Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Essential Tenets and Religious Grottoes

The Presbytery of Stockton (California) has come up with a list of guidelines for examining candidates for ordination. The authors have taken the Book of Confessions and condensed it to thirty pages and in so doing they believe they have captured the essential tenets of the PC(USA). Their document is divided into three sections, Essential Tenets, Reformed Distinctives, and Questions for Examination.

As I read this document I realized that I have virtually nothing in common theologically with these folks. The first "essential" is the "Authority of Scripture" and the document lists a number of things that are "not affirmed" including:

Any doctrine...

• that attempts to subordinate biblical authority to any human authority, cultural norm, or ideology— whether religious, ecclesiastical, governmental, political, economic, psychological, sociological, scientific, historical, philosophical, or other—as though the church should listen primarily to another voice than the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed in scripture;
Really? Say goodbye to evolutionary theory. Say goodbye to higher criticism of the Bible. Say goodbye to anything that we know about our universe, Earth, life, and our species that contradicts what human beings wrote in the Bible 1900 and more years ago. That would be pretty much everything.

Here is another one. The following is not affirmed. Any doctrine

• that rejects as historical fact the witness of Scripture to the incarnation, birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (as, for example, summarized in 1Corinthians 15:3-7 and Acts 10:38);
The "historical fact" of the miracles would be one of the fundamentals of the early 20th century. If you want to believe that go ahead but to claim that as an essential of faith will put you into a religious grotto. As a denomination we decided 90 years ago not to live in the grotto. This listing of the essential tenets is a really a warming over of last century's fundamentalism. The message from the Presbytery of Stockton is clear: Anyone who is not a fundamentalist needs not apply.

I happen to like the Book of Confessions. But this summary that has been adopted by the Presbytery of Stockton is a distortion of that collection of documents. The various, diverse confessions in the Book of Confessions help us honor our ancestors. They are testimonies to faith. To use them as tests of faith misconstrues their particular historical contexts as well as our contemporary contexts.

The simple truth is that we don't live in the 17th century. Or the 16th, 4th, or 1st. Even the 20th. We honor those who lived in those times. We learn from them. We can even be guided by them but we are not beholden to their provisional truths, including the truths of the Bible. What was true then is not necessarily true today. We have to determine what is true and take responsibility for it on our own.

It is that simple.
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