Monday, June 30, 2014

Jesus is Lord: A PCUSA Affirmation (By Mike Regele)

A month ago, I pointed out that the Irvine Pres. Church (IPC) Discernment document/website had mistakes, such as the statement that a majority of PCUSA pastors do not affirm Jesus as the unique and only Savior. I provided a very brief answer. Well, today, I share Michael Regele's much, much more thorough answer since this question seems to keep coming up. So, here we go. I have also highlighted with bold font something that should demolish this myth once and for all. Please don't miss it :).

July 3rd Update: Mike sent me a 'clean' (typo-free and more academic type article) than the blog original post. 


A Brief Response to a friend’s query...

By Michael B. Regele
July 2, 2014

Email from Norm Gordon: Could you possibly address the statement on the IPC website quoted below?
As a result of a 2011 survey of its own pastors, the PC(USA) reported that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior. 

Do you know where that comes from?


My Response

I will try to give what seems to me a brief response to your question but will most likely seem anything but brief to you. But this is because what is quoted and what is real are very far apart and the reasons more complex than the statement would lead one to believe.
First of all, you asked if I know where the statement on the IPC website which says, “As a result of a 2011 survey of its own pastors, the PC(USA) reported that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior” comes from. I believe I do. It was taken from the either the 2008 Presbyterian Panel that is fielded every three years or the 2011 version. (I have seen both dates sourced.) Some of the results move, in some cases in a more conservative direction since 2008—ironically. Several documents will be sourced at the end so that they can be accessed online. 

As you know, it is tricky business reporting the results of a survey in single line statements. Having written and fielded multiple national surveys, I know firsthand that what you think you are asking and what the respondent thinks you are asking are often not the same. That is the challenge of writing surveys. Then there is the challenge of reporting out the results and what people think the results say vs. what the results really say. It is just the way it is with surveys. Survey interpretation takes work. It is VERY dangerous to see numbers and then start jumping to conclusions—though it happens all the time, especially in political discourse.

So, as to the Panel results...

The statement on the IPC website that says, “As a result of a 2011 survey of its own pastors, the PC(USA) reported that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior” is not an accurate statement. Nowhere will you find this language in the 2008 or 2011 panel. It is a synthetic[1] conclusion. 

So what does the survey say? While you will want to review the total survey, I have extracted from the section of the survey designated, “questions on matters of faith and belief”. For my analysis I have gone to the actual tabulated data under “Appendix A: Summary of Questions and Responses”. From that section one will find the following.
·         There are 6 survey items on the 2008 survey and 5 on the 2011.
·         Five on each survey are exactly the same between the two surveys.
·         There are three questions in the 2008 and two in the 2011 survey that focus specifically on Jesus.
·         The one survey item only on the 2008 survey focuses on Jesus as the absolute truth.
·         Both surveys asked about belief in life after death.
·         Both survey ask if all world religious are equally good ways to find the truth
Since the statement we are considering focused only on how PC(USA) pastors responded, I have extracted just that tabulated data. I have also removed one item that is not germane to the current discussion.[2] The table provides the data from the Presbyterian Panel for both 2008 and 2011—pastor responses only. In each case a statement is made and respondents are asked to indicate their level of agreement and/or disagreement. 

#

2008
2011



Pastors
Point Change
1
There is a life beyond death.




strongly agree
84%
83%
-1%

agree
13%
13%
0%

neutral or not sure
3%
3%
0%

disagree
*
*


strongly disagree
*






2
Jesus will return to Earth some day.




strongly agree
59%
61%
2%

agree
23%
20%
-3%

neutral or not sure
13%
13%
0%

disagree
4%
4%
0%

strongly disagree
1%
2%
1%





3
All the world’s different religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth

strongly agree
3%
2%
-1%

agree
9%
9%
0%

neutral or not sure
12%
12%
0%

disagree
37%
35%
-2%

strongly disagree
38%
42%
4%





4
The only absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ.

strongly agree
42%
N/A


agree
24%
N/A


neutral or not sure
12%
N/A


disagree
17%
N/A


strongly disagree
5%
N/A






5
Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.

strongly agree
21%
23%
2%

agree
14%
18%
4%

neutral or not sure
20%
15%
-5%

disagree
24%
24%
0%

strongly disagree
21%
21%
0%

Now let’s do some analysis of these data. The first statement says, “There is life beyond death.” Over 80% of pastors strongly agree and another 13% agree. That is over 96% in both surveys. 

