Monday, July 7, 2014

A Message from Canvas

Today, blessed 7/7, seems to also be my day for playing catch-up.

If you haven't seen the message from our sister church Canvas, here you are. It is written in the usual inimitable style of Canvas. Thanks to Kirk Winslow for giving me permission to share the letter with my blog readers.


Dear Canvas Family~

We should begin by saying that the following is written to address matters of denominational politics – an area Canvas tries very much to avoid, and will spend as little time on as possible!  Our mission is and will always be to invite everyone in to God’s project of restoration, and political controversies rarely aid in that work.  But Canvas is part of a larger family – the Presbyterian Church USA.  And as members of that family we both share in the blessings of and have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters.  As they struggle, we struggle.  And we are called above all to love and pray.

As some of you know, five congregations in our presbytery have officially petitioned for dismissal from the PCUSA and a number of others have begun the formal process of “discernment” to see if they will petition as well.   If approved, these congregations would sever their formal ties with our presbytery and our denomination to join a recently formed movement known as the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), where some feel they would find more “theological like-mindedness.”

While Canvas has many personal ties with and affection for congregations that are – or are considering – leaving the PCUSA, Canvas has no intention to do likewise.  We are entirely committed to both the Presbytery of Los Ranchos and to our larger denomination and feel no need to revisit that commitment.

There are many reasons for this, but the chief is our commitment to the authority of scripture – which we understand to forbid divisions in the church for anything short of heresy (i.e., serious distortion of the apostolic faith).  That imperfect humans will differ in our theology, our interpretation of scripture, our liturgy…is to be expected.  As none less than the Apostle Paul wrote:  “We see things now as though looking through a distorted lens.”   

The early church had no illusions of achieving agreement on all matters, even very important matters.  (Indeed the church developed the vocabulary of adiaphora to describe things important but not essential.)  Rather, the call was to maintain the unity of the church despite their very real differences, both as a statement of our collective adoption into the family of faith (if God has called us all children, who am I to say one is not a brother or sister?), and as recognition that none of us is as aware of “the truth” as we think we are (see Eph. 4:1-6 in particular).

We at Canvas see nothing in the structure, constitution or standard of practice of the PCUSA that causes us to question the orthodoxy of our denomination.  Can one find anecdotes to the contrary?  Yes, of course.  As with any organization with millions of members, there are always groups at the fringe that will push at the boundaries.  But the commitment of the larger denomination to the apostolic faith has not wavered.  The first creed of our constitution remains that formed at Nicea in 325 AD, establishing the formal doctrine of the Trinity and the re-affirming the apostolic declaration that Jesus is Lord.

Furthermore, there is nothing that Canvas has sought to do in our mission that the PCUSA or our presbytery has in any way hindered, nor have we been compelled to do anything contrary to our conscience.  Quite the contrary!  Our presbytery and denomination have been overwhelmingly encouraging of Canvas’s mission, offering not only their ecclesiastical permission for our work, but providing meaningful funding to support our efforts.  And we believe that the tangible accountability that our polity requires is essential to our long-term health and growth (Presbyterians insist on a well-educated and trained clergy, the supervision of pastors, the accountability of congregations for their resources, and the shared wisdom of a team working together for the larger purposes of the kingdom).

For these reasons and many others, Canvas is entirely committed to both our presbytery and our denomination, regarding such commitment as a commitment to the Lord.  We likewise recognize that others sincerely view these matters differently, and trust that they are acting as they feel they must.

As voting on the petitions of dismissal begins this Saturday, we ask you to join us in prayer that God’s voice would be heard by our presbyters (those elders who will be voting).  Whatever the results, our hope is that we can all conduct ourselves with charity on the other side of the voting, and reconcile in every manner possible, that we might all return quickly to the work of restoration to which the entire body of Christ is called.

If you have questions, you are welcome to send them.  Our hope is that these matters will not consume too much of our energy.  But if there is the need, we can certainly convene a time to talk together as a community.

We thank each of you for your investment in Canvas – a family we love and are beyond privileged to serve.

Yours in love,

The Canvas Leadership Team

Kirk Winslow (Teaching Elder)
Alex Amo
Tonia Burge
Trevor Clinard
Michelle Dannan
Ian Farrell (Teaching Elder)
Norman Gordon (Ruling Elder)
Vincent Marquez (Ruling Elder)
Robert Puertas
Mike Regele (Teaching Elder)

About Canvas: Canvas is a church plant of Irvine Pres., a new worshiping community of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. The mission of Canvas is inviting everyone to join in God's project of new creation. Join them for worship on Sundays at 10:00 am. Visit their website here for more details.

Note: I have briefly mentioned spiritual intelligence before; very simply, spiritual intelligence is the ability to ask questions about the ultimate meaning of life. Business leaders have been increasingly turning to spiritual intelligence because they find these folk are better at solving problems under stress. The toolkit of such people includes the ability to identify and hold in hierarchical for daily or real life application abstract and idealistic faith  concepts and values in ways that that honor all people without harming anybody (win-win in business parlance rather than the usual competitive scenario of dog eat dog). In my little toolkit, in the kingdom of God which is what church is, the new society of Christ, love (grace), unity, justice, have usually had the highest values and in the order I've specified.

I cannot forget the hurt in the eyes of people who don't understand why our church is seeking dismissal. Reconciliation and restoration of "others" seems hopeless to them when we cannot present a unified witness for our faith or reconcile among ourselves, people who all love Jesus. I cannot easily forget Jesus' prayer for his future followers in John 17 either. How will this seemingly intractable problem be solved? One side seems determined to leave the body and the other doesn't want them to leave. Can we show a "more excellent way" to the world? Dare we ask God to align our hierarchy of spiritual values with his and give us the courage and confidence to live into it? Dare we let the Holy Spirit write a new story for Irvine Pres. than the one upon which our Session has determined?

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