Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Los Ranchos Discernment Event 3

"Leaving the PC(USA) is not the only option," began Dana Allin, Executive Director of the ECO Synod. The folks considering departure are doing so for a number of reasons including:
1) fundamental authority of Scripture has been damaged;
2) instead of "in obedience to Scripture" the language has now been changed to "be guided by Scripture." At the PC(USA) General Assembly 80% did not want to be "in obedience to Scripture." This is the erosion of the centrality of Jesus in the new Book of Order; and
3) not only standards have changed but critical evangelicals are forbidden to publicly express their dissent. If you try to make Scripture the authority you are not welcome in PC(USA).

Dana and his friends are not just leaving the denomination but trying to find a new third way for collaborative partnerships where everybody can work together for the kingdom of God. The FOP ECO might be a "gracious genius" model as somebody (Laird Stuart?) said but I still have a bit of trouble with all this. It does not seem logical. If you don't want to stay because some in the PC(USA) are damaging the fundamental authority of Scripture, are only being guided by Scripture and are not in obedience to it, and have diluted the centrality of Jesus, what is the hope and basis for the two groups' successful missional collaboration? Jesus said we are to love one another and I'm not sure how we are showing love for each other if we separate into sects. Having asked this question, I must also admit that I saw myself in Dana. I'm just like that a lot of times. I want to create my own sandbox and only play with the people with whom I feel comfortable but the practical part of me understands that I need other people and so I build my networks :).

"I'm not a Presbyterian of Presbyterians, born Roman Catholic, I'm an evangelical of evangelicals" and "sensing God's call for ministry to this body," is how Jack Haberer, Editor for the Presbyterian Outlook, introduced himself. "One of the challenges is that there's a lot of misrepresentation of information. So I accepted the call to not just get the news out but also to be a prophetic voice to the church."

The authority of Scripture in terms of "inerrancy" and "infallibility" are modern terms, according to Haberer who proceeded to give a short illustrative history lesson. "Presbyterians, then and now, say with the Apostle Paul all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching and rebuke. As such it is fully authoritative. We Presbyterians argue incessantly about the meaning of the text (what it says) because we know God will judge us. E.g. Junia in Romans 16.

"We glibly say Jesus is the only way but then, we forget that those who don't have faith are dealing with complex issues too. Haberer explained this further using the analogy of condolences at a funeral. When believers attend the funeral of a non-believer we don't tell the grieving relatives that they are right to mourn: the dead person will not enjoy the benefits of believers. Rather, we empathize with the sorrow and the suffering of the living.

The PC(USA) has not departed from the centrality of Jesus. He pointed to the Office of Theology and Worship's statement of Hope in The Lord Jesus Christ which passed the 214th (?) General Assembly with a 98% vote. 1Timothy 2.4: [God] "desires everyone to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Later, Steve Yamaguchi, our Executive Presbyter shared Jack's quote with me: “Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living, for “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” [Ephesians 2:8]. No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of “God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine.” – from “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” 2002, lines 155-168.

Jack Haberer's short presentation cleared up a question I had about the inerrant and infallible nature of Scripture. My only other concern emerged after I saw the 2002 date on the Hope statement. Since this statement is from 10 years ago, it does not really address the concerns about the (future) trajectory of the PC(USA): GA has increasingly become pluralistic and is going away from the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Laird Stewart shared about his faith journey and how he "came to accept the humanity of gay and lesbian people. I was trying to understand what was the social background for the OT Bible's views of masturbation and homosexuality as abominations." For masturbation, man gave a sacred seed; since regenerating the seed was not possible, the sacred seed was to be used carefully and not wasted. Stuart was sad that the Church is increasingly viewed as homophobic: "We're the current incarnations of abiding tensions in Christianity and Presbyterianism." The tension is between freedom of conscience and the right of the denomination to determine core beliefs. Stuart's selected recounting of the lessons of history were revealing of this tension.

Authority of Scripture is our Word of God. Scripture is not equivalent in nature to Christ. Only Christ is the Word. Perfect. This increases the urgency of interpretation. Jesus Christ is Lord. Sovereignty is not personal choice but the sovereignty of God.

