Tuesday, January 29

Transcript of Core Values Video


I took sometime Tuesday to come up with a transcript of a video linked on Presbyweb [see link here or below] video.

I did the best I could though I'm quite certain I didn't punctuate it as they would have liked. A lot of sentences seemed to start with "And".

As this seems to be the new party line from Louisville I hope to address several of the issues over the next few weeks.

Here's the link to the video for you:



What is a denomination?

Tom Taylor Deputy Executive Director for Mission General Assembly Council

Joe, Charles it's good to be able to talk to you as I kinda travel around our denomination in various congregations around the country. And people are having a lot of questions these days about what our denomination's purposes and in some cases whether or not we even need a denomination. Maybe I might start with a question; what is a denomination anyway?

Joe Small Director Theology, Worship and Education

The PC(USA) is not something we created, it was given to us by our mothers and fathers in the faith, who lived lives of faith and worship and mission over the years. And bequeathed it to us.

"So a denomination really is, a covenanted community of shared faith, shared worship, shared mission. That doesn't mean identical faith, identical worship, or identical mission but, rather, broadly shared convictions about who God is and who we are and how we are to live out our lives, how we worship God faithfully, and how we serve God as faithful disciples in the world.

Charles Wiley Coordinator Office of Theology and Worship

When I think of the church's common faith the first thing I think of is our practice of Baptism. When we baptize people we confess the faith of the church's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. And we do so by saying the Apostles Creed. The Apostle's Cree expresses the church's faith throughout the centuries and is there for a guide to the church's common faith."

And that's one of the reason it's in the BOC along with the Nicene Creed; the confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries of our reformed forbearers and the three 20th-century confessions. All of which help us to converse with and stay with the church's common confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and the common confession of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith.

Joe Small:

It seems to me that one of the gifts that our church has that we haven't utilized fully is the Book of Confessions. The BOC is not a collection of historical artifacts. Not a doctrinal rulebook. When we look through the BOC we're not on an archeological field trip trying to discover what people used to believe back then.

But rather, the BOC makes present to us the faith of those who lived and died the faith before us. And what it does is to free us from the prison of the here and now. So that we're not confined to the cultural and ecclesial assumptions that we tend to make but we hear different voices that give somewhat different perspectives; that raise for us questions we wouldn't raise for ourselves and suggest answers that wouldn’t normally occur to us.

So what we have, in the BOC's, is a conversation that's carried on between us and those who lived and died the faith before us. So that, in the BOC we give full expression to what we confess in the Apostles Creed, the communion of saints.

[My own comments: Does this mean C'67 etc. are merely commentaries on the Apostles Creed?]

Charles Wiley:

One of the ways we continue to do that is through ongoing theological work and the GA's been doing this for decades. Now sometimes there's a confusion, folks will think these are the theological policy of the church. The church has only one theological policy and that is the BOC [Book of Confessions]. A book that is subordinate to the Scriptures yet is the constitutional embodiment of our theological standards.

These ongoing theological statements, this ongoing theological conversation, is rich and helpful but primarily its study papers, things to help us continue to grow and explore the depth of our faith together.

Essential Tenets:

One of the questions people have asked a great deal about is the core of what we believe. Sometimes they phrase it in terms of essential tenets. What is really at the essence of what we believe, I take it that's what they're asking.

Joe Small:

The language of essential tenets comes to us from one our ordination questions. In several of the questions we are asked to indicate our willingness to be led and instructed and guided by the confessions of the church. And at one point we're asked if we can sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed Faith.

This is language that comes to us from the 18th century. And what is expressed in that, essentially tenets of the Reformed faith, is trying to indicate the core beliefs --what we believe about who God is, who we are and how we are to live in the world. To come up with a list of essential tenets; bullet point list of essential tenets seems to me to be not very helpful.

We can say that the trinity is an essential tenet. But the real question is what do we believe about the trinity. And that's best determined in conversations between those who are candidates for ordination to elder, deacon or minister of the Word and sacrament and the ordaining body whether a Presbytery or Session.

The Trinity:

Joe, you mentioned the Trinity, one of the first things asked about in our ordination questions and obviously there's been some question in our own denomination about what we think of the Trinity. At our last GA the trinity papers came up and were received and there was some question about what those meant. How would you respond to that?

Charles Wiley:

One of the sad ironies, Tom, of the Trinity paper was that a paper that was attempting to articulate clearly, the churches faith in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, became controversial for apparently undermining that very faith.

