The PCUSA Elite Today (7)

multicultural-jesus

The Progressive Jesus Created Out of Whole Cloth by Our PCUSA Leadership

How to Respond?

I have been researching the beliefs and actions of our PCUSA leadership for over three years now.  I have also had direct experience based on my three year term as a Presbytery Commissioner.  That’s a total of almost seven years, spanning 2011 through 2018.  What has occurred over that time and how should we respond?

Since 2011 the PCUSA lost well over one-million members (1,070,777) and gained far less than a half-million (469,739).  That amounts to a net loss of over 600,000 Christians.  Over the same time period over 1,200 churches have exited the denomination or ceased to exist.  These cold statistics point to the devastation of human relationships and to the destruction of a once vibrant community of Christian faith.  These are people and churches who have given up on the PCUSA as a Christian home.  Their tragic testimony is utterly ignored, but the consequences exist regardless.

And what of those of us that choose to remain in the PCUSA who worship our Savior Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and interpreted by our historic Confessions?  We are a shrinking minority who are expected to either bow down to the false progressive god or to silently suffer humiliation as supposed racists, homophobes, you name it or to get out already.

But there is another choice.  We need not bow to their false god or slink around in humiliating silence or get out.  No, regardless of our declining numbers or receding power we can yet trust that “if God is for us then who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).  The elite leaders of the PCUSA have not one-tenthousandth the power of the ancient Roman Empire or the current People’s Republic of China.  It thus should not require super-human faith or courage to stand up to them.  And yet we fail to do so.

PCUSA-I-Don't-Know-This-ManIts time to start confronting these self-presumed theological, intellectual and moral betters.  We should demand that they answer for their reign of denominational destruction.  Why do they ordain atheists and reward heretics?  How do they justify denying the Christian God?  How do they explain the virtually perfect correspondence between their Christian “social justice” positions and those of the secular Progressive political movement?  How do they explain the direct contradiction between Christ’s definition of marriage and their policy on Christian marriage?  Why do they continue to feign allegiance to our historic Confessions while utterly ignoring them?  Why do they exclude Scripture’s testimony? Why do they have a boutique ideologically-tainted “theology” for every identity group and progressive political position? How do they know that Jesus Christ would support each and every position of a godless secular political organization? Why do they reject Biblical truth but demand that we submit to their admitted arbitrary human “truths”? Why do they make a mockery of their ordination vows and teach others to do the same? Why do they deny Biblical sin but embrace the concept of secular ideological sin?  By what right do they pretend to a moral superiority that their actions show to be utterly unwarranted?

To sum up all of the above apostasy, dishonesty and destruction, why do they pretend to be pious, orthodox Christian leaders?  If this seems extreme then you are living in a state of denial.  For, if a PCUSA member can get through the above material (which only scratches the surface) and still trust that our leadership has the slightest loyalty to orthodox Reformed Christianity then the only option is denial.

The fact that the Rev. Kershner so openly rejected the Christian God suggests that she believes the denomination to now be comprised only of supporters or deniers.  Thus she brazenly made her statement in the sure knowledge that no one in Fourth Presbyterian, the Presbyrery, Synod or General Assembly would rise to object.  And, that silence would allow her to go on pretending to be a pious, orthodox Christian pastor doing her level best to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I single her out not because her’s is an extreme case, but rather because she is a contemporary and unmistakable representative of our denominational leadership.

Well, I object, and will not silently accept any of this.  I don’t care if no one or thousands join me.  My responsibility lies in being true to what Jesus Christ has done.

I understand that each of us has only so much time, energy, knowledge and skills.  I contribute in what I believe to be the best use of the gifts that God has given me.  Others will choose to contribute in their own ways.  But the point is that we are called to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as God has given us the specific gifts to so do.  If we, each in our own way and time, choose to stand on that holy ground then we can remain in the PCUSA without shame or fear.  And, by God’s providential power we will make a difference even if we don’t see it in our lifetimes.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 11:39 – 12:3 (NIV)

 

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The PCUSA Elite Today (6)

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 5.26.24 AMThe Disappearing PCUSA: 2017 Data

This post seeks to capture the nature of our continuing denominational collapse.  You will note two distinctly identifiable years that are downward inflection points.  The first is 2011, when the PCUSA approved ordination of practicing gays.  The second is 2014, when the PCUSA approved of same-gender marriage.

