Small-p Presbyterianism

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Posted 9/29/15 at 4:22 PM | Joseph Duffus

Responding to Heath Rada's Call to the Church

A house is better than a tent.
Herculite.com
Presbyterianism needs to become a neighborhood of houses, not a big tent.

(UPDATING to correct that the PCUSA's Constitution gave the southern churches eight years to withdraw from the merged denomination, not ten as I said earlier. The provision is found in at G-4.0208.)

In his Call to the Church, PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada admitted to a lack of trust he senses across the denomination and calls for immediate discussions about how to move forward.

Can we even move forward? Is the breakdown between Louisville and the pew-dwellers so advanced that a re-think of how the PCUSA works makes sense?

Those discussions, which he promises to lead, are necessary and overdue. There are fundamental questions raised in his Call that don’t have easy or comfortable answers.

When the PCUSA denomination formed through merger in the 1980s, the southern churches were offered an eight-year window during which they could back out, property intact, from PCUSA. (G-4.0208) Why not offer that again?

Distrust is his main theme. Conservative churches are considering leaving because of the theological drift of the past 10 years. They no longer trust the denomination to find them pastoral candidates who will support their interpretation of Scripture. They no longer trust PCUSA to spend their money on causes they can support and be proud of, nor trust or rely on them to produce acceptable Bible study materials and prioritize the dwindling resources of a shrinking arm of the Body of Christ. Worst of all, they no longer trust that PCUSA is committed to any essential tenets of presbyterian understanding of the faith. FULL POST

Posted 7/4/15 at 12:55 PM | Joseph Duffus

Independence Day for Presbyterians?

We celebrate Independence Day in America, our annual reminder that we are the "Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave."

Between bites of hot dogs, sips of beer or iced tea, and wide-eyed wonder at the fireworks that streak the night sky, Americans feel again a part of the unique experiment of a land and a people bound by that idea, if not all the same British heritage. For all Americans, this day surfaces the happy thought that our freedom is God's precious gift to our nation, and the sober thought that it was born by men signing with a steady hand what might well have become their own death warrant: the Declaration of Independence.

But after the Declaration was signed, the War for Independence continued for several more years, costing the blood of thousands of patriots and British soldiers to confirm what that document had boldly declared to be self-evident.

The spirit of independence remains in American hearts, through the trials of American history and the continual desire beating in the American chest to live free.

Many of the same signers of the Declaration would go on to participate in the creation of the US Constitution 15 years later. Their experience with local government included for many the diffused governing system of the Presbyterian Church, under which representation at the smallest level of a congregation would constitute larger deliberative bodies that would govern the connected church. About 30% of the signers of the Declaration, and about the same proportion of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, were Presbyterians, the second-largest grouping behind Episcopal/Anglicans, including the great Alexander Hamilton. We Presbyterians are fond of pointing this out. FULL POST

Posted 6/30/15 at 12:30 PM | Joseph Duffus

Supreme Court and Citizenship

Supreme Court

The U.S. Constitution's design is to guarantee certain rights to all citizens, while establishing a three-branch government that would ensure those rights and maintain separate powers in order to prevent tyranny. Most importantly, it places the people and the states as choosers and masters of the federal government's power.

This makes it hard to cast the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage decision as tyrannical, since it ostensibly guarantees a right that all citizens have. But, did the Supreme Court unfairly cut off the public evolution that was occurring on the subject of same-sex marriage?

I believe so, and that this is the most damaging part of the ruling. Writing in the Washington Post today, Hunter Schwarz asks whether The Supreme Court merely "sped up" the process that was already taking place. I believe it did far worse than that. It disenfranchised the public on a matter where public acceptance was the main thing being sought.

Why? First, you must separate marriage into its two meanings: a civil contract between two people and its solemn promise to God that we are joining and becoming one flesh, groom with bride like Christ with the Church. Civil marriage, without church involvement or acceptance, is all that a couple legally requires for the first. This contract is solemnized by people acting for their particular state in courthouses, sandy beaches, green fields, banquet halls and grimy offices. FULL POST

Posted 6/30/15 at 1:22 AM | Joseph Duffus

Presbyterian responses to the SCOTUS ruling

The reaction to Friday's Supreme Court decision by the various presbyterian denominations revealed the deep divide between the mainline and the offshoots.

