The Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been busy this week.
1. The Stated Clerk released 2012 statistics, indicating a loss of more than 100,000 members and 200 churches and; 2. the OGA posted resources to rebut the arguments being employed by churches leaving the denomination.
The Constitutional Musing entitled “Misrepresentation of the Presbyterian Church (USA)” is introduced on the PCUSA web site: “The Office of the General Assembly has had an increase in the number of inquiries about printed materials from outside of the Presbyterian Church (USA), being distributed within congregations, that ascribe to the Presbyterian Church (USA) beliefs and standards which are meant to show that the church is no longer worthy of support. Over the past years the list of these misrepresentations have varied little and most have been answered in detail in the religious press, study papers adopted by the church or by specific action of the General Assembly. Whenever possible, the Office of the General Assembly directs those who inquire about specific conclusions drawn by these papers to resources which give a broader understanding of the issues.
“Typically the materials being circulated focus on four broad areas of concern, each of which speaks to the core of who we are as a denomination and a covenant community. In response to these recent inquiries, we remind the church about who the Presbyterian Church (USA) is both historically and in our current ministry.”
My observations here focus on timing, content and the accusation of misrepresentation. A future post will address the OGA’s resources point by point.
Timing: “Increase in the number of inquiries”
At least one presbytery asked the Stated Clerk in February 2012 for resources designed to defend against accusations and arguments raised by those seeking to leave. It seems that that response took nearly 18 months to craft and post. ECO, which officially formed in 2012, already has received 50 PCUSA churches and another 50 are in the process. Another 277 churches have been dismissed from PCUSA presbyteries to the EPC in recent years. There may yet be hundreds more, but it seems reasonable to suggest that the denomination would have been wise to have equipped its presbyteries with the material posted the last week of May 2013 many, many months ago.
The statement alludes to “printed materials from outside the PCUSA” but never identifies them. One can only speculate that the materials include some of those posted by Theology Matters, The Fellowship of Presbyterians, presbyteries and churches across the country as a part of their discernment processes. Many of those resources are aggregated on the The Layman Online.
To say that these materials come from “outside the PCUSA” is disingenuous unless you confine the definition of “PCUSA” to the staff hierarchy itself. To my knowledge, when the materials referenced above were written, the authors were active members or ministers of the PCUSA.
The OGA document goes on to allege that the materials were “meant to show that the church is no longer worthy of support.” This assumes knowledge of the intent of every author of hundreds of documents.
As no paper(s) are specifically identified it is difficult to imagine how the intent of the writers could be established. If the statement includes writings of mine (“How Did We Get Here?” or “The Altered Identity of the PCUSA presentation “) or publications of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, I can assure the reader the intent is to inform, not to agitate people or congregations to leave. Members have a right to know how their contributions are being used, who is speaking on their behalf and what those people are advocating. It is not unusual to blame the messenger, but doing so does not render the message wrong.
The denomination’s rebuttal also says that the allegations are “answered in detail.” So I wonder:
- Where are the flagrant violations of the constitution by those PCUSA ministers who went on record at the 2012 GA as performing same-sex weddings answered in detail?
- Where are those who openly admit to not believing in Christ’s divinity or the veracity of the Bible “answered in detail” by effective denominational discipline?
- Where are the findings of the Presbyterian Panel bearing witness against the growing liberalization of PCUSA clergy “answered in detail?”
The statement suggests that the “specific conclusions drawn by these papers” do not take a sufficiently broad view of the issues and the appeal is to the denomination’s official statements. However, the distance between the espoused theology of a denomination and the theology in practice of those associated with it is what’s really at issue. Further, the issue is not what the ordination vows say, but how they are lived out. Ultimately, the issue is the integrity between what is said and what is actually done. The introduction to the Theological Declaration of Barmen makes this very point as noted by Presbyterian blogger Viola Larson.
