Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (5)

In the congregational communication announcing that the Christian Marriage Policy at my home church would remain unchanged there was a second key point made, that being a commitment to “work together as a united church to facilitate conversations on issues that divide us.”  There was also an invitation for member feedback to the Clerk of Session.  I therefore took this opportunity to send the following statement with our pastors cc’d.

Note that I have replaced our actual church name with [ChurchName] due to the nature of internet blog distriution.


RE: Facilitating Conversations on Issues that Divide Us

Greetings,

I am very encouraged by the results of the recent Session work on same sex marriage. The fact that the Session, in a culture dominated by postmodernism was able to look at Scripture and conclude that Christ’s Words are authoritative is a remarkable achievement. It’s clear that there was strong disagreement on this issue. So it is also a remarkable achievement to have exited this contentious debate with a renewed commitment to “work together as a united church to facilitate conversations on issues that divide us.” It is to this second result that I make the following comments.

************

The most crucial prerequisite for facilitating “conversations on issues that divide us” is a social environment in which people of differing perspectives can speak freely and openly.  In such an environment people should expect that their ideas and opinions will be examined and criticized by others. However, people must not have their motives and character assaulted because of their ideas and opinions.  Obviously I am here assuming that we are dealing with people of generally good faith, which is a completely reasonable assumption for members of [ChurchName].

The sad, dangerous truth is that in our current social environment people with more conservative ideas are far less likely to express their thoughts.  A recent Cato Institute/YouGov survey showed that the more conservative is a person the more they fear expressing their views in public.  The summary graph for this result follows.

Cato-Graph

Note that the only political group in which there was majority disagreement with the proposition is “Strong Liberal.” Almost two-thirds of “Moderate” and over three-quarters of “Conservative” and “Strong Conservative” people felt strong social pressure to remain silent regarding their beliefs.

These fears are not irrational, as we all are well aware of “cancel culture” in general and of specific cases where people with non-conformist views lost their reputations and/or livelihoods. It is a sad fact that the members of our church, who tend to be more highly educated, fear reprisal the most (see the first following chart).

But it is the second of the two following charts that is the most concerning. Whereas for Democrats the level of career fear is unrelated to education level, for Republicans fear more than doubles from low to high education levels. Thus, if the social environment that exists outside of [ChurchName] has an impact on what is felt inside [ChurchName] then we have a big problem — that being that we cannot effectively “facilitate conversations on issues that divide us” because conservative members feel socially constrained.

shytrumpvoterwoman

I believe that this general social environment has to some extent penetrated into [ChurchName]. When talking to my more conservative (theologically and/or politically) friends I sometimes encounter an unwillingness to express their views outside of their close social circle. Others have complained that on the (thankfully rare) occasions in which politics are discussed in worship or education the perspective is almost uniformly progressive (and sometimes radically so).

It’s difficult to deny that the general social pressure in our nation and denomination is more supportive of progressive than opposing / differing viewpoints. If [ChurchName] truly wants to develop an environment where differing views can be constructively discussed then the essential first step is to ensure that all points of view are allowed equal footing. We need to trust that in a free marketplace of speech good ideas will tend to fare far better than bad ideas. But declaring certain ideas to be bad (either by implication or directly) before they have been explored creates a dangerous sense of disenfranchisement and disrespect among many members.

The Pacification fo the Christians (4)

BLM-Cross

Thoughts on Why

There are likely numerous intersecting reasons for why so many Mainline pastors and parishioners work so diligently to convince their fellow Christians to be always “meek and mild.”  If there is one uniting theme it is that of control.  In the following sections I will explore two of these dimensions of control enabled by this partial and therefore false Gospel teaching.

Therapeutic Religion

We ended the previous post on this topic with the point made by J. I. Packer that the new gospel is focused on making humans “feel better.”  It is obvious that by confronting another person with accusations of misbehavior or incorrect ideas we will most likely (in the short run) make them feel worse rather than better.  This goes double (at least) for one Christian confronting another Christian.  Thus, a gospel centered on humans and focused on advancing their self esteem will need a savior who teaches that we must always be “meek and mild” in order to be a true follower.

Now consider how this new (false) gospel intersects with the victim-based morality of identity politics and intersectionality.  By virtue of their claims of victimhood entire groups of humans are placed beyond criticism regardless of their behavior.  For Christians who have been conditioned to be always “meek and mild” there are virtually no intellectual or theological defenses to the acceptance of these ideas.  Thus, any demands by these groups (or by those claiming to support them), no mater how non-Biblical or even anti-Christian are given the presumption of validity.

