Assigned to the Waiting Room

November 1, 2013

A Personal Note: Today is All Saints’ Day, and the 26th anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). Woo-hoo!!

At its September meeting, San Francisco Presbytery authorized the congregation of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church to meet this Sunday, November 3, to discern its readiness for dismissal. However, last week, the Presbytery Engagement Team (PET) called off the congregational meeting while issues related to the terms of dismissal are re-opened and resolved. The congregation must wait for something else to develop before they can move on in their process of dismissal to ECO.

I write about MPPC because I know it from personal involvement from 1974 until my ordination and call across the Bay in 1987. I became a member in 1975, joined the staff in 1976 to serve in various capacities over time, and was taken under its care from 1984 until I completed my preparation for ministry of Word and Sacrament. I still have many friends in the congregation, and therefore can appreciate the dynamics of its development from ultra-traditional UPCUSA church to missional pacesetter, all in the span of forty years.

But MPPC isn’t the only church whose organic growth and ministry effectiveness have been sidelined by higher governing bodies who apparently believe their processes of dismissal are more sacred than these church’s apostolic and discipleship movements. It is to all of these churches in a holding pattern that I write. By doing so, I am not supporting or advocating “leaving” or “staying,” but addressing a deeper spiritual issue:  how do we deal with the reality that we have been assigned to the waiting room?

I love that image, and thank my friend Janice for using it in a particularly timely “word of encouragement” to one of our saints. It’s hard to be assigned to the waiting room! Take me to the ER! Take me to Physical Therapy! Take me anywhere the issue can be resolved, please! But the waiting room? Bleh.

I was waiting for my hair appointment on Wednesday, and had a little more time to kill than usual. The stack of magazines offers several guilty pleasures, since I do not subscribe to O or Martha Stewart’s Living or People Magazine. But reading them in the time allotted takes me out of “waiting” mode and into “diversion” mode. “Let’s do something completely different, something we don’t have to wait for, while we’re waiting for this other thing to happen.” On a congregational level, that could be putting energy into finally replacing the Fellowship Hall floor. On the personal level, that could be taking a vacation to forget about the challenges back home. Diversion to something that offers immediate gratification is a common way of coping with the waiting room.

What else can one do while waiting? One can simply stop doing anything. I remember waiting in 30-40 minute lines at the Post Office in Harare, Zimbabwe, a fact of Zimbabwean life on a weekly basis. On any given day, there would be fifteen lines of at least thirty people each, waiting to pay school fees, telephone bills, and to buy stamps. Not a single person other than myself (after learning the first time) brought a book to read or drums to play or other family members with whom to converse. Blank stares suggested to me that this was totally and completely “down time” and it revealed a deep sense of hopeless resignation.

These examples simply illustrate the temptations faced by churches whose best-laid plans to leave the PCUSA have been thwarted. They are tempted to divert their attention from The Main Thing to something much less in the meantime or they are tempted to do nothing out of depression or a sense of futility. Both temptations are stronger when a congregation is stuck while waiting for something else to happen, as in, “Until we arrive at our ultimate goal we can’t get anything else done.”

God through Jeremiah addressed this dynamic with the dispirited Jews of the Exile, upon their arrival in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-9). They were singing, “How can we [possibly] sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137.1-4). God said, “I have a plan; there is a better way to handle your Exile!” Similarly, the apostle Paul exhorts the church of Thessalonica to balance its anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming with the challenges and calling of the present, to evangelize and to engage in productive labor.

I think these Scriptures, prompted by life’s experiences, invite us to look at the waiting room in a different light. Could it be, that while waiting for, the better way involves waiting on? My readers will have to wait until tomorrow to read about that idea!

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48 Responses to “Assigned to the Waiting Room”

  1. firstpresbyterianchurchhillsdale Says:

    Congratulations on your ordination anniversary! Many thanks from a regular reader in the same trenches with a church in discernment. Your blog has been of great help. Best wishes to you! -Pastor Patti

  2. Bruce Pope Says:

    “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

  3. Jodie Says:

    Just once I would like to hear, or see in writing, what problem does the congregation of Menlo Park (or any of the other congregations) solve by leaving.

    It’s like some kind of secret handshake or something. They all kinda look at each other with that look people get when they are secretly reading each others minds at a party. But really, what are they saying to each other?

    Is Menlo Park not already all that it can be? Is someone in the PCUSA suppressing it somehow? I can’t imagine how.

    Other than putting a sign out front that explicitly says “Gays not Welcome”, how does changing denominations affect the day to day life of a church? And is that sign really necessary or even desirable?

    It seems to me that maybe this is really all about our clergy and some elders not being able to get along with each other in some closed self referential circle at the Presbytery level and above. And somehow that turns into “I’m leaving and I’m taking my whole congregation with me, and I’ll sue you in court and take my buildings with me too”.

    (As if the “me” was of such importance)

    Really?? Isn’t that a little like fixing a head ache with a guillotine? Replace a problem with a much bigger problem so I don’t have to think about my problem? What is up with this “It’s my way or the highway” attitude? It seems to me like a horrible witness to the Gospel of Reconciliation coming from those who thus far have been its greatest proponents.

    Seriously, what problem does Menlo Park solve by leaving, and how does leaving solve it? I seriously don’t get it.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA

  4. TPT Says:

    So, Jodie, what do you do when the “church” leaves you?
    Simply accept whatever nonsense and lies trickles down from above?
    Mary: As you saw in Zimbabwe, the subversive side of endless lines, and the annoy, stall, delay tactics of any entrenched bureaucracy is the view of the leadership that they can just out-wait you. Eventually those waiting will give up any hope of change and just accept the lot in life they’ve been assigned.

    • WillowsRes Says:

      It seems to me that the denomination hasn’t really shifted theologically in several decades. Since at least the 70’s it has had a very liberal wing, and a larger evangelical wing. Questionnaires over the past several decades show virtually no movement on major theological questions with the sole exception of one area (homosexuality) It seems that rather than viewing the shift in attitudes toward gay rights as an exceptional case (which it is), people incorrectly characterize it as a symptom of a theological shift (with very few other examples given).

  5. Jim Berkley Says:

    Jodie:

    When you wrote “I seriously don’t get it,” I have never read anything more profoundly true from your hand.

    Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA

  6. pam Says:

    Bless you for the metaphor! Our Discernment Team may borrow it as we explain yet another ‘pause’ in the ‘gracious’ dismissal saga to our congregation this Sunday. We’re reading the same script ..regardless of our circumstances, there’s a world that needs to hear about Jesus. So, no prayers of ‘now I lay me down to fret.’ Keep on sharing Word, hearts and hugs. Dismissal will come, in His time, and with our patience muscles more greatly developed.

  7. Jodie Says:

    Jim,

    Gratified as I am that we agree on something, still neither you, nor TPT, nor Pam, nor Mary, nor anybody else seem able or willing to articulate what problem the congregation of MLP will solve by leaving. Is everyone who knows sworn to secrecy?

