Continuing Thoughts on the Last Presbytery of Chicago Assembly Meeting (Part 2)

The General Assembly Moderator, Heath Rada, addressed the April 18 Presbytery of Chicago Assembly meeting, delivering a wide ranging review of the denominations challenges and opportunities.  He appears to be a very personable, capable and persuasive leader.

One issue addressed is the accusation that the PCUSA has abandoned adherence to the authority of Scripture.  He defended the denomination by stating that all ordained PCUSA leaders promise to adhere to the authority of Scripture in their vows.  This was the full extent of his response.

Now, let’s return to corporation XYZ.  I don’t consider the CEO’s response to be credible, and neither would the PCUSA’s leadership.  They, and I, would view the corporation’s signed statements as the standard against which its actual performance is to be measured, not as proof that they have lived up to this standard.  The fact that XYZ’s CEO felt compelled to limit his defense in this manner would be viewed as a sign that there are major problems regarding actual performance to those promises.

It should cause great consternation, and soul searching, that this is the defense our current GA Moderator was forced to use on the issue of Biblical authority.  Having carefully reviewed and analyzed the 24,000 word public record on two recently adopted Overtures allowing same-gender marriage (see Same Gender Marriage Rationales: An Overview and The Word Became Irrelevant (2 of 2)), I understand why this painful decision was made.

It’s clear that Moderator Rada loves the PCUSA and considers it to be an important part of the Church Universal.  But, the fact that we love something doesn’t mean that what is does is always right, or even defensible.  We can also loose sight of the ultimate ends for which a loved institution exists.

I too love the PCUSA.  But, its ultimate end is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as that Gospel is revealed to us in the fullness of Scripture.  The reason that I have been writing most of these posts is to argue that the PCUSA has lost sight of this ultimate end.  Yes, every ordained leader must answer these questions in the affirmative:

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?

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?

But, when our GA Moderator is forced to focus his defense on the making of these promises as opposed to the public record in keeping them, something has gone terribly wrong.

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Continuing Thoughts on the Last Presbytery of Chicago Assembly Meeting (Part 1)

There are additional issues that must be addressed beyond the Confession of Belhar (see the previous two posts) from the last (April 18) Presbytery of Chicago Assembly meeting.  I’d like to begin by positing the following scenario.

The publicly held, commercial corporation XYZ has been accused by PCUSA leadership of behaving in diametric opposition to their social responsibilities on issue ABC.  The CEO of XYZ addresses this criticism by publicly stating that, for the past 30 years, every officer of the corporation signed a policy statement that they will support the PCUSA’s stated position on social responsibility ABC.  The PCUSA leadership, upon hearing this statement, meekly drops the accusation, stating that “If the officers of XYZ have all signed this policy statement, we have no grounds upon which to proceed.”  The issue is thus settled, and the PCUSA leadership never again raises it with XYZ.

What’s your reaction to this scenario?  Do you find the CEO’s response to be credible?  Is the response of PCUSA leadership believable?

Again, you must be wondering what this made up scenario has to do with the April 18 Presbytery of Chicago Assembly meeting.  I will make it clear next week.

Confession of Belhar Questions Already Answered! (Part 2)

At the April 18 Chicago Presbytery Assembly meeting, the Rev. Sara Dingman, Transitional Synod Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails, was an honored guest.  She was introduced and made a few brief comments.  In particular, she celebrated the role that the Synod and Presbytery had played in opposing Indiana’s RFRA law.  So, I looked into the nature of this opposition.

What I found is that the Rev. Dingman, had released a statement (From Rev. Sara Dingman of the Synod of Lincoln Trails) on this issue.  Screen shots of the title and key content follow.

From Rev. Sara Dingman of the Synod of Lincoln Trails

From Rev. Sara Dingman of the Synod of Lincoln Trails

 

From Rev. Sara Dingman of the Synod of Lincoln Trails

From Rev. Sara Dingman of the Synod of Lincoln Trails

The Rev. Dingman thanks numerous individuals for their support, including the Rev. Jan Edmiston,  Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry, with a link to her personal blog( achurchforstarvingartists).  Two screen shots are also provided below.

