Friday, March 10, 2006

Hanky Panky and the New Testament/Covenant – Part 1

Many people are very thankful that there is a New Testament to complete the work of the Old Testament. Some of the ancient holiness code was removed; other parts were given clearer definition and meaning. Take food for example. A group of men from our church meets each Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast and fellowship. Being the carb conscious person that I am, my ordinary breakfast order is a side order of scrambled eggs, a side order of sausage and a side order of bacon. Praise God for the New Testament! I love bacon. I digress…

Jesus shed a lot light on sexual ethics. He was very aware of the teachings in the Torah concerning adultery. He took those teachings and moved beyond the sexual acts into the realm of thought and fantasy. Jesus said that if a man looks lustfully at a woman he already has committed adultery with her. He made the Old Testament commandment more restrictive, not less!

Some would argue that since Jesus doesn’t specifically speak of homosexuality then he must not have been against it. To follow this type of logic is very dangerous. Jesus did not speak about zoophilia (sex between humans and animals). Was he in favor of such sexual acts? Absolutely not! He didn’t speak about incest. Was he in favor of incest? Absolutely not!

In his book titled, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Robert Gagnon says, “On matters relating to sexual ethics Jesus often adopted stricter, not more lenient, demands than most other Jews of his time.” (page 197) He held people to a higher standard—God’s standard.

Jesus was revolutionary in that he did not view women as property. He gave them dignity. His views on divorce would make it more difficult for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus gave women stature and importance.

Now let us turn to Paul, the “apostle” to the Gentiles. His writings are clear concerning sexual intercourse between persons of the same gender. He said that such sexual activity is wrong and immoral. He also believed that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong. On the topic of sexual ethics, his teachings echoed the beliefs of Jesus.

This is a short summary of sexual ethics in the New Testament. Next time we will dig a little deeper.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hanky Panky and the Old Testament

Just last month another Presbytery ordained a practicing, non-celibate, gay man as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament (the official title for pastors) in the PCUSA. No comments have come out of our national headquarters in Louisville. This issue of non-celibate gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender persons (GLBT) is on the forefront of our denomination whether we like it or not. To understand this topic we must look at the broader topic of sex, God’s law and the ordained ministry. We begin with the Old Testament/Covenant.

Creation: God’s Model We are to Follow

Genesis 1:27, 28

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”

  1. The image of God involves people being male and female.
  2. The people were to have sexual intercourse.
  3. The sexual intercourse would result in pregnancy and childbirth.
  4. They were to populate the earth.

Genesis 2:24, 25

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.”

  1. The joining of the man to a woman (marriage) involved leaving of the families.
  2. The couple becomes united before they become one flesh.
  3. The couple has sex (becomes “one flesh”).
  4. There is a uniting that goes beyond just the physical nature of the sexual act.
  5. There is comfortableness about the nakedness of the husband and wife.

The Effects of the Fall Begin to Show

Genesis 4:19, 23-24

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah… Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.’

  1. This is the first time that a person has violated the one-man, one-woman model that God created.
  2. The way that Lamech is not mentioned… it is taken for granted that people know the story/reason.
  3. It is very possible that since it involved a “young man” that it involved having sex with one of his wives.
  4. Lamech killed the young man.
  5. Lamech justifies his action and it is almost like he is warning the wives that he will do it again.

God’s Commandment to the People

Exodus 20:14, 17

You shall not commit adultery… You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant...”

Deuteronomy 5:18,21

You shall not commit adultery… You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant… .

  1. God’s command is clear.
  2. People being people, pushed the definition to the point that it was easier for a man to have sex outside of marriage than it was for a woman to do the same sort of thing.

Unlawful Sexual Relations

Leviticus 18

  1. With a near relative.
  2. With your mother.
  3. With your sister or step-sister.
  4. With your son’s daughter or daughter’s daughter.
  5. With your half-sister.
  6. With your aunt – either by blood or marriage.
  7. With your daughter-in-law.
  8. With your brother’s wife.
  9. With a woman and her daughter.
  10. With your son’s daughter or daughter’s daughter (granddaughter)
  11. With your wife’s sister while your wife is living.
  12. With a woman during her period.
  13. With your neighbor’s wife.
  14. With a man as a man lies with a woman.
  15. With an animal.


  1. Such persons must be cut off from their people. (Lev. 18:29)
  2. If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife the two of them are to be put to death.
  3. If a man sleeps with his father’s wife the two of them are to be put to death.
  4. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law the two of them are to be put to death.
  5. If a man lies with a man as a man lies with a woman they are to be put to death.
  6. If a man marries both a man and her mother then all three must be burned in the fire.
  7. If a man has sex with an animal then the man and the animal are to be put to death.
  8. If a woman approaches an animal to have sex then the woman and the animal are to be put to death.
  9. If a man marries his sister or stepsister they are to be cut off from the people.
  10. If a man and woman have sex during her period they are to be cut off from the people.
  11. If sex with your aunt then you both will be “held responsible.”
  12. If a man marries his brother’s with they will remain childless.