    Jodie


  8. Jodie,

    That Freudian slip of yours in your reply (“congregation of MLP”) says exactly where you are getting your talking points.

    That said, the problem that while MPPC’s or any other departing church’s theology is staying where its always been, the denomination’s has been drifting further and further left, away from what has historically been the theology of Christianity.

    Whether or not the congregation believes what the denomination represents doesn’t matter, it is tarred with the same label, and that affects the members and their mission.

    MPPC thus feels that the denomination no longer shares the same beliefs that it once did, so the church decides to take the road that traditional Presbyterian polity suggests: either quietly remain in silence, or peaceably depart.

    Reformed Catholic

  9. Mateen Elass Says:

    Jodie, not every action taken by individuals or groups is meant to “solve a problem.” When Christians in Pakistan, for instance, are captured by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam on penalty of death, they can easily solve the problem facing them by “going along to get along.” Their refusal to do this is an act of witness to the truth, not a behavior intended to solve their problem. Many evangelical individuals and churches in the PCUSA believe that to remain is to reflect tacit assent to the increasingly unfaithful direction the denomination is going, and they can no longer submit to such association.

    This is not the only reason for departure; I believe there are reasons related to problem-solving as well; but the problems solved are not related to attempts to reform the PCUSA but to become more effective individually and connectionally with the mission of the larger Church.

  10. Martha Leatherman Says:

    Jodi, I am replying as one currently called to stay in the PCUSA, but also acknowledging that because of the structure of Presbyterianism (not only the PCUSA), the sins of the denomination are shared by everyone in the denomination, including faithful churches like MPPC. Look at Joshua 7, look at 1 Corinthians 5. I don’t know MPPC or any of their leaders, but I can imagine that if they are not called to actively oppose the sinful drift away from theological truth, they must leave so that they are not judged with the rest of the PCUSA.

  11. Jodie Says:

    MLP… I had to look it up. Sorry, no Freudian slip there, because I have no association with More Light, nor do I ever read any of their literature from which to gain any “talking points”, as suggested by Reformed Catholic. I guess I’ve seen the acronym, and it rhymed with MenLow Park. Oops.

    I apologize.

    I get that there are differences of theological opinion in the church. The Gospel of Reconciliation would never have any clients if that were not the case; if there were not strong reasons for people to remain estranged. But it’s not because we might allow gays to get married, or allow other congregations to have gay pastors, that we have lost our Gospel Voice. I believe it is much more because we have allowed divorce to become our option of choice for conflict resolution. How can we proclaim that God has given the World a form of reconciliation that has the power to overcome the most unimaginable evil we can commit against each other, and God, if we also claim that because of a difference of theological opinion we can’t be members of the same (loosely held) community? Some power that gospel must have, eh? It should be painfully obvious to the most casual observer that that’s not going to release the Life in the Word.

    So what I am hearing is an attempt to hide behind a theological/political varnish the very natural biochemical aversion to homosexual sex most of us feel. Myself included. But it can’t be done, if what we do with that aversion gives way to another sin. I wouldn’t even be concerned about it, if it weren’t then taken to next level where thousands of church members are asked by their leaders to “take a stand” against people they don’t even know, and basically have nothing against, merely so that there can be no mistake about, and no challenge to, their own firmly held theological opinions.

    Leading congregations down that path is itself a sin against the very core of the Gospel.

    It’s not much different than when nations go to war and their teenagers are asked to fight and die so their leaders can satisfy their own political ambitions.

    It’s the way of the World.

    But even in the World, sworn enemies have been known from time to time to overcome their differences and refrain – God bless them – from inflicting the pains of war upon their citizens.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA


  12. Why is it you assume that the reason MPPC is leaving is due to ‘homosexual sex’??? No one mentioned that previously, yet you bring out the ‘gay card’.

    Yeah, there’s no other reason that they’re all bigots. Oh please ..

  13. Martha Leatherman Says:

    Jodi, why did you bring homosexuality into it? I was talking about the authority of scripture and the marks of the true church. If a church isn’t acting as the true church, then that’s more than a “theological difference,” it’s at best, apostasy, and possibly even heretical. The faithful must depart that kind of sin. Our gospel voice is lost when we abandon the authority of scripture. Without that, we are another do-good social club. I do agree with you that we began our tolerance of sin long before the homosexual issue became so divisive. Pornography, pre-marital and casual sex, no-fault divorce, and abortion have all led us to the place where “each did what was right in his own eyes.” We are called to unity, yes, but unity in Christ Who also calls us to holiness.

    • Jodie Says:

      Martha, I only brought up homosexuality because Reformed Catholic brought it up when he accused me of getting my “talking points” from the More Light Presbyterians.

      But let’s not be disingenuous. From what I can tell, the only thing that has really changed in the PCUSA policies, behaviors, and theology in the last 50 years or so is the general trend towards acceptance of self proclaimed homosexuals in the pulpit and in marriage. So if churches are leaving because something changed, and I emphasize changed, that’s it. Our views on Scripture have not changed, on Sin have not changed, on Salvation have not changed, and our focus on the teachings, life, death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ remain our center, and those have not changed.

      As far as why the change is happening, it is probably only happening because that is what is happening to the rest of Western Civilization. There has been a gradual coming around that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice”, but a biochemical mandate. Science and Religion may be at odds on this one, but when confronted with scientific evidence vs biblical interpretation, it has been the Reformed tradition of Western culture to bow to the scientific evidence.

      As for me, I know that I had no choice in deciding to be strictly heterosexual, and I imagine homosexuals are telling the truth when they say they had no choice either. I can’t imagine it any other way. So I am left with the conundrum of either extending to the LGBT community the same rights and privileges I give myself assuming God does too, or coming to the conclusion that God is intentionally cruel to sexual minorities. Either way, I would rather be guilty of interceding on their behalf before the throne of God than piling on the cruelty of the ages against them. Everyone needs to make their own decision on this one, and that is mine.

      Jodie Gallo
      Los Angeles, CA


  14. Jodi and All:

    It is, of course, generally inappropriate to leave the church of Jesus Christ. But saying that raises the prior question of whether an ecclesiastical body might ever cease being part of the church of Jesus Christ. And if a body that used to be part of the church became no longer a part of the church, then departure might not only be permitted but required.

    For instance, I often hear it said that we should, like John Calvin, stay in the church until we are driven out. But Calvin himself wrote in his Institutes, repeatedly, that he “withdrew” from the medieval Catholic Church, and that he did so precisely in order to come to Christ. He did not wait to get thrown out.

    This puts us into a delicate situation. If we want to say that departing from the church is never legitimate, then we would have to admit the Presbyterianism is illegitimate in its origins and we would all have to go home to Rome. Conversely, if there is any legitimacy in the origins of Presbyterianism, then simply leaving the denomination, in and of itself, cannot be illegitimate.