 

It’s out of scope for me to debate these individual’s conclusions and arguments.  However, with regard to the Confession of Belhar and how it is likely to be used, a couple of points must be made, those being:

  1. Even before Belhar has been officially included in the PCUSA Book of Confessions (assuming that it passes in enough Presbyteries), it is already being used by a PCUSA official to oppose the creation of any space for Christians (or members of any other faith for that matter) to decline commercial participation in an event that contradicts their strongly held religious beliefs.
  2. Having carefully read both posts, I find not the slightest evidence that either of these PCUSA leaders acknowledges that there are legitimate opposing interests in play, or that some in opposition to the RFRA have exceeded the bounds of honesty or civility in their actions.

What I do see is condemnation of any business owner who dares to follow their religious conscience by choosing non-participation in a same-gender wedding.

What about a church that declines to rent their facilities for a same-gender wedding?  Or, what about a church that declines to bless a same-gender marriage of its members?  Should we assume that here our PCUSA leadership will turn from contemptuous opposition to fearless supporters for freedom of religion and association?

I didn’t have much hope for real support of religious conscience back on April 8.  I now have good reason to believe that the Confession of Belhar will be used to oppose the exercise of religious conscience within the context of same-gender marriage, at a bare minimum.

Confession of Belhar Questions Already Answered! (Part 1)

The Confession of Belhar was overwhelmingly approved by the Presbytery of Chicago at its April 18 Assembly meeting.  On April 8 I asked the following question (The Confession of Belhar and PCUSA Unity – Part 1):

Given the appalling treatment of individuals who dare to exercise their First Amendment rights, be they the CEO of a major tech company or a small town pizzeria operator, there is good reason to be concerned. Will “unity and reconciliation” in the PCUSA be about reaching out to a now minority group in the denomination or about increasing the pressure on them to fall into line?

The “small town pizzeria operator” referred to the campaign of hatred and intimidation carried out by radical progressive groups against Crystal O’Connor, owner of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, IN.  She was trusting enough of a reporter to share how she would live out her Christian beliefs in a hypothetical situation that she has never actually experienced.  She said that while Memories Pizza would not refuse anyone service, they would refuse to cater a same-gender wedding.Screen-Shot-2015-04-01-at-17.09.07-188x300

Cropped-Walkerton-Pizza-Tweet

This issue was in play due to the uproar concerning the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  So, just what is the RFRA?  Newsweek explains the core provisions as follows:

First, it creates a two-pronged test for circumstances where the state government may limit a person’s right to free exercise of religion: it “(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2): is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

In other words, the state of Indiana can interfere with someone’s right to exercise his or her religion only if it has a very good reason for doing so (the “compelling governmental interest” part), and it does so in the least inconvenient (or “restrictive”) way possible.

This part of the law is not particularly controversial. Similar tests exist in every state RFRA and the federal RFRA signed by President Bill Clinton.

The law also allows “a person” sued in Indiana to claim his or her sincerely held religious belief as a defense.

In other words, this law creates standing for a citizen to claim sincerely held religious belief as a defense for their actions.  This is not the granting of a right to discriminate.  Rather, it is ensuring that the religious conscience is not denied space to operate in our society.  And from this, the radical progressive mob descended upon the state of Indiana in general, and, Crystal O’Connor in person, claiming that they were the face of evil in the world.

Others from the business community and politics joined in, displaying levels of hypocrisy that simply astound.  For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly opposed the RFRA in a Washington Post editorial.

Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.

And yet, it was quickly pointed out that Apple does business

Apple Web Site

Apple Web Site

in many countries that criminalize and even execute homosexuals (Washington Post).  I’m sure that avoiding hypocrisy wasn’t Cook’s primary goal.  The likely goal was to inoculate Apple from attack by the progressive mob.  He may have bought some time.

The reason that it may have worked is that the progressive mob doesn’t much care about actual flesh-and-blood human homosexuals being executed in foreign lands.  What they do care deeply about is the acquisition and exertion of raw power in the United States of America.  Be it the elected officials of a state, the people who elected them or a single human being, the goal is to demonstrate that they will be destroyed if they deviate from the current party line.

Surely you are wondering what this all has to do with the Confession of Belhar.  I will explain shortly.

The Confession of Belhar and PCUSA Unity – Part 3

As has been discussed in Parts 1 and 2, I and others are deeply concerned about the current drive for “unity” under the proposed Belhar Confession.  My primary concerns are that:

  1. “Unity” will not be a consequence of the truth as taught by Scripture, but rather will be a consequence of the “church” deciding on specific policies, regardless of their demonstrable adherence to Scripture
  2. The “church” will include only those denominations who have demonstrated that they are part of a progressive “prophetic” movement

I have already spoken at length about point 1.  With regard to point 2, consider the following figure.

