A Vision of Unity

The statesman’s duty is to bridge the gap between his nation’s experience and his vision”
― Henry A. Kissinger

As Christians we are called to participate in God’s ongoing work of reconciliation, but it is important to realize in a fallen world unity may not always be a healthy option.  Because we are fallen there are times when unity can break us down. But because we are redeemed there are times when unity can build us up in Christ and further God’s kingdom on earth.

The question facing Trinity is whether unity with the PC(USA) will build us up or break us down.

The consensus view of session (no one has ever said unanimous view) is that it will break Trinity down.  But I am certain staying with the PC(USA) will build me up, and I trust it will build the denomination up in return.

I strongly believe it is possible to benefit from a relationship with theological differences.  Two of our denomination’s prominent leaders, Dr. Richard Mouw, retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Dr. Barbara Wheeler, retired president of Auburn Seminary, model this possibility in their relationship with each other.

An article titled “Purple Church,” published online in The Presbyterian Outlook, said that even though Richard and Barbara come from very different theological places and “have serious differences about serious matters, they count themselves blessed by the collegiality and mutual respect through which the Holy Spirit moves, enabling them to become better people and better Christians because of what each has learned from the other.”

Richard and Barbara wrote companion articles for Sojourners magazine, each writing from their own theological position and bridging the gap between our experience of discord and their vision of unity.  

I encourage you to read each article.

Trinity, and our denomination, needs to hear reconciling voices from statesmen and women like these.  

It is possible for Trinity to remain true to its core beliefs and remain in the PC(USA).  Our denomination needs a balance of beliefs, centered on the gospel.  The presbytery and PC(USA) are better with Trinity, and Trinity is better as part of the presbytery and PC(USA).

 In his article above Richard said,

I genuinely believe that a Presbyterian split would be a serious setback for the cause that I care deeply about, namely, the cause of Reformed orthodoxy.”  

Trinity, I see a vision of unity shared by Richard and Barbara that will build us up in Christ.  It is a unity I feel called to live into.  I pray you can see it too.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Tapestry

LastSupper

Nine congregations in our presbytery took a straw poll last spring to get an indication of their membership’s interest in engaging the presbytery in a process that could lead to the dismissal from the PC(USA) to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.

Here at Trinity 20% of the congregation indicated they were either uncertain (5%) or did not want (15%) the session to engage the presbytery in a process that could lead to the dismissal of the congregation (with property) to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.  This is a larger percentage than other churches in our presbytery whose results I could find posted online.

Straw poll results indicating interest in possible dismissal from the PC(USA)

  • 94% in favor at Christ, Huntington Beach
  • 91% in favor at Good Shepherd, Los Alamitos
  • 88% in favor at St. Andrews, Newport Beach
  • 80% in favor at Trinity United, Santa Ana

One of Trinity’s distinctives that has been overlooked throughout this season of discernment is that we are a theologically diverse congregation.  We are a wonderfully mixed tapestry of disciples, centered on Christ, yes, but always making room for our differences on the periphery.

Being dismissed from the PC(USA) to join ECO will shift the periphery inward and crowd out a part of our tapestry, which is a primary reason I indicated not wanting the session to engage such a process.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

A Truly Gracious Dismissal

Since the 18th century, a corollary to our Presbyterian Historic Principles of Church Order has been, “That when any matter is determined by a major vote, every member shall either actively concur with or passively submit to such determination; or if his conscience permit him to do neither, he shall, after sufficient liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our communion without attempting to make any schism. Provided always that this shall be understood to extend only to such determination as the body shall judge indispensable in doctrine or Presbyterian government.”

“ … peaceably withdraw … without attempting to make any schism” is deeply etched in our Presbyterian history.

Actively promoting secession from the denomination runs counter to this historic principle.

Instead of actively promoting secession, members in the PC(USA) who are unable to actively concur with or passively submit to the polity of the denomination should “peaceably withdraw from our communion without attempting to make any schism.”  

That would be a truly gracious dismissal.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Birds Of A Feather

Bird Migration

I recently read two articles about the polarization of America and was struck by the irony of how easily each could have been written about congregations like Trinity who are seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).