    But to return to the question of whether some part of the church might cease being any part of the church: In 2008, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) authoritatively interpreted part of the Book of Order that everyone knew said “you shall not do thus and so” to mean “you may do thus and so.” Totally apart from the issue at hand, the far deeper problem is that the GA has completely debased language, claiming that A means not A and that not A means A. This is madness. This act by itself dissolves our ordination vows, dissolves the Book of Order, dissolves The Book of Confessions, dissolves the Scriptures, and dissolves the very gospel of Jesus Christ. When the church, acting by its highest governing body, declares that language means the opposite of what it says, nothing means anything anymore. All is lost.

    In 2012, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly ruled officially that since there are multiple interpretations of Scripture, there is no right interpretation of Scripture. Again, this is madness! It is too bad that they do not have the integrity to admit that, if this is what they believe, then no GAPJC can ever again make a ruling on anything. I could interpret their ruling to mean the opposite of what they say, and they would have no grounds to argue that I was wrong. So, their rulings are meaningless. They have abdicated all responsibility.

    Again in 2012, the General Assembly, acting on the advice of the chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, the advice of the stated clerk, and the ruling of the moderator, voted to uphold the moderator’s ruling that our church’s confessions of faith are merely historical relics of what the church used to believe but that they have nothing to do with the current faith, life, or polity of the church. The GA asserted its authority to consider, with impunity, a proposed amendment to the Book of Order that was in direct conflict with multiple documents in The Book of Confessions. By this action, it knowingly and willingly rejected The Book of Confessions. But it also rejected the Book of Order (which has a high view of the confessions) and violated Robert’s Rules of Order, by which our constitution says our meetings are to be conducted. So, in a single action, the GA rejected our confessions of faith, our Presbyterian polity, and all good order.

    But does not all of this leave the PC(USA) as at best non-confessional and post-constitutional? And if we have no confessions of faith, and if we are not constituted as a denomination of the Church of Jesus Christ, and if we have rejected the content of the Scriptures and therefore the Lord of the Scriptures, and if we have debased language into meaninglessness, have we not altogether ceased to be any part of the true church of Jesus Christ?

    The question is not whether it is legitimate to leave. The question is how in the world do any of us stay?

    • WillowsRes Says:

      Could you please supply more specific information about the particular cases involved in these rulings? Thank you very much. The question remains, outside of homosexuality, is there significant evidence that the PCUSA shifted dramatically in the past 2 decades?


      • You’ve got to be kidding. Yes, homosexuality was the presenting, symptomatic issue in these cases. But the deeper, underlying issues have to do with truth, reality, language, faith, Scripture, and the lordship of Jesus Christ. The presenting issue could have been gluttony, if anyone had been arguing that gluttony was a good and wonderful gift of God which he or she intended to exercise fully and was also demanding to be ordained.The presenting issue could have been gambling. The presenting issue could have been any number of things, but it was what it was. Here are the cases: (1) 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2008, Item 05-12; (2) Parnell et. al and Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church vs. the Presbytery of San Francisco, http://oga.pcusa.org/media/uploads/oga/pdf/pjc22010.pdf; and (3) on Friday afternoon, July 6, 2012, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) received a motion to amend the Book of Order, and despite a point of order being raised that the proposed motion conflicted with at least three documents in The Book of Confessions, the Assembly nevertheless voted to consider the motion and so violated Robert’s Rules of Order, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjG6PJzEgfw, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOyxQIPd9T8&list=UU7eb-QNmK1dwJxOOoVSQ3BA&index=23.

    • Jodie Says:

      Dr. Goodloe, I am honored by your reply. Seriously I am. Thank you.

      You make a very eloquent and solid case for your leaving the denomination. On the basis of your argument, one would come to the conclusion that as a matter of order, and as a religious institution, the PCUSA is a burning train wreck. I agree. It’s been a burning shambles since before Kennedy was elected president, as best as I can tell. It doesn’t follow its own rules, it eats its own kind, it’s lost touch with the roots of our faith, all those things.

      But with respect, what you describe is exactly my point. That at the Presbytery level and above, our clergy and elders can’t agree and can’t even disagree with grace or honor. It is in desperate need to hear and accept the Gospel of Reconciliation and Grace, but everybody is so busy preaching their own points of view they seem to have forgotten how to listen. I suppose that it makes sense that if you put a bunch of preachers in a room together they are going to preach. It’s what they do. But preaching is not how you resolve differences. Nor is slamming doors.

      The hierarchy of the PCUSA is really your machine. Like any organization, it has the personality of the joint personalities of all of its members and leaders. But it is not the property of the thousands of folks who come to church on Sunday morning, because they have something else going on, not with the polity or history of the Church, but with the Holy Spirit, one on one, right now. They are there, we are there, because the Holy Spirit brought us there, to be in community with Him (or Her), and with each other, and church seemed like a good place to do that. Sometimes our preachers help, sometimes they get in the way.

      How does one justify disrupting that community by dragging it through the mire of a religious war? Does it really solve your problem? Wouldn’t it be better to just leave and start new congregations? Or stay and focus on the ones you have? Isn’t that ultimately what Luther, Calvin, Knox and all those guys really did?

      Finally, when you leave, or when a congregation leaves, what makes anybody think they are not taking the root cause of their problem with them? And if they do, then what’s the point?

      I ask these question because in a way I completely agree with you. And would love for your to really find a solution that works.

      Jodie Gallo
      Los Angeles, CA


      • Jodie (I apologize for the previous misspelling!):

        Thank you for this. First of all, I have not left the Presbyterian Church. I have not initiated leaving. I do not foresee doing so. I hope that is not simply because I lack the courage of my convictions! But it is my intention to work for the recovery, explication, and application of the historic, Reformed faith of the church for the building up of the congregations of the church of Jesus Christ.

        It does seem to me that the Presbyterian Church has left its senses, left its faith, left the faithful, and, as I argued above, left the church. That indicates how much work there is to be done.

        And yes, you are right, of course, that the disorder and decay go way back. For instance, I have long realized that the adoption of the Confession of 1967 and the concomitant adoption of The Book of Confessions in the so-called northern Presbyterian Church (my roots are in the so-called southern Presbyterian Church) have had the unfortunate result of the many confessions of faith tending toward our having no confession of faith. As good as each one is individually, every one that is added weakens all the others. More recently I have come to suspect that that was not merely the result of multiple confessions but actually the intention all along. How can we recover from that?

        Yes, Presbyterianism looks much better on paper than it does in practice. Electing commissioners from session to presbytery, synod, and general assembly sounds great. But when you get there, the people aren’t any better, smarter, wiser, or more pious than the people in the local church where the electing all started. Sometimes they are much worse. How can we correct such a situation?

        I will say that the gospel includes more than grace and reconciliation. Yes, it includes forgiveness and justification, which involves confession of sin. But it also involves new life and sanctification, which involves obedience. There is a place for studying, exploring, and even debating in the higher courts of the church what it means to obey the word of God and the will of God in our own day. But when was the last time we heard a spirited and prayerful discussion about obeying the will of God?

        It’s not just the preachers who are leading congregations out. I am sure that happens sometimes. But I know very well of ministers who have held congregations in. And I know of congregations where the elders and members have led the congregation out, with our without the ministers. So, it is not just a problem of preachers.