Christian Denominations in the U.S.: all major compared to all who allow same gender marriage

Christian Denominations in the U.S.: all major compared to all who allow same gender marriage

This figure begs the question of how the PCUSA leadership views “unity” with regard to other Christian denominations.  Clearly, only a small minority of Christians are members of denominations who approve of same gender marriage (the minority would be even tinyer were this a world wide accounting) .  However, there appears to be little interest in the PCUSA leadership for unity with this church universal.  No, “unity” means that small minority of denominations who have accepted same gender marriage be “unified” it their demand that all other denominations succumb.

So, in furtherance of this “unity of the tiny prophetic minority,” under a newly approved Belhar Confession, we have every reason to wonder:

  1. Will some Presbyteries decide that rejection of same gender marriage is a disqualifying belief for candidate Teaching Elders?
  2. Will some Presbyteries pressure member churches who deviate from post modern “orthodoxy” on issues such as same gender marriage to fall into line?
  3. Will the now minority of those in opposition to the PCUSA’s current direction be pressured to remain silent, so as to advance the pretense that there is “unity” within our denomination?
  4. To what future theological and political positions will the demands of “unity” be applied, and how?

I understand that the current PCUSA policy is to allow pastors and churches to abide by their Christian consciences.  However, the clear trajectory of secular radical progressives is to demand not tolerance, but public support and affirmation.  Perhaps the PCUSA will be a bulwark for religious tolerance, including of orthodox views on marriage. However, this hope must be informed by the fact that hundreds of thousands of members were driven out of the denomination, Scripture was distorted and ignored, motives were impugned and pleas for an explanation were ignored to achieve our current policy.  I will continue to place my hope in the Lord, but the PCUSA has a long way to go to to earn my trust.  I will vote NO on the Belhar Confession.

The Confession of Belhar and PCUSA Unity – Part 2

BELHAR-PCUSAThere are additional reasons to be concerned about the consequences of adding Belhar to our Book of Confessions.  Susan Cyre provides the following summary of concerns in her excellent critique.

Should the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) add the Belhar Confession from South Africa to our Book of Confessions? There are two reasons why the answer should be NO. First, although the Belhar spoke to racism in South Africa, the words of the Confession, as well as the understanding of some who interpret it, demonstrate that the Belhar Confession may be applied broadly to other issues. Second, the Belhar Confession posits a very different understanding of “unity” and “justice” than Scripture and our Confessions. Christian faith teaches that unity is a result of truth. In the Belhar truth is subordinated to unity.

A second resource, Naming His Grace, provides for substantive reasons for great concern, those being:

  1. Failure to focus the confession on the Lordship of Christ.
  2. The issue of homosexuality
  3. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict
  4. The issue of pluralism

I have written extensively on item 1 and 2 above.  Here’s what the post says regarding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

In another posting on my blog, Using the Belhar Confession to overcome Israel’s “racism,” and as a means to bring about repentance from those desiring a Jewish State!, I have pointed to speakers for the Reformed Church in America using the Confession as a solution for what they perceive as racism on the part of Israel. As one speaker, the Rev. Christo Lombard from the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa, put it “If there is one situation in this world that contextually fits the antiapartheid struggle and its dynamics, for which the Belhar Confession was written, it must be the Palestinian situation, currently.”

Another speaker, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, also hoped that the Confession might be used against the State of Israel. And in the same way those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are advocating for this Confession may attempt to use it as leverage against Israel.

The above analysis suggests that Belhar will not be used to pursue “unity and reconciliation” under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Rather, it will most likely be used to advance the radical agendas of our PCUSA leadership.

The Confession of Belhar and PCUSA Unity – Part 1

BELHAR-PCUSA

After having overseen the net loss of over 190,000 members in 2012 and 2013 (The PCUSA’s Continuous Decline), the PCUSA’s leadership is now pressing for adoption of the Belhar Confession into our Book of Confessions.  This astounding membership decline was not a random occurrence.  Rather, it was a consequence of relentless campaigns, first to allow ordination of practicing homosexuals and then to allow same gender marriage.

Now we are being told that “unity and reconciliation” as taught by this new confession is necessary.  I’m afraid that this rings hollow in my ears.  If the PCUSA’s postmodern leadership had demonstrated a commitment to “unity and reconciliation” while they were pursuing their goals, then things might be different.

For example, you are not building credibility with regard to “unity and reconciliation” when you pass, as did the Presbytery of Chicago, an Overture that:

[equates] legitimate opposition theological arguments with name-calling and culpability for violence, and then declaring both to be out of bounds.