Both articles describe the increasing trend in America to separate from each other based on our differences and migrate into like minded groups.

Read the first paragraph of the BusinessWeek article with just a touch of editing.  I struck a couple of words and (substituted) my own in parenthesis.

“Something strange is happening to state government (the PC(USA)). Fed up with what they see as liberal overreaching, small groups of rural, largely conservative activists have decided they’re done trying to effect political change through the usual channels of votes and bills and the seemingly endless churn of election cycles. They’re plotting something drastic: They’re going to shutdow—wait, sorry. Wrong legislative impasse. What I meant to say is: They’re going to form their own states (denominations).”

Every quote I read in the article sounded nearly word-for-word like what I hear being said by advocates for leaving the PC(USA).

Here is another example,

“‘Here at the state level, we’re controlled by a single party—Democrats—and we feel we have no other recourse,’ he says. ‘We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to be our own state.’”

So it is interesting to me that Trinity’s “Reasons” letter addresses the “theological, ideological, political, social and moral shifts in American society that have been reflected in the PC(USA)” as a reason for requesting dismissal from the denomination.

In a letter to the congregation dated May 17, 2013 the session wrote, “We are frustrated that issues in the PC(USA) have consistently become more politicized.  Members of our denomination are polarized to the point where time and effort are expended on internal disagreements at the expense of focusing on mission in our community and the world.  We believe that this will become a greater problem as more congregations that hold similar convictions to Trinity continue to be dismissed to other denominations (which is happening in increasing numbers).  We want to be part of a denomination where we are actively welcomed and feel safe to wrestle with issues that arise from ministering in an increasingly non-Christian culture.”

Again, in the “Reasons” letter, the session wrote, “According to our understanding of the Scriptures as interpreted through our Reformed confessions, these cultural shifts should not have an impact on what we believe and how we would seek to behave as God’s people.”

Whether Trinity’s session recognizes it or not, by requesting dismissal from the denomination, their behavior is a direct reflection of this larger, growing, cultural shift toward homogenous polarization and away from God’s work of reconciliation.  

The PacificStandard article writes, “Does your next-door neighbor vote the same way you do? How about the couple who live across the street, or your friends on the next block?  The odds you answered “yes” or “probably” to those questions have increased dramatically in recent decades. Forget red states and blue states: We’re increasingly living in red or blue counties, cities, even neighborhoods.  This phenomenon has been widely cited as one reason behind our current political polarization: It allows strident voices on the right and left to fairly insist they’re fairly representing their constituents.”

Individuals choose to live in communities with ideologies similar to their own to satisfy their need to belong.  But this comes at a high cost.

The article continues, “Unfortunately, this appears to be a clear case where individual contentment and the national interest are at odds. While ‘This homogenization of communities may promote greater personal well-being,’ the researchers write, ‘it may also foster increased partisan hostility’ by minimizing our contact with people on the other side of the ideological divide.”

Another article, published on Bloomberg.com titled, Won’t You Be My (Hyper-Partisan) Neighbor?, by Peter Orszag, also addresses the negative consequences of segregating into like-minded communities.

“The consequences are far-reaching. The social psychology literature clearly shows that when like-minded people are put together, they move to extremes — both because they rarely hear opposing viewpoints and because each person is at least somewhat inclined to prove he is the true believer in the group.  The behavior is observed even among people who otherwise strive to be quite objective, such as judges. Cass Sunstein, the legal scholar who is now administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, documents in his 2006 book “Are Judges Political? An Empirical Analysis of the Federal Judiciary,” that judges appointed by Republican presidents are more likely to vote in extreme ways if they are grouped with other Republican-appointed judges than if they are grouped with Democratic-appointed judges, and vice versa.”

Aside from the unhealthy dangers of polarizing our congregation in a like minded denomination we also need to recognize that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to resist this kind of separation.