        Actually, Luther, Calvin, and Knox not only left but also took congregations, cities, and whole nations with them. Really. It was a huge and awful mess, but that is what they did.

        Yes, of course, when any person or congregation leaves, he, she, or it carries his, hers, or its sin with him, her, or it (there has got to be a better way to say that!). But that is not the question. And it is not even the question of whether the larger church might rightly be perceived to be involved in, for instance, gross immorality. There has always been immorality in the church and there always will be, this side of glory. And the church is about forgiveness.

        But the question is whether or not the larger body, in this case the denomination, has by its own actions ceased to be any part of the true church of Jesus Christ. And then the question of whether to stay or not should hinge upon more than convenience or lethargy. It should hinge upon more than what is least disruptive for the local congregation. It should hinge upon matters of faith, truth, reality, courage, duty, and obedience. Is it faithful to remain a part of a body that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ? If so, how and why? Is it obedient to remain a part of a body that rejects the authority and content of the Scriptures? If so, how and why? Does our duty call us to prop up the status quo, or to seek new and different ways of being faithful?

        These are not easy questions, and we must not take them lightly. Regrettably, we may or may not be able to find solutions. It may be that we are living under the judgment of God and that our only hope is that his justice is also merciful, that he is breaking us down in order to rebuild us. But even if we cannot find solutions, let us at least be found attempting to do our duty.

        Does any of this make sense to you?

        Jim Goodloe
        Richmond, VA

  15. WillowsRes Says:

    While I am gratified by the discussion, is anybody willing or able to supply specific information about the ruling of the Judicial Committee in 2012? Please?

    • revmary Says:

      Check to see if Jim Goodloe’s posts below answer your question. If not, tomorrow I will direct you to a series of blogs I wrote on the subject…for now slumber beckons, but I’ll get you the information about GAPJC cases that were game-changers. Thanks for reading my blog!


    • I gave you a link above. That’s about as specific as I can get.

      The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, in Parnell et. al and Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church vs. the Presbytery of San Francisco, early in 2012, concurred with the decision of the Synod Permanent Judicial Commission, which included this statement:

      This vast diversity of interpretation of scripture and the confessions regarding human sexuality evident in the record is also manifest across the churches and members of the denomination. Such thoughtful disagreement among reasonable and faithful Presbyterians is itself an important and faithful part of the Reformed tradition. This range of interpretations reached through thoughtful and prayerful discernment is, in itself, evidence that the candidate’s departure cannot be from an essential of Reformed faith and polity. Disagreements over particular passages of scripture and confessions, and their interpretation in light of scripture and confessions as a whole, preclude designating such passages as somehow uniquely central to determining the fitness and faithfulness of a candidate for office. Rather, such disagreements call for the exercise of mutual forbearance toward one another.

      But do you see what that decision means for the confessions, for our constitution, for the Scriptures, and even for language itself? Their position is that the sheer multiplicity of interpretations, by itself, means not only that there is no right interpretation but that there cannot possibly be any right interpretation. This is madness! At the very least, they should be honest enough to admit that they have thereby ruled out any possibility of any Permanent Judicial Commission reaching any decision on any case. They should be astute enough to realize that no General Assembly can ever again make an authoritative interpretation of anything. They should at least pause to ponder whether their decision means that we have no constitution and that we are no longer a denomination. In fact, if I were to tell them that my interpretation of their decision is that there is a true and right interpretation of Scripture and that we are required to abide by it, they would, by their own argument, have absolutely no way of telling me that I was wrong about them! Again, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), acting through its General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, has determined that since there are multiple interpretations, nothing is binding on us. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wishes. And all the rest of us are supposed to do is to be forbearing. But can what remains any longer be, or even possibly be, a duly constituted denomination of the church of Jesus Christ?

      • WillowsRes Says:

        Thank you for your response (I missed previous answers in the comments section). Having gone through this with in a different denomination on the subject of women’s ordination, I would say that some of your concerns are answered in looking at those instances. I am sympathetic to everyone in other denominations who saw the theological and ecclesiastical reinterpretations surrounding women’s ordination in much the same manner that you see the recent rulings on homosexuality. After all, if you can reinterpret Scripture and Confessions to allow women’s ordination can’t you reinterpret it to mean anything? (my conservative colleagues would certainly answer that in the affirmative). The concern you raise is certainly legitimate, but history has shown that this situation is not unique, and that such rulings are very specific to exceptional circumstances (homosexuality at this place and time).


      • WillowsRes:

        Thank you, but this ruling is not about homosexuality as such or about the ordination of women (though I should note that while the Bible may be ambiguous about the role of women in leadership among the people of God, it is univocal about homosexuality). This is about the church asserting that the Bible means whatever the church wants it to mean. This is about the church ceasing to abide under the authority of the word and asserting that it is lord over the word. This is about the church throwing the Bible out the window to follow its own inclinations. This is about the church ceasing to be the church.


  16. Jodie and WillowsRes:

    I am puzzled by your repeated assertions that nothing has really changed in the Presbyterian Church in the last fifty years or so except a greater acceptance of homosexuality on the part of at least some and a reaction against that on the part of others, so that any departures going on now must have to do with that alone. That is manifestly untrue. There have been massive, disruptive changes, Let me name just a few.

    First of all, in or about 1967, as I have mentioned above, the Presbyterian Church adopted The Book of Confessions, including the Confession of 1967. Prior to that, the church had a unified confessional position in the Westminster documents. But with The Book of Confessions, the church shifted to multiple confessions. One practical result of this has been the diluting of the church’s confessional position. I do not think this has to be the case. I think they all are and should be binding upon us. But I do believe that practically, the vast majority of officers in the church decided that was way too much to read, let alone to study and absorb, with the unpleasant result that we have become a body governed not by our officially stated faith but by the sheer majority vote of the party in ascendancy. That is a huge change that has very nearly destroyed the faith of the church.

    As a part of that, our official view of Scripture has changed dramatically. The Westminster Confession of Faith has a very high doctrine of Scripture. The Confession of 1967 does not. The former insists that the Scriptures are the word of God. The latter admits that but insists also that they are the words of men. Whether we agree or disagree with the latter, surely we have to acknowledge that this is a tremendous change. Indeed, if C-67 did not introduce such change, we would have to ask why it would have been written.

    Second, in 1983, there was the reunion of the so-called former northern Presbyterian Church (which actually had congregations in all fifty states) and southern Presbyterian Church. This may not have made much difference in the north, and it may not have been noticed in the north, but it has had devastating consequences for the southern church.

    The southern Presbyterian Church into which I was born, in which I was baptized, in which I first professed my faith and first received communion, in whose schools I was educated, in which I was married, in which my daughter was baptized, in which I was ordained, and in whose congregations I served as pastor—that church no longer exists. It is gone. It has been obliterated. It has been stolen from within and systematically destroyed. It has died by its own hand, by a self-inflicted mortal wound. My loss is great, and my grief is great. I am in mourning.

    This may or may not mean anything to anyone else, but please don’t tell me that nothing has changed.