She says, “When pastors broadcast or write that the Bible is a myth and/or deny the deity of Christ as well as the existence of God they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective. When Presbyterian professors and pastors insist that the death of Jesus Christ was unnecessary they thwart and render the constitution ineffective. When one past vice-moderator lowers the New Testament on to equal ground with gnostic texts, and another past vice-moderator insists others can come to God without Jesus, when the contemporary moderator unties the denomination from the confessions they are thwarting and rendering the constitution ineffective.”
She concludes that, “One can point forever to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitution and other study papers, but if everyone including leadership does what is right in their own eyes there is good reason to see the denomination withering on the vine that is Christ.”
The “four broad issues” are identified in the pdf as:
1. “It is said that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has distanced itself from historical tenets of the faith, especially identifying the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture.”
2. “It is said that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has adopted a liberal political agenda as a core mission.”
3. “The decline in church membership is cited as a marker of spiritual illness and a failure of the church as a whole.”
4. “It is said that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is at odds with the global Presbyterian Church.”
The accusation of misrepresentation
Arrogance does not wear well as an attitude for church leaders nor denominational officials. It misrepresents Christ and is a poor face for the Church to the world. To allege that those who raise questions about the disconnect of the PCUSA from its historical Biblical and theological moorings are misrepresenting reality requires more than what the OGA has offered in its official musing on the subject.
The Stated Clerk’s Constitutional Musing alleges that the denomination has been misrepresented. That is a serious charge. It might be argued that charge better fits statements made by the PCUSA Musing than those seeking to call it to return to faithfulness.
Thanks for this. I hadn’t seen your “churches across the country” page. Thanks to it, I found two or three more that mention me as an example of the PCUSA’s theological drift and so forth. You will find more churches across the country at “The Future of Faith” April 20, 2013. I think it is time to say goodbye peacefully. We can squabble over the silver but it seems many congregations are making their way out that need and want to do so. As I wrote on my blog:
“I happen to think this is all good. I have worked hard throughout my career as a minister for equality. If we are losing members because they don’t want LGBT equality, then losing members is a good thing. You don’t want people on your team who are going to hold you back. Believe me, it isn’t worth it. I think we should make these transitions as smooth as possible and let these congregations go. I want to be in a denomination that does not discriminate at all against LGBT people. I want to be in a denomination that celebrates their lives and their relationships. That is the future. If we need to clean house to get there then so be it.”
I would assume that those leaving have a similar attitude for different reasons of course.
You are here positing that the homosexual behavior of “LGBT people” is predicated upon interpreting their same-sex attraction as an innate, unchangeable “sexual orientation” fixed by God and by nature that justifies said behavior. Were one to accept your premise (which I do not), one would therefore be obligated to interpret the sexual attraction of pedophiles to children as an innate, unchangeable “sexual orientation” fixed by God and by nature. Do you accept the logical conclusions of your premises?
What you are really telling the people that you claim to champion equality for, is that they are beyond the power, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Their sin is more powerful than He is, and count on the scriptures being a lie.
If the scriptures are not a lie, then it will be you that have made them comfortable in their sin. To call people to salvation, and call the scriptures a lie is a dangerous game you play.
Be content with what you have done to the PCUSA, you have your reward. But look the people in the eye that you have told that repentance and rebirth is unnecessary and tell them of risk you are encouraging them to run.
Please note the church no more discriminates against gays than it does murderers, adulterers, liars and so forth. The purpose for church which you have so masterfully obscured is the church’s call to turn away from sin and repent. You are truly proud of what has happened to the PCUSA- that’s obvious. Complete emphasis on “tolerance” and “acceptance” with no mention at all of “truth” or “accountability”. The more blatantly you liberals promulgate your fraud, the more I rejoice that God is leading the true elect out of the heretical abyss of the PCUSA!!
Woe unto them that speak good of evil,and evil of good, which put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for sour.
2 Timothy 3
New International Version (NIV)
3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
While, like other responders, I too have serious disagreements with the way you seem to understand the Scriptures and apply them to life, I wholeheartedly agree with your main point that “we (presumably PCUSA presbyteries) should make these transitions as smooth as possible and let these congregations go.” I appreciate that on your blog and elsewhere you express your own convictions so directly. And I’m especially glad that, unlike many leaders in the PCUSA, you seem to understand that your disagreement with people like me is at the level of core convictions about who we believe Jesus to be and what it means to follow him; and thus it is unwise to keep trying to preserve our institutional connection either by force or finesse. . .