This past fall The Reverend Dr. Jerry Tankersley, pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church, spoke at Trinity about why he believes we should stay in the PC(USA).  You can find a copy of everything he said here on his blog.  Jerry reminded Trinity there are important biblical and theological reasons to remain in this part of the Reformed body.  He recounted the biblical story of the fall and God’s neverending efforts to restore unity and went on to say,

“The reason that I recapitulate this biblical theology of the unity of God, the unity of the people of God, and the unity of the mission of God is that we may be reminded of what is at the very heart of the movement of the reign of God in human history.  Paradise was lost, walls of the City of God breached,  but God acted to restore paradise in and through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus.  He purchased us with his own blood.  Now we belong to him and to his body. His passion and mission must become the passion and mission of God’s people.  God’s promise is of a New Creation in which the original righteousness of the unity of all creation will be perfectly restored and all will be made right to the glory of God and the joy of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem…To act to sever this unity within any fellowship will have profound implications for the congregation, presbytery, and surrounding community.  The unity of the church is central to our witness to the gospel in a fragmented, chaotic, and lost world.   The world will know we are Christians by the integrity of our love for one another.”

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Location, Location, Location

Trinity Property

There are memories and deep emotions connected with our church property.  

Many of us were married here, baptized our children here, and have said goodbye to loved ones here.  We have grown up going to Sunday school, children’s programs and youth groups here.  We maintain friendships here.  We have sung in choirs and musicals here.  Prayed here, worshiped here, come to faith here, grown in faith here, served here.  It would be very hard to leave here.

Which is exactly why the church property never should have been used as leverage, the way it has been, in the process of discernment.  Tying the church property to the decision to leave the denomination has severely clouded and compromised the discernment process.

Trinity’s straw poll taken this spring asked, “Should the Session engage the Presbytery in a joint process which could lead to the transfer of Trinity (with property) to another Reformed Presbyterian Denomination?

The results were roughly 80% Yes, 15% No, and 5% Undecided.

But how much different would the outcome of the straw poll have been if the property had not been included?  

If Trinity’s leadership had been willing to set the issue of property on the side, and designed the straw poll differently, they could have eliminated property as an undue influence and received a much truer indication of the congregation’s interest for staying or leaving the denomination.

The straw poll could have asked something like this:

Trinity’s session may engage the presbytery in a joint process which could lead to the transfer of Trinity to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.  If Trinity transfers to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination would you most likely…

  • transfer your membership to another PC(USA) congregation, even if it means leaving the property?
  • transfer your membership with Trinity and leave the PC(USA), even if it means leaving the property?
  • stay with the property, regardless of Reformed Presbyterian denominational affiliation?

Aside from the memories and emotions there are financial interests tied to the property compromising the discernment process.

I was in King’s Class the weekend before the straw poll when a representative in the class, a local real estate professional, made an announcement about the upcoming straw poll, telling everyone Trinity would have a chance to own the property if it left the PC(USA).  He went on to say the property could be worth as much as $15 to $18 million dollars and the congregation would probably be able to negotiate a purchase price with the presbytery of between $2 to $3 million.  He told everyone to vote how they wanted, but he let us all know that if he had a chance to buy a $15 million dollar piece of property for $2 to $3 million dollars he would do it.  

Another conversation I was a part of included a member of Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force saying the opportunity for the congregation to own the property was a large factor in their personal decision to recommend seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).

I am even aware of a conversation that took place six to eight years ago at a Los Ranchos Presbytery meeting when a pastor from another congregation, already scheming how to gain control of church property, recommended a strategy of starting a building project and financing it with debt, specifically to prevent the presbytery from being able to afford the property if/when the congregation decided to seek dismissal from the denomination in the future.

Memories, emotions, and financial interests regarding the church property are unquestionably compromising the discernment process, both for the congregation and those in leadership.   

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Tilting at Windmills

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, ‘Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.'”
― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Don_Quixote

Clearly the flashpoint for Trinity’s leadership in deciding to seek dismissal from the PC(USA) was removal of the “Fidelity and Chastity” clause (G-6.0106b) from the Book of Order, with the passage of amendment 10A at General Assembly in 2010, and its ratification by a majority of presbyteries in May 2011.

