many other churches began the discernment process which would lead them away from the PC (U.S.A.). There were other issues, important ones, which led to the exodus of many more churches in the Sacramento Presbytery. In fact two Korean churches, without going through the discernment process simply walked away from their properties.
Christology and Soteriology: the Lordship of Jesus and his Salvation:
One of the large incidents where Presbyterians as well as other mainline denominational members degraded the Lordship of Jesus Christ and denounced his salvation was the Re-imagining conference held in Minneapolis in 1993. The P C (U.S.A.) through the women’ ministries gave a large sum of money to the conference. Lady Sophia, thought of by some radical feminist as both the Holy Spirit and the mother of Jesus, was chanted to and used in prayer.[5] The author of the chant or prayer included it in her section of a book on the conference. One of the more damning verses was:
“Our sweet Sophia, we are women in your image: / With nectar between our thighs we invite a lover, we birth a child;/ With our warm body fluids we remind the world of its pleasures and sensations.” [6]
Some speakers denied the atoning death of Christ. Delores Williams stated, "I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses, and blood dripping, and weird stuff."[7] Another speaker Rita Nakashima Brock referred to the death of Jesus on the cross as child abuse by the Father. The conference, although the PC U.S.A. fired some people over the issues, was to effect the women’s ministries for many years. In the Sacramento Presbytery and at the church I was attending at that time, Fremont Presbyterian Church, when teaching a class on women’s issues one woman in particular showed up in a Sofia tee shirt as a means of confrontation.
Throughout the whole PC (U.S.A.), the atonement and deity of Christ is often denied, twisted or reinterpreted. From teaching elder Landon Whitsitt, vice moderator of the PC (U.S.A.) from 2010 to 2012, who is a pluralist, believing that there are other ways to salvation besides Jesus, to teaching elder John Shuck who believes in no God at all, the denomination is full of those who in some way deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
The Christian is never allowed to enter into any peace but the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But at least they are allowed to rest in a part of Christ’s church that offers the safety of the word of God for their foundation. I am now ready to begin the story of our congregation’s journey to such a place.

[1] Layman, John Adams, “Presbytery will consider four resolutions in response to approval of PUP report”, http://www.layman.org/newscb98/
[2] The Presbyterian Outlook, “Synod overturns Sacramento Presbytery post-PUP policies,” http://pres-outlook.org/2007/07/synod-overturns-sacramento-presbytery-post-pup-policies/ 
[3] Naming His Grace, Viola Larson, “A newspaper article and letter about David Thompson: should we laugh or cry?,” http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2011/01/newspaper-article-and-letter-about.html
[4] See Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves change in ordination standard: ‘Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ’ replaces ‘fidelity and chastity’, https://www.pcusa.org/news/2011/5/10/presbyterian-church-us-approves-change-ordination/
[5] Re-Imagining and Re-Imagining, Nancy J Berneking & Pamela Carter Joern, editors, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press 1995).
[6] Ibid, “Creating the Sofia Ritual,” Hilda A. Kuester, 18-20.
[7] Re-Imagining (Christian feminist conference), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-Imagining_(Christian_feminist_conference) I have placed a reference to Wikipedia but I listened to all of the tapes from the conference.


Andy Vloedman said...

I commend you on your restraint in describing the actions of the 2014 GA. Having watched the events unfold online my strongest memories are of the Stated Clerk tearing up the Constitution of the PCUSA and advising the body they were free to proceed however they wished to proceed since words meant whatever they voted they meant.

Viola Larson said...

Andy, I was there and I certainly wanted to say more. There is a lot more to say. I left out abortion and Israel and I may eventually add to this particular piece but I do need to get to my objective which is the narrative of my church going through discernment and leaving.