Friday, July 18, 2008

Options for Moving Forward – Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF), Presbyterian Renewal Ministries International and the Presbyterian Coalition.

The PCUSA is in a mess! How are we to move forward? Various groups within the PCUSA have spoken on this topic. Many faithful Presbyterians do not have the time or desire to find out what the various groups are saying. It is my intention to give a “best effort” to accurately present the “way forward” presented by the various groups with in the PCUSA. The last post looked at Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR).

Before moving forward I have to poke fun at us Presbyterians. Have you ever noticed how many acronyms float around the PCUSA (there’s one!)? Last weekend I received a text from one of our church’s high school students. A group of students was headed for Graham Jam to work in our church’s booth. There were a couple of abbreviations that I did not recognize—I still don’t know one of them! It got me to thinking… I had better make sure that everyone knows the main acronyms:

· PCUSA – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

· PC(USA)—see PCUSA above.

· EPC—Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

· PCA—Presbyterian Church in America.

· GA—General Assembly.

· Amendment B—Book of Order, Form of Government section G-6.0106b; additionally referred to as the “Fidelity and Chastity Amendment” even though it has been in the Book of Order for years.

· PFR—Presbyterians for Renewal, an evangelical renewal group in the PCUSA.

· LGBT—Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who are sexually active.

· GLBT—Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who are sexually active, this is the “original” form of LGBT but was changed because it was politically incorrect in that it started with a “male” word.

· MLP—More Light Presbyterians, a liberal/progressive group within the PCUSA that seeks full inclusion of LGBT persons in every aspect of the PCUSA (including ordained positions).

· PGF—Presbyterian Global Fellowship, an evangelical renewal group in the PCUSA.

· PRMI—Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International, an evangelical renewal group in the denomination, headed by Brad Long, that leans heavily toward the Charismatic movement (formerly called PRRM—Presbyterian Reformed and Renewal Movement).


Please feel free to add to the list!!!

Now, on to Presbyterian Global Fellowship.

To date, PGF does not have an “official” response to the 2008 General Assembly. Their web site does not list any such response. On their official blog (PGF Outbox), Vic Pentz (Pastor Peach Tree Presbyterian Church) has a post dated July 1, 2008, titled “Do You Know the Way from San Jose? I assume that he is speaking with “authority” as to PGF’s response to the Assembly.

Pentz makes the following observations:

  • “…the PC(USA) rejected unequivocally what has long been considered—and still is in the global church-- the biblical standards for sexual practice.”
  • “The battle is lost for evangelical renewal groups within the system. The old “stay-fight-win” strategy is history.”
  • “The options now remaining seem to be: 1) to live with the new ascendant ideology; 2) to enter into the legal complexities of trying to get permission for one’s congregation to be dismissed to another denomination; or 3) to find a way to be ‘in the denomination but not of the denomination.’ This third option is the one Presbyterian Global Fellowship affirms.
  • “The Presbyterian Global Fellowship seeks to be a parallel society living a new vision for the church within the PC(USA).”

PGF plans to stay in the PCUSA as a parallel society. But, what does that actually mean? What does it mean to be “in the denomination but not of the denomination?” Will PGF churches pay presbytery, synod and GA per capita? Will PGF churches be active participants at presbytery meetings? Will PGF churches give mission $$$ to GA mission causes?

I use to coach 4th, 5th, and 6th grade basketball teams. Coaching 4th graders was fun, but extremely challenging. Everyone wanted to shoot from the top of the key like their favorite professional basketball player. Each player wanted to dribble the ball ALL AROUND THE COURT. Players acted like “I own the ball and I will do whatever I want to with it.” I had a player that I will call “GP” (after Gary Payton, formerly of the Sonic). GP refused to run lines like the rest of his teammates. GP shot the ball from the top of the key every time he touched the ball (even though he had a difficult time even getting the ball to the rim from that distance). GP refused to be a team player. One day I sat GP down and told him I had had enough of his behavior. I told him what I expected from him and that if he disobeyed one more time that he would not be allowed back on the court until I talked with his mom and dad. His attitude changed immediately! I coached GP for three years. I periodically see GP or his dad at the grocery store. They still call me “Coach.” GP is gone on to a success stint in the military. GP learned what it means to be part of a team.

The PGF direction reminds of coaching my 4th grade team. PGF is going to “keep their ball” within the confines of the PCUSA, ignoring the rest of their team, unless it suits their fancy.

Presbyterian Renewal Ministries International

The PRMI web site does not list an official response to the Assembly actions. Brad Long, Executive Director of PRMI was a signer of on open letter on The Presbyterian Forum web site called, “Presbyterian Renewal Network Joint Statement. The open letter says, “We invite Presbyterians to join us in seeking God’s help to turn back this effort to lead the Church to a place where it is in danger of becoming no Church. None of the damage done by this Assembly is final or irreversible.” Other than this letter I have been unable to find any public statement by PRMI on the Assembly actions.

From the “Joint Statement” one could conclude that PRMI believes in the “stay, fight, win” camp.

Presbyterian Coalition

The Presbyterian Coalition (“Coalition” from here on) is a loose knit group of Presbyterians and renewal groups that are in the conservative and/or evangelical camps. I attended a Coalition meeting in Orlando with several pastor friends. Additionally, a colleague of mine has served on the Board of the Coalition in the past.

I have been unable to find a direct response to the Assembly actions by the Coalition. In 2007, the Coalition created a document that outlined their strategy for bringing about renewal in the PCUSA called, “Let Us Rise Up and Build. I assume that this strategy is still in place today. For that reason, I believe that the Coalition is in the “stay, fight, win” camp.