    Third, and largely as a result of the first two, there has been a large scale suppression and near obliteration of Old School Presbyterianism. These divisions go way back. At one point a few centuries ago, a New School of Presbyterianism arose, in contrast to what then became known as Old School Presbyterianism. The Old School emphasized the authority of the Scriptures and the importance of the confession of faith. This led to practices such as teaching the catechism and conducting communicants classes. The New School emphasized the importance of personal experience. This grew out of, and led to, practices such as revivalism, which had great disdain for the niceties of the confession.

    As the years went by, the New School came to dominate in the north and the Old School in the south. And interestingly enough, in the northern church, the New School led to both evangelicalism and liberalism. Both of these emphasize experience over the Scriptures and the confession. Evangelicalism emphasized individual experience and liberalism emphasizes social experience, but they both emphasize experience. And I believe that is why they fight so hard with each other. It is a family fight. And they are generally regarded as the only two options of ways to be Presbyterian.

    Lost in all of this, with the demise of the southern Presbyterian Church, was a third way of being Presbyterian, that of the Old School, emphasizing the authority of the Scriptures, the importance of the confession, and the need for teaching both to the young people and to the adults in the church. This has been a huge change, and a huge loss, though perhaps many in the former northern church never noticed or didn’t care to notice.

    So please do not say that nothing has changed in the Presbyterian Church in the last few decades. The changes are almost beyond description. And the result is that the Presbyterian Church of today is almost unrecognizable. I suspect and fear that soon the transformation will be complete.

    • WillowsRes Says:

      Hello, Thank you for your response. I fully agree with Your comments about the changes post-1967 and post-1983. I specifically stated that there seems to have been little change in the past few decades (the past ~20 years). This is from the perspective of the Northern Presbyterian Church. and I believe that holds true for most congregations and presbyteries in our area. There have been liberal and evangelical wings of the PCUSA for several decades in a very stable state of tension for MANY years. The present conflict IS primarily about a historic shift in the theological understanding of homosexuality, and it can be argued that we are in a transitional period and that present conflicts about the Book of Order and Confessions will be resolved on this singular issue (one way or the other) and will subside. You probably do not agree with that perspective, but a similar historic shift has played out in the very recent past with nearly all major denominations (with startlingly similar responses).


      • WillowsRes:

        Yes, the presenting issue before the church for the last twenty to thirty-five years (I believe that it was in 1977 that two presbyteries, one north and one south, asked their respective general assemblies about doing certain ordinations, and both assemblies answered in the negative in 1978) has been about homosexuality. But the growing accommodation of acceptance around that issue has been purchased at the cost of other more profound theological shifts. Prior to this, there was some level of respect for the Scriptures as the revealed word of God. Now there is widespread disrespect for the Scriptures as bizarre, ancient, middle eastern documents written by pre-scientific dolts who simply didn’t know as much about people as we do today and who consequently got a lot of things wrong. So the church freely and easily rejects the Scripture in order to follow the inclinations of society. That is a huge change, and I am not convinced that it is an altogether helpful, healthy, or faithful one. Again, prior to this, there was I believe some sense that the work of ongoing reformation was inherently conservative, in that it was seeking to recover what had been lost through the ages and so to re-form the church to what it once had been. But now the ongoing reformation of the church is widely conceived as being inherently progressive, quite consciously and intentionally seeking to remake the church into something it has never been before. That is a huge change, and I am not convinced that it is altogether helpful, healthy, or faithful, either. Actions have consequences. The issue you have identified cannot be simply accommodated into the faith and life of the church. Instead, it will have a profound impact on every aspect of the church’s faith and life. As I have mentioned above, the church has already officially rejected the authority of Scripture, the authority of the confessions, the foundations of our polity, the rules of order, and the very meaningfulness of language. These are not small or inconsequential matters. And again, my question is, when these changes are made, is what is left even a church anymore?

      • WillowsRes Says:

        Dr. Goodloe,

        I fully understand your concerns, I would strongly suggest that the recent trends that you outline were set in motion during the bitter debate over women’s ordination a handful of decades ago. Our more orthodox brethren certainly perceive a sense of “deja vu” in this present debate (with a large dollop of “I told you so.”). Most of points you outline below (“the ongoing reformation of the church is widely conceived as being inherently progressive, quite consciously and intentionally seeking to remake the church into something it has never been before”; “the church freely and easily rejects the Scripture in order to follow the inclinations of society”) echo throughout history, but especially in this past century. I know that the topic of women’s ordination is “water under the bridge” and it would take many books to fruitlessly re-argue the topic (I doubt anyone has the inclination ;). Nevertheless, While disagreeing with more “orthodox” churches on this topic, I find myself more sympathetic with their more long-standing and consistent concern that the church was moving forward to make itself “something it had never been before”.

  17. Jodie Says:

    Dear Dr. Goodlow,

    Please, I don’t mean to trample on your grief for the loss of the Southern Presbyterian Church. When I said nothing has changed in the last 50 years, it is because I speak from the point of view of the Northern Presbyterian Church. My Father was ordained in the Southern Church, but we went out as missionaries in 1961 under the Northern Church. He always told me that unification was a bad idea because the two churches were miles apart theologically as well as in their governance theory and practice. I’ve always believed him on that account. He was always at odds with both the theology and the ideology of the leadership of the UPCUSA. I grew up hearing stories just like the ones you have described here.

    I don’t really know why the Southern Church thought it would be a good idea to join the Northern. But I believe MPPC was not a Southern Presbyterian Church.

    I wanted to go back to your previous comments regarding local congregations and the question of “whether or not the larger body, in this case the denomination, has by its own actions ceased to be any part of the true church of Jesus Christ.”

    I believe the local congregations ARE the church. The “denomination” is a hold over from when we used to be State Churches. It’s a governance institution for professional church people, like my Dad, and his Dad before him, and you, but not me, and it is NOT “the Church”. Never was, never will be. So I believe that when the “denomination” hurts local congregations, the “real” church is being hurt by an outside entity. Why do I believe this? Aside from the reasons you have mentioned, when real church is happening it is happening at the congregational level. That is where the people are. That is where the rubber meets the road. The institutional “denomination” is only there as an enabler.

    That is not to say I don’t admire and have enormous respect for the higher standards of learning that the institutional church has preserved, the Southern Presbyterian Church included. There is a historical, intellectual, biblical world view that is preserved in these institutions of higher learning that is too precious to be turned over to secular academia. People such as yourself are insanely undervalued, which is why I feel so privileged you have joined this dialog. But that universe, even at its enabling best, should not be confused with ‘the church”. There is more church going on on the banks of the Paraguay river among folks with no more than a 3rd grade education than in all the seminaries and Presbyteries and Synods of the world put together. The local congregations, those staying and those leaving, are and will remain in the hands of the Holy Spirit the true Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of denominational affiliation.

    My plead is that the concern for their health and well being be elevated to first importance, above all the ideological and theological polemics and posturing.