This strategy has been utilized to drive Christians to abandon the definition of Christian marriage and to justify the superposition of secular neo-Marxist ideologies ( for example, Critical Race Theory) onto Christian theology.  We “meek and mild” Christians dare not resist lest we find ourselves accused of being mean to the certified victim groups in whose supposed interests these ideas are being advanced.

Scriptural Distortion and Dishonesty

Once the “meek and mild” Christian imperative has been internalized it is much easier to smuggle false doctrines into Christianity.  It’s also far more difficult to defend true but “not nice enough” doctrines.

On the false doctrine side, all that has to be done to create credibility is to show that the new (false) doctrine makes people feel better and/or advances the interests of certified victims.  With regard to Biblical justification even a single verse can be extrapolated to cover the entire ideological scope.

Thus, we are confidently told by environmentalist that since The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15) we are therefore compelled to accept their positions on “global warming” or the number of parts-per-million of a given chemical in the air.  After all, to not agree means that we don’t care about “the poor” or “the children.”  It doesn’t matter if their policies actually harm, say, the poor by denying them the electric power necessary for economic advancement in order to limit carbon emissions.  What matters is that we can “feel good” about our commitment to environmental justice.

In other cases Bible verses can be twisted into saying the opposite of what they actually meant or even created from thin air.  One infamous case is Barack Obama’s claim that the Bible teaches us to be “our brother’s keeper” as a justification for his Progressive policies.  Here’s one example”

“But part of that belief comes from my faith in the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper; that as a country, we rise and fall together.”

But the actual Biblical passage has nothing to do with one person being another’s keeper.  No, it has to do with the first murderer attempting to hide his guilt from God (Genesis 4).

8Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”  While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”  “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  10The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

But, since the then President was presumed to be helping people he is given a complete pass.

The most egregious use of false Scripture was by Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg in an attempt to justify abortion up to the time of delivery.  Here’s the quote:

“Right now, they hold everybody in line with this one piece of doctrine about abortion, which is obviously a tough issue for a lot of people to think through morally. Then again, there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath, and so even that is something that we can interpret differently,”

In fact there is no place in the Bible where life is defined to begin only at an infant’s first breath.  But there are dozens of verses in the Bible that define the unborn to have life.  But, since Mr. Buttigieg claims to be a “nice” supporter of women’s rights (to abort their child at any time they wish) he gets to make up Biblical teaching out of whole cloth.

All of this Scriptural falsehood and much more is smuggled in under the cloak of “being nice” or “being helpful.”  By these means our Christian theology has been twisted to support secular, partisan political ideologies.  And it is by this means that Christians are shamed and fooled into seeing support of these secular ideologies as requirements of their faith.

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (4)


I am thankful to report that my home church’s Session has decided to leave our current policy on Christian Marriage in place without any changes. The key portion of the pastoral letter explaining this result is as follows.

In 2019, session voted to examine the 2014 statement and to conclude that review by the end of 2020.  Despite passionate views on the issue and in-depth study, the current session, once again, did not reach consensus on the issue of same sex marriage.  In September 2020, a majority of the session voted to conclude this season of review of the Marriage Policy.  As a result, the policy was not changed.

However, what we did uncover is that we, as a session, remain committed to moving forward as one church, despite our internal disagreements on this issue or any future similar issues.

In addition to concluding this formal time of study of the issue, the session voted to explore new ways to work together as a united church to facilitate conversations on issues that divide us.  This work may come in the form of education, dialog or in-depth study and discussion on important social and theological issues.  We have yet to draft specific recommendations, but will convene soon to work on this assignment.  We welcome your input, and will present our recommendations to the congregation in the near future.

The policy that remains in place is as follows:

We believe Scripture teaches that sexual holiness is expressed through faithfulness within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman as established at creation by God or through embracing a celibate life as established in the new covenant by Jesus, who experienced human desires but without sin. Therefore we teach Christians to submit their sexual desires (whether hetero- or homosexual) to God and pursue holiness and wholeness as defined by Scripture and demonstrated by Jesus and the apostles. Our pastors will perform Christian weddings which marry a man and a woman.

Of course, as in all things, I give all the glory to God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fact that the Session, in a culture dominated by postmodernism, was able to look at Scripture and conclude that Christ’s Words are authoritative is a remarkable achievement.

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (3)

Following is a second note sent to my Home Church’s Session.