Membership Gain, Loss and Net by Year

The following chart shows that the most important trend driving membership decline is the uniform yearly reduction in new members.  Perhaps our denominational leadership should be asked why it is that, under their policies, every year fewer Christians choose to join?

PCUSA-2017-GainLossNet

The number of membership gains (green bars) has now fallen every consecutive year for twenty years.

Our leadership consistently claims that their radical deformations of Christianity are being done to make the denomination more “relevant” to contemporary culture.  I have discussed this situation is a previous post.

As was noted in posts on PCUSA membership decline, this drive for “relevance” would appear to have been a total failure, as existing members continuously leave and fewer people join the PCUSA year after year. Given these results, which have been occurring for decades, it isn’t unreasonable to conclude that the “relevance” that PCUSA leadership so aggressively and consistently seeks is not to existing or prospective members, but rather to the secular elite with whom they appear to have a powerful bond of a common cause. It’s a sad sight to see leaders of the PCUSA offering up the church to be just one small cog in a giant, partisan secular machine.

Percent Annual Membership Change

Perhaps the 2018 numbers will show the net percent membership loss to be less than 4.5% for the first time in seven years.  If so, our leadership will spin this result as a first step to recovery.  Actually the reason would most likely be that so many members have already exited that the outward flow naturally must eventually decline.  But they would never admit the truth.

PCUSA-2017-%loss

The percentage of members exiting the denomination has been at historic highs since 2012.

Ratio of Membership Loss to Gain

Somehow, as our leaders move the denomination ever closer to their gnosis of “Christ,” flesh and blood Christians continue to vote at over 2:1 against continued membership.  But apparently the beliefs of actual Christians counts as nothing when compared to the perfect beauty of their progressive ideological theology.

PCUSA-2017-%Loss-Gain

The ratio of membership “loss” to “gain” has been above 2:1 since 2012.

Church Gain, Loss and Net

Note that not a single Christian church has asked to join the denomination for at least seven consecutive years.  Over that same time period 628 churches have exited (dismissed from) the denomination.

With regard to within the PCUSA, between 2011 and 2017, 119 new churches were “organized” and 637 were “dissolved.”  That’s a ratio of 5.3-to-1 on the negative side.

Thus, overall, between 2011 and 2017, 1,265 PCUSA churches were lost to 119 gained.  That’s a net loss of 1,126 churches.  That’s a net loss-to-gain ratio of 10.6-to-1!

PCUSA-2017-Church-Loss

The net number of churches exiting the denomination has exceeded 125 per year since 2012.

And yet these same leaders strut around Presbyteries, Synods and the GA supposing themselves to be the superior elite to whom we simple-minded pew-mice must bow.

One explanation is that our leaders are so incompetent, ignorant and mindless that they don’t realize the magnitude of their failure.  Another explanation is that their goal has been to drive out all who disagree with them through great competence in personal cruelty, theological dishonesty, organizational politics and intimidation via support from the dominant secular progressive institutions.

The preponderance of evidence supports the latter explanation.  Recall from a post on the last GA how our progressive brothers and sisters self-identified (excerpt from “When We Gather at the Table: A PC(USA) Snapshot” that describes the attitudes of the dominant progressive group towards the more conservative PCUSA members).

They are less tolerant of conservative theologies within the denomination. Some remain hopeful that conservatives who are upset with the 221st General Assembly (2014) decisions on marriage will see that there are different ways to interpret scripture, and will choose to stay and accept the changes, over time. Others would simply be happy if the conservatives left the PC(USA), and a few offered suggestions for helping dissenting congregations to leave the denomination with grace and dignity.

Thus there are only two options for orthodox Christians described in the thinking of these “Purposeful Progressives,” (1) conform and stay and (2) get out! I’d say that the loss of 1,126 churches is well aligned with the “get out!” goal.