The second statement says, “Jesus will return to earth someday.” Large percentages (70% and more) agree or strongly disagree. That is an important theological conviction and definitively orthodox Christian. It speaks to a pretty high Christology. The worst case is that 5% in 2008 and 6% who disagree or strongly disagree. Around 13% marked neutral or not sure. 

The third states, “All the world’s different religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth.” There is movement on this item between the two survey years; it became more conservative. Those who “strongly disagree” increased by 4 percentage points. In 2011 42% “strongly disagreed” and 35% disagreed. In other words 77% of pastors did not agree with this statement that all paths are the same to truth. 

The fourth statement occurs only in 2008. It states, “The only absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ.” Of the results of the pastors serving churches, 66% indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. That is certainly more than not less than half.

The fifth (and the one that probably upsets people the most) “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” 35% percent of pastors agreed with the statement. 44% did not and 20% remained neutral or were not sure. Now how do we interpret this? Well this is a good example of how easy it is to overstate or over interpret what a survey says. All one can really say from this survey is that 44% do not agree with the statement. But that does not necessarily mean what it has interpreted to mean—namely “that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior.”

Who will participate in the Kingdom of God

There is a nuance here that I believe needs to be at least considered. Within some circles, there is a question about who will participate in the Kingdom of God? There are literally millions of people who have been born over the last 2000 years that never heard of Jesus. Are they condemned, all? There are thousands of people for whom an encounter with the Christian Church has been so damaging and the association of Church and Jesus so strong that the Jesus we talk about they cannot hear. For example, what about the person who was abused for years by a priest who represents Jesus to him or her? How do they follow Jesus? Are they automatically condemned? My point is that it is not as simple as the raw, uninterpreted data suggest. 

From here we can go on to discuss what it is that qualifies one for salvation. The Scriptures are pretty clear that it is faith in God alone. Consider Romans 4.3-5.
3For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Now we know that God was in Messiah, reconciling the world to himself. Consider 2 Cor. 5.17-19.
17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

And so we express and direct our faith towards Jesus. But if genuine faith in God is the only requisite to salvation, then perhaps we ought to step back and allow for some ambiguity here. Or perhaps more precisely, give God some room.

What did Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplish?

Let me take this a step further. Is Jesus’ death only effective if I embrace it? Or is Jesus’ death effective for the redemption of God’s creation? The difference is very important. In the first question, the only way for Jesus’ death to be effective is when I do something. Now I am not suggesting by this that me embracing Jesus is meaningless; far from it. Genuine faith (that is trust) again is the only thing that is required to become a member of the Kingdom of God. And hearing the good news about Jesus, thankfully, I embraced him. But if I make this about me accepting Jesus, I end up demeaning the significance of the cross

So here is another way to look at it. Jesus’ death was God’s action to defeat sin’s automatic and unchallenged grip on God’s creation and specifically humans. In doing so, Jesus defeated death as the only possible outcome for God’s creation. In addition, by Jesus defeating sin and death and then being raised, God acted to inaugurate the new creation. 

I believe that is exactly what Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished. When a person puts his or her hope in God, genuinely so, then Christ’s death is effective for them as well. (This is not the same as universalism.) To illustrate, let me turn to CS Lewis’ The Last Battle. Remember the young Calormene soldier who found himself thrown into the shack and confronted by Aslan? He had faithfully worshipped the false god Tash but his was a true faith in God and in that moment, he found out who he had really been trusting in all of his life. I have a notion there will be many people like this we will meet one day.

Summary

Now back to the survey. Many pastor types that I know because of their education and level of sophistication find simple statements like in the survey difficult to answer. I might be inclined to not answer the statement with an affirmative. But not because I don’t believe in Jesus or think he is the way to salvation. It’s because I find such statements simplistic. 

So what are we to think? Well I think we need to let several of the questions speak together. If we go back to the statement, “The only absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ” we find that 66% of pastors agree with it. Only 22% don’t and among those, further explanations are called for. Remember 82% of the pastors agreed that “Jesus will return to earth some day.” That does not square with a conclusion that over half of PCUSA pastors don’t in some sense affirm Jesus. Why do we expect him to return? Because the Bible tells us so and what does it say he is returning as? Lord. 