HONORING CHRIST IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS.

Recall also my comments in an early post (Redefining Christian Marriage) regarding same-gender marriage.

There is one element of this debate that in many cases may be decisive – that being the contention of same gender marriage supporters that, at worst, the Bible takes a broad view of marriage’s definition, and, at best, clearly supports the extension of marriage to cover homosexual couples. Was this the case, the primary argument of those in opposition would be gravely compromised.

Therefore, the writers of the Overture Rationales supporting same gender marriage had a wonderful opportunity to not only advance their cause, but also to heal the wounds caused by this divisive debate. They had every advantage to make a powerful Biblical case – years of experience from debate and discussion, months of time to write the text, the resources of whole Presbyteries (pastors, elders and in some cases seminaries) and scholarship from around the world.

For those church members who were desperate to move on, a powerful Biblical case would cause many to accept this change. For those who were in determined opposition, some might decide to leave, but others might decide that there is enough justification to allow them to stay. The benefits were overwhelming.

Thus, the center of my analysis will be on how the Rationale writers in support of same gender marriage responded to this opportunity.

Had the postmodern Christians who supported same gender marriage a real commitment to “unity and reconciliation,” they would have written very different Rationales.  As it is, they refused to engage with the slightest seriousness in the Scriptural concerns of their opponents.

Finally, I recall the Presbytery of Chicago Assemblies where same gender marriage was “debated.”  In both Assemblies, two microphones were set up, one for pro and one for con.  On the con side, speaker after speaker asked for an explanation of the Scriptural justification.  On the pro side, speaker after speaker supported this innovation based on their own apparently sovereign personal experience.  In the end, neither the Presbytery leadership nor those in favor of same gender marriage deigned to provide a response.

My point is that falsely equating your opponent’s viewpoint to cruel slander and then treating it as something of such insignificance that it doesn’t require a substantive answer does’t create a credible platform from which to seek “unity and reconciliation.”

Now, after having pushed same gender marriage through, we are told that it’s time for “unity and reconciliation.”  “Unity and reconciliation” wasn’t at the top of their priorities over the many years in which the votes were against them.  No, they relentlessly pressed their case, making it clear that in spite of their failure to demonstrate Scriptural support they would have their victory at any cost.

I have no doubt that the postmodern PCUSA leadership greatly desires “unity and reconciliation.”  I have the deepest, most profound doubts that the authority of Scripture will have any real part to play in this new order.

Given the appalling treatment of individuals who dare to exercise their First Amendment rights, be they the CEO of a major tech company or a small town pizzeria operator, there is good reason to be concerned. Will “unity and reconciliation” in the PCUSA be about reaching out to a now minority group in the denomination or about increasing the pressure on them to fall into line?

Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

Carl Heinrich Bloch (May 23, 1834 – February 22, 1890)

Carl Heinrich Bloch (May 23, 1834 – February 22, 1890)

 

Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

  1. Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
  2. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
  3. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!
  4. Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
    Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
  5. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
    Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
    Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
    Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!
  6. King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
    Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
    Thee to know, Thy pow’r to prove, Alleluia!
    Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Charles Wesley, 1739

The Confession of Belhar and PCUSA Unity – Part 1

BELHAR-PCUSAAfter having overseen the net loss of over 190,000 members in 2012 and 2013 (The PCUSA’s Continuous Decline), the PCUSA’s leadership is now pressing for adoption of the Belhar Confession into our Book of Confessions.  This astounding membership decline was not a random occurrence.  Rather, it was a consequence of relentless campaigns, first to allow ordination of practicing homosexuals and then to allow same gender marriage.

Now we are being told that “unity and reconciliation” as taught by this new confession is necessary.  I’m afraid that this rings hollow in my ears.  If the PCUSA’s postmodern leadership had demonstrated a commitment to “unity and reconciliation” while they were pursuing their goals, then things might be different.

For example, you are not building credibility with regard to “unity and reconciliation” when you pass, as did the Presbytery of Chicago, an Overture that:

[equates] legitimate opposition theological arguments with name-calling and culpability for violence, and then declaring both to be out of bounds.

HONORING CHRIST IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS.

Recall also my comments in an early post (Redefining Christian Marriage) regarding same-gender marriage.

There is one element of this debate that in many cases may be decisive – that being the contention of same gender marriage supporters that, at worst, the Bible takes a broad view of marriage’s definition, and, at best, clearly supports the extension of marriage to cover homosexual couples. Was this the case, the primary argument of those in opposition would be gravely compromised.