In a private conversation or a more evangelistic public venue I might want to engage you over our core differences. But with regard to acknowledging the depth of the division in the PCUSA, and for wanting to make it less cumbersome for churches to leave it for a fellowship with which they are more fundamentally aligned, I wish more on the theological left were like you. Bill Hoffman, Grove City, PA
there is no such thing as “theological left” or “theological right”….there is Truth and there are lies…..Mr Shuck peddles lies….as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Loren Golden, I find it hard to imagine God creating a person so that the person will prey sexually on innocent children, but I can imagine God creating two adults and making it possible for them, regardless of gender, to be attracted to each other and have a loving, monogamous relationship committed to God in Christ. I know couples who actually fit that category.
Must God submit Himself to the authority of your imagination? There are two problems with your approach. First, just because you can imagine God doing something does not mean that He would; likewise, just because you cannot imagine (or “find it hard to imagine”) Him doing something does not mean that He would not. Second, when one bases one’s theology upon what one imagines God can or cannot do, one has abandoned faith in the God who is there and has substituted for Him an idol. This comes out primarily when individuals say, “I could never believe in a God who would (or would not)…”
Now, let’s take your basic premise that you know couples who fit into the category of being in a same-gender, loving, monogamous relationship (leaving off for now the part about committed to God in Christ). So do I. As I have written elsewhere, my own brother fits into that category. (He has also, I should note, forsaken belief in God and faith in Christ for an ambiguous faith in the idol of karma.) Being in such a relationship, however, does not justify engaging in homosexual intercourse. As God has revealed through Moses and Paul, homosexual intercourse is a sin for which He will judge those who commit it unless they repent of it and turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness for it (Lev. 18.22, 20.13, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.9-10).
Now, let’s add back in your premise that you know couples who fit into the category of being in a same-gender, loving, monogamous relationship committed to God in Christ. Does that justify their homosexual behavior? No, it does not. As God has revealed through Paul, we are not to continue in sin that grace may abound; rather, we are required to die to sin and no longer live in it (Rom. 6.1-2). “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom. 6.16) So then, those who commit the sin of homosexuality—unless they repent of it—are slaves to the sin of homosexuality, to which master they willingly submit themselves, and which they willingly obey.
So then, are such individuals “committed to God in Christ” as you purport? The Lord Jesus said no. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6.24; Jesus used this in the context of saying that one “cannot serve (both) God and money”, but any idol or sin that takes mastery of a person, such as homosexuality, can rightly be substituted in this passage for money.)
But you might say that such individuals have done loving things for those in the community around them in the name of Christ. However, in one of the most chilling and sobering texts in all of God’s self-revelation, the Lord Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Mt. 7.21-23) Jesus is here talking to those who would call themselves Christians, even those who outwardly do good deeds that would seem to bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ. He rejects them! Why? Just because they were in a “loving, monogamous relationship” in which same-gender sexual intercourse took place? No, because they engaged in same-gender sexual intercourse when God, through His servants Moses and Paul, said that such behavior offends Him. The “loving, monogamous relationship” does not justify the sin of homosexual intercourse.
Now at this point, you are probably insisting that God made homosexuals that way, that He made them with a sexual attraction to people of the same gender as themselves, and that you cannot bring yourself to believe in a God who would make people with a homosexual orientation and then condemn them when they acted on that orientation. The underlying problem with this line of reasoning is that it insists that the only way that the phenomenon of same-gender sexual attraction can be interpreted is the world’s interpretation, which is to say, that such individuals afflicted with this attraction have an innate, unchangeable “sexual orientation” fixed by God and by nature that justifies homosexual behavior. Yet you balk when this same line of reasoning is applied to the phenomenon of the sexual attraction of pedophiles to children. You want to justify the homosexual for his or her aberrant sexual behavior but not the pedophile. Why is this? Because you understand the harm inherent in pedophiles preying upon children, but you see no harm whatsoever in consensual sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender.
