Debatable

I’m in a foul mood.  I’m disheartened and I’m angry.  My spouse even brought me coffee this morning, but that didn’t salve my troubled soul. 

Presbytery meetings.  As a pastor, I am not a member of a local congregation but of the “Presbytery” — the regional grouping of Presbyterian churches and the “governing body” for the churches within its membership.  To be honest, most of these bi-monthly meetings are pretty-much snoozers.  Mostly administrative.  Mostly reports of the various ministries and missions of the Presbytery.  And the coffee is always bad.  We did get to meet Rev. Vilma Yanez-Ogaza, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Colombia (South America).  That was cool.  And the best line of the evening:  (in Spanish) “I’m from Colombia — we grow the best coffee in the world!”  I’m sipping a nice Colombian blend right now.  Cheers to you, Vilma!  The best part of these meetings is always the connections — seeing people who serve and are members of other congregations in the area.  We don’t get together enough to kindle the friendships and professional relationships between pastors and churches.  But at least we can count on seeing each other every-other month at these 4-6 hour gatherings.  And I usually leave tired from the tedium, but energized by the fellowship.  But not last night.  I was frustrated and disheartened.

There is a church in our Presbytery, Bay Presbyterian Church, that is in the final stages of their plans to leave our denomination, the PC(USA).  Yada yada.  One more church that has become disillusioned by the theology and polity of our denomination.  It’s boring news these days, and makes us Christians seeem even more irrelevant to the world around us.  I can’t blame people for not wanting to become part of an “institutional church” if all they know about us is that we can’t get along.  Bay Presbyterian is one more church in a string of congregations in our denomination that is packing up their marbles and leaving.  It might be the first congregation in this Presbytery (Presbytery of the Western Reserve) to leave, but they are just one of a few dozen churches across the country who can’t stand how “liberal” the Presbtyerian Church has become.  So they want to figure out where to go — to the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), or a new collaboration of like-minded conservatives within the PC(USA) who have arranged with the EPC to allow them in AND to allow them to keep ordaining women — the New Wineskins Association of Churches.

If Bay Presbyterian Church decides to leave the denomination it will be a sad thing, one more demonstration that we truly have yet to figure out how to live in the wide embrace of God’s grace.

On the other hand, if they don’t think they can faithfully serve Christ from within the PC(USA), then I bid them a heart-felt farewell.  Better for them to be able to focus their attention and resources on ministry rather than on being contentious with the rest of us.  And while it is less of a demonstration of the unity of the church, it will frankly be easier for the rest of us, too — we can get on with being the Church rather than fussing with each other all the time.  I don’t like divorce at all, but when the inevitable comes it is best to get on with it…

HOWEVER.

Using the divorce metaphor might be helpful.  While there is no “good” divorce, the WORST breakups are when one of the partners viciously attacks the other with false accusations, untruths, and other distortions — ususally to justify their actions to the kids and the neighbors.  Unsuspecting children and friends can be deceived by the accusations, particularly when the other partner does not attack back.  The one-sided vitriol makes the situation not only ugly, but pitiful.  Well, the leadership of Bay Presbyterian Church has become that unsavory, unenviable bitter spouse who seeks to discredit the other at all cost.  This document was given to us last evening by the group that is attempting to provide some last-ditch-effort marital counseling.  It is a document that was distributed by the leaders of Bay Church to its members:

 Bay Document  click on the thumbnail to read the document

It is a chart provided by the leaders of Bay Church to its members.  My hand-written note at the top of the page is my simple evaluation of the content of the document:  “Propaganda doesn’t have to be true.”  I could go line-by-line through the chart and offer a counter-point to virtually each of the questions raised and distorted answers given, but I won’t.  But I must address two points and the overall tenor of the document:

Question:  Who Is Jesus?

According to this document, the NWAC (New Wineskins), EPC, and PCA denominations answer the question:  “God/”The” Way” (which, actually, is heresy… but that is another matter).  The PC(USA) answer to the question?  “Debatable” is what the document posits.

Question:  Authority of Scripture

NWAC and EPC:  Inspired/Infallible, PCA: Inerrant, Inspired/Infallible.  The PC(USA) answer?  “Debatable.”

Give me a break.  We in the PC(USA) have 11 (eleven) Confessions that are part of our CONSTITUTION.  These are foundational confessions, creeds, and statements that express who we are as Presbyterians and how we understand and interpret Scripture.  All of us who are leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA) — including the pastors and elders of Bay Presbyterian Church, I might point out — take vows at our ordination including the following (the first three vows):

  • Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(<start sarcasm> that’s pretty ambiguous now, isn’t it?  <end>)

  • Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

(such ambiguity again!)

  • Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

(and a third time…)

If by “debatable” the leaders of Bay Church intend to be educating their congregation in the long history of the Reformed Tradition to be “Reformed and always being reformed,” then I commend them.  We DO have healthy debates about Jesus, Scripture, issues facing the church, etc.  If we didn’t engage in these conversations, we would not have ELEVEN confessions of faith.  Each of these magnificent expressions grew out of confidence that who God is and what God is about is bigger that we can imagine or capture in words.  Each of the confessions are the result of faithful discernment.  So in this sense, “debatable” is a cornerstone value of the PC(USA).

But that’s not what they mean.  They are falsely accusing the PC(USA) of not having a Christology or an understanding of Scripture’s authority.  Hogwash.  And shame on those leaders for lying to their congregation and distorting the truth about the PC(USA).

To the leaders of Bay Presbyterian Church:  shame on you.  You are engaging in behavior that violates your ordination vows.  You are being like the divorcing spouse who makes up lies and false accusations to demonize your partner.  Please don’t treat the “kids” and our “neighbors” this way, even if we are divorcing.

I wish you would not leave the PC(USA).  But if you do, I wish you all of God’s grace and peace.  But I also wish that you would not distort who I am and who WE are in the Presbyterian Church (USA) simply to make the divorce feel better for you.  We are sisters and brothers in Christ.  That’s not debatable.

~ by Jeff P-D on September 25, 2007.

2 Responses to “Debatable”

  1. Jeff: well said and well written. The choice to ue the ordination vows was exquisite, succinct, and somewhat pointed, as you touched on the violation of said vows by casting such lies and distortions.
    Yet again, thanks for giving voice to this difficult separation.
    Peace…and I mean it.

  2. Amen! My church voted to leave the denomination after drowning the congregation in all sorts of propaganda. I took a look at the documents similar to the one you posted and wondered where they come up with this stuff. The New Wineskins should focus on their belief system instead of attacking the church with garbage.

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