Recently I was working with a group of Presbyterians in Tennessee and I spent four week with them working through the Trinity. And although I use the Trinity paper as the content, I didn't let them know till the third week because the paper had become so controversial. I knew it might inhibit them from appreciating what we were doing. So, the third week I told them that they may have heard about the Trinity paper and I wanted to let them know that we had been using that and what kind of questions did they have now at this point. And so one person said, well I've heard that the paper doesn't really articulate what the church has professed about the Trinity.

And I said, well let me read to you then a statement from the paper. So I want to quote from the Trinity paper itself. I said, this is what it says, "Against the views of modalism and subordinationism the church declares in its doctrine of the Trinity that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are, together with God the Father, fully and eternally God. As the Nicene Creed affirms, Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” and the Holy Spirit is to be worshiped and glorified as “the Lord, the giver of life” (Nicene Creed, BC, 1.1-3)."

I said, is that what you want to hear? And he said, Well, yes! And I said, well then what other questions do you have? And one of the questions that come up constantly is, what about this language issue in the Trinity? There are a number of metaphors, a number of triads that are used of the Trinity and people find this problematic.

A couple of things to say about that. First is, there is no intention that these are to be used as substitutes for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What they are to be understood as, are ways to enhance and deepen our understanding of the Trinity. Now where do they come from? Well, the early church had a conviction that God and Trinity is essentially one in [or did he say and] three so there is a oneness and threeness to God that is expressed. So that Scripture says, "God is light". So the early church said, well if God is light and there's a oneness and threeness to God, we need to express that so they talked about God as sun, ray and burning light.

God is love. Well, what's the threeness to that? So St. Augustine said that God is the lover, the beloved and the love that binds them together. There was this notion that all our expressions of God should express this oneness and threeness of God.

What we did poorly in the paper was to ground this use of language in these early centuries of the church so that people knew that this wasn't some really new or modern expression of how we talk about the Trinity, but actually an ancient and medieval way of talking about God as Trinity and is therefore something to enrich and deepen our faith in the Trinity not to damage it.

Life Together:

Tom Taylor:

And so we have our historical confessions, we're holding to various traditions, historically in the life of the church and orthodox teaching in the life of the church; and yet surely there are times and places where certain church leaders, ministers, elders, deacons, decide to depart from those things we believe. What do we do in those instances?

Charles Wiley:

Tom, there is no doubt that there members, elders and ministers who depart from what the church teaches about the essentials of our faith. I believe strongly that most Presbyterians uphold what the church teaches, but there are a few who don't. And that raises the question of church discipline which is a kind of a scary topic because church discipline can be understood in an often it brings up images of the inquisition or the witch trials or things like that. And for others discipline seems to be the way you keep people in line.

But the reformed tradition really emphasis. The extraordinary discipline are things like heresy trials or church disciplinary procedures. But what the reformed tradition has emphasized is, what I call, ordinary discipline. That is, when ordinary Christians help each other and hold each other accountable to the things they want to do and the ways they want to be in order to be more faithful to who Jesus Christ calls them to be.

Ordinary discipline is the backbone of all of our disciplinary practices in the Presbyterian Church. Now what do we do about folks who depart from the faith? Well, one of the things that the task force, Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity, called us to, and (I think it was one of the most important things), is taking more seriously the examination of candidates for office. We have a strong tradition of that, but in the last couple of decades we've really backed off rigorous serious examination.

Now the point of serious rigorous examination is not to try to exclude people or try to beat up people but we believe that what we do as leaders and teaching the faith is so important that it is important to be rigorous and serious that people know the faith and know how to express it. And that it is the faith of the whole church.


Tom Taylor:

Other questions have come up as well about some of the things that even come up in the ordination questions for instance Christology. What about the significance of that?

Joe Small:

Christology is just one way of talking about who Jesus Christ is--who Christ is with us and for us. It seems to me that one of the good things about the theological controversies that we've had in the church over the last few years is that we are talking with one another about the core of our faith. Now sometime the arguments about those aren't terribly helpful, but if we can understand that what is central to our life together are these core issues of Trinity and Christology, Scripture, Salvation, then we can deepen the conversation over time.