Ministry Candidates

I predict that it will soon be virtually impossible for a PCUSA church to find a newly graduated minister who is opposed to gay ordination and marriage.  This is because in 2014 hundreds of PCUSA seminary students who don’t support the gay agenda likely up and left.  Thus, only the supportive students are and will be graduating.  I also very much doubt that orthodox Reformed ministry candidates look to the PCUSA any longer as a denomination in which they can honestly live out their calling.  Given the direction of the denomination it will be increasingly difficult for existing churches / pastors who oppose gay ordination and marriage to exist as well.

PCUSA-2017-Ministry-Candidates

The number of ministry candidates collapsed to one-half the previous year’s level in 2014.  The number has recovered modestly since then, but is still only ~60% of the 2011 level.

Closing Thought

I’ve been pretty hard on our leadership.  However, all the rest of us need to face up to what we have let them do to this denomination for generations.  Are we going to continue looking away?  Or, are we going to begin demanding accountability for this debacle?

The PCUSA Elite Today (5)

GA+2018The 223rd General Assembly (2018)

The General Assembly (GA) is being held on June 15-19 in St. Louis, MO.  Thus, another view into what dominates our elite leader’s thinking can be found in the associated Schedule of Events.  A review of this information results in the following primary topics of interest:

While a couple of these areas of interest have a church organizational connection, the majority (both in terms of number and intensity) are indistinguishable from what would be found at radically progressive Colleges and Universities.  This result is of a piece with the almost perfect overlap of secular progressive politics and Mainline denominational “social justice” work.

It’s also apparent that “Jesus Christ” is a peripheral person at best.  Searching through the Schedule of Events I found that by far the most prominent occurrence of our Savior’s name occurred as part of proper nouns for churches.  Other than a few claims that some  political position was because of “Christ’s” this or that, He is essentially absent from the discussion.

One might have thought that the continuing membership collapse of the denomination might have warranted major focus.  However, even were it a focus the absolute determination of our ruling elite to continue down their destructive path would render the process moot.  Here are comments by the General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II. on the situation.

But while the turmoil of the previous five years seemed to abate in 2017, the PC(USA) is still showing an annual drop in membership, a reality that distresses General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II. “It is clear that Presbyterians are doing poorly at evangelism,” he says. “Churches leaving was a temporary roadblock. Our inability to share the faith, to demonstrate the power and justice of Jesus Christ and his church to change a world where inequality, injustice, violence and war seem to gain strength daily is a critical factor in our failure to grow.

“The church is not dying, it is reforming,” Nelson insists, “and that reformation must be built on a vision of God’s kindom that is compelling to people who find us lacking. We have that vision – it is part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We simply must find new ways to proclaim it and, more importantly, live it out in our congregations.”

There are two groups relevant to membership that find the PCUSA “lacking,”  The first is Bible-trusting members and their churches who have left the denomination or are considering doing so.  Our Stated Clerk couldn’t care less about these Christian’s opinion.

The second is secular progressives.  It’s clear the this is the group upon which our leadership hopes to build the new PCUSA.  Therefore they will continue to slavishly serve that group.  But secular progressives aren’t interested in becoming part of a Christian organization.  No, they are totally focused on the acquisition of worldly power at any and all cost.  If the PCUSA elites can be useful by making up reasons that any and all of their policies and actions are actually “Christian,” then fine.  However, that support is viewed as a temporary necessity on their way to a glorious earthly utopian future.

I will present a sampling of the 2017 membership data in the next post.

The PCUSA Elite Today (4)

Christian-GodThe Rev. Shannon Kershner Interview (3)

When I first came across the Sun Times article, Prominent Presbyterian pastor: ‘God’s not a Christian . . . We are’, I couldn’t initially digest the enormity of this statement.  In fact, I set it aside for months.  Only recently did the full force of the implications become apparent, thus leading to this series of posts.

Denying the Christian God

The context for the Rev. Kershner’s statement is straightforward.  At time 34:20 the interviewer suddenly (as in out of the blue) asks the following question.

Interviewer: Is Christianity the only way to get to heaven, if heaven exists?

The Rev. Kershner’s initial response is immediate and forceful.

Rev. Kershner: No!  God’s not a Christian, I mean we are.

Then there is a bit of verbal fumbling as she attempts to formulate a theological rationale for her assertion.

Rev. Kershner: … For me, the Christian tradition is the way to understand God and my relationship with the world and other humans and it’s the way for me to move into that relationship but I’m not about to say what God can and can not do in other ways and with other spiritual experiences.

