Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Broken Heart…

Today’s post is a brief departure from my series of posts on options for moving forward in light of the 2008 General Assembly.

Last night the Presbytery of Olympia had a special gathering to hear from our delegates to General Assembly. This was the second such gathering in our Presbytery.

I had not planned on making the actions of the General Assembly an issue at Evergreen. Evergreen Presbyterian Church is a great church but we are faced with many very important issues as we look at the next five years. My plan was to focus on our local needs until the voting on the amendments to the constitution were tallied. That plan was thrown out the window when Constitutional Service issued Opinion #22.

Back to last night…

Last night I attended the informational meeting at the Presbytery office with a couple of elders and a retired pastor who is an important part of our church family. The commissioners shared their impressions of the Assembly—all spoke favorably of the worship services. The meeting finally turned to the 500 pound gorilla in the room—the troubling actions of the Assembly. There was a time for questions that were directed to the commissioners, our General Presbyter and Stated Clerk (the GP and Stated Clerk attend all General Assembly meetings). During that time a question was directed to the Stated Clerk that went something like this: “If Evergreen Presbyterian Church (I asked the question) found a candidate for the office of elder or deacon and that person was a practicing, non-repentant gay or lesbian person, and if after meeting with the session the session determined that the person was qualified to serve as an elder or deacon and that the session would accept the scrupling of the G-6.0106b, could that person be ordained as an elder or deacon if elected by the congregation?” The Stated Clerk answered, “Yes.” Follow up questions were very specific and asked if “local option” concerning ordination was now the rule of the day in the PCUSA and again the Stated Clerk answered, “Yes.” The Stated Clerk based her answers on the new Authoritative Interpretation that was passed by the General Assembly AND Opinion #22 issued by Constitution Services of the PCUSA.

The path forward for this pastor and blog are now as clear as mud. I will resume tomorrow (July 17th) with my series on options for moving forward that are being put forward by various groups within the PCUSA. The series will conclude on or before Wednesday, July 23rd. I will then be taking a couple of days of planned vacation before leaving on a mission trip with our youth group. The blog will be “silent” for a period of time while I prayer and fast while seeking the Lords direction for my life, ministry, future with the PCUSA, etc.

I have been studying and preaching from Nehemiah for the past two months. When Nehemiah was confronted with the abysmal state of Jerusalem and its walls he spent four months in prayer and fasting.

There are some similarities between Nehemiah’s time and today:

  • Like the Israelites of old, the PCUSA had moved away from following God’s commands for holiness. This call for holiness is found in the Old and New Testaments.
  • Nehemiah referred to the Israelites as “stiff necked” and “disobedient” people—it appears as though the PCUSA is a “stiff necked” and “disobedient” people.
  • The greatness and grandeur of the PCUSA is long gone—like Jerusalem of old.

There are some major differences between Nehemiah’s time and today:

· There was only one temple—located in Jerusalem.

· The people of God were in captivity in a foreign land due to their unfaithfulness to God.

· Jesus had yet to come to earth to provide redemption for our sins through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

· The PCUSA IS NOT the Church—it is a single denomination, and a rather small one at that.

During this time of prayer and fasting I will be seeking God’s direction for my life, ministry and church. I have no idea of how long this process will take. I have no idea of what God is going to call me to. God may call me to stay within the PCUSA to keep up the fight for biblical faithfulness. God may call me to say within the PCUSA as a part of a “faithful remnant.” God may call me to stay in the PCUSA but not as a pastor. God may call me to leave the PCUSA and the pastoral ministry. God may call me to leave the PCUSA and remain in the pastoral ministry within another denomination. God may call me to leave the PCUSA and remain in the pastoral ministry in a non-denominational church. God may call me to a new and different type of ministry that is not in a local congregation.

On the lighter side, last August and September, I had a photo of one of my dahlias each day on my blog. Yes, I confess that I am a dahlia nut. I have approximately 750 dahlia plants in my garden (135 different varieties and 185 new seedlings for trying to develop new varieties of dahlia). When I return from the mission trip to Alaska I will post a photo of a different dahlia or two each day (Monday-Friday) to brighten your day (and mine).