But what if God does see harm in consensual sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender? God through His servant Paul wrote that sexual desire for a member of one’s own gender was a “dishonorable passion”. Those who engage in it “dishonor their bodies among themselves”. This “impurity” flows out of “the lusts of their hearts”. They “exchange natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and are “consumed with passion for one another” (Rom. 1.24-27). The Lord through Paul described the physical body of a Christian as “a temple of the Holy Spirit”. He further said that “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” and commanded us to “glorify God in (our) bodies” (I Cor. 6.18-20). The sexual immorality laws in Leviticus 18 illustrate this even more. Adultery and bestiality make one “unclean”, and homosexuality is an “abomination” (Lev. 18.20-23). What is more, the Lord Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Mt. 15.18-20) What these passages all point to is that homosexuality, like adultery and all forms of sexual immorality, defiles the body. Consent does not make one whit of difference, and neither does being in “a loving, monogamous relationship”. The only form of sexual expression that God blesses and does not condemn is sexual intercourse between a husband and his wife within the bonds of the covenant of marriage, for He said through the author of Hebrews, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13.4)
But why is this? Why does God permit this one form of sexual expression but forbid all others? It is because this is how He ordained it from the beginning of our race. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mt. 19.4-6) The covenant of marriage is a shadow and symbol intended to point to the Marriage of Christ and the Church, which will be consummated when He returns. In the covenant of marriage, the husband, not the wife, represents Christ, and the wife, not the husband, represents the Church. This is also why same-gender “marriage” is so reprehensible: it suggests that the Church should forsake Christ and marry herself, and that Christ should forsake the Church and marry Himself.
And what, then, of sexual intercourse? It is the sign and seal of the covenant of marriage, even as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace. And just as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be partaken only by those in the Covenant of Grace, so, too, sexual intercourse is to be partaken of only by those in the covenant of marriage, namely, exclusively by a husband and his wife. Moreover, it is only through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman that children are conceived (although the art and device of man through artificial insemination has obscured this somewhat), and the Lord seeks “Godly offspring” from the union of husband and wife (Mal. 2.15; cf. Gen. 1.28, 9.1,7). And it should be obvious that He won’t find that in the sexual union of two people of the same gender.
Over the last century, we have seen an unprecedented attack on the covenant of marriage. First, the viability of marriage was challenged as the divorce rate grew from single digit percentages in the 1800s to fifty percent by the mid-1970s, when it plateaued. Then, beginning in the 1960s, the “sexual revolution” divorced sexual intercourse from marriage, as children from divorced homes became increasingly disillusioned with the institution of marriage, and extra-marital sexual intercourse and cohabitation exploded onto the world stage to the point that today it has become the norm, and those who wait to be married in order to engage in sexual intercourse are seen as outdated relics from the past. As a consequence, the marriage rate has been falling steadily ever since the mid-1980s, to the point that some young people today are talking about dispensing with the institution altogether. And it is in this context, especially beginning in the 1990s, that homosexuality has been normalized in the culture. And it is in this context, where homosexuality has become normalized, same-gender “marriage” is becoming a legal right.
And alongside this, let us not forget that “the nones”—that is, those who profess no religion at all—has risen from about two or three percent of the population in 1990 to close to seventeen percent in 2010, with no signs of slowing. It is not that people have become atheists in large numbers. Rather, it is that people are increasingly adopting their own selfish spiritualities, independent of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.