Note Text

Greetings,

In discussions with Elders and members it has become apparent that the denominational history and consequences of this particular issue are not well understood. My experience of the decision process as a Presbytery Commissioner for FPGE (2012-2015) led me to conduct significant research into this (and other) fraught area.

What I’d like to share in this note is information on PCUSA membership and local church dismissal over the time span in which gay ordination and marriage were being debated and decided. This information is important because it allows decision makers such as you to appreciate the the significance and potential consequences.

Each year in May or June the PCUSA publishes detailed statistics on numerous metrics of the denomination. The following figure shows Membership Change and Dismissed Church data drawn from this resource for 1999 – 2017.

Note that this is a dual axis plot. Membership Change is plotted by a solid red line with associated axis on the left. Dismissed Churches is plotted by a dashed blue line with associated axis on the right. The time periods are designated as General Decline (1999 through mid-2005), Danger Warning (mid-2005 through 2011) and Debacle (2011 through 2017). Note that a “Dismissed Church” means that it has explicitly requested to exit the PCUSA, and this request has been approved.

PCUSA Membership and Dismissed Church Data (1999 – 2017)

During the General Decline period the denomination was struggling with numerous issues, of which the relationship of human sexual orientation to Christianity was one. Here we see that the denomination was losing membership at a generally increasing rate, but very few churches were being dismissed.

During the Danger Warning period the debate on gay ordination became active and intense. Note that the membership loss rate increased, but settled to a “new normal” of around 60,000 per year. However, starting in 2007 the number of dismissed churches increased significantly. This data strongly suggests that the incessant debate was causing increased member frustration and exit, but was also leading to local churches making the painful decision to exit the denomination.

The Debacle period begins in 2011 when the denomination decided to approve gay ordination. It continued beyond 2014 when the decision to approve gay marriage was made. Here we find both membership and church dismissal falling off a cliff and remaining at unprecedented levels through at least 2016. Over this time period the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches, which is almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches.

My point is that gay marriage is not simply an isolated policy issue. Rather, for many members it speaks to the core issues of Biblical Authority and the Lordship of Jesus Christ as foundations for the Christian life. I am not implying anything predictive regarding FPGE’s membership or commitment. However, I am saying that these denominational consequences suggest that it would be a grave mistake to disregard the impact on FPGE.

In Christ,

Mark Birchler

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (2)

Title-Image

Although this is much longer than a typical post, it’s important to put this commentary on the record.  Note that although there is significant overlap with the previous post of this title I have added substantial new material and edited for the intended audience.

Note to the Session on the Study of Same Sex Marriage at First Pres

Greetings,

Given the urgency and seriousness of the situation now facing First Pres a substantial comment is necessary, which follows.

Opening Thoughts

I’m sorry to see that the Session is now in the process of debating affirmation of same sex marriage as explained by this statement recently emailed to the congregation.

As a community of faith, it is important for us to continue to speak with one another and listen to one another, especially in areas of differing faithful convictions. The elders and pastors that comprise the session of First Pres have agreed to spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage. We ask for your prayers that we will be guided by God’s spirit in our sharing, listening, and considerations of the ministry of our body as we seek to follow Jesus together.

I note with deep concern that this statement excludes the Bible as a resource for this “study.”  Rather, it is only “God’s spirit” and “follow[ing] Jesus” that will guide this “study.”

This is an astonishing exclusion. After all, as teaching and ruling elders you have all solemnly sworn:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation

I agree that the Holy Spirit’s leading is essential to the proper interpretation of Scripture. However, I trust the Session agrees that claims of the Holy Spirit’s guidance cannot be taken at face value. For example, were someone to claim that the Holy Spirit had guided them to an interpretative conclusion that contradicts Scripture’s clear teaching, we would be correct to reject their claim. That is, the Holy Spirit will not lead us to contradict Scripture.

The Scots Confession provides clear guidance on this key issue. Substitution of “church” for “Kirk” in the following excerpt will minimize confusion.

The interpretation of Scripture we confess, does not belong to any private or public person, nor yet to an Kirk for pre-eminence or precedence, personal or local, which it has above others, but pertains to the Spirit of God by whom the Scriptures were written.  When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded.  For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.  So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. (3.19-.20)

Note that the test for accepting any Scriptural interpretation is “what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded” because “the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.”

John Calvin also addressed this issue in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

But in promising it, of what sort did he declare his Spirit would be?  One that would speak not from himself but would suggest to and instill into their minds what he had handed on through the Word [John 16:13].  Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.

