Friday, May 25, 2007

I digress…

A few weeks ago I wrote about Pentecost and Pluralism Sunday. I encourage everyone to go to today’s Presbyweb edition and read Viola Larson’s Pentecost, Progressives and Pluralism. Preach it sister! This is what I was attempting to say on my blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity—Part 1

The Task Force that is re-writing the Form of Government of the Book of Order is creating a new section called “The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” (“Foundations”). The Foundations section is divided into chapters on Theological Commitments, the Church and Its Confessions and Principles of Order and Government. Today we will begin looking at the theological commitments section.

The task force has kept quite a bit of tradition language. The section on Jesus Christ calls him the “Son” of God. The section on God refers to God as “Creator and Father.” At the same time the section does a good job of using gender appropriate and inclusive language.

Now onto content…

I am extremely disappointed if these are our theological commitments. On the surface things look just fine. Words have been chosen that are “correct,” yet, incomplete. This incompleteness opens the door to multiple theological interpretations—which may or may not be biblical!

What happened to the virgin birth? The scriptures and church confessions are absolutely clear that the church believe is the virgin birth. Yet, there are many in the Presbyterian Church who do not believe in the virgin birth—particularly among pastors, specialized clergy and seminary professors. They use all sorts of explanations on how Jesus can be “incarnate” and “God in our midst” that do not require a virgin birth. The current wording of the Foundation section could allow an open door to unbiblical beliefs on the conception of Jesus.

What happened to the bodily resurrection? The Foundations section says that Jesus was “raised from death to life.” Sounds good. But why did they not say that there was a bodily resurrection? I know pastos and denominational staff who believe that Jesus was raised from death to life—just not physically raised to life. They believe that it was a “spiritual” resurrection. One may ask, “What’s wrong with that belief?”

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

-1 Corinthians 15:12-22(NIV)

Most Presbyterians sitting in the pews (and standing behind pulpits) do not realize that in 1981 the GAPJC ruled that those who are ordained only have to agree to be “guided” and “instructed” by our confession—they do not have to “believe” them. Consequently, we have pastors who teach and preach that Jesus was not born of a virgin or bodily rise from the dead! Had I known of that GAPJC decision when I was seeking ordination I would not be a part of the PCUSA today (and believe me when I say that every year I consider leaving the PCUSA because of its unbiblical stances).

We now have the chance to change things in the PCUSA. When the Foundations section comes up for vote we amend it to include “virgin birth” and “bodily resurrection.” If the General Assembly won’t allow the Foundations to be modified then at the very next GA meeting let there be dozens of amendments to add “virgin birth” and “bodily resurrection.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Form of Government Task Force

The last General Assembly meeting had the “pleasure” of dealing with the Trinity Report. Early drafts of that report had been sent out to various groups for input—very little input was given. Thus, we received the report that we did.

The Form Government Task Force is working on a re-write of the Form of Government section of the Book of Order. This is a VERY important task! The task force is encouraging Presbyterians to carefully read their working drafts and make comments and ask questions. The ball is in our court!

The Book of Order desperately needs to be redone. Toby Brown on his A Classical Presbyterian blog agrees with the New Wineskins Association of Churches’ assessment that the Presbyterian Church was organized around a cultural setting that no longer exists. Culture has changed—the gospel of Jesus hasn’t changed. We need to find new ways of being the church in our time and place.

Before coming to Evergreen I served in the Presbytery of Alaska. The geographical setting of Southeast Alaska presented many challenges. Most of the churches were very small. Travel between towns was best accomplished by plane (jet travel between the biggest towns and float plane with the smaller towns). In that Presbytery we had to “push the limits” of Presbyterian polity. Our attitude had to be one of “if the Book of Order doesn’t forbid it then it is alright to do it.” Conference calls were a way of life. Many Committee of Ministry meetings (and some Presbytery special meetings) were conducted by conference calls. We adapted to meet the needs of challenging setting.

I applaud the efforts of transforming the Book of Order. How we go about organizing and being the church need to change. What we believe as the church must not change.

Go to the Task Force’s web page and read the first section called “The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity.” Tomorrow I will comment on F-1.01 – 1.0304.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Book of Order will have to wait…

I am back from our daughter’s college graduation. It went very well—we are so proud of her!

I had intended on an extended series on the proposed re-write of the Book of Order. That series will be put on hold or a day or two.

Late Saturday night Moscow, Idaho, experienced something that no community should have to experience. News reports abound on the shooting spree that took place in that Idaho community. The shooter found his way into the Presbyterian church, shot and killed a church staff person (a sexton) who lived at the church and then committed suicide in the church sanctuary.

I was born in Moscow. My parents lived just a few miles away in Pullman, Washington. The closest ob/gyn was in Moscow. Years later I attended Washington State University in Pullman. I had a good friend from Alaska that went to college in Moscow and visited him regularly. I have driven past that Presbyterian church several times—but never went in. It is hard to imagine what that church is going through.

As Presbyterians we need to be in pray for Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Moscow. The blood can be removed from the church sanctuary and the room where the staff person was killed—but that removal doesn’t make it go away. In the coming weeks that congregation will begin holding worship services in the sanctuary. The emotional, spiritual and physical trauma of going into the sanctuary could be overwhelming.

The installed pastor who preceded me at Evergreen had to be fired. The pastor had crossed the “creepy” line—probably not the illegal line. He did something that was very inappropriate with a teenage girl or two (again, probably not illegal but definitely very inappropriate). He would get inappropriately close to women (I don’t want to go into detail—definitely inappropriate). He had been gone from Evergreen for almost two years when I received the call to Evergreen. Three years later I was still dealing with fallout from that pastor’s actions. We ended up losing two families who had been at the center of the controversy. The women in those families loved Evergreen and its people. However, every time they drove up and saw the church building the old memories, hurt and pain would come back. They finally got to the place that the only way they could get free from that past was to go to another church. Both times the husbands sat tearfully in my office—explaining what was happening and why. The memories of horrible events…

We need to pray for the folks at First Presbyterian Church, Moscow, Idaho, that the Holy Spirit will protect person’s memories and that the church can become a place of healing.

Let’s all stop and pray for them right now…