    And then there is the question of whether someone – a person – is or is not part of the “real” church. On that one I see no reason for not taking the word of the Apostle Paul as the authoritative word of God when he said that “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” In my opinion, we should always assume that is true. Institutions are not people, but if the people who are the members of the institution say “Jesus is Lord” then as much as an institution is made up of the people joining it, that institution remains within the body of Christ. We can argue about the quality and quantity of the fruits of the Holy Spirit for ever, but if they confess Jesus is Lord, then no matter how angry we might get at them, the question of whether they are part of the church of Jesus Christ should stay off the table. And with time and forgiveness, the anger will pass.

    Again, thank you for corresponding. You are making sense, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have this conversation, and I am grateful to Mary for enabling it. I hope I am making a little bit of sense as well.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA


  18. Jodie:

    Thank you for your gracious response. I do not disagree with what you are saying, or at least with much of what you are saying. I gave a lecture recently in which I compared today’s denominations with what in John Calvin’s day were known as provincial councils. That is to say, catholic or universal councils represented the entire church, but provincial councils represented the church only in certain provinces. Surely today’s denominations–limited by geography and often by language and ethnicity–are, at best, provincial churches. And Calvin emphasized that the church then was not to be confused with its councils. So, today, we should not confuse the Church with its councils, such as our General Assembly, which at best is a provincial council of a provincial church.

    We have known that the church exists where the word of God is purely preached and purely heard and the sacraments are rightly administered. This happens, of course, at the level of the local congregations. It rarely if ever happens at the level of the “higher” councils of the church.

    The southern church suffered from a profound sense of inferiority and lusted after being a part of a “national” church. That has turned to ashed in our hands.

    A denomination–root word, nomine–is a “named” way of being the church, one way among several or even many. At is best, a denomination is an organization through which local congregations can relate to each other to do the things that no one of them could do alone–especially ministerial training, certification, and world missions. Unfortunately, they have taken on many other concerns.

    If, in fact, you regard the denomination as an outside enemy, why are you concerned about congregations leaving it? It seems that you might counsel them to flee while they can.

    Where were you and your family on the mission field? That is fascinating.

    As for being part of the church or not, my previous comments were about the denomination, and you seem to agree with that. As for individuals, I would have to say both yes and no. Here is why. On the one hand, membership in the church is based on profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, the session of a local congregation is responsible for hearing and receiving that profession. The way I have explained that is that the session should seek to determine, as best as it can, that the profession is made knowledgeably and responsibly, that is to say, that the one making the profession of faith both knows what he or she is saying and means what he or she is saying. For instance, if someone were to say, “Jesus is Lord,” but is not capable of saying one thing about who Jesus is, we would have to ask whether that was a credible profession of faith. Or, if someone said with a sneer, “Sure, Jesus is Lord,” we might want to say that is disrespectful, disingenuous, and no profession of faith at all. That is to say, the words in and of themselves are not magic. The church, normally acting through its officers (in our case, the session), must seek to determine whether the person professing them is doing so knowingly and responsibly. That is a very sobering responsibility, and a very important one.

    Jim

    • Jodie Says:

      Jim,

      We were missionaries in Brazil all through the 60s and half way through the 70s. An awesome time and place to spend one’s childhood and youth.

      Getting back to the question of whether a church should leave, or better yet, should its leadership take it through the process of leaving, I would not recommend leaving if there are no restrictions being imposed on the congregation’s ministry, i.e. no material problems or barriers for which leaving provides a solution. That is why I asked what problem would be solved by leaving.

      And I would recommend staying put because the process of leaving usually involves demonizing opponents, making churches that stay, and their members, implicitly guilty of the evils the leaving church claims are the reasons it must leave, calling them “apostates” and “heretics”. It involves essentially “conduct unbecoming” and injures both parties. I think dragging a congregation through that mire is not necessary and indeed hurtful to the real church. The first rule in medicine is “do no harm”. I think it applies here. I think we need to start thinking seriously about what injures congregations and what makes them healthy.

      This ain’t it.

      Being a Bible lover myself, I too am intrigued by the liberal trend to explain the Bible away. But to some extent it is the opposite side of the same coin as the ideologically motivated interpretations of the Bible being passed off as the inerrant Word of God. I suppose unless you really have lived multiculturally, it is hard to step out of one’s own matrix and see, if not the Text for what IT really is, then at least the lens through which one reads the Text for the lens that it really is. So the liberals, in rejecting the lens of Fundamentalism have also tended to reject the Text itself. It’s a huge mistake as it cuts off the people of God from an essential ingredient in their diet for a healthy Spiritual life (the others being prayer and service). That being said, the one dimensional reading of Scripture that is promoted in most conservative Evangelical settings is way to bland and timid for my taste. The power of the Scriptures lies not in its miraculous writing (it may or may not have miraculous origins, we can’t really know) but rather its power lies in its miraculous reading and hearing. The conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist approach to reading Scripture, erudite or not, tends to stifle and inhibit the life transformative reading that happens when the Holy Spirit sets us free. Explaining the Text and explaining away the Text are very closely related in this regard.

      But serving the Text, releasing the Life that is bubbling just under its surface, and fearlessly letting the Holy Spirit touch the reader and listener in the ways only the Holy Spirit knows how to touch, this is the art of the true Evangelist. And they are few and far in between, on either side of the isle. But finding them, nurturing them, praying for them, asking God to send them to us, that should be our struggle, not with each other but with God. Pin Him down and don’t let Him go till He blesses us. Forget arguing about the authority of Scripture.

      We need to aim higher. Much higher.

      Jodie


      • Jodie:

        Again, I have not left, and I am not in the process of leaving. I am feeling abandoned by those who have left and are leaving. But I can understand why they are doing so.

        You mention barriers. I am supplying the pulpits of two little country churches (combined service) outside Richmond. We have a family of two parents and six children who come every Sunday and sit on the front row. They like the congregations. They will not join because they do not think it would be appropriate for their family to be associated with the PC(USA). And this is from people who come every Sunday. How many, many more are there who will never darken our doors simply because PC(USA) is on the sign out front? The very public actions of the denomination to reject the Scriptures, the confessions, our polity, good order, and language itself do, in fact, create a material barrier to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The actions of the denomination severely limit the people whom we can reach.

        Perhaps one thing worse than calling someone “apostate” or “heretic” is actually being “apostate” or “heretic.” No, it is not pleasant. Yes, great risk is involved. But to suggest that such terms never be used would be to suggest that anything goes, which, of course, is the direction that the church is heading: anything goes, that is, except the historic and orthodox Christian faith.

        God is a consuming fire, and I suspect that one day, perhaps very soon, he shall sweep away all this nonsense.

  19. Jodie Says:

    Jim, I hear you. For me its about giving myself permission to make certain judgements. I tend to do that which I give myself permission to do, so I find myself giving myself less and less permission. I am going to assume its my mistake to call someone apostate or heretic. I rather make the mistake of not calling them what they are, than calling them what they are not. But it is not my first instinct.

    The story of the folks in your church suggests they carry prior baggage. I hope with time and your help they are able to lay their baggage down at the foot of the cross.