So, by claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance for this “study” the authors have not exempted themselves from careful, comprehensive Scriptural review.  Nor does their intention to be guided by “God’s spirit” free them to invent “new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine.”

The Bible’s Testimony about the Definition and Nature of Christian Marriage

If the Bible’s testimony about the definition of marriage is included there can be no doubt as to the meaning.  In particular, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ Himself on marriage’s definition (Matthew 19: 4-6). Christ is here not just reaffirming the Genesis definition of marriage, but is adding stress on the genders of the two parties involved – a man and a woman – as well as the settled, God ordained meaning of this union.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. 

Genesis 2:24

He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 

Matthew 19:4-6

And yet, the authors of this announcement claim to be seeking “to follow Jesus together.”  This stunning disconnect forces us to confront the question of who they believe Jesus Christ to be and how they come to knowledge of His teaching.

They claim that our church leaders should “spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage.”  And yet, we find that this same Jesus Christ has directly and clearly defined marriage to be between one man and one woman, without the slightest hint of flexibility.

This situation is at the core of my opposition to this proposed initiative.  For, to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage is “Christian” would explicitly contradict the absolutely clear teaching of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture.  Thus, by even proposing this debate they are legitimizing an outcome that explicitly ignores and subverts Christ’s actual teaching.

False and Frivolous Counter-Arguments

Supporters of change will throw up many other Biblical passages that they claim somehow open the door to same sex marriage. And yet, what is the standard for Biblical interpretation? It is this from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (6.009)

Same sex marriage is the ultimate test case for this central interpretative principle. Yes, with clever argumentation certain Scriptural passages may be claimed to indirectly allow same sex marriage (though I strongly argue the opposite). But we have the ultimate “speak more clearly” passage in Matthew 19:4-6.  And yet, in spite of this, proponents insist that it is a legitimate “Christian” position to support this innovation.

Proponents will also claim that we must interpret Christ’s teachings within the context of our current situation. Thus, surely words spoken by Christ in the context of an ancient, primitive culture must be updated to our contemporary, (supposedly) advanced situation. It turns out that John Calvin had to deal with this very same idea five centuries ago, and he replied  as follows (Institutes of the Christian Religion).

“…What devilish madness is it to pretend that the use of Scripture, which leads the children of God even to the final goal, is fleeting or temporal?”

You will likely be told that the actions of Jesus, passed down in Scripture, showed unconditional love and equality for all people, as if this is the final, comprehensive summation of His life and teaching.  I agree that Jesus Christ taught we should reach out in love to all people. After all, the Great Commission is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. However, careful study of Scripture’s testimony does not yield the above portrait of Jesus’ teaching and actions.  They were indeed sometimes dominated by “unconditional love and equality for all people.” At other times they were dominated by a fierce judgment and anger against the stubborn sinfulness of people or situations. This complexity was well analyzed by Arthur Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible exposition on the Gospel of John (2:13-17), in which Jesus clears the temple of moneychangers. He uses this occasion of Christ’s wrath to discuss how Christ’s true nature can be utterly distorted by a selective, partisan interpretation of Scripture’s teaching.

Finally, you will certainly be told that, since the secular world has embraced same sex marriage, it is therefore incumbent on the church to follow suit. This is a falsehood. The Christian Church does not exist to selectively affirm any secular, partisan political position. We are free to practice the secular politics that seems most aligned with our Christian faith out in the world (be it Progressive or Conservative or Independent or Libertarian, etc.). But, inside Christ’s Church the fight is not “secular politics by other means” but rather for the purity and truth of the Gospel.

Closing Thoughts

I’m deeply concerned that Jesus has become to many Christians just “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our understanding of the Christian faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

This note is only one of many opposing statements by church members that are sustained by prayer and trust that:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 

Hebrews 13:8

To those who understand the great, destructive error of rejecting Christ’s explicit definition of Christian marriage, take courage and speak up.  There is no failure when we remain faithful to Him who has saved us unto eternal life!

In Christ,

Mark Birchler

Same Sex Marriage Debate at My Home Church (1)

Hebrews-13-8

I’m sorry to report that my home church’s Session is now in the process of debating affirmation of same sex marriage.  Here’s the statement emailed to the congregation yesterday.

As a community of faith, it is important for us to continue to speak with one another and listen to one another, especially in areas of differing faithful convictions. The elders and pastors that comprise the session of First Pres have agreed to spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage. We ask for your prayers that we will be guided by God’s spirit in our sharing, listening, and considerations of the ministry of our body as we seek to follow Jesus together.