The simple fact is that there is no possible way for a Christian pastor to justify such an initial response.  Had she simply followed up by saying that she had misspoke; this and previous posts would have never been written.  However, by immediately justifying her statement Rev. Kershner makes it clear that this is indeed what she believes.

And, what she believes is an explicit and unmistakable denial of the Christian God.

I’m confident that, were an exhaustive analysis of Scriptural and Confessional norms conducted, the number of violations would be at least in the many dozens.  There is simply nothing in the New Testament or in the interpretation thereof from our Confessions that supports such an assertion.

The Christian God is the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as defined in the Nicene Creed.  There are no other gods in addition to the Trinitarian God.  There is no conception of God other than the Trinitarian God.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is simultaneously all human and all God.  He is the irreplaceable and eternally existing Second Person in the Trinity.  Thus to believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that God is Christian because Christ is God.  Although I had considered delivering an exhaustive Biblical and Confessional proof of these doctrines, I have concluded that so doing is a gross insult to the Christian faith.

However, I will comment on a couple additional aspects of her statement.

Visualizing the Non-Christian god

Another way to conceptualize the Rev. Kershner’s idea of a non-Christian god is to reduce it to concrete forms.  My consideration led to two (I’m sure there are more) distinct possibilities.  In the first, god becomes the summation of the gods of all cultures / civilizations.  Thus, each god or set of gods constitute a part of the total god.  The following figure shows this option (the numbers are estimates of the number of gods in a given set).

all-gods-2

The Non-Christian god as the Summation of all gods

Eagle-eyed readers may detect that in addition to the Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Pagan gods I have also included ancient idols and Satan.  Inclusion of the idols should be self-explanatory from a multiculturalist perspective.

However, many might consider the inclusion of Satan as going way too far.  It may or may not be comforting to know that I took this step based on guidance from “The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church.”  In a sermon preached on May 12, 2013 in Venezuela on Acts 16:16-24, The Most Reverend Jefferts Schori comments thusly on the Apostle Paul’s exorcism of a demon possessed girl:

But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

There you have it!  The concept of Christian inclusion means that a demon possessed girl’s spirituality is likely of a higher quality than that of the Apostle Paul’s.  It must be frustrating to our PCUSA elites to be behind the Episcopal Church in the inclusion sweepstakes.  However, they will surely redouble their efforts to catch up.

universal-god

The Universal Non-Christian god.  I have no idea where we are.

The other concrete instantiation of a non-Christian god is a universal god that transcends  cultures and civilizations.  In this case all human conceptions of god are partial and imperfect.  However, all in their own faltering way ultimately point to this same universal god.

If I had to choose which of these two conceptions is closer to the Rev. Kershner’s meaning it would be this second option.

Considering the “Christian Tradition” Explanation

The Rev. Kershner ties her concept of the non-Christian god to the “Christian tradition.”  Given that there is no Christian tradition as found in Scripture or our Confessions that supports her idea, one has to wonder to just what tradition she is pointing.

My best guess is it’s the “tradition” of post-modernist theological innovation that has occurred in the PCUSA since the Confession of 1967.  As foreseen by Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967:

The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

I would say that this is a fair description of the “Jesus Christ” that Rev. Kershner has demoted to barely demi-god status, if not a mere human, now long dead and dust.

only-traditionOne last bit of bitter irony.  During the Reformation the Catholic church argued for the combination of Scripture and tradition for the source of their doctrine.  The Reformers countered that doctrine must be based upon Scripture alone.  Now, our most elite progressive Christian leadership is reduced to arguing that doctrine must be based on tradition alone, and a tradition that is ever changing to keep up with the fads and fancies of post-modern secular progressive ideology.  So, out with the “Five Solas” and in with the one Sola (i.e., Sola Traditum) that rules them all!

I believe that the “Scripture plus tradition” doctrine of the Medieval Catholic Church was far closer to the truth about Jesus Christ than is our contemporary elite’s “Tradition Alone” doctrine.  What a sad, pathetic situation.