    Theological thought: God is often presented as a consuming fire. But the God we meet through Jesus Christ is God the Father. Is God the Father a consuming fire? Do we call on him to execute judgement, or do we plead with him to have patience and tolerance, even if ours is exhausted? I have called on both, with remarkably different results.

    Jodie


  20. Jodie:

    I appreciate self-restraint, though too often at a great distance! Still, it is not at all clear to me how refusing to acknowledge apostasy and heresy, or simply declining to name them, is or possibly could be faithful or helpful to the church. Heresy destroys the heart of the faith. Division destroys fellowship,and that is terrible, but heresy destroys the faith. Pretending that it is not there is hardly helpful.

    I mentioned above, in response to a question you asked, that Luther, Calvin, and Knox left the medieval Catholic Church and carried with them congregations, cities, and entire nations. I suppose that if they had not been willing to do that, we would all still be a part of the church of Rome. And I have a friend who laid aside his ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church and became a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Do you find division in the church to be so bad as to desire to remedy past error by joining the Church of Rome? Or do you accept the division we have received and think poorly only of those who seem to want to create more?

    I am not calling down God’s wrath upon anyone. But I think it is already falling on the church in which I am an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that I can think of that can account for the distress we are in.

  21. Jodie Says:

    Hi again Jim,

    I guess I’d have to say you could be right about the wrath thing. Or maybe we’ve just forgotten our first love, and have lost our lamp stand. But if that’s the case, I don’t think its a partisan problem, or one we can just walk away from.

    I don’t know if I can agree that heresy destroys the Faith. I’m not even sure if Faith can be destroyed at all. But I suppose it depends on what that faith is in. If the thing one places one’s faith in is destroyed, then yes, one’s faith can be destroyed. So if one places one’s faith in a doctrine, and the doctrine proves false, one’s faith can be destroyed. If one places one’s faith in the innerancy of Scripture, and then some aspect of Scripture is proven to be false, then one’s faith can be destroyed. Faith in great preachers can be destroyed. Faith in any idol can be destroyed. But not faith in the Holy Spirit, in the person of the Risen Son of God. That faith comes to us by the Spirit in the first place, before we invent or learn any of the doctrines to explain it. But I think there are people who can’t seem to trust their faith. Some people seem to live in fear they might even loose it. What I think I’ve discovered is that if you are willing to risk loosing your faith by investing it, the higher the risk the higher the return. The Kingdom of God is upside down in just that way. At least that is what I think I’ve stumbled on. As if the parable of the Talents were really a parable about Faith.

    Maybe I’ve got my Church history wrong. I thought Luther never meant to leave the RCC but he got kicked out as a heretic, ironically. He took nothing with him except his pen, I thought. Same with Calvin. He left the Roman Catholic Church and joined the ongoing Reformation with nothing but the shirt on his back and – again – a pen. Knox too, I don’t recall him ever taking a congregation or a city >>with<< him. My delusion is like Calvin, after he left the RCC he was invited to join a movement and a congregation that was already in place. Do I need to fact check that?

    There does seem to be an open back door between Presbyterianism and the Roman Catholic Church. I have a number of friends who specifically started on one side and ended on the other. I myself find the American version of the RCC to be much more agreeable than the Latin American version, with all its Maryology and veneration of saints. As for myself, even though I think I will never consider converting to the RCC, I have met some very devout followers of Jesus within the RCC. I think it will be around much longer than the PCUSA.

    Honestly I don't know what to make of all the divisions in the Church. They fly in the face of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane. They fly in the face of the "fruits of the Spirit". The only thing I can say for it is, if the Church is really the Body of Christ, then it is the Broken Body of Christ. Could it be that is as it should be? Maybe the Church, betrayed and broken for the World, is for the World a remembrance that Jesus died for the World, and will one day return again. That's the best I can come up with.

    Be that as it may, I just want to scream "Stop!" Maybe it's just me, but I hate being the instrument, or even watching all the breaking, even from a distance.


    • Jodie:

      When I write of faith and heresy, I am not writing about all those little side issues. I am dealing with the center of the faith, such as God is one, Jesus is the Son of God, and so forth. But when the church officially teaches that language means the opposite of what it says, these mean that God is not one and the Jesus is not the Son of God. Those are lies and they are destructive to the church.

      Yes, Luther was cast out, but the princes of Germany supported him and followed him out of the Catholic Church, so at least in that way he carried them out. Yes, Calvin left the church and was drawn into a reform that had barely begun, and he also defended it mightily (RCC tried to take it back) and extended it tremendously (internationally). Yes, Knox was thrown out of the church, but he went back and led an entire nation’s church out. My point is that these people did not go quietly and individually into the night. They energetically carried congregations, cities, and nations with them.

      Yes, of course, division within the church is terrible. But that simply begs my very first question, as to whether a body which officially rejects the Scriptures, the confessions, its polity, and all good order is any longer any part of the church of Jesus Christ. If it is still part of the church, then the church has degenerated to the point that anything goes and it is indistinguishable from the world, so membership would be meaningless anyway. If it is not part of the church, then maintaining unity with it is no longer maintaining the unity of the church.

      • Jodie Says:

        Jim,

        Aren’t you over stating things a bit in saying the “the church officially teaches […] that God is not one and that Jesus is not the Son of God” and also that it “officially rejects the Scriptures”? Yes there are differences of interpretation, and yes we set certain Scriptures aside – we all do – and yes there are people in the church who question whether all of it is just myth and fable, but “officially rejects the Scriptures”? I don’t see that. I certainly don’t get that when I read the Book of Order.

        But the confessions, to the extent that most of them are anchored in their place and time, and to issues that don’t concern us very much or very often, surely you don’t think they are essential? That would write off billions of followers of Jesus who know nothing of them! They do make fascinating case studies of how the Church, from time to time, seems to have really listened to the questions of the ages as they presented themselves, and seems to have genuinely tried to answer them as best as it knew how. But that’s kind of a specialized taste, is it not?

        Maybe I am a glass half full kind of guy, or maybe I am just celebrating that there still is some water left in the glass, but aren’t the Scriptures full of salvation when all appears to be lost? The remnant of Isaiah 6, the widow’s oil that is always just enough for one more meal, but never runs out, or the three loaves and two fishes that feed five thousand with bushels left over?

        I may not be a Fundamentalist, but I am kind of an “Essentialist”. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a church to call itself a church? My sense is that you ask too much of it. Maybe it’s me, since I grew up around all the sausage making, running freely in front and behind the curtain, yet hearing the voice of Jesus in my life at all times and all places. Maybe I just don’t appreciate how important some elements of the church can be and how hard it can be to watch them get thrown in the food disposal like so much garbage. But at some time we all have to decide what is really the bottom line. I travel allot, and I like to travel light.

        I really appreciate these exchanges. I don’t know if or what we are trying to convince each other of, but mulling over our present circumstance without rancor feels right and good. And at least for me, insightful. Thank you.