I note with explicit purpose that this statement excludes mention of the Bible as a resource for this “study.”  Rather, it is only “God’s spirit” and “follow[ing] Jesus” that will guide this “study.”

You may think that this is a small thing, but it in fact is quite possibly purposeful and strategic.  For if the Bible’s testimony about the definition of marriage is included there can be no doubt as to the meaning.  In particular, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ Himself on marriage’s definition (Matthew 19: 4-6). Christ is here not just reaffirming the Genesis definition of marriage, but is adding stress on the genders of the two parties involved – a man and a woman – as well as the settled, God ordained meaning of this union.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, RSV)

He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6, RSV)

And yet, the authors of this announcement claim to be seeking “to follow Jesus together.”  This stunning disconnect forces us to confront the question of who they believe Jesus Christ to be and how they come to knowledge of His teaching.

They claim that our church leaders should “spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage.”  And yet, we find that this same Jesus Christ has directly and clearly defined marriage to be between one man and one woman, without the slightest hint of flexibility.

This situation is at the core of my opposition to this proposed initiative.  For, to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage is “Christian” would explicitly contradict the absolutely clear teaching of Jesus Christ.  Thus, by even proposing this debate they are legitimizing an outcome that explicitly ignores and subverts Christ’s actual teaching.

Supporters of change will throw up many other Biblical passages that they claim somehow open the door to same sex marriage. And yet, what is the standard for Biblical interpretation? It is this from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (6.009)

Same sex marriage is the ultimate test case for this central interpretative principle. Yes, with clever argumentation certain Scriptural passages may be claimed to indirectly allow same sex marriage (though I strongly argue the opposite). But we have the ultimate “speak more clearly” passage in Matthew 19:4-6.  And yet, in spite of this, proponents insist that it is a legitimate “Christian” position to support this innovation.

Proponents will also claim that we must interpret Christ’s teachings within the context of our current situation. Thus, surely words spoken by Christ in the context of an ancient, primitive culture must be updated to our contemporary, (supposedly) advanced situation. It turns out that John Calvin had to deal with this very same idea five centuries ago, and he replied  as follows (Institutes of the Christian Religion).

“…What devilish madness is it to pretend that the use of Scripture, which leads the children of God even to the final goal, is fleeting or temporal?”

I’m deeply concerned that Jesus has become to many Christians “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our understanding of the Christian faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

In the PCUSA you can be sure that all of the denomination’s and Presbytery’s power will be brought to bear in support of allowing same sex marriage at my home church.  Our church leadership, by choosing to remain in the PCUSA, has ensured that this issue will fester until we fall into line with the denomination’s Christ-denying policy.

The only thing that can stop this freight train is the active, vocal opposition of church members sustained by prayer, fellowship, Bible study and trust that:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8, NIV).

Take courage and speak up.  There is no failure when we remain faithful to Him who has saved us unto eternal life!

Polygamy Now

polygamist-marriage

By what right do we deny this “marriage?”  After all “Love is love,” “they deserve equal protection under the law,” and ‘they’re not harming anybody.”

Back in the sane olden days when the elite apparatchiks of the PCUSA were redefining Christian marriage by purposefully, explicitly ignoring the definition of marriage by Jesus Christ, I experienced this little vignette.

We were sharing dinner with a couple from another Mainline denomination, and the topic of gay marriage arose.  They were all for it.  However, they also exhibited discomfort, and eventually told us about an incident that occurred many years ago at a church they attended on the East Coast.

A gay couple had approached the pastor and requested that their relationship be blessed by the church.  As Progressive, open minded, loving Christians the affirmative decision was easily made.  So the blessing ceremony occurred to everyone’s (well, perhaps there were a few who wondered) rejoicing.

Some time later this couple approached the pastor again, this time with a third person.  They explained that the boundaries of their love had expanded to now include this third person, and they requested that the church bless this new three-person relationship.

They didn’t go on to say what the church decided to do.  Rather, they paused, and with pained expressions commented that once a boundary has been obliterated it’s very difficult to control the consequences.

I also recall a debate at my church about gay marriage where an elder confidently said that the arguments used to justify gay marriage would never be used in support of polygamy.  This statement arose due to my line of argumentation as described in a previous post.

