Friday, September 26, 2014

When Grace Came To IPC: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Not long ago, one of our lay preachers gave a sermon titled When Grace Came to Town. I don't remember the passage on which she preached or what she talked about. The title, however stuck with me because grace - human and divine - is a big theme of this blog. This Wednesday, I felt divine grace visited IPC in the person of Jerry Tankersley. I pray that my brothers and sisters in IPC will sense the same and our Session turn away from the undertaking of denominational realignment.

I wish I were full of grace and patience like the Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley, Senior Pastor at Laguna Pres. Church, who spoke at our Town Hall this week. Jerry and his church are staying in the PC (USA) and he's been sharing their reasons with many of the churches in our presbytery for the last year. His address on this same topic at Trinity United (Santa Ana) was on Sept. 29, 2013, almost exactly a year ago. He's like "a beggar" as Jerry himself noted wryly in his conclusion, pleading for Christian unity. Yet, there was no trace of disappointment or discouragement in his voice. Only grace. As for me, I realized, yet again, as I looked around the room, how much I love my IPC family. This is where God brought me 8 years ago and where I have found many loving brothers and sisters. This is my mission field, he affirms over and over again, and the truth is I've now spent more time with this congregation than any other. They've loved and nurtured my faith even as I hope I have served them, as best I can and in his strength. The faces all looked so dear in the evening light; many were deeply and clearly concerned, even showing pain. Thanks to everybody who's praying for all of us. I continue to covet your prayers for this particular fruit of the Spirit in me: Patience/Forbearance.


Jerry's talk was video taped and I am sure you can find it on the church website. In today's post, I recap Jerry's main points and then I share my reflections on some of the Q&A that followed.

Jerry's main points seem simple at first glance. They are quite difficult to live into I realized as I chewed on them (boldface is mine): Christ is the head of the body and the Spirit's poured into us for the Body. IPC has been an important part of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, a jewel in one of the most evangelical presbyteries of the PC (USA). We are the PC(USA) and we need those who think like us and those who don't (e.g. Barbara Wheeler and Richard Mouw) in the same denomination

Jerry believes in the unity of the church because he believes in the unity of God. Swiftly and dramatically Jerry traced the disobedience of the first humans driven east of Eden. By the 4th chapter of the Bible there is murder and mayhem but God did not give up on us and the story of Israel begins as a covenantal relationship. The many wandering threads of the Old Testament are picked up in the New Testament in the person of Jesus. God made peace and broke down the hostilities between all the polarities - rich and poor, free and slave, male and female - to unite all things in Christ. There is a fellowship of unity and love - right relatedness because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The Church is called to make Christ visible. We do this when we forgo our tendency to fragment and remain faithful to the vows we took -both as members and as ordinands (deacon, teaching elder/pastor, ruling elder). Jesus remained a faithful Jew. Paul too remained faithful to the Temple and to Christ. Even the early reformers Luther and Calvin did not advocate leaving the Roman Catholic Church. If the Church is not a light in the darkness, where will the light come from? 

Now, the questions that were asked, and I have abbreviated them:

1) Why should we stay in the PC (USA)?
2) What is the role of denominations?
3) What words of advice do you have for people, previously connected to IPC but now completely de-churched because they see us as not following Jesus but being divisive, in a world that badly needs to draw people together? (Full disclosure: this was my question)
4) How do you reconcile unity with the following Scriptures -  Church is the pillar of truth (I Timothy 3: 15); Jesus words "I come not to bring peace but division..." (Matt. 10: 34) and Paul's "Do not be yoked to unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6: 14)?

Why should we stay in the PC (USA)? Jerry turned this question back and asked, what is it IPC wants to do that the PC(USA) isn't allowing us to do? In the ensuing discussion, fear that the GA will make us perform same sex marriages or have gay pastors came up as a reason. This is a "slippery slope" argument. Individual freedom of conscience is deeply enshrined in Presbyterian polity (Book of Order). More importantly, Scripture teaches us that when we have faith, we have no fear. Church is the foretaste of God's new society that Jesus launched, where we are set free to live in Christ empowered by the Spirit to be without fear or shame.

What is the role of denominations?  The value of connectionalism over congregationalism is that it is both a protection for pastors as well as congregations. Our country's own political system is drawn from this model. Sadly, the divisiveness that now appears to have become entrenched in our politics seems to have seeped into the church too.

Now for the Scriptures in the last question and be warned that these are mine not Jerry's answers. They are based on my study and understanding of these particular Scriptures. The three Scriptures do not contradict Jesus prayer of unity for the Church.

I Timothy 3: 15 - "Church is the pillar and foundation of truth." Jesus Christ is the truth. This is the truth that the Church, and we must never forget that there is a visible and an invisible church, is called to preserve.  PC (USA) has not departed from this.

Matt. 10: 34 - "Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword." While this appears to stand in contrast to the peace that the angel choirs sang about when Jesus was born, the truth is Jesus is not advocating conflict. He is talking about the effect of his coming and in Luke especially this saying is preceded by warnings about covetousness and similar other problems.

2 Corinthians 6: 14 -  "Do not be yoked to unbelievers" - PC (USA) is not made up of "unbelievers" - Lordship of Jesus is still predominant. We have to stay in fellowship and continue to dialog if we want to reform incorrect understandings. 

If you would like more details of my Bible study of these verses and why I believe these are not advocating schism and disunity among believers in the Church, please ask me> Let's share our different understandings over a cup of coffee. Thank you.

Related Resources

Jerry's papers shared yesterday (the second is also in the book Eyes on Christ: Reflections on Being the People of God in the PC (USA) from my Heart to Yours available from Amazon in Kindle digital and Print editions)

Why Stay in the PC (USA)? Paper presented at Trinity Pres. on September 29, 2013. URL: http://www.lagunapreschurch.org/2013/uncategorized/why-stay-in-the-pcusa/

Pastoral Report on the Presbyterian Church (USA) - posted on is website June 2013. URL: http://www.lagunapreschurch.org/2013/uncategorized/pastoral-report-on-the-presbyterian-church-u-s-a/

John Stott's Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness (my book review). URL: http://myeyesonchrist.blogspot.com/2014/06/john-stotts-evangelical-truth-personal.html

References:

Bruce, F.F. The Hard Sayings of Jesus.

Logos Digital Library.

I also found my books on Ephesians and Galatians  most helpful. Casa Charis: A Daybook of Freedom (prayerbook/devotional of 31 reflections based on Galatians) and Garden of Grace: A Daybook of Faith and Healing (devotional/prayerbook based on Ephesians). They are available from Amazon.

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