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.

7 comments:

Alan said...

"Any doctrine... that attempts to subordinate biblical authority to any human authority, cultural norm, or ideology..."

Like...oh, for example, having to swear loyalty to a group of so-called "essential" tenets written by the Presbytery of Stockton? (I assume they simply forgot to include the part about kissing the EP's ring, right?) Gotta love the irony that they wrote a sentence that couldn't be more obviously self-contradictory. I'm glad to see they have a sense of humor!

BTW, I thought I was doing pretty well on their True Believer Checklist (tm), but then I realized that since I do not believe in a geocentric universe, I am clearly not orthodox.

(As I keep arguing, PCUSA fundamentalists are simply frustrated Catholics. They claim marriage is a sacrament, they hold Catholic views of ordination, they desire dictatorial polity, and now they're retrying Galileo.)

"I happen to like the Book of Confessions. But this summary that has been adopted by the Presbytery of Stockton is a distortion..."

Oh, John, you know the BoC is just too damned long and difficult for people to actually read! So thank goodness there's now no reason to read it for yourself! That's why we have the Presbytery of Stockton, so that they can give us poor stupid louts only the important gobbets. It saves us from having to read ... or think. They've created and adopted the Cliffs Notes version. Cliffs Notes Confessions for Cliffs Notes Christians. Hardly surprising.

Next up: Lie Detector Tests for ordination. Or seeing if people float like a duck.

You've heard of Poe's Law, right?

rick allen said...

I think the word you're looking for is "ghetto."

Religious grottos are actually very nice.

John Shuck said...

No, actually I did mean grotto. I borrowed from Roy Hoover in his article Tradition and Faith in a New Era.

Jodie said...

(As I keep arguing, PCUSA fundamentalists are simply frustrated Catholics. They claim marriage is a sacrament, they hold Catholic views of ordination, they desire dictatorial polity, and now they're retrying Galileo.)

That's more true than you know. I know at least 3 Roman Catholics that actually converted from Presbyterianism. Fundamentalist Presbyterianism, that is.

Nice people. But they don't like to think for themselves when it comes to faith.

rick allen said...

"Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition...."

So you did mean "grotto." Sorry.

Still, it strikes me as a rather inept metaphor. No one lives in a grotto, or a shrine, or a sanctuary. But those of us who live ninety-nine per cent of our time in the "secular world," amidst our gadgets and technology and stuff and stress and entertainment, like occasionally to visit an enclave of the holy, and don't see any contradiction between that and living in the contemporary world.

Indeed, the gentleman's constant invocation of Galileo seems strangely ahistorical. Galileo may have been treated stupidly and unjustly, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that Galileo saw no deep contradiction between his faith and the new science. Take a look at his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.

John Shuck said...

Galileo may have been treated stupidly and unjustly, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that Galileo saw no deep contradiction between his faith and the new science.

The issue isn't about how he was treated or what he believed as a person but the effect of his findings.

I think I did misuse the metaphor by saying "live in the grotto." I meant it in the way Hoover said. The point being is that our religious heritage has become nothing more than a quaint museum piece, suitable for a grotto. Our ancestors believed their religious language described the universe. Our conception of the universe has changed and the question is whether our religious language that was created in a pre-modern era works for today.

One option is the sacred grotto option. Treat it like a Harry Potter film. It is a fantasy world you escape to before coming back to the real world where you live your life.

But those of us who live ninety-nine per cent of our time in the "secular world," amidst our gadgets and technology and stuff and stress and entertainment, like occasionally to visit an enclave of the holy, and don't see any contradiction between that and living in the contemporary world.

That is not necessarily a bad option. That may be as it washes out, the best we can hope for regarding our Christian tradition.

The fundamentalist option, like our friends in Stockton Presbytery want to impose on everyone is to pretend that our modern view of the universe still can squeeze in to the ancient language. This allows them to come up with absurdities like the Bible being more authoritative about the "secular world" than modern ways of knowing and that claims miracles are historical facts and what have you.

For me, I am not satisfied either with reducing faith to a fantasy I visit on Sundays on one hand to fundamentalism on the other.

I say the 99% secular world is sacred. I want the Christian faith to speak to the world I live in. I admit, in fact, everyday I become more convinced, that it isn't up to the job, yet I remain hopeful.

tangwystyl said...

I was taught to say what they want to hear so you could actually get ordained. Answer the questions, say as little as possible and if anyone on the floor of Presbytery asks you if you believe in the virgin birth, you say yes. Ordination exams and questions on the floor are not the time to venture with your own beliefs, but to tell them what they want to hear.