Behind the IPC statement is the assumption—I have found in other settings often boldly declared—that too many PCUSA Presbyterians believe that there are many ways to truth (presumably God). This is not indicated in the survey. Asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, “All the world’s different religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth” 75% said they disagreed. Only 12% said they agreed, hardly a huge portion of our denomination.

So, Norm I hope this brief excursion has given you an answer to your question. I don’t believe the statement on the IPC website is accurate at all. What I constantly come back to is what we collectively affirm together. This is what our Book of Confessions and our Book of Order do for us. At the center of these is the unyielding affirmation that Jesus is Lord. As Jerry Tankersley so elegantly but clearly stated in a meeting recently, until he is told he can no longer preach the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ, he will stand with the PCUSA. (My paraphrase) The peace and unity of the Church of Jesus Christ trump most of our disagreements. 

Your brother,
Mike


[1] By synthetic I mean it is a conflation of ideas from the survey but not actually representative of the survey.
[2] The survey item not reported here asks level agreement or disagreement;  An individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church”

Sources

The following links will take you to the actual PCUSA surveys for both 2008 and 2011.

Fall 2008 The Presbyterian Panel: Listening to Presbyterians - http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/research/pdfs/fall08panel.pdf  (Pdf)


About Mike Regele: Mike is an ordained PCUSA pastor and President and CEO of Decision Insite.
The LA Times has several informative articles about Mike's work from about the 1990s and here's a couple:

1995 - The 43-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed political conservative is a minister who has never had a congregation; a school board member and father of five school-age children who is opposed to mandatory school prayer; a consultant who has earned the trust of religious leaders by pointing out their irrelevance to a growing segment of the American public. "In purely human, statistical terms, the churches are dying. In most mainline churches in America, the average age is 65 if not older," Regele said. "The average age in the United States is 36. There's been a lot of hoopla about the baby boomers coming back to the church, and it's just not true." ... Ordained Presbyterian minister and Irvine school board member Michael B. Regele is a deeply religious man--and he's got the flowcharts to prove it. Regele employs the use of all things statistical--flowcharts, demographic research and opinion polling--in his quest to bring churches and regional religious organizations closer to the real world of their surrounding, often disinterested communities. It is an exercise in myth-breaking, an appropriate role for a man who defies his own stereotype. In Real-World Advice for Dying Churches: Irvine Trustee Helps Religion Cope With Waning Interest In Its Churches - http://articles.latimes.com/1995-09-18/local/me-47364_1_presbyterian-church

1990 - When the Irvine Unified School District's newest trustee, Michael Regele, is sworn in Tuesday, he will reach the summit of a long climb. A reluctant student in Corvallis, Ore., Regele dropped out in his sophomore year of high school. After being coaxed back into the system, however, Regele earned a teaching credential. Next stop: the Board of Education, where Regele has been appointed to take over for Gordon Getchel Jr., who moved to Sacramento. "In common parlance, I was a student at risk," Regele said. "It was the work of a teacher that helped me back in. He got me into an occupational program and brought me back slowly. I'm convinced I would not have graduated if it were not for that teacher." It is an experience that Regele, 37, carries with him and still considers relevant.
In Irvine: School Trustee had to learn his lesson - http://articles.latimes.com/1990-02-05/local/me-208_1_school-trustee

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this analysis. It is exactly right. I was one of the pastors who participated in this Presbyterian Panel survey, and I could not answer "strongly agree" to the statement "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved" for all the reasons Michael Regele described. Although I believe that all salvation is through Christ, I cannot claim to know who God is going to save; that is God's decision alone. I do suspect, as Michael suggests, that many who have never heard of Jesus Christ, or who are devout believers of other faiths, will learn, after death, that it was Jesus they were following all along (or have the opportunity at that time to unite with Him in eternity). I am disgusted by the deceptions and distortions about PCUSA clergy that have been used by conservative leaders as excuses for leaving the PCUSA. Thank you for seeking and sharing the truth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I will share your comments with Michael. He will be as encouraged as I am.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to encourage me with your feedback. Blessings.