Stuart pointed to the lesson of 1729 (Adopting Act of 1729 when American Presbyterianism was being formed); it's a risky business for bodies of faith to articulate too closely and specifically the essential tenets. As soon as you begin to be specific you infringe upon individual rights of conscience. Distinctives may be better (?). 10 distinctives vs 10 essential tenets. As soon as you press specificity you begin to crowd out freedom of conscience.

Unity of the church is not ours but Christ's. Stuart closed with the famous quote from the German pietist: In essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, in all else charity.

The question I had was which distinctives? Faith is such an individual matter and God does not call us to judge the faith of other people. Most of us also don't have real faith; we may think we do but when we look at the way Jesus Christ has been misrepresented throughout the history of the church, it is a sad state of affairs indeed At best we're all broken, always sinning, never free of sin while in this mortal body, fallen (evil), and trying to have faith in Jesus, since most of us who profess faith also know nothing or at best very little of the resurrection power of Christ in our daily lives. The job of the church then is perhaps not so much to judge who is faithful and allow them to join our little social clubs but rather to continually keep us pointed to the real Jesus Christ and the significance of the cross while participating in God's mission in our world. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life. Faith is love in action. How do I love others like Christ loved me? This is what God is calling us to do. This is why, for me, leaving the PC(USA) is not the action of a true follower of Jesus.

Related References:

Discernment Event #3 asked the three presenters to speak to three issues of theological concern:  1) Authority of Scripture, 2) Jesus "The Way" or "A Way" to salvation, and 3) Same sex marriage and ordination standards. First each speaker spoke to all three issues (about 15 minutes apiece). Next, each speaker answered questions which had been submitted previously by the audience (20 minutes each topic). You can watch the complete videos on the Los Ranchos Presbytery Discern blog. Recently, the PC(USA) has also released a document which clarifies many of the misrepresentations that are being made by others of the PC(USA) denomination. Here is the link to the pdf file: Constitutional Musing: Misrepresentations about the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Kass Kassouni's Open Letter. Totally resonated with me :)

Earlier posts of mine on this topic are here and here.

I am greatly indebted to N.T. Wright's lecture "How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?" for my own understanding on this issue. I especially enjoyed his insight that when people in the church talk about authority they are talking controlling people and situations and also they are talking about the authority of their own traditions (Evangelical or Catholic or whatever). The Bible, Wright is emphatic isn't a book or rules or creeds, existing to control people or identify the boundaries of allowable behavior and doctrine to pass on to the next generation (yes, key passages deal with these things but they are not the major focus).Rather, the Bible is God's story with people.

All authority is God's authority, i.e., authority, according to the Bible is vested in God himself, Father, Son and Spirit. This is not the authority to control people (a rather medieval view that is still predominant today even among the Evangelical Christians since Reformation did not really go far enough to change it); rather, God's authority in his Word is to liberate people, to judge and condemn evil and sin in the world. God is in the business of setting people free to be fully human, the people He created them to be. God exercises His authority through humans empowered - anointed and equipped - by the Holy Spirit and through His writings. Gospel writers and others were equipped to write the new covenant in the New Testament in the form of stories, narratives, letters. Biblical stories have a shape and a purpose to which an appropriate response must be made. Through these stories telling people's imaginations are sparked and they begin to see their place in God's story.

The Spirit works through the life of contemporary readers helping the church do for the world what God did when he sent Jesus to the world. In John 20 Jesus said, ‘As the Father sent me, even so I send you.’ The church is to speak God's judgment and mercy to the world and so we read Scripture not to do what is right or avoid what is wrong but to die and rise again in our own minds to live as new creations in Christ. So, the authority of the Bible, God's authority, goes beyond truth telling or witnessing to making us whole. We are to read and share the Bible - all the stories including for example even incomprehensible ones like Judah and Tamar - and not in the authority of tradition as we have tended to do. The Bible is a living witness to the fact that there is a different sort of authority than what the world values and this is to heal and bring wholeness to a fallen world.

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