After all, as numerous Rationales point out (in identical language), “the Bible reflects many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships.” The most common pattern “reflected” (which does not mean approval) is polygamy. Thus, by this argument, polygamous groups of people have more justification to claim second-class status than do same gender couples, since polygamy is actually “reflected” in Scripture as a form of “legal, religiously approved” marriage while same gender marriage is not.

Well, the boundary has been obliterated and I recently came across this article titled “Massachusetts Town Legalizes Polygamy Using Same Arguments For Gay Marriage.”

The Massachusetts town of Somerville has become the first in the nation to legalize polyamorous relationships. It’s evidence of the slippery slope social conservatives warned would follow legalizing gay marriage.

Polygamy was the obvious evolution of redefining marriage. After all, every argument supporting gay marriage—“Love is love,” “we deserve equal protection under the law,” and “we’re not harming anybody”—also supports group marriage.

Somerville’s legal recognition of polyamory came about on June 25 while the city council was changing its domestic partnership application to a gender-neutral form. When Somerville council member Lance Davis was challenged over why the form was limited to two applicants, he replied, “I don’t have a good answer.”

Indeed, if we are going to ignore the fundamental, dual-sex form marriage has employed for millennia, there is no good answer to why government-sanctioned adult relationships should be limited to two adults. That is, unless we consider the rights of children to be known and loved by the only two adults to whom they have a natural right—their mother and father.

Yet, according to the prevailing view of marriage, endorsed by the Supreme Court’s ruling mandating gay marriage in 2015, marriage has nothing to do with children. These days, marriage is simply a vehicle for adult fulfillment.

Will polygamy eventually become the law of the land in the United States? I don’t know.  But I do know that our boundary on marriage has been obliterated and it’s very difficult to control the consequences.

The Travail of the United Methodist Church (3)

UMC-Split2

The Methodist Church to Split

Chicago Tribune Article

If you read the Chicago Tribune you’d be forgiven for thinking that the United Methodist Church (UMC) has worked our an amicable plan to split.  The article in question is titled “United Methodist churches that oppose gay marriage and clergy will break away, form new religion: ‘We came to an impasse that can’t be bridged’” was published on January 3.

The article’s title is one that only someone ignorant and/or vicious could have written.  The reason it’s so long is to highlight this cruel hit statement: “United Methodist churches that oppose gay marriage and clergy will break away, form new religion.”  Note that it is those churches who oppose gay marriage who are “breaking away” to “form a new religion.”  A new religion?!  So “real” Christianity supports gay marriage and thus those in opposition need to form a “new religion” distinct from Christianity!?  The mind boggles.  Perhaps long time readers will recall this figure from my April 13, 2015 post.

Gay-Marriage-US-Denom

All Christian denomination membership in the United States (left) vs. membership of denominations who oppose gay marriage (right).

The reason for this result is that Christianity has from its founding by Jesus Christ Himself defined marriage as between a man and a woman.  The “new religion” being founded is by the Progressives and its certainly post-Christian if not yet overtly pagan.

Now that we’re past the awful title, here’s the core information from the Chicago Tribune article.

The separation plan calls for the creation of a “traditionalist Methodist denomination” that will be distinct from the UMC. While the new denomination, which has yet to be named, will continue to practice the ban on gay marriage and clergy, the UMC will begin the process of removing restrictive language from its bylaws.

Recall that it was the “traditionalist Methodists” (i.e., oppose gay marriage) who won at the last world-wide denominational conference.  And yet the Tribune article says it is this winning group who are expected to exit the UMC.

UMC Pastor Post

However, it’s not as simple as the Chicago Tribune article leads you to believe.  I recently found a post written by a UMC pastor that is likely far closer to the truth, and also deeply troubling.  The author is Donald Sensing.

To begin, the document (called the Protocol by this author) upon which the Tribune article is based in not a statement of official policy.  It is rather a working document that proposes a specific solution.

In fact, nothing has been decided and no actual actions have been taken to split the UMC. That a split is nearly certain to come before this summer is not much in doubt. But what the details will be no one can predict.

The UMC’s only body that can determine policy denomination-wide is the General Conference. Presided over by bishops, who can speak to issues but may not vote, the GC convenes once per four years and does not exist in between. It will convene again on May 5. The “gay issue” will certainly be the priority matter. Voting delegates come from the church’s conferences, which is what the UMC calls dioceses. The number of delegates is fixed; how many come from each conference is based on their membership number. Delegates per conference must be both laity and clergy.

Pastor Sensing has low expectations for the to be formed “Traditionalist” and “Progressive” UMC denominations.