These two developments are not independent of one another, but rather feed on one another. As God said through the pen of the Apostle Paul, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
“Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Rom. 1.18-32)
So then, the Lord calls us to repent (Mt. 4.17): to repent of homosexuality and all forms of sexual immorality—including the sin of pornography (Mt. 5.27-30), which is the most common form of sexual immorality prevalent today—and He calls us to repent of giving approval to these sins. The Day of Judgment is coming, when the Lord will come in righteousness and judge all the world for its unrighteousness (Rom. 2.1-11, Rev. 19.11-16). He forestalls the Day of Judgment in order to give time to His chosen ones to repent of their sins and turn to Him (Rom. 2.4, 9.22-23), but He will not forestall it forever, for the Judge of all the earth must do what is right (Gen. 18.25). And only those who are found in Jesus Christ will be spared from His judgment, for “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” (II Pet. 2.9-10)
My problem with a woman even speaking here is that you have no right to speak in church, teach a male, and must stay with a man who would beat you to death. If you are black, or anyone who is a slave, you must accept your slavery (all in the Epistles). The Old Testament is even more prohibitive (thank GOD we live by Grace!)
The truth is that the Reformed tradition means that all of us who THINK we know the heart of God are only fooling ourselves – we see things dimly in this world – and understand even less. The gift of the Holy Spirit tries to teach those who truly have Christ as their Lord and the love of GOD ruling in their hearts. We are to follow HIM and listen to HIS voice and love even when it might bewilder or disgust us.
We were the second denomination (before the Civil War) to realize that all though Biblically (both New and Old Testaments) allowed it was not God’s ultimate will but rather a societal evil that was accepted from those who lived in that time, those who had yet to live completely in the love and light of Christ.
We, of the PCUSA, realized the same of women although Paul, because of being raised in a time where women were not even allowed to study the Torah or worship with men, and were forced to leave the community when they had their periods because they was “unclean” (even though it was GOD himself that created the mechanism for the creation of children and nothing that GOD makes is unclean) thought women to be unworthy of any leadership. Paul, seeing things dimly did not understand the freedom of Christ and so wrote that women had to be silent and could not even ask questions in church but rather ask their husbands once they got home.
And now wonderful brother and sisters, led by their prejudice, are leaving our denomination. It is our American Puritanical roots that causes us to see sexuality as the “worse sin” although the Word expressly says there is no difference in sin at all. Even heterosexuals are sinners and yet we think we are worthy of leadership.
We who hate the sin (or is it the sinner?) of homosexuality so much – that we – who continue to sin in other ways – gossip – lie (even if it is a white one) live in our ego – insist on our “right-ness” instead of living in humility – envy or think evil of our neighbors – we are worthy to serve HIM and others are not – all because of what we want to follow what we have conveniently chosen from the word and so conveniently thrown away?
And just like slavery and being born female, we of the PCUSA were not first to be the prophetic voice of GOD on this issue (the United Church of Christ and the Episcopalians were first) we are still one of the first to hear HIS still small voice calling us to allow any who wish to serve HIM to do so.
Jesus said to his apostles when they asked Him to stop others from serving GOD because they were not “one of them”
“Leave them alone,” Our Lord said, “For he that does not go against me is for me.”
These faithful Christians who sin (just as we all do) wish to serve the Lord and you wish to stop them. Woe to those who stand in the way of the work of the Kingdom!
Woe to those who point to the sliver and live with a plank!
But as for me and my house i choose to live in the Love and Light of Christ!
Micah tells us “You know what the Lord thy God expects of you – but to do justice – to love kindness – and to walk humbly before thy God”
In ten years many who cannot accept the still small voice of GOD will change their minds or they will have moved onto GLORY. The world will not be drawn to a church that sees some people as worthy and others as dirty. You will win no souls with finger pointing and judgment. Hatred is not of GOD.
I am grateful to be a minister of the PCUSA – and as our history bears out – we were not first but we still heard his voice and slowly but finally followed HIM! Glory be to God! Alleluia! Amen!
Justice for all sinners saved by the Grace of God who (whether they admit it or not) continue to sin but seek to serve and to grow by HIS Holy Spirit into greater reflections of Our Lord Jesus the Christ in who we seek to serve and to love GOD and ALL who call upon HIS Holy Name!
Mike: You’d best take a serious look at the studies that show the overwhelming majority of homosexual relationships (even among the “married”) are wide open; i.e far, far from monogamous. The so-called loving monogamous relationship argument is a sham coverup useful to push their agenda.