Why the silence? Our Presbytery, at its last meeting, approved a process to deal with churches and/or pastors that are thinking about leaving the PCUSA. This document has a nice “pastoral” flavor but it also has some significant punitive possibilities in it. At this time, I am not planning on leaving the PCUSA! I have been warned (by a colleague in a significant position in the Presbytery) to make sure that I (or my church) do, or say, nothing that would cause the new policy to be put into motion. It could be possible for me to unintentionally write something at would trigger the new policy to be put in effect if I were to blog during this time of discernment. For the sake of my ministry, my family and my church, it is a risk that I cannot, and must not take.

So…

I will be back tomorrow and continue to look at options for moving forward in light of the 2008 General Assembly. Tomorrow’s post will look at Presbyterian Global Fellowship and their plan for moving forward.

17 Comments:

At 10:51 AM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

As one on a life changing journey know that you will be in my prayers as you survive the mission trip and pray for the Lord's leading.

Alan

 
At 10:52 AM , Blogger Kyle said...

But remember, "Nothing has changed!"

Thanks for the recap. Prayers are with you and your youth group on the upcoming mission trip! And for your time of discernment!

-Kyle

 
At 10:46 AM , Blogger James said...

I am appalled that presbyteries are following the Louisville directive to discipline pastors and congregations that merely discuss the possibility that God is calling them to leave the denomination. I thought there was a constitutional right for churches to request dismissal. How can you reach the decision to request dismissal without some careful discernment, prayer and discussion? Yours is not an isolated case.

Why does our leadership seem to believe that churches will want to stay in a denomination that practices such heavy handed tactics?

 
At 2:28 PM , Blogger Jim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:29 PM , Blogger Jim said...

My prayers are with all of the pastors who feel they must censor their speech to keep their jobs. This alone breaks my heart. The actions of the PCUSA no longer surprise me, I have given up on them, as they have given up on the Bible.

 
At 3:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can i find an explanation of G-6.0106b and opinion #22? It seems to me a lot of time is going to be spent disagreeing about man made rules, constitutions, interpretations, etc. rather than remembering that God has a standard . He tells us that standard is the Bible. My interpretation is that no unrepentant sinners will be in the Kingdom of Heaven, ordained or not.

 
At 12:41 PM , Blogger Rev Dave said...

Not quite sure where to post this in your long series of posts, but here's some ideas I'm playing with these days regarding the state of the PCUSA.

1)We're in more of a Jeremiah than Nehemiah stage of our denominational life. It is entirely possible that God is sending the PCUSA into exile for its sins and only after a long period of chastisement will God (not us) bring renewal and new life to the denomination.

2) If this is the case, then conservatives need to think and pray long and hard about the 'stay fight win' slogan. From a human standpoint, the prophets are utter, absolute failures when it comes to renewing the people of Israel and Judah. Even Josiah's reforms in the long run accomplish nothing. Are conservatives willing to 'stay fight lose' and be utter failures for the greater glory of God?

3) I have yet to see any of the renewal groups come out with a statement on how hard this journey is going to be. Where are the calls to courage and endurance in the face of trials and persecution? Ezekiel's call to prophesy includes these bracing words: "And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house."

4) Where is the sense in the renewal groups that we are suffering for Christ, and Him alone? That the wounds we take in our denominational battles are somehow "completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." Where are the organizations that say, "Take up the crosses and martyrdoms given to us and rejoice that we are worthy to suffer for him?"

5) Where is our Martin Luther, able to say "Here I stand, I can do no other," and will write our era's version of "A Mighty Fortress"? Which, in some translations ends:
The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

Probably enough ramblings for today.

Grace and peace,

Dave

 
At 4:44 PM , Blogger stjones said...

"I have been warned (by a colleague in a significant position in the Presbytery) to make sure that I (or my church) do, or say, nothing that would cause the new policy to be put into motion." Sage advice, that.

Our church was well along a thoughtful and prayerful discernment process when the presbytery sprang their pastoral-sounding policy on us. We naively believed the language about "good faith" and "working together". Turns out the good faith was incumbent only on us.

The AC that was to "help" us move toward a vote has all but assumed original jurisdiction, going so far as to install their own temporary supply pastor to minister to the disgruntled few who didn't like the direction the process was going.

Some presbyteries -perhaps most - have made it all but impossible for churches to seek God's will without first filing a motion to quiet title to their property together with a restraining order to keep the presbytery from taking over. I suppose that's why GA commissioners thought they needed a $2 million war chest.