The UM Right has been defining itself mainly by its opposition to the UM Left. Once the divorce is finalized, then what? They do not yet know and it will be conflict-riven to find out. It will splinter the traditionalists’ merely-apparent monolith a lot. Purity codes inherent in religious conservatism will be fought over and will be their own source of energetic dissension. Unity there will not be.

Progressives, whether religious or political simply must have an enemy. There is always an oppressor who must be subdued, always and -ism to be overcome, always a class war that must be fought.

So, after a fully-progressive UM church is formed there will be a period of sweetness and light, and then the in-fighting will begin, then the purges will begin. The only way forward will be ever-more leftward (see: Democrat party). No one will count the casualties because Leftism has never cared about casualties, either literal or figurative. The Left has its own purity codes, too, and enforces them at least as vigorously as the Right does.

As has always happened when the Left attains power, a self-appointed revolutionary vanguard will cement its position and focus primarily on retaining control. The Progressive UM church will become effectively a social-justice-driven political party that uses religious language.

I hope that Pastor Sensing is proved to be too pessimistic.  In any case the UMC is likely to find itself in a travail at least as painful as the PCUSA, and perhaps much worse.  These are just specific instances of our nation’s disintegration into tribalism.

May God have mercy on the UMC, the PCUSA and the United States.

Clarity about What Divides Us: Biblical Authority

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The Authority of Scripture

Every once in a while I come across a book or article that provides substantial clarification regarding those things that divide us.  One of these is an article published in Theology Matters by Robert P. Mills titled “The Priority of Authority: Holy Scripture and Human Sexuality.”  Rev. Mills openes his article by paraphrasing a common claim made by Progressive Christians that:

“We all agree on the authority of Scripture. We just disagree about interpretation.”

Rev. Mills’ contention is that this claim is false.  My own paraphrase of his position is that “Because we fundamentally disagree on the authority of Scripture we therefore also fundamentally disagree on its interpretation.”

Rev. Mills develops his argument in three areas, those being:

Part 1, Authority and Humanity, will discuss the nature of authority, contexts in which authority is exercised, the human need for authority both individually and collectively, and the decline of authority in Western culture.

Part 2, Authority and Scripture, will start with the doctrine of revelation then look at what the Bible says about authority. It will then consider the nature of Scripture’s authority, giving special attention to the loss of authority that has come with liberalism’s denial of God as the Author of Scripture, and to the loss of Christian community that has resulted from this denial.

Part 3, Authority and Interpretation, will explain why and how evangelical Christians can and must uphold the historic Christian understanding of the nature and function of authority in general and the authority of Scripture in particular. It will conclude with a constructive proposal for reuniting the authority of Scripture with the interpretation of Scripture, with specific reference to current conversations in mainline Protestant denominations concerning human sexuality.

It should go without saying that “you should read the whole thing.”  However, if this isn’t possible here are the key clarifying passages.

With regard to “Part 1: Authority and Humanity,” this quote well summarizes our contemporary situation.

The prevailing understanding of many in the mainline seems to be that the individual is the ultimate authority in any and all matters of faith and practice, whether the issue is the interpretation of Scripture or the ordination of church leaders. This is the flight Jeffrey Stout describes as being from authority to autonomy.

Yes, this is precisely the claim of ultimate personal autonomy that underlies Progressive Christian arguments.

With regard to “Part 2: Authority and Scripture,”  the following excerpt is of critical importance.

Anyone who has been even tangentially involved in discussions of Scripture with liberals recognizes that there are those in our congregations and denominations who refuse to recognize the authority of Scripture precisely because they refuse to recognize God as its author. There are those in positions of leadership in our congregations, governing bodies, denominations, and seminaries who quite casually declare that the Bible is entirely of human origin; that the Bible is a record of human efforts to reach out and touch “the divine” and that the Bible may not, indeed must not, be considered God’s revelation of himself to his human creation.

Calvin reminds us that Scripture is our authority for Christian faith and life because God is the ultimate author of Scripture. Scripture derives its authority from its author—God.

This is to where the Confession of 1967 pointed.  And we have arrived at the intended destination where each individual human is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture:

Deconstructionists dogmatically declare that any written work—whether a student essay, the U.S. Constitution, or the Bible—means only what the reader, never what the writer, thinks it means. As a result, any written work may have as many meanings as it has readers, even if the meanings are contradictory. Similarly, a single reader may assign a different meaning to a text every time he reads it.