One person observation—the Coalition reminds me of “herding cats.” The meeting I attended as like a gripe session—every one didn’t like the direction that the PCUSA was heading but there was no consensus as to what to do about it.

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.


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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Options for Moving Forward – Presbyterians for Renewal.

The PCUSA is in a mess! How are we to move forward? Various groups within the PCUSA have spoken on this topic. Many faithful Presbyterians do not have the time or desire to find out what the various groups are saying. It is my intention to give a “best effort” to accurately present the “way forward” presented by the various groups with in the PCUSA. We will begin this process by looking at Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR).

PFR is a renewal group that has its roots in the Covenant Fellowship of Presbyterians—an evangelical renewal group in the former Southern church. PFR’s strategy prior to 2008 has been characterized as “stay, fight, win.” PFR has been great at organizing folks at the Presbytery level to defeat (or pass) amendments to the constitution. PFR was also very active in trying to organize General Assembly commissioners for biblical causes.

PFR’s plan for moving forward is two pronged:

  1. A call to biblical faithfulness.
  2. A restructuring of the denomination.

The call to biblical faithfulness is a rallying call to Presbyterians to VOTE AGAINST the amendment that would remove G-6.0106b from the constitution. The call would also include an effort to defeat the proposed changes to the Heidelberg Confession. There is also a strong “repentance” component to this section. The repentance recognizes that we have all sinned in dealing with this issue.

The restructuring of the denomination would change the way in which churches are formed into presbyteries and synods. This restructuring would be based on non-geographic presbyteries and synods (called the “two synod” model). The two synod model would have the two main branches in the PCUSA be divided into two synods: one holding at traditional, high view of scripture and biblical interpretation and holding to the church’s historic stance on ordination as summed up by G-6.0106b, and, one synod holding a progressive view of scripture and its interpretation and holding a view on ordination standards that would allow practicing, non-repentant gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons to be ordained as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders and Deacons. Congregations would affiliate with like-minded presbyteries within one of the synods.

PFR will only advocate the restructuring of the denomination if such restructuring can be accomplished with theologically sound reasoning and that such a move would be practical. Over the coming month, PFR will be studying to see if the above requirement can be met.

My Assessment of the PFR response to GA:

The first prong of PFR’s response is the stay, fight, win strategy. We have been following this strategy for 30+ years. Eventually, enough biblically faithful Presbyterians will leave the denomination to make this strategy fail. I believe that the Presbyteries will defeat the proposed amendment to remove G-6.0106b from the constitution. In future years I am not so confident that the votes will be there to defeat such proposed changes. I am confident that the proposed changes to the Heidelberg Confession will be defeated because it takes 2/3 of the Presbyteries to vote in favor of a change to the Book of Confessions.

The second prong of PFR’s response is the two synod model. I believe that the two synod model is based on faulty theology. How can one group believe that homosexual intercourse is a sin and yet stay within a denomination that has a major portion of the denomination that actively affirms and teaches that homosexual intercourse is a gift from God? The two synod model is a worldly solution for churches that are afraid to stand up for biblical authority. Such a model cannot be defended using scripture.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nehemiah 9 and the PCUSA.

The Old Testament is filled with examples of God’s people turning away from God. The Old Testament is filled with examples of God disciplining his people for turning away from him. The judgment of God was not something trivial or easy. The punishment for not going into the Holy Land as instructed was 40 years of wandering in the desert until every adult that voted against going into the Holy Land died. In Numbers 21 we read the account of God’s people speaking against God and Moses—so God set venomous snakes to the people and many people died. The northern and southern kingdoms did things that displeased God so God brought judgment on the two kingdoms. The northern kingdom fell, its inhabitants we taken into captivity and dispersed throughout the victor’s kingdom and were never heard from again (the lost ten tribes of Israel). The southern kingdom was conquered, its inhabitants taken into captivity in Babylon.

What would lead a person to think that God will not bring judgment upon the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for its actions? Or, maybe that is what God has been doing for the past 30+ years. Think for a moment, those denominations that have been moving away from the Bible and seeking to ordain practicing, non-repentant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons have been experiencing catastrophic membership losses for 30+ years. God’s judgment? The denominations moving in this direction are in Europe, the United States and Canada. Most churches in Europe sit empty. God’s judgment? The Episcopal Church in the United States is being ostracized by most of the world wide Anglican Communion. God’s judgment?

Nehemiah 9 is a brief record of the disobedience of God’s people. Here are some of the ways the Israelites are described:

  • Stiff-necked: Has the PCUSA been stiff-necked. For thirty years God has been keeping the denomination from ordaining LGBT persons; yet, at every General Assembly meeting the issue comes up again. Stiff-necked people?
  • Do not obey your commands: God has given very specific commands concerning worshipping other God and about homosexuality (both male and female versions). A gay wedding was done at the More Light Presbyterians official dinner at during the Assembly by a Presbyterian pastor. Do not obey your commands?
  • Rebelled against you: (see the two bullet points above)
  • They put your law behind their backs: Picture this—a child comes into the kitchen and grabs a cookie from the cookie jar even though his mother has told him not to. Mom walks into the kitchen. The child immediately places the cookie behind his back and pretends that nothing has happened. That is what this past General Assembly has done with God’s word and law—it pretended that they don’t exist or have meaning.

That section of Nehemiah concludes with these words:

“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.” (Nehemiah 9:36-37)

Nehemiah’s words ring true today—we are in great distress!