The PCUSA Elite Today (3)

99%-Black

This is technically a shade of grey

The Rev. Shannon Kershner Interview (2)

The interview under discussion was wide ranging in scope.  Therefore, there are numerous topics with which I must disagree with corresponding levels of concern.  I will here cover one of those topics that rise to the level of great concern.

Biblical Authority

At around 15:50 into the interview the Rev. Kershner makes the following statement regarding the authority of Scripture in the PCUSA.

… because there’s a lot of grey in our denomination and you can have differing understanding of Scripture’s authority and still be a good Presbyterian.

On its face this statement isn’t alarming.  I would wager that in any Christian group outside of a cult there are differing understandings of Scripture’s authority.

However, if you happen to know the actual range of acceptable understanding for Scripture’s authority in the PCUSA this seemingly bland statement becomes disturbing.  It is so because you are forced to choose between two unpleasant conclusions.  One is that the Rev. Kershner is utterly ignorant about the true range of acceptable Scriptural authority understandings in the PCUSA.  The other is that, although she knows this actual range, she nevertheless obscures the truth by use of language that will be misinterpreted by the vast majority of listeners.

You may have noticed that in both previous posts I have referenced the PCUSA’s ordination of an atheist and approval of an ordained heretic.  My intent was to focus the reader’s mind on the true nature of our denomination’s position on Scriptural authority.  That being, there are no limits on the acceptable differences in this area.  If you yet doubt me, here are the publicly available statements of our PCUSA atheist ordained pastor, John Shuck, on Scriptural authority.

  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend …
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being

Or, consider what the article published by the official PCUSA News Service had to say about proposals to delete Books from Scripture and add Gnostic books (emphasis added).

Until the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest were codified as the New Testament’s canon some 300 years after His resurrection, people heard the story of Jesus told through additional eyes and voices. These Gnostic Gospels are attributed to, among others, Mary Magdalene, Thomas (he of “Doubting Thomas” fame) and even Judas.

The discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in Egypt rekindled debate among theologians and religious scholars about what a “proper” New Testament should contain. One think tank that emerged was the 150-member Jesus Seminar founded by Robert Funk. During his lifetime, Funk advocated for a volume along the lines of what was produced by Taussig’s council; Funk also lobbied strongly for the extraction of some books in the New Testament, among them the Gospel of John. …

… Along this line, Reyes-Chow was quick to point out that, with the Gnostic Gospels and other “new texts” heavily favoring the strong role women played in the early church, he didn’t pick up any sense of the New Orleans council attempting to be “politically correct” or compensating for the “male-dominated” approach of the current canon.

Note that here a past Moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, is advocating for the incorporation of Gnostic Gospels into the Canon of Scripture.  And, the PCUSA article clearly is supportive of this proposal.

I am extremely doubtful that the Rev. Kershner is ignorant of this situation.  Therefore, the following figure provides a summary of what is the most likely intention of her comment.

Scripture-Grey-Space

Using tortured misapplication of logic and rhetoric it’s possible that a case for 1% (or 0.1%, or 0.01% …) orthodoxy in the views of an avowed atheist and Gnostic heretic could be made.  Thus the Rev. Kershner might argue that she is technically telling the truth in the abstract sense that if even an infinitesimal  part is white in an otherwise black color the result is “grey.”  However, it strains credulity that the the Revs. Shuck’s or Reyes-Chow’s (apparently both “good Presbyterians”) views of Scripture’s authority fall within any reasonable interpretation of the ordination questions relating to this issue, to which they apparently answered in the affirmative.

W-4.0404: Constitutional Questions

a. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

b. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

d. Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

In addition, here are the standards from the current PCUSA Book of Order that must be met for a person to be ordained as a minister (emphasis added).

 G-2.0503 Categories of Membership

A minister of the Word and Sacrament is a member of a presbytery and shall be engaged in a ministry validated by that presbytery, a member-at-large as determined by the presbytery, or honorably retired.

a.  Engaged in a Validated Ministry

A validated ministry shall: (1) demonstrate conformity with the mission of God’s people in the world as set forth in Holy Scripture,  The Book of Confessions, and the  Book of Order of this church; (2) serve and aid others, and enable the ministry of others; (3) give evidence of theologically informed fidelity to God’s Word; …

In what possible sense have the Revs. Shuck or Reyes-Chow demonstrated conformity or fidelity to God’s Word?  I contend not in any meaningful way within a denomination that calls itself Christian.