The issue around Jesus Christ came up several summers ago at a conference and that created a controversy and it wasn't clear to some people in the church what exactly the Presbyterian Church's teaching on Jesus Christ was. And that's when Charles and I and some of our other colleagues in the Office of Theology and Worship sat around and tried to articulate the historic faith of the Church in Christ as Lord and Savior.

And we put together a document, Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, which set forth the church's teaching. It made clear that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior and that all people are called to place their faith and hope and love in Him. Now, Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ was quickly affirmed by the General Assembly Council the by the Office of the General Assembly and finally by the General Assembly itself by a margin of over 97%.

When the church's historic faith is articulated clearly, the church recognizes that faith and affirms it.

Sunday, January 27

I Hate Being Right

Two weeks ago I wrote:
Here's how it will pan out in the short term. The blessing of Ms. Bove will go ahead and be praised as a wonderful inclusive time of affirmation for her chosen life. Ms. Larges will most likely be accepted to move ahead to her "trials" by a narrow margin. It will depend on if the conservative congregations attend the meeting. An Dr. Capetz will be welcomed back into the ministry. I hope I'm wrong.
Unfortunately I wasn't wrong. In fact, I'm three for three. January 6 the blessing took place, Ms. Larges is now free, after a review of the process, to proceed to her trials of ordination and now Dr. Capetz has set the precedence that the section of the book of order which the PUP task force said wouldn't be affected has been set aside.

Anyone wonder who I'll be rooting for next Sunday in New Orleans?

I wish I had a sense of hope for our denomination. I wish that I sensed a turning toward Biblical integrity and faithfulness to our vows and creeds. When I hear comments like, "wait it out" or "it's not over" I get an uneasy feeling I'm hearing the voices of those crying, "Peace, peace when there is no peace. Once again I hope I am wrong, but I'm three for three.


Thursday, January 17

Response to Toby [not disagreement]

The following was posted separately because of it's length. Long-windiness is one of my spiritual gifts.

Toby's wish for a clear decision on the issue of PUP via Ms. Larges is a good and long sought after desire. Unfortunately as one who has filed charges as well as one who sat on PJC's it's not all that clear-cut. Here's what may or may not happen.

The group that voted against the action of the Presbytery files a complaint alleging Presbytery took action that constituted an "irregularity" or "delinquency"[1]. Assuming the complaint is sustained [agreed with] Presbytery takes a "do over" and Ms. Larges comes back again to argue in favor of being declared, "Certified to receive a call". If not sustained, then those who complained at first can appeal.

Assuming an appeal, it will be with the Synod of the Pacific's PJC [the same that refused a stay in Kathleen Morrison's ordination and merely slapped Ms Spahr's wrist for performing a gay wedding]. So much for clarity from that court. Then of course the outcome again could be appealed to the General Assembly's PJC.

Here's how I would play it if I were on the Presbytery's PJC. When the paper work comes to me I'd argue there's no basis for the complaint. I'd claim that there is no "relief"[2] which can be granted. Please note, I'm not saying it's true or not, just what one strategy might be. At that point the case can be dismissed and it's up the appellate process.

With Toby, I too, wish for a clear decision based on the issues. I just don't believe it's going to happen. Here's a story from Cascades Presbytery in 1991 that illustrates this well. A congregation in Eugene ordained two SAPH people to their Board of Deacons and a Hope Presbyterian of Portland filed charges. The staff of Cascades who met with Hope Presbyterian Church convinced them not to file disciplinary charges but remedial charges instead. It somehow seemed nicer this way and Hope Presbyterian was a very gracious congregation.

The result of two-years of cases, all the way to the General Assembly's PJC was that you can't take away someone's ordination based on a remedial action. Ordination can only be stripped by disciplinary action. And by the time this came about the two were off the board of deacons.

Do I believe malice and forethought went into this Presbytery staffer's direction? If I did, I wouldn't be a friend among my colleagues, now. But it seems that the ones, who should know the rules, led this congregation in a disciplinary wilderness for a couple of years.

With God nothing is impossible. I know that. I believe it. Hold the Sun still in the heavens. Have a virgin conceive. Such are no brainers for the creator of heaven and earth. But, have a quick and clear decision among Presbyterians… I think we're spitting in the wind.


[1] D-2.0200 a. An irregularity is an erroneous decision or action. b. A delinquency is an omission or failure to act.

[2] D-6.0305d. "the complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted."

D-6.0306 c. "If the permanent judicial commission determines that any point listed in D-6.0305 has been answered in the negative, the permanent judicial commission shall dismiss the case.