        Have a blessed day, – Jodie


      • Jodie:

        I am somewhat at a loss as to how to respond. As I have written several times above, the General Assembly authoritatively interpreted part of the Book of Order that said, in effect, “You shall not do thus and so,” to mean, “Yes, you may do thus and so.” Totally beyond the particular issue at hand, the far larger problem is the utter debasement of language involved. It is not so much that the church has said that Jesus is not Lord as that it has said that we cannot say that he is Lord. We cannot say that he is Lord because they have ruled that language means the opposite of what it says, so that even if and when we were to say Jesus is Lord, they have already declared that what that means is that he is not Lord. This is an official action of the church. This is a denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This makes it impossible to preach the gospel. No, I am not overstating the case. I am pointing out what should be obvious but which no on else wants to see or to admit.

        And you appeal to the Book of Order because the confessions are time bound? The Book of Order itself says that the confessions are a coherent and contemporary articulation of our faith! If you want to cling to the Book of Order, then agree with what it says about the importance of the confessions! Otherwise, admit that it is far more time bound than they. They shall continue on for centuries after it has been cast aside entirely.

        I appreciate that you want to go blissfully along your way, but the issues facing the church are serious and profound, and the errors the church has committed are grievous and suicidal. Saying that it is not so will not make them go away.

  22. John Sheldon Says:

    Wow….thank you Jim and Jodie for a thoroughly informative and helpful discussion.

  23. Jodie Says:

    Jim,

    After your last response (and it should have been before) I decided to go back and read the references you gave. I wanted to know if a) I could come to the same conclusion you did from their reading and b) if I could also come to a different conclusion. They are hard to read with all the legaleeze involved, and I have not finished going back and forth, but on the action of the PCJ on the Parnell case, I think I have a preliminary conclusion.

    a) I can see why a person reading might come to the conclusion the PCUSA has said the Scriptures have no authority, if indeed one was asking of the PCUSA a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question: “Does the PCUSA recognize the authority of Scripture”

    BUT

    b) I think what they really said, and I am almost as surprised as I would have been with a ‘yes’ to the prior question, is that the >>PCUSA<< has no authority to interpret Scripture. They said "it is not for this Commission or the judicial process overall to test the value or judge the truth of variant interpretations of particular texts"

    This is counter intuitive. A commission of the GA, trying to rule on a divisive topic of biblical interpretation decides neither to explain nor explain away the biblical text. It decides it has no authority to do either. What good is a church if it can't even tell you what the Bible says or what it means?

    If I were to extrapolate that attitude all the way down to Sunday morning preaching, both the liberal and the conservative preachers would have to completely change their approach to preaching. You would not be expected to interpret the Text for me, but you would be expected to tell me "Here is the text. Lets read and see what it says" and if I asked you, "But what does it mean?" you would have to remain silent.

    ("Ah grasshopper, it is not so easy to interpret as it is to read. You must first chew and swallow before you can gain your strength")

    That's not been the Christian tradition, but it's is a huge opportunity to reverse biblical illiteracy and invite the Holy Spirit back to do the teaching instead.

    One of my pet peeves with the way most preachers preach is that before they even finish telling me what the Bible says they are telling me what it means. I don't need to read the Bible any further. You just told me what it says and what it means. You've tamed it for me, wrapped with a bow, and handed it to me all neat and tidy. It's a peeve because when I do read the Bible on my own, it's not what it says or what it means that grabs me, but the alternate Universe it transports me to. It's a portal, like a Stargate. I go through the Scriptures into the Kingdom of God. You can't preach that. Or you can, but its an entirely different art form.

    I don't think that is what the GA or the PJC meant to do necessarily, but OMG, do you realize the potential? The job of the preacher changes from one of being a tour guide in an aquarium to one of being a diving instructor in the open sea.

    Jodie


    • Jodie, I appreciate your reading the materials. I am afraid, though, that I continue to regard the decision with greater concern than you do. It is not the task of preaching to start a discussion. It is the task of preaching to proclaim the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That involves both reading the Scriptures and then also proclaiming them, explicating them, and applying them to life today. If the sheer multiplicity of interpretation (some say the gospels mean that Jesus is the Son of God, others say that they mean he was a fool or a charlatan) makes it impossible to determine that any interpretation is right (or that any other is wrong), how are we even to say that there is any good news, let alone tell that good news to someone?

      • Jodie Says:

        Yes, that is the question. I don’t mean to be flippant. It is a tiny needle in a big haystack. But a very precious one. I do believe it is there to be found. And I genuinely hope people like you will find it.


      • Jodie: What is the antecedent to the pronoun “it” in your last comment? What is the needle? What is to be found? I do not understand.

  24. Jodie Says:

    Jim: The antecedent to the pronoun “it” is “the answer to your last question”. The question “>>How<< are we to say that there is any good news, and tell it to someone, when [the noise] of the multiplicity of interpretations makes it impossible to determine that any interpretation is right?"

    I think you've asked the right question.

    The answer is a needle in a haystack, but it is there, in the haystack.

    I think you might have been implying we need to make the multiplicity of interpretations go away. I am saying you may not have or need that option. You can still find the one(s) that carry the good news.

    In modern Communication Theory they would say we need a decoding 'key'. We need an internal copy of some code that goes out with the message we are looking for. With the key we can distinguish between the desired signal and all the other signals that effectively jam our desired signal. It's kinda how your cell phone works. But if we don't have the key, we are forced to admit we don't know which signal is for us, or what the signal even is.

    Maybe all we need is a "key".

    In the not-so-modern Scriptures, we already find the overt use of sophisticated communication keys. The "fruits of the Spirit" are one such key that I am very partial to. "You know the tree by its fruit". John says Jesus says the key is "love". (That one doesn't seem to work very often). The confession that "Jesus is Lord" is a 'key' suggested by Paul. (I think you said its not very reliable because it can be too easily stolen or copied, but I think it's just specialized to hostile environments)

    The PJC, acting as the ruling body of the church, with all its education and authority, flat out admitted they don't have a key to distinguish between multiple Biblical interpretations.

    I am amazed.

    (Reminds me of that scene from the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". After all the millions of years and trillions of Galactic Credits spent on the computer "Deep Thought" to find the answer to the ultimate question about life, the universe, and everything, the answer it came up with was "42". The scientists look at each other and one says to the other "The taxpayers aren't going to like this".)

    But maybe that's a good thing. All the metaphorical processing and kidding aside, there is a certain humility in their answer, I think, that begs us to live by Faith and not by sight.

    Jodie


    • Jodie: I am glad you think I am asking the right question. One of my concerns is that the GAPJC ruling has raised that question and rendered in unanswerable. That will mean quite literally that anything goes (Judges 21:25). You seem to think that the GAPJC’s refusal to answer the question puts us in some good and wonderful place.I do not see that at all. And so we are living in different worlds. All of this seems to be confirming one of my initial points that language is so broken in and by the PC(USA) that it cannot be used to communicate anything. We cannot distinguish yes from no, true from false, right from wrong, good from evil, blessing from curse. No wonder the church is flying apart.

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