As an elder, I can walk away from the PCUSA any time (and will soon). It may not be pleasant but I’ll still have health insurance and my family will still eat. I’d sure hate to be a pastor, knowing that my denomination demands loyalty to itself before loyalty to God.

 
At 7:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the consitution trumps what 54% of a national gathering of an equal number of pastors and elders said. If an AI is in conflict with a constitution approved by all presbyteries it is unconstitutional. All the more reason to work to defeat the proposed deletion of G-6106.b from the constitution. I think your EP and Stated Clerk are in error to say what they said. They may wish that to be the case, but I don't think it is yet.

 
At 10:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am broken hearted myself -- but my broken heart comes from reading the posts and comments here. Why assume that "conservatives" (whatever that means) are right? What if we held onto the possibilty (as the majority of our commissioners to General Assembly demonstrated) that what came from our neighbor-in-the-pew and neighbor-in-the-pulpit commissioners IS the will of God? What if their Biblical, faithful, prayerfully considered decisions are the discernment of God's Spirit? Is it possible that God is speaking a word to the PC(USA) through our duly-elected General Assembly? These commissioners are NOT "Louisville Insiders" -- they are faithful Presbyterians just like you and me. I want to posit that the work our fine commissioners did IS leading us closer to the will of God -- in as much as any human, sinful body of believers can discern the will of God.

Is it too much to ask that we actually consider the possibility that as a denomination we are moving in the direction that God would have us move? Our sisters and brothers who were called to serve in San Jose take the Bible seriously, are guided by our confessions, and have the peace, unity, and purity of the Church (including the PC(USA)) as their guides. I am broken hearted by the ways the comments I have read here question the faithfulness and integrity of our fellow Presbyterians. Do you really think our commissioners and others who don't agree with your particular positions regarding ordination standards are apostate? The Bible says LOTS of things... we all need to be careful about selective proof-texting.

 
At 8:27 AM , Blogger Nav said...

Lance,
Matt Ferguson here----good to read you stuff ever so often and see where you are on things. So much similar have we.
Also thinking of our good old Fuller days together---are you still shooting hoops?
I hope to see you at either (or both) The Gathering and New Wineskin's Convocation. Until then, Cathleen and I will remember you and yours (as well as all those needing to do some prayerful discernment in response to actions by our GA), Matt

 
At 8:49 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

Dear Anonymous,
The ordination of LGBT persons is a symptom of what I see as the “real” issue—the authority and interpretation of scripture. The “fall” impacted every aspect of us humans: reason, conscience, health, life, death, spirituality, etc. “Total depravity” is the result of fall.

I believe that there is ultimate truth and that it comes from God. Due to our fallen state we must depend on God to reveal that truth to us—that is where scripture (God’s Word) comes in to play. There is not a single place where the Bible affirms same gender sexual intercourse. There are many places where same gender sexual intercourse is condemned.

Here are our choices;
• The Bible is wrong in its condemnation of same gender sexual intercourse. If the Bible is “wrong” then we should embrace same gender sexual intercourse. Unfortunately, by that same argument we should also embrace the rest of the sexual expressions that are forbidden in Leviticus 18 & 20.
• The Bible is correct in its condemnation of same gender sexual intercourse. If the bible is “correct” then we should keep G-6.0106b in the constitution. Additionally, if the Bible is correct then we had better take a serious look at what God does when his people openly violate his teachings.

It is amazing that one General Assembly can undo 2000+ years of church history and law.

 
At 8:50 AM , Blogger Rev. Mary Holder Naegeli said...

Pastor Lance, thank you for your clear report of what took place in Olympia Presbytery. As you pray about this in the coming weeks, please take into consideration that the clear and unequivocal answers your Clerk gave to your questions are not shared around the country. The fact is, Where we are is unclear. For this reason, I ask that you also pray for a successful outcome in the San Francisco Presbytery remedial case, which is stalled in the system at the moment. However, since G.A., this case has risen in importance, since it tests the very assertion your Clerk made with so much confidence. Please don't give up until we get an answer in that case, which could take up to another year at the pace it is moving.
I share your deep anguish about this situation and hope that Naegeli v. San Francisco Presbytery can bring some clarity. If we prevail, we still have hard work ahead of us; if we do not, then life is going to be very, very difficult.
Courage for the journey, Mary Naegeli (Minister Member of SFPresbytery; board member of Presbyterian Coalition)

 
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