Shuck and Jive

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

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Make No Vow

The amendments to the Book of Order are listed on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) site in pdf. The one that will generate the most conversation is Amendment B. I plan to vote for it, of course. See the sidebar for resources regarding it.

I plan to vote for all of the amendments (except Amendment A). This is the "vows for membership" addition to G-5.0200:


“G-5.0200
“2. Membership Vows
“After new members are examined, affirming their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and are received by the session, whether by profession of faith, certificate of transfer, or reaffirmation of faith, they shall be presented to and welcomed by the congregation during a service of worship where they shall make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as do confirmands (W-4.2003a, b, and c).”

Granted, the original proposal considered by the General Assembly was more restrictive. I posted about it here, Making Certain Fewer People Can Join Your Church.

As I posted earlier, this amendment started when a congregation was taken to church court for admitting to membership an individual who I would describe as progressive. He had legitimate questions about theological language.

This "vow" amendment is to make sure his kind don't darken the doors of any church.

Conservative churches can and do make all kinds of rules about who will join their congregations. I don't particularly care. So why do they care when progressive congregations welcome people into their congregations?

Answer: because they are controlling and have antiquated theological views to which they demand everyone subscribes.


I hear a common theme among those who come to my congregation. It goes something like this:

"I would never go to any church, but I like yours because you don't tell me how I have to believe."

We appeal to those who don't want to be forced to repeat theological language that lacks meaning. This "vow" amendment is designed to keep progressive congregations from growing. It is a bullying amendment.

Check this article in the Pew Forum, "Unaffiliated" Show Biggest Change Among U.S. Faith Groups.

Americans who aren't part of a religious organization or who identify as an atheist or an agnostic represent the biggest change among U.S. religious groups, according to a study released Monday (Feb. 25) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates that about 16 percent of America's 225 million adults are unaffiliated with a religion.

When "childhood religion" is compared against "current religion," the unaffiliated show a net increase of 8.8 percentage points, compared to a 7.5 point loss among Catholics, for example, or a 2.6 percent loss among Protestants.

The study, however, also makes it clear that the "unaffiliated" aren't necessarily living out a strictly secular life.

"There is a sizeable number of Americans who are not affiliated with any particular religious group but who nonetheless have religious beliefs or engage in a variety of religious practices," the study said.

Among the "unaffiliated," only about a quarter identified themselves as non-believers (atheists or agnostics). The remaining three-quarters were those who reported "nothing in particular" when asked about their religious affiliation.

Barry Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture in Hartford, Conn., said many Americans are unaffiliated simply because they are dissatisfied with the current religious offerings. (Read More)

Presbyterians, like most mainline congregations, lose their young people not to fundamentalist mega-churches as much as to nothing. These open-minded people don't like to be told what and how to believe.

St. Andrews Presbyterian (the congregation taken to church court) is one of many progressive congregations that is reaching the unaffiliated. We do too. You don't reach this group with dogma and the forced recitation of theological slogans.

I hope that you moderates, even though you may disagree with me on theological issues, will vote against this amendment. You don't have to reach this population if you don't want to do so. Please don't hinder us from reaching them.


24 comments:

  1. I agree with you, John. Amendment A is about control.

    Being a Christian, for me, is much less about particular beliefs in God and Jesus than it is about how we should treat each other. Jesus didn't teach about what to believe. He taught about how to live. Professions of faith such as Amendment A are shallow.

    The reason I joined your church is because of its emphasis on caring for others, being inclusive and seeking to do what is right, as opposed to believing in the right theology. It's not as though any kind of profession of faith is going to do anything besides move us towards isolation and exclusion, especially when it takes such a position of priority in being requisite for membership.

    The fact that our congregation sings the words of Micah 6:8 is very meaningful to me. I see others in the congregation with tears in their eyes during the song. The words are, "What does the Lord require of you? To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." For me, this is the heart of Christianity and it beautifully reflects the spirit of our church.

    I have a friend who is senior pastor at a presbyterian church whose mission statement says that their church "exists to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, reflecting our Reformed convictions and relating to contemporary culture." Give me a sanctimonious break! I just can't buy into that. It's vainglorious, self-congratulatory and in my mind it totally misses Jesus' message.
    I feel the same way about he language in Amendment A. The center of amendment A is on making "a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior." If the Amendment said something about making a public profession to try to live as Jesus said we should, I'd feel a differently. Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Shouldn't some of that wee notion be reflected in joining to demonstrate the relative importance of things Christian? Amendment A subordinates Jesus' commandment to a statement of faith, because to some folks, control is a big deal.

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  2. Hey, I'm back from the weekend with my kids at the Ren. Fair. It was great. And, I have some of the neatest silver, Celtic jewelry. I love the design of the Celtic knot, an ancient symbol of the trinity.

    But, let me get this straight. You are thinking it is not good for folks to affirm Jesus Christ as Savior, and Lord before actually joining the Christian church???

    As far as I can see, the only folks that will be turned off to this are those who are not really Christian believers to start with. Why then, would they look for baptism, and want to join the Christian church?