With regard to “Part 3: Authority and Interpretation,” the Rev. Mills connects the crisis of Scriptural interpretation to the Progressive demand for ultimate personal autonomy.

By rigidly separating interpretation from revelation, liberalism attempts to relocate authority from God as the author of Scripture to each individual who reads Scripture. Uncritically accepting the deconstructionist dogma that there is no such thing as “authorial intent,” that it is impossible to convey an intended meaning to a reader, liberalism insists that there is no authority higher than the individual, which is, of course, the definition of autonomy.

Near the article’s end the Rev. Mills states the ultimate point of conflict that divides the Progressive (liberal) and orthodox camps.

Liberals cannot accept the authority of Scripture because it would supersede their authority to impose their views … To put it bluntly, if God is the ultimate authority, liberals are not. And for liberals openly to acknowledge that reality would be to acknowledge that the beliefs and practices they propose constitute a counterfeit Christianity.

The authority of Scripture and the interpretation of those passages of Scripture that deal with human sexuality cannot be separated. That is because the rejection of the authority of Scripture and the embrace of sexual behaviors that Scripture calls sin share the same root causes: the desire of individuals for ultimate autonomy; the consequent rejection of God’s authority as a constructive good; the willful yielding to the serpent’s temptation, “You will be like God.”

Can there be any greater proof of interpretation of Scripture from the position of ultimate human autonomy than the recent PCUSA debate on the definition of Christian Marriage?  In the 24,000+ words written in Rationales supporting same-gender marriage I find only three direct references to Scripture (i.e., text with chapter and verse) and Jesus Christ is not quoted even once. If actual Scripture is so utterly ignored then what is the nature of Rationale text in which Scripture is discussed? It is the authors telling us what they believe Scripture teaches, often in the most general and/or selective terms, without the slightest attempt at demonstration.  So completely have they internalized the idea of interpretation from human autonomy that they don’t even pretend that Scripture has authority over their opinions or beliefs.

The issue that now confronts us is fundamental to our identity as Christians saved and beloved by a sovereign Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To reject this God as Scripture’s Author and thus to remove Scripture’s authority from this God will lead only to despair and destruction.  If we fail to stand on this ground there will be no end to the apostasy we will be demanded to embrace, and to which we will eventually succumb.

iBooks Publish Announcement: A Denomination’s Debacle

I have published my fourth eBook on iBooks.  If you have an iOS device then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on my blog using this link.

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A Denomination’s Debacle

This book is an indictment of the leadership elite who have driven the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA, into an utter debacle.

The most visible aspect of this debacle is the unprecedented loss of membership and churches that occurred between 2011 and 2017. Over that time span the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches, which is almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches. But these numbers don’t capture the human cost in broken trust, lost faith and shattered relationships that has occurred behind the scenes.

What remains is a denomination dominated by a post-Christian elite who use their power to advance a social gospel that is virtually indistinguishable from the secular Progressive political project. To some readers this charge against the PCUSA leadership will seem to be not just extraordinary, but also unbelievable. This book contains the extraordinary evidence that justifies the charge.

Preface Excerpt

The reader may well ask why I feel compelled to tell this story. I do so for three reasons.

First, the elite denominational leadership has obtained this end under the cloak of purposeful deception. This deception is not found in their policy and theological positions. No, they have aggressively advanced their cause with general honesty. The deception is that they claim to have been doing so as a legitimate expression of orthodox Reformed Christianity. By so doing they have preyed with premeditation and malice upon the trust of the denomination’s parishioners. We will never recover from this spell unless the truth is exposed.

Second, there are still many faithful members and churches in the PCUSA. However, unless they fully understand the forces arrayed against them they will likely eventually succumb. Only if they understand that their presence in the denomination is as a light shining in the darkness can they be protected from the apostasy and heresy that surrounds them. That understanding is what sustained the Apostles and early Christians as they proclaimed the Gospel as isolated individuals and churches in the pagan Roman Empire. The challenge we face is far less extreme. Yet, if we prioritize the comfort and peace of our lives over our responsibilities as followers of Christ even the small courage required will elude us.

Finally, the forces that have corrupted the PCUSA act upon our general culture and thus are not unique to this denomination. Therefore, we can expect that other churches and denominations are struggling under the same theological onslaught as has laid the PCUSA low. Thus this book attempts to explain these forces and how a corrupt leadership can by deception and seduction smuggle false theology into an otherwise orthodox Christian fellowship.

Table of Contents

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