It is often overlooked however that G-6.0106b had only been added to the Book of Order in 1996, and that prior to 1996 the PC(USA) did not specifically name any standards in the Book of Order which would preclude someone from ordination.  Nor were any additional standards added following the passage of G-6.0106b.  Prohibitions against slander, greed, pride, gluttony…none of these ever made the list.

10A simply reaffirmed the long-held right and responsibility of ordaining bodies (local church sessions for deacons and elders or presbyteries for ministers) to specifically examine each individual candidate for ordination on a case by case basis, and for members to vote their conscience.

Here is where it starts to get interesting.

By September 2011 a group within Los Ranchos Presbytery made an effort to circumvent 10A and push back against this long-held constitutional right with a resolution affirming, 

“…Los Ranchos Presbytery believes the manner of life of ordained Ministers should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world, including living either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness and will so notify candidates for ordination/installation and or membership in the presbytery…”

The resolution passed in the presbytery but not without controversy.

Opponents in the presbytery did not think the resolution was constitutional.  As a result they filed a complaint and a request for a stay of enforcement with the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii.

I am writing about this case because at Trinity’s congregational meeting in November, our pastor, The Reverend Dr. Doug Rumford, referred to it during his impassioned defense of seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).  

He labeled the opponents as “activists” and stirred the congregation’s emotions with his side of the story of how our presbytery was attacked by outsiders who prevented us from doing what we want to do locally.  But there are two sides to every story and I see this story very differently than how it was presented to the congregation.

To begin with, before the resolution was even presented, opponents inside the presbytery made an effort to talk the sponsors of the resolution out of acting.  The sponsors were told in advance that if the resolution passed it would be challenged.  The efforts fell on deaf ears, and the constitutionally questionable resolution was presented to the presbytery.

After the resolution passed, the action to initiate the case was made by twenty-one members of Los Ranchos Presbytery.

The complaint was drafted by Susan Currie, a local attorney and member of Los Ranchos Presbytery.  The Complainants were later referred to an attorney from outside the presbytery, Doug Nave, who agreed to represent the claim, pro bono, along with Susan.  

The proponents won a favorable judgment regarding the constitutionality of the resolution at the Synod hearing.  However, the Synod Permanent Judicial Committee’s (PJC) ordered that

“the Presbytery of Los Ranchos be admonished that while this PJC considers the resolution constitutional, the use of specific language known to be divisive and inflammatory flies in the face of the responsibility to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church.”  

Furthermore there were dissenting votes on the Synod PJC, and a dissenting opinion was provided.

The Synod judgement was appealed to the General Assembly PJC where the Commission declared that the resolution as written was unconstitutional and, therefore, void.  No dissenting opinion was provided.  Case closed.

The constitutional error hinged on the resolution’s practical effect of discouraging those seeking ordination or membership prior to the required case by case evaluation or examination.    

So what has Los Ranchos Presbytery lost?  Nothing.

Following the final decision of the General Assembly PJC, The Reverend Dr. Keith Geckler, then Stated Clerk of Los Ranchos Presbytery, wrote in a letter to the presbytery,

“Your Stated Clerk has, from the beginning of this conversation several years ago, stated that passing such a Resolution would not permit the presbytery to do anything it was not already permitted to do—and would not prevent it from doing anything it was not already prevented from doing…However, because nothing is changed by the Decision—and nothing would be changed by adopting a new Resolution—the presbytery would do well to consider whether energy would be better spent crafting a new statement—or directed toward creating healthy congregations within this presbytery.”

Los Ranchos Presbytery remains free, and constitutionally protected, to prevent any individual from joining the presbytery for theological and/or moral reasons, following the long-held right and responsibility to specifically examine each individual and for members to vote their conscience.  

If proponents knew the resolution was constitutionally questionable and would be challenged if passed, if they were told by the Stated Clerk from the beginning that the resolution would not permit any new practice or prohibit any current practice, if it was the order of the Synod PJC to admonish the presbytery for using inflammatory language that flies in the face of responsibility to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church – you have to ask yourself who are the real activists?  And was the whole exercise nothing more than an opportunity to go on record as opposing the recent changes to the Book of Order?