“Detestable” (vs. 22)

“Detestable” is a very strong word in the Hebrew. It indicates that something is so horrible, repulsive or disgusting that God does not want to look upon it. That should give us a clue as to how God feels about gay sexual intercourse.

What about the ladies?

Does the holiness code allow women to have sex with another woman? After all, the code refers to “men.” The short answer is… NO! The holiness code is directed more to men than to women because men were the dominant gender in that day. Women were little more than property. The point of the holiness code was not to list every possible sin. The point was to list things that would illustrate what actions were wrong in the eyes of God and to provide examples so that people could wisely determine other acts that would be unacceptable before God. Gay sex… sin. Lesbian sex… sin. Having sexual encounters with men and women… sin.


The children of God had been in captivity in Egypt for several generations. They had become immersed in the culture of the Egyptians. They were heading to a land that was inhabited by people who worship different gods and practicing various sexual and religious acts that were wrong in God’s eyes. God wanted his people to be separate from the people who were to be driven out of the Promised Land. A major part of the difference had to do with their sexual practices.

It is amazing how today’s sexual culture in the USA mirrors that of the people in Ancient Egypt and Israel. God continues to call us to be a separate people.

The next posting will be called Hanky Panky and the New Testament/Covenant.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Catastrophic Losses

The number of active members in the PCUSA has been in a freefall since the membership of its predecessor denominations peaked in 1965 with 4,254,597 active members. On December 31, 2003, the church had 2,405,311 active members. That is a loss of 1,849,286 members. It is a 43.46% membership loss!

Imagine what would happen if a business had such catastrophic losses. Management would be fired if Proctor and Gamble had a decrease in revenue by 43%. Heads would roll if a pro football team had an attendance drop of 43%. The stock holders of corporations would be outraged. Management would be fired. New blood would be brought in to bring about change. Unfortunately, the PCUSA isn’t run like a business. For the leadership of the PCUSA it is business as usual! Who cares if we lose approximately 40,0000 members each year?

The 2007 & 2008 budgets for the denomination were discussed at the most recent General Assembly Council meeting. The council was told that the projected membership loss for 2007 is 66,000 members. The projected loss for 2008 is 85,000 members! When combined with the projected losses for 2005 and 2006, the PCUSA is expected to lose 10% of its membership from 2005 – 2008 (not counting any losses due to people leaving over the TTF report).

The reasons people are leaving are many and complex. Conservatives will say that people are leaving due to the liberal positions of the General Assembly. Progressives (the PC terms for the theologically liberal wing of the denomination) say it is because of the continued failure to fully include all church members in the life and governance of the Church. One reason for membership loss that is indisputable is the aging of our church members—people are dying!

The time for action is NOW! Is there any logical reason to believe that the PCUSA will lose less than 85,000+ members per year after 2008? It has been said that a definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I truly believe that God could intercede and bring about different results, but he hasn’t!

It is time for the PCUSA to look at new paradigms of ministry and being a church. Here are but a few of the possibilities (listed in no particular order):

1. Totally revamp the way pastors are trained. If the seminaries won’t change, then tuff… form new pastor training centers. Many, if not most, seminary professors are locked into a higher education model that does not resonate in the local church. Pastors are trained to write papers. Few have the skills to lead a congregation in spiritual and numerical growth. My hunch is that most seminary students have never led a person to receive Jesus as Lord and savior. It is time to throw out our current seminary system and develop new models for selecting and training pastors.

2. Put a time limit on how long a person can serve as a General Assembly staff person. After working for the General Assembly for six years they should be required to have no contact with the General Assembly agencies and staff for at least one year (just like when a pastor leaves his/her current call). After a total of working twelve years with the General Assembly they should be permanently banned from ever serving at that level again. This would ensure that new blood, ideas and models would constantly flow into the system.

3. The theological “fighting” will not stop until there are two separate denomination. Oil and water do not mix! The root of most of the denominations disagreements begins with disagreements in Biblical interpretation. I am not naïve enough to believe that there will be no disagreements in the new denomination. They will be fewer and less volatile; after all, the members will be coming from the same general direction in terms of Biblical interpretation.

4. Make all per capita optional. If General Assembly, Synods or Presbyteries are not valued and meeting the needs of the church then we shouldn’t force churches to pay for them. Let me give you one example. Almost every, if not every, church in my presbytery that is either growing or staying the same in membership has some type of contemporary worship experience or blended worship. Until recently, the local church, which hosted presbytery, was in charge of the worship at that particular meeting. We met at one of our fairly large churches and the presbytery worship service was conducted in a contemporary style. From the complains that streamed in following the meeting you would have thought that some heretical action must have taken place. Shortly there after, the church I serve hosted presbytery. We led a truly blended worship service with worship team and choir. Once again the complaints flowed in. Our presbytery now has a new worship policy that does not allow the local church to have that type of control of the presbytery worship service. Governing bodies (G.A., synods & presbyteries) would be more responsive to the local congregations if per capita was optional.

5. Plant more church. Change the way we start new churches. Encourage our largest church to have satellite campuses in neighboring communities. Let the founding church have oversight of the new church.