Why would our elite leaders want to obscure the truth about the PCUSA in this area?  Well, because were the truth generally known their moral credibility as Christian leaders would profoundly suffer.

 

The PCUSA Elite Today (2)

4th_Presbyterian_Chicago_2004-11_img_2602

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago IL

The Rev. Shannon Kershner Interview (1)

In the previous post I presented information on actions or lack thereof by our elite leadership that allows the drawing of credible inferences regarding their beliefs.  For example, when the Presbytery of the Cascades ordained an open atheist to PCUSA ministry and the denomination rewarded them with the honor of hosting the 222nd General Assembly, we can confidently infer that all Biblical and Confessional standards for Christianity have been erased from our elite leadership’s minds.

Although evidence based inference is a valid and necessary tool, it’s best to find instances in which our elite leadership explicitly states their beliefs.  The previous post included the explicit example of our leadership publishing an article affirming the heresy of Gnosticism.

The most recent opportunity (of which I’m aware) for explicit information on our elite leadership’s thinking is the March 7, 2018 Sun Times interview of “The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, pastor of historic Fourth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s Mag Mile,” headlined: Prominent Presbyterian pastor: ‘God’s not a Christian . . . We are’.  Although the headline statement is by far the most shocking and disturbing, there are numerous other statements that provide important insight.

The Sun Times article includes audio of an almost 44 minute “Face to Faith” interview with the Rev. Kershner. Therefore I have carefully listened to the interview in order to gain understanding of the scope and context for her remarks.

It is difficult to overstate the place of Fourth Presbyterian and thus its senior pastor in the PCUSA elite.  Fourth Presbyterian is the second largest church (~5,500 members) in the denomination and has been an acknowledged leader of the PCUSA’s (dominant) progressive theological  wing.  Thus, when this church’s senior pastor speaks we are provided with a unique opportunity to observe what our elite is thinking and how they communicate those beliefs.

The Rev. Kershner is an articulate, welcoming, humorous, modest, talented and highly motivated individual.  Many of her comments are within what most PCUSA members would find to be reasonable.  She resisted making political statements on hot-button issues like abortion and gun control.  I’m convinced that she is a thoughtful, nice and kindly person with whom I could have an invigorating conversation.

However, the issues sundering the PCUSA are not about “niceness.”  In fact, so completely have we succumbed to superficial sentiments that we have ignored central Christian theological issues rather than risk appearing to be disagreeable.  And, when our elites stride well beyond the bounds of anything approaching Christian orthodoxy while yet claiming the moral authority of Christian leaders we must risk seeming to be disagreeable by clearly and openly disagreeing.  To do otherwise is to admit that we value others thinking that we are “nice” over the truth about what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has done for us.

The PCUSA Elite Today (1)

PCUSA-deny-80%I’m going to circle back to a comment that I made in an earlier post regarding PCUSA Rationales in support of same gender marriage.  My analysis showed that across all 30 Rationales the name “Jesus” and/or “Christ” was used in barely over half (53%).

Think about that.  In 14 of the 30 Rationales supporting the fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage the authors (pastors and elders all) didn’t even bother to mention “Jesus” and/or “Christ.”  Thus my above cited closing comment:

The implications of these results are staggering. What we have in the PCUSA are whole Presbyteries, composed of dozens if not hundreds of ordained pastors and elders, for whom the most central concepts in orthodox Christian thought simply don’t come to mind when discussing the fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage.

That post went up on December 18, 2014.  Over the ensuing three and a half years I have reported on many shocking aspects of our denominational leadership’s beliefs and actions.  In some cases the assumption could be reasonably made that we were observing an aberration as opposed to a normal situation.  For example, the Presbytery of the Cascades allowing an open, aggressive atheist to be a pastor for one of its churches.

Yet, there are other cases in which our denominational leadership has normalized open heresy.  For example, there is the bizarre case of the embrace of Gnosticism by an ex-moderador of the PCUSA General Assembly (the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow).  One might reasonably assume that this development would lead to severe criticism if not outright condemnation by the PCUSA leadership.  In point of fact, it earned the Rev. Reyes-Chow a fawning article by the official PCUSA news service.