Eco logo

ECO was very prompt in its response, sending an email to its news followers highlighting three anticipated needs for local churches. First, they restated ECO's orthodox belief in Christian marriage as the union of one man and woman. Next, they promised to share practical advice about how the ruling might affect local congregations in a practical way. Finally, they urged their congregations, members and friends to respond in the spirit of the Gospel:

How do we respond now? I think the answer to this question is easy. Preach and live the gospel! Whenever church finds itself at odds with culture, we have the opportunity to thrive in new ways as we live out the gospel in a conflicted context. Let us be people who live the model of Jesus by being welcoming and transforming for all people, in all aspects of our lives. Each of us has places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus and the transforming power of the Spirit. Can we be people that welcome and love one another wherever we are, and yet love one another enough to work for mutual transformation? I think we can, and I think that as we do, the gospel will flourish! Let's pray together to that end. (Email from Dana Allin, Synod Executive, ECO) FULL POST

Posted 6/24/15 at 11:22 PM | Joseph Duffus

C.S Lewis on Schism

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis believed in a dogmatic Christianity

In a collection of his writings called "God In the Dock," C.S. Lewis answered a question posed to him about possible re-union within the fractured Christian church world.

Lewis: "The time is always ripe for re-union. Divisions between Christians are a sin and a scandal, and Christians ought at all times to be making contributions towards re-union, if it is only by their prayers. I am only a layman and a recent Christian, and I do not know much about these things, but in all the things which I have written and thought I have always stuck to traditional, dogmatic positions. The result is that letters of agreement reach me from what are ordinarily regarded as the most different kinds of Christians; for instance, I get letters from Jesuits, monks, nuns, and also from Quakers and Welsh Dissenters, and so on. So it seems to me that the ‘extremist’ elements in every Church are nearest one another and the liberal and ‘broad-minded’ people in each Body could never be united at all. The world of dogmatic Christianity is a place in which thousands of people of quite different types keep on saying the same thing, and the world of ‘broad-mindedness’ and watered-down ‘religion’ is a world where a small number of people (all of the same type) say totally different things and change their minds every few minutes. We shall never get re-union from them." FULL POST

Posted 6/15/15 at 6:16 PM | Joseph Duffus

Schism and Forbearance

Viola Larson wrote today about a letter from a church’s current presbytery. This church, which is in a discernment period, received the letter from its presbytery’s “engagement team,” as standard part of the dismissal process.

The letter promises to explore the possibility of reconciliation, discuss the consequences for the church of leaving the PC(USA) denomination, talk about mitigating any disharmony church members feel, and discuss how members with differing convictions can work with members of opposing views. All standard stuff, and part of a well-ordered process.

Separating from PC(USA) as we have seen can be a terrible process, destructive to a congregation’s harmony, costly either in the form of payments to the presbytery or for lawyers to litigate property issues, and damaging to its connectional nature. As small-p presbyterians, whether our churches are members of any of the four major flavors of Presbyterianism in the US, we ought not to undertake the discernment and dismissal process lightly and the presbytery ought not to give up too easily. FULL POST

Posted 6/9/15 at 3:14 PM | Joseph Duffus

How much is a church's conscience worth?

Perhaps the saddest event taking place in the presbyterian world is the process of seeking "gracious dismissal" from PC(USA). As we know, this denomination is splintering and withering due to overall membership declines -- fewer people becoming members of PC(USA) churches. But this is common to all of the mainline denominations.

In American presbyterianism today, though, entire churches are seeking dismissal from the PC(USA) to other reformed bodies. They leave for "ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians" or the slightly older Evangelical Presbyterian Church. These upstarts share basic principles of presbyterianism such as the Confessions, a Book of Order, and the peer-accountability and group discernment ethos.

The reason they want to leave is that they believe the denomination has, in essence, already left them. The dispute flares over same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, both of which have been approved by General Assemblies in the past four years. Stepping back, though, there are many other issues beneath these flashpoints. These include the church's political stances and "social witness" activities. They also include core theological issues including atonement, scriptural authority, Christ's uniqueness, salvation as being by God's grace alone and by faith, alone. These are deeply presbyterian values, some common to all reformed churches, and others bespeaking its connectional nature. FULL POST

Posted 6/7/15 at 2:47 PM | Joseph Duffus

Small P Presbyterianism

Presbyterians have been splintered by schisms throughout their history in the United States. The "Old School - New School" split, the Northern-Southern split, the Fosdick-Machen split, the PCA women's ordination split and, most recently the EPC and ECO splits over sexuality issues and authority of Scripture.

There have also been reunifications, too. Withering or growing, presbyterianism takes very literally its "Reformed, and always reforming" slogan.

Much has been written and comments have raged over the specifics of these reformings, but they all come down to a continuing battle between the church's liberals and its conservatives. They both tend to resist those labels, preferring terms such as "welcoming" and "orthodox" respectively.

This split personality tears presbyterians apart. It costs money to pay for lawyers, money that should have been spent on mission, on spreading the Gospel. It forces church members to choose sides and to feel uncomfortable when they suddenly find themselves in the minority. FULL POST