6. Don’t give any $$ to keep a dying church alive unless it is the only church in town.

7. Have “ecumenical” be truly ecumenical. Work with the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene, independent churches and others.

These are just a few possible new paradigms. What new ideas do you have?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

“Peace, Unity and Purity” or “Pie-in-the-Sky”

The PCUSA has been engaged in a constant battle over ordination standards since the mid-seventies. One arm of the church has been trying to change our polity to allow the ordination of practicing, unrepentant gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons as Elders, Deacons and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament (pastors). Another arm of the church has been trying to keep an orthodox, Biblical, view toward ordination that would prohibit the ordination of any person who will not abide by the view of fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. A third arm of the church just wishes that the problem would go away (some may disagree with my view of this third arm of the church.).

The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (TTF) was formed at the 213th General Assembly (2001) “to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity for the 21st century…” (Minutes, 2001, Part I, p. 29). The TTF was to address the issues of Christology, Biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards and power. The TTF has concluded its work and has published a report that will go to the 217th General Assembly (2006).

Did the 213th General Assembly really believe that the TTF would usher in a time of peace, unity and purity? “Peace” was never defined. Is it the absence of disagreement? Is it something that a General Assembly document can “force” upon the church? What about Jesus’ statement, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-21) The same types of questions can be asked about “unity.” The mantra for the PCUSA has been unity in diversity. What a crock! There are pastors and leaders in our denomination who do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God. They deny the bodily resurrection and most, if not all, of Jesus’ miracles. How can there be unity with this kind of diversity. Finally, what is the definition of “purity?” What standards will be used to define purity? Several years ago a paper was written by a General Assembly committee that wanted to introduce a new standard called “justice love.” The paper went on to say that any consensual sexual contact between adults who value and uphold the other person would be all right. Fortunately, the paper was rejected. The authors of the paper have a very different view of purity than is found in scripture. Who decides the definition of “purity?” So, did the General Assembly really believe that the TTF would bring in a time of peace, unity and purity?

The cynical side of my personality doesn’t believe it for a minute. The commissioners probably hoped for the best. If the denomination’s leadership truly believed it then they were/are the most inept leaders of all time. The two main opposing groups in this battle hold their convictions as a part of the core of their being. Neither side was/is going to back down. I feel that it was a pie-in-the-sky idea at best. It would allow General Assemblies to bypass the controversial issues for five years. The assemblies could (and did) say that we should let the TTF do its work before dealing with the divisive issues.

Well, the pie has fallen out of the sky. The 217th General Assembly (2006) will have the task of dealing with that pie (task force report). Presbyterians around the world are waiting to see what the assembly will do.

Have a slice of pie as you watch and wait! (I’ll take a slice of pecan pie… hold the ice cream!)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Has the PCUSA jumped the shark?

The point which signaled the downfall of “Happy Days” was when Fonzie “jumped the shark” on water skis. Since that time, the phrase “jump the shark” has come to signal an event in a television show which indicates the show has begun to decline and the end is approaching (see The phrase now goes beyond the television genre. So I wonder… has the PCUSA jumped the shark?

The Permanent Judicial Commission of Redwoods Presbytery heard a case on March 2, 2006, concerning the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr. Spahr had openly admitted that she had officiated at the “marriages” of gay couples. The trial was because her actions went against denominational policy. The commission found that she did not do anything wrong because “conscience takes precedence over priority.” ( Conscience takes precedence over priority? Let’s look deeper at this concept that has been put forward the commission.

Let’s say that the church I serve gets fed up with the PCUSA and wants to leave the denomination. The Book of Order says that the local church property is held in trust for the presbytery. The session and the congregation say that the policy of holding the property in trust for the presbytery goes against the “conscience” of every elder and church member. Well, according to the Permanent Judicial Commission of Redwoods Presbytery, my church could leave the denomination with its property because “conscience takes precedence over priority.”

Let’s look at another possible situation. The pastor of a local church is married with five children. The pastor begins to have romantic feelings toward the church’s Director of Youth Ministries. The two flirt for several months before deciding to have their friendship become sexual. The “affair” goes on for almost a year. The pastor loves his wife and the pastor loves the Director of Youth Ministries. The affair is discovered and charges are about to be filed against the pastor. But wait… the pastor says that the prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage goes against his conscience. Since “conscience takes precedent over priority” the pastor is in the clear. The “rules” no longer apply due to his conscience.

Here’s another one. A presbytery is required to pay per capita to the General Assembly for all of the members of its local churches. The presbytery and the local churches decide that they do not like the direction the denomination is heading. They decide that the presbytery will not send per capita to the denomination. The denomination gets very angry and frustrated. They want to “bill” the presbytery but their hands are tied; you see, the presbytery and its churches decided that paying the per capita went against their consciences. Since “conscience takes precedent over priority” the presbytery and its churches are in the clear.

If the Spahr ruling isn’t overturned I believe that the PCUSA has jumped the shark. The ruling means that we are no longer connectional and that there are no binding rules on anyone for anything. The PCUSA is already spiraling downward in terms of our membership (the topic of a future posting). Is the Spahr ruling the point from which there is no return? Has the PCUSA jumped the shark?