Thus the question of just where our denominational leadership stands today on the concepts of orthodox Christian thought is highly relevant.  It turns out that new information is available that illuminates this question.

The Death of Beauty (7)

Celebrating Past Beauty (5)

ww2-146-lPaul Ramsey Article (2)

Make no mistake, Mr. Ramsey had a partisan position with regard to participation in World War II — he was for it.  However, the means by which he pressed his point of view could hardly be more different than those used by today’s Progressive Christians.  For, nowhere in Mr. Ramsey’s article will you find accusations of mental illness in his opponents manifested as a “phobia.”  Nor will you find dark intimations of evil motives due to some sort of “ism.”  Finally, you will not find all of the talking points for his secular political position cobbled together with a throwaway reference to Jesus in order to claim that the piece is Christian.

What you will find is a profound meditation on the nature of the human condition in general and sin in particular.  Along the way he will acknowledge truth and error on both sides of the debate.  But the essential fact here is that Mr. Ramsey seeks to convince those in disagreement or on the fence by the quality of his arguments.  That is, he treats those not or not yet on his side as moral and intellectual equals.

By his own words Mr. Ramsey is in disagreement with “Liberal Protestantism”  on the issue at hand.  His opponents apparently were scandalized by the fact that prosecution of the war required people to engage in unrighteous acts.  Of this there can be no dispute, and Mr. Ramsey does not attempt to do so.  Rather, he points out that by so completely focusing on sin as “unrepentant unrighteousness” they fall prey to the less obvious but far more dangerous and destructive sin of “unrepentant righteousness.”

34+Then+Jesus+said,+Father,+forgive+them,+for+they+do+not+know+what+they+do.+Luke+23-34+(NKJV)The departure point for this argument is Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).  For, this greatest sin (perhaps excepting the “unforgivable sin”) was done entirely by people who believed that their motives were righteous.  For the Jewish leaders they were stopping a false Messiah.  For the Romans they were maintaining peace.  Mr. Ramsey’s point is that Christ’s words were not only applicable to that specific case, but are true in general.  Here is the key excerpt.

Do we not here recog­nize that sin and responsibility may vary inversely, rather than directly, with consciousness, so that greater sincerity actually means greater sin? Our own responsible and sinful implication in social institu­tions must already extend far out beyond the range of our conscious participation, else on what grounds do we make ourselves more consciously sinful by making ourselves more sensitive to the grinding, impersonal results of our common life? And when we are stabbed sharply awake to evil results that have followed from one of our actions, which we certainly did not “intend that way,” should this not give us pause, and bring the reflection that it is not just in this case that we sin not knowing what we do.

Mr. Ramsey’s point is not that, because sin consists of “unrepentant righteousness” then there is no need to be concerned about “unrepentant unrighteousness.”  Rather, it is to argue that by making an idol of our righteousness we can end up participating in greater sinfulness.

Before God, unrepentant unrighteousness and unrepentant righteousness come to the same thing; and an indication that they are judged alike by God is the fact that in history they come in time to the same thing, namely, cruelty. This is the Cross in History from which also, in the light of the Cross of Christ, we learn that man’s deepest sin lies in an unrepentant righteousness that knows not the sin for which it is responsible.

How then, if we must admit that we sin both in our unrighteousness and righteousness, can we avoid becoming incapable of any act or thought lest we thereby sin?  Mr. Ramsey’s answers are:

More fundamental than sorrow for our past sins is a repentant faith which in acting nevertheless waits for the Lord to complete by His Divine Provi­dence the goodness of our finite actions, and which still trusts Him when in His Divine Judgment our action is thwarted and rejected. If we are to be truly forgiven, truly the Father must forgive us.

and:

By the action of God in history, the sinfulness of human actions is judged and corrected, and the goodness of human action saved and incorporated in the Divine Will. Since our judgment about what is good is always infected by our sinful righteous­ness, the act of God in history always has, in rela­tion even to the best of us, an aspect of “otherness,” of being beyond the good and evil of our own mixed, self-defensive human judgments. When we do think we know the will of God for our time, our wills are strengthened, either to do or not to do, by a course of events utterly beyond our control. After each event we must always confess that we have been acted upon more than we have acted, that we have been changed more than we have changed anything, and that the ideals with which we began have not been realized in reality so much as they have been transformed to accord more with reality. By grace are we saved!