Much of the rhetoric I hear at Trinity, and in the larger church by those seeking dismissal from the denomination, is based on fear and attacks.  But when I look at bigger picture, what I see looks much more like we are just tilting at windmills.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Upholding the Authority of Scripture

The following is a slightly edited version of a blog post I originally wrote for the Trinity Fairness Group, published on December 22, 2013.

Bible

Trinity is being led to believe the PC(USA) does not unequivocally uphold the authority of scripture.  But is this really true?  No.  So before we let this concerning accusation take us to the point of division we should attempt to understand what is actually going on with the PC(USA) related to authority of scripture.

Earlier this year Los Ranchos Presbytery hosted a discernment event and invited three panelists, representing progressive, moderate and conservative views, to address concerns being raised in the PC(USA), including the authority and interpretation of scripture.  The panelist were Laird Stuart, retired PC(USA) pastor and interim president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, and Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive.  In the video below each panelist unequivocally upholds the authority of scripture.

The entire video is only 18 minutes long.  It is thoughtful, enlightening and well worth watching in its entirety.

One of the statements made by Laird Stuart starts to bring the real issue into focus.  Laird said,

“We have, as Presbyterians, decided, often through long periods of struggle like what we’re going through now, that certain passages are no longer binding and authoritative, but that has never meant that scripture as a whole loses its authority or is cast out.”

It’s because through long struggle we have learned to read the scriptures according to faith and grace in Christ.  We read them Christologically, realizing that often passages, particularly those that we naively read as normative instruction, commands, laws, are historically and culturally conditioned, and so cannot be so easily read to apply as law to us. We read the scripture as instructing us in faith in Christ, and a life of faith, faithfulness, which does not mean legal obedience to all that might have been taken as law.

Paul Rack, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Elizabeth, has published a response to the claim being made about the denomination rejecting the authority of scripture,

“. . . everything they complain is a ‘rejection of Biblical authority’ has actually been the church responding self-critically to the broader witness of Scripture.  We feel this holds the Bible in higher regard than to force it into a doctrinal straitjacket based on a few verses, arbitrarily chosen to prop up the values, doctrines, principalities, and powers of another age.”

The footnote in the Comparative Matrix, provided to the congregation at Trinity, points to different interpretations of scripture in the denomination as the basis for claiming the PC(USA) does not allow any particular interpretation to be authoritative for the Church.

But, the PC(USA) is not dismissing the authority of scripture when it refuses to allow a particular interpretation to be authoritative.  The difference is subtle but significant.

The second point referenced in the Comparative Matrix footnote claims there has been a tendency in the PC(USA) “to replace the phrase ‘in obedience to’ Scripture with the phrase ‘guided by’ Scripture.”  This is also misleading.

Jack Haberer addresses “guidance” versus “obedience to” in the panel discussion video above.  Jack was working with The Presbyterian Coalition to bring fidelity and chastity language to the Church in 1996 when the “Fidelity and Chastity” amendment was approved by the General Assembly.  But he and others who had worked to bring this language to the Church were surprised that “obedience to” scripture had been included with the amendment when it came out of the subcommittee of the committee at General Assembly who was working on it.

Jack and others knew that language of “obedience to” scripture was going to be a problem because it was not in the Book of Order at the time, or at any other time that he knew of.  Previously the Book of Order had said we were to be “guided” by scripture.  “Obedience to” scripture has also not been our confessional language, either.

One of the reasons Jack believes we have traditionally used language of being “guided” by scripture is because,

“the Bible has too often been used as a hammer, taking one text out of context, to say you have to obey that, and you have to obey that, and most especially by men toward women.”

He goes on to say we have a long history of being a little bit more cautious than this when speaking about the role of scripture. Our obedience is to God, who has inspired the scriptures, and we are to totally obey God, understanding God’s will as the scriptures guide.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

The Way, The Truth, and The Life ~ In The PC(USA)


Way Truth Life Image III

Many things are being said about the PC(USA) that are simply not true.

Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, has said, “If the kinds of things that are said about us, with not having the authority of scripture, and said about Jesus Christ not being unique, if those were the case I’d be gone already.”