Wednesday, January 16

Everything HAS Changed

And so it starts. Lisa Larges was approved to move toward ordination. The reported vote wasn't overwhelming, 167-151 but of interest to those who believed the blather from those on PUP is the statement from TAMFS "A 2006 action of the national Presbyterian church allowed Presbyteries some greater freedom in determining whether open lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons can be ordained."

Here's a question for us. Did they lie? Did then not know what they were doing? Were they deceived by others into thinking they were telling the truth? We're they stupid of the way politics works? You can guess what I'd answer!

I've told our congregation that the matter of active homosexual ordination is not the disease but merely a symptom. We don't believe the same things. We don't have the same views of reconciliation, salvation, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the authority of Scripture. We might say we believe this or that but it's a lie at worse and naivety at best.

If steps were taken tomorrow to make sure that only those who lived up to our constitution were ordained it wouldn't cure the deeper illness. It would be like taking cough syrup to cure lung cancer.

I pray for San Francisco Presbytery and those involved in the struggle for orthodoxy in my old stomping grounds. I pray too for the rest of us in whose name Ms. Larges will be ordained.


Monday, January 14

PUPbecomes a Big Dog

Eight months after the "PUP" report was approved the General Presbyter of Northern New England Presbytery, Rev. Richard Wyatt, attempted to convince those who sought to leave to stay in the PC(USA). His Presbyterian Outlook article in February assured us, "The 1978/1979 AIs [authoritative interpretations] and G-6.0106b are in full force."

He echoed the party line spoken right after its approval in 2006,
We have the same standards," Kirkpatrick continued, "and now a process that encourages a more pastoral approach to ordination and encourages our governing bodies to do thorough work in examining people for office."

Gray underscored Kirkpatrick's comments, "Our standards have not changed. The Book of Order has not changed.

Oh the difference a few months make. It is amazing that such things could be said when at the very time it was happening we had a minister member of Redwoods Presbyter, Ms. Kathleen Morrison living in her committed relationship. It is even more amazing considering the once Rev. Scott Anderson, and perennial presence at General Assemblies, had once more tossed his hat into the ordination ring, seeking to become an inquirer.

This next week will even test our outgoing Stated Clerk's statement more. A lesbian Presbyterian minister, serving in Redwoods Presbytery is going to participate in a "same-sex blessing ceremony". Significant is that the ceremony is for her and her partner. I wonder what we do with Presbytery's who do not take seriously enforcement of our ordination vows since in the same article in the LA Times it describes her relationship as being 10-years old.

Elsewhere, San Francisco Presbytery votes Tuesday on ordaining Lisa Larges who is in a covenantal relationship according to the Witherspoon website. Salt in the wound for this event is that it occurs in my home church where I was raised in the faith, and in which I took my trials of ordination.

Then to top it off we have a declaration of a scruple by former Rev.
Dr. Paul Capetz . This special meeting of the Presbytery of Twin Cities will decide whether or not to reinstate Dr. Capetz to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. He says he doesn't agree with G-6.0106b but that in every other way he meets the requirement of the same.

Nothing has changed, but we are ordaining practicing homosexual persons to the office of minister in spite of our Book of Order.
Nothing has changed, but we "bless" these same-sex relationships within the context of a worshiping community.

Nothing has changed
, but we entertain scruples about whether or not portions of our Book of Order is indeed essential to accept and practice.

Here's how it will pan out in the short term. The blessing of Ms. Bove will go ahead and be praised as a wonderful inclusive time of affirmation for her chosen life. Ms. Larges will most likely be accepted to move ahead to her "trials" by a narrow margin. It will depend on if the conservative congregations attend the meeting. An Dr. Capetz will be welcomed back into the ministry. I hope I'm wrong.


Thursday, January 10

I'm not lazy; I'm sharing the wealth

It's been my hope to blog more consistently this year. So much for that thought. Instead I've come across a couple of very interesting blogs from others that I am linking too because they've already said it and I'm too lazy to cut and paste a whole article... LOL

On Listening to Sermons check out Presbyterian Thoughts or go directly to the survey link . I should tell you there is one for preachers to take too.

Another interesting blog today came from The Presbyterian Polis . It is NOT denominational but shares 10 things about the future of the church from a very thoughtful Len Sweet.

Hope you take the time to check these out. They are well worth the look.