Nazi-Capture-Jews-WW2Although Mr. Ramsey’s prose does not achieve the heights of beauty discovered by Mr. Lincoln and Rev. Edwards, it yet is beautiful.  Its beauty lives in the lovely, humble and trusting manner in which he connects our fallen lives on this earth with the judgement and grace found only in God.  And, he meets a great human need by helping those brave but conflicted souls who found themselves called to oppose great evil to bear that terrible responsibility within the context of their Christian faith.


 

The Death of Beauty (6)

Celebrating Past Beauty (4)

Paul-Ramsey-04

Robert Paul Ramsey (1913 – 1988) was a Methodist Christian ethicist.

Paul Ramsey Article (1)

I will spend more time on The Manger, The Cross and The Resurrection: A Christian Interpretation of Our Time by Paul Ramsey not because it is the most beautiful but because it was the means by which my vague sense of contemporary ugliness and past beauty was crystalized. To my mind the article has a somewhat rough start.  Nor does the prose itself ascend to the level of inherent beauty achieved by Lincoln’s or Edwards’.  In spite of this Ramsey’s article achieves beauty due to its blazing insight into human sin, God’s providential engagement in history and our responsibilities in this fallen world.

In the preface provided by the editors of Providence we are told that this article originally appeared in Christianity and Crisis on April 19, 1943.  Thus it would have likely been composed in early 1943, a time in which the outcome of World War II hung in the balance.  The United States, having entered the war on December 8, 1941, had by then engaged in mortal combat with Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  There had been both crushing defeats and marvelous victories by then, with the war’s ultimate outcome still shrouded in mystery.  It was at this moment of civilizational crisis that Mr. Ramsey addressed some of the most profound issues of Christian theology as related to the human condition.

My assessment of the article’s subtext is that the scale, scope and depth of warfare to which the United States had committed caused great turmoil in many Christian souls.  How, they might have wondered, could their nation participate in the level of destruction and death that appeared to be necessary to defeat our foes?  And, given the extremities of violence necessary, how could we presume to own a moral superiority necessary to justify such cruel acts?

Yes, the Japanese attack on Perl Harbor had unified the nation and galvanized it into action.  Yet that very action led to questions of Christian ethics that simply could not be ignored by the faithful saints.  It was this boiling cauldron of fear, uncertainty and doubt that motivated Mr. Ramsey to meditate on some of the deepest issues of Christian theology as related to human action.

What emerged is a witness that transcends time and place.  It, by honestly and courageously addressing the issues of a particular situation, provides insight that is as relevant today as it was then.  In fact, given the deplorable consequences of human ideology having captivated so much of Mainline Protestantism, its message may be more needed today than it was in 1943.

The Death of Beauty (5)

Celebrating Past Beauty (3)

Jonathan_Edwards_engraving

Engraving of Edwards by R Babson & J Andrews

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) Sermon

Jonathan Edwards (a strong supporter of Calvinist theology) is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  But he nonetheless has written words about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that beautifully capture the simultaneous majesty and humility of His Person.

I have attempted to address this aspect of our Savior’s character in Chapter 4 of my recently published eBook Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism (also available in PDF on this blog’s Documents Repository page).  Compared to this sermon excerpt my work looks clumsy and unconvincing.

And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.

Can anyone point to theological prose that more beautifully calls us poor sinners to repentance?  Here is the work of a soul utterly captivated by Christ’s love.  The Reverend Edwards here intermingles two apparently opposite and irreconcilable aspects of our Savior’s character in a passage that unifies them with grace and power.  What non-Biblical words could more beautifully invite repentance and convince us that Christ has the power to save and protect?


It is a shameful fact that the name of Jesus Christ, let alone truthful meditation on His Person and purposes are so rarely found in contemporary PCUSA theological prose.  I certainly don’t demand beauty (otherwise I’d need to stop writing myself).  However, just to see that, regardless of the execution, hearts burn with thankfulness for and love of Christ Himself would be a wonderful relief.