I would be gone too.

But these things that are being said are not true for me, and they are not true for the PC(USA).  Even those whom Trinity’s leadership would point to as having “drifted,” hold firm to the authority of scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Reverend Amy Loving is a PC(USA) pastor in New York who has responded to such accusations made by The Layman and The Presbyterian Lay Committee in a blog post titled, “A Response To Those Who Think They Know Me.”  Contrary to the caricature described in The Layman, and being presented to us at Trinity, Amy writes,

“This is not the first time that lines have been drawn or judgments made about the suspected non-Christianity of those Presbyterians who disagree with the Presbyterian Lay Committee, and I’m sadly convinced that it will not be the last.  But I do not appreciate people accusing me and others of not being faithful Christians simply because we do not talk about God in the same way or take stands on the same theological issues in the same ways.”

Amy then goes on to clearly articulate her firm commitment to the authority of scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Still, the misunderstanding persists that there are large ranks in the denomination denying the Lordship of Christ, a misunderstanding that is perpetuated by careless and misleading statements.  The fallacy of two such statements is demonstrated below.

Misleading Statement –  The call for the Church to “present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior” was removed from the PC(USA) Book of Order

In a panel discussion held earlier this year at Trinity for members of Los Ranchos Presbytery, Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive, made a comment that two years ago the PC(USA) General Assembly removed the call from the Book of Order for the Church to “present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior.”

Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, responded to Dana’s comment saying he could not speak to that specific reference but lots of things were removed when we went to the shorter form of the the Book of Order simply because they are redundancies.

And then Laird Stuart, retired PC(USA) pastor and interim president at San Francisco Theological Seminary, made a very helpful comment saying, “it is so helpful, instead of simply sighting what happened, to be willing to ask, why did it happen?”

You can watch this dialogue below

It could be that redundancies were removed from the previous Book of Order as Jack suggests, but our current Book of Order 2013-2015 still clearly states in F-1.0302d,

“The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples.”

The exact call to the Church Dana said was removed from the Book of Order a couple of years ago is actually still there.

Misleading Statement –  The PC(USA) Book of Order no longer states Jesus is the only Lord and Savior

Comments about the erosion of the centrality of Jesus in the PC(USA) are being made at Trinity too.  Trinity members were told during our annual congregational meeting this November that the PC(USA) Book of Order no longer claims Jesus Christ is the only Savior.  My own quick check of the Book of Order suggests this may be true, but, in the very same reference cited above, the Book of Order does say the Church is called to lead persons to the acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord.

Clearly our Book of Order still affirms Jesus Christ alone (only) as Savior and Lord.

I am deeply concerned misleading statements like these are what led Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force to recommend dismissal from the PC(USA) to the session.  

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

Misused Words and Misleading Thoughts

“How often misused words generate misleading thoughts”
― Herbert Spencer, 19th century British philosopher

This spring an elder, and member of Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force, stood up during a “Trinity Distinctives Dialogue” filled with hundreds of Trinity members and said the PC(USA) General Assembly had defeated a motion in 2001 declaring Jesus Christ as the “singular, saving Lord.”

I remember hearing that and thinking to myself, for the first time, maybe the PC(USA) had lost its mooring.

Then, at a following “Trinity Distinctives Dialogue,” Steve Yamaguchi, our presbytery pastor, briefly explained in less than a minute not only what happened at that General Assembly in 2001 when they refused to declare Jesus Christ as the “singular, saving Lord,” but why it happened.  I felt much better about the denomination again after listening to Steve.

So why did it happen?

Below is a 6 minute audio recording of Steve explaining why it happened at a presentation he made at Christ Presbyterian Church in Huntington Beach, CA on September 26, 2013.

I encourage you to listen to Steve’s brief, but full, explanation of why it happened, but here is a summary of what he said.

In July 2000 The Reverend Dirk Ficca, a PC(USA) pastor and Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, made a speech at a Peacemaking conference held at Chapman University where he asked the rhetorical question, “what’s the big deal about Jesus?”  That question was then lifted out of context by publications and became an inflammatory headline causing an outcry in the denomination.