Therefore, the writers of the Overture Rationales supporting same gender marriage had a wonderful opportunity to not only advance their cause, but also to heal the wounds caused by this divisive debate. They had every advantage to make a powerful Biblical case – years of experience from debate and discussion, months of time to write the text, the resources of whole Presbyteries (pastors, elders and in some cases seminaries) and scholarship from around the world.

For those church members who were desperate to move on, a powerful Biblical case would cause many to accept this change. For those who were in determined opposition, some might decide to leave, but others might decide that there is enough justification to allow them to stay. The benefits were overwhelming.

Thus, the center of my analysis will be on how the Rationale writers in support of same gender marriage responded to this opportunity.

Had the postmodern Christians who supported same gender marriage a real commitment to “unity and reconciliation,” they would have written very different Rationales.  As it is, they refused to engage with the slightest seriousness in the Scriptural concerns of their opponents.

Finally, I recall the Presbytery of Chicago Assemblies where same gender marriage was “debated.”  In both Assemblies, two microphones were set up, one for pro and one for con.  On the con side, speaker after speaker asked for an explanation of the Scriptural justification.  On the pro side, speaker after speaker supported this innovation based on their own apparently sovereign experience.  In the end, neither the Presbytery leadership nor those in favor of same gender marriage deigned to provide a response.

My point is that falsely equating your opponent’s viewpoint to cruel slander and then treating it as something of such insignificance that it doesn’t require a substantive answer does’t create a credible platform from which to seek “unity and reconciliation.”

Now, after having pushed same gender marriage through, we are told that it’s time for “unity and reconciliation.”  “Unity and reconciliation” wasn’t at the top of their priorities over the many years in which the votes were against them.  No, they relentlessly pressed their case, making it clear that in spite of their failure to demonstrate Scriptural support they would have their victory at any cost.

I have no doubt that the postmodern PCUSA leadership greatly desires “unity and reconciliation.”  I have the deepest, most profound doubts that the authority of Scripture will have any real part to play in this new order.

Given the appalling treatment of individuals who dare to exercise their First Amendment rights, be they the CEO of a major tech company or a small town pizzeria operator, there is good reason to be concerned. Will “unity and reconciliation” in the PCUSA be about reaching out to a now minority group in the denomination or about increasing the pressure on them to fall into line?

LoS: Christ’s Suffering and Death – Closing Thoughts

Salvador Dali, Christ of St John on the Cross

Salvador Dali, Christ of St John on the Cross

As we follow Christ through His Passion, it becomes apparent that when God created suffering He reserved the worst for Himself. We have struggled for centuries with the question of “Why does God let bad things happen to good people.” This is a valuable area of inquiry. Perhaps, though, we Christians should spend more time pondering the question of why God had to choose the path of such horrific suffering for Himself in order to bring redemption to our shattered relationship?

This is a question that cannot be answered this side of glory. However, we can still make progress by accepting the settled fact that God did choose to take this path and think through the implications.

One of the most powerful implications of the Passion is that there is a redemptive possibility within the experience of suffering. The fact that the redemption of our very souls was achieved through the suffering of the Son of God sends a powerful message about the nature of and possibilities of this experience. Reading the non-Gospel Books of the New Testament clearly shows that Christ’s example profoundly changed the early church’s understanding of suffering. We should also open ourselves to these lessons.

The physical suffering of Christ is essential because it is the only aspect of His Passion with which we can truly identify. For example, imagine the power of a Gospel that rested only on the “spiritual suffering” of a savior. Would it have the same capacity to shake us out of our complacency, to confront us with the scandal of our sin, to drive us to our knees in shame? You know the answer.

It also becomes clear that one of the main reasons for the Incarnation itself was so that we could witness Christ’s actual physical suffering. We often think of Jesus the babe, the teacher, the friend and the healer when we consider God made flesh. But had Jesus not been all man, He could not have been the sufferer.

When we read Job, the skeptic within us sometimes shakes its fist at what appears to be an invulnerable, uncaring, capricious God, who has unleashed terrible suffering on a good man. What says that skeptic when the extent to which this God will go to redeem that which has been lost is revealed? Who would dare to compare the suffering of Job with that of Jesus Christ? No. After this we can never again think of suffering as merely a human experience. God Himself has descended to suffer on our behalf so that we might be saved. If that knowledge can’t bring a heart to repent then nothing can.