The General Assembly (GA) in 2001 wrestled with this outcry.  Commissioners attending that GA were really upset and wanted to press the PC(USA) to make a declaration that Jesus is the only savior.  So a committee worked on this issue and they brought an action to the GA which the GA adopted.  This action affirmed Jesus Christ is the unique authority as Lord, also that he is uniquely Savior of the world.

In the process of doing this however, one commissioner who was on that committee, brought a statement and wanted to use language that said Jesus is “singular, saving Lord.”  The committee felt like that was not traditional language.  Historically the church has never used this phrase “singular, saving Lord,” so the committee, and then the General Assembly, rejected that language in order to affirm the unique authority of Jesus Christ as Lord and that Jesus Christ is also uniquely Savior of the world.  The headlines read, the PC(USA) refuses to affirm that Jesus Christ is “singular, saving Lord,” which is true, however, we did affirm he is the only Lord and the only Savior.

Advocates for leaving the denomination are still using this very misleading headline to point to the denomination’s theological drift.

Furthermore, in 2001 the GA directed the denomination’s Office of Theology and Worship to create a study for the whole church, so as a whole denomination we have a resource to study what the scriptures say about Jesus as Savior and Lord.  In 2002 this study process brought back a report to the GA titled “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Statements in the document “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” include this, and others like it,

“Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living, for ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” [Ephesians 2.8].  No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ.'”

The GA overwhelmingly approved “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” by a vote of 497 yes, 11 no, 5 abstentions.

In addition to what Steve has said, Los Ranchos Presbytery hosted a panel discussion this spring and addressed the same misleading statement.

If you are interested you can watch the panel discussion regarding the misleading statement below

Considering it was an elder, and member of Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force, who shared this misleading statement with the congregation, I am deeply concerned misrepresentations like this are what led Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force to recommend dismissal from the PC(USA) to the session.

The PC(USA), by an overwhelming majority, affirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ and recognizes him as the only Lord and Savior.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)

X% Of PC(USA) Clergy Don’t Believe…

The Presbyterian Church (USA) conducted a survey of currently serving elders, other members, and clergy between 2009-2011.  Survey participants were asked to agree or disagree to the following statement, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

The results were shared at Trinity’s congregational meeting in November, during an impassioned defense of our session’s request for dismissal from the PC(USA).  As evidence of how far the denomination has drifted from orthodoxy, the congregation was told 45% of pastors and 60% of specialized clergy in the PC(USA) do not believe that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”      

The implication, if not outright claim, was PC(USA) pastors and specialized clergy, in large measure, believe Jesus Christ is just one way of salvation among many.  But that is not what the survey asked.

Both the survey and its results are misleading.  To offer them as justification for the session’s request for dismissal from the PC(USA) is reckless.  

This specific survey was addressed in a panel discussion held earlier this year at Trinity for members of Los Ranchos Presbytery.  The three panelist were Laird Stuart, retired PC(USA) pastor and interim president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, and Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive.  

You can see how they each responded to the survey here

Jack was the first to point out the survey did not ask is “Jesus only one way of salvation,” the survey asked “can people be saved who are not committed believers in Christ.”

Referencing 2 Samuel 12:23 (infants who die) and Hebrews 11:39-40 (speaks of those in the Old Testament who are now credited with their faith) Jack said,

“So I’m one of those who votes that other people can be saved, other than those who believe in Jesus.  I think the bible tells us so.  And so to say we have this broad number of ministers who think Jesus is just one way among others, that’s not what the survey asked them.  That’s what some publications have interpreted that survey to say.  It’s not true.  Many of us believe that some will be saved that do not believe in Jesus because the salvation accomplished by Jesus, God has the right to spread to others.”

Dana Allin, ECO Presbyterian synod executive agreed that the survey could have led to results that were skewed.  Dana said,

I do agree that I think the survey was not maybe not articulated in the way that it should have been and led to results that could be skewed.  For example as Jack said about children dying in infancy.”  

I am deeply concerned misrepresentations like this are what led Trinity’s Strategic Futures Task Force to recommend dismissal from the PC(USA) to the session.

Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)