    Granted, I agree that we should not be conducting orthodox litmus tests at the door. We need to be loving, and welcoming toward everyone, definitely willing to hang out with seekers.

    But, I think it's important to be honest with people about what our churches are all about, not pull some kind of bait, and switch later on, or pretend that the content of the "good news," doesn't really matter to us.

    Someone might totally agree with the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, and yet reject the work of the cross. We're about more than simply works righteousness, doing good deeds.

    Still, I think the issue really resolves itself. If our clergy are faithful to lovingly proclaim the truth of the gospel, and the historic faith of the church, people who are open to that, and seeking will be drawn to us.

    And, if not, we need to be honest about that to, and commend all of us to God. I don't see that people are necessarily helped spiritually simply by being part of the institutional church with their hearts and minds far from the "good news." What are we trying to reach them with exactly? Can you see what I mean, or not?

    Jodie, I want to respond to something you mentioned far down on another thread, if you're still around. I think you misunderstand where I'm at. To my mind, we can learn stuff everywhere from everyone. All truth is God's truth. I'm open to that. And, I'm feeling everything we are is ultimately by the grace, and mercy of the Lord. (It's not that anyone of us have it altogether spiritually, or have every answer.)

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  3. Amendment A subordinates Jesus' commandment to a statement of faith, because to some folks, control is a big deal.

    Precisely. That answers Grace's same tired comment she makes every time she visits.

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  4. Will you explain, John? I don't understand your comment.

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  5. I think readers interested in this topic would enjoy Tim Keller's sermon on Absolutism. Jesus said that the Pharisees wanted control in the way they were acting. So, the theory that Amendment A is about control, should be taken seriously. Keller offers suggestions on how to determine if we should always assume any statement is about control. The sermon would also make this question a question that should be taken seriously: Is the opposition to Amendment A about control?

    Enjoy the sermon.

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  6. WHUMP...WHUMP...WHUMP...

    That's the sound of Flycandler's dead horse named "Five Fundamentals".

    Long story short: for over 80 years, mainline Presbyterians have deliberately rejected calls for "checklists of belief" for ordination and membership. The church split, somewhat violently, over this, and we have more or less resisted attempts to enforce another checklist.

    We do require a profession of faith in Christ in order to become a member of the PC(USA). That has not changed. What this amendment would change would be to require, for all intents and purposes, a signed contract of what one believes. And that's antithetical to us.

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  7. Fly, isn't to affirm a profession of faith in Christ, and to affirm Jesus as Lord, just a different way of expressing the samething?

    I think this is a different issue than the five fundamentals, though. Christians might disagree about even the manner of Christ's birth, or differ concerning theories of the atonement.

    But, there is no one who can profess Christian faith in the most basic sense, and reject Jesus as Savior, and Lord at the sametime.

    Or, am I misunderstanding this whole thing??

    From the outside looking in anyway, I wouldn't see this so much as an issue of control, as just showing a concern for people spiritually, and for the whole witness, and unity of the church.

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  8. Or, am I misunderstanding this whole thing??

    Yup.

    From the outside looking in anyway, I wouldn't see this so much as an issue of control, as just showing a concern for people spiritually, and for the whole witness, and unity of the church.

    Then you might be interested in reading on what led up to this amendment.

    I will spell it out:

    1) Progressive congregation welcomes member.

    2) Right wing people in the presbytery take church to court. (Savor that one for a moment).

    3) Amendment introduced to General Assembly (from this presbytery) to make it easier for right wing churches to control progressive churches, by requiring litmus test slogans.

    Is there a larger issue at work? Of course. It has to do with...

    1) the honest, searching question of what it means to be a Christian today, and

    2) the controlling question of how much blood the right wing will shed to make sure that question one has only one answer--theirs.

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  9. Someone once noted that Christians define themselves by what they believe, and Jews define themselves by how they live.

    Just a thought.

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  10. I think that is a good thought, David.

    St. Andrew PC and our congregation both affirm the 8 points of Progressive Christianity.

    This is point 5:

    Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.

    And point 6 follows:

    Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes.

    Obviously, Dr. Jensen (among others) values that as well. He is a good representative of the kind of person attracted to a progressive church and, who in turn, progressive churches seek to involve in their communities.

    So...the very thing we hold as most important is the thing being hassled. (I won't say persecuted since I don't want to be dramatic).

    Yet one can guess that I am (not just a little) angry about what happened in Mission Presbytery and this amendment to our constitution which that inquisition has given birth.

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  11. John, in reading this man's personal witness, I'm thinking that he is hurting, searching, and confused spiritually.

    From my perspective, it would have been wiser to be welcoming, and encouraging to him, but to teach and counsel better concerning what membership in the Christian church is actually all about.

    I'm thinking, though, among other things, of the parable of the wheat and tares, and would think it very wrong to be rejecting, and simply bounce this guy out of church. What would Jesus do?

    My huge concern right now would be if any one in this congregation actually cares if this wonderful man ever does come to trust in Christ as Savior, and Lord??

    Or, do they just care if folks agree with all of these political, and social concerns, and to have interesting philosophical discussion?

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  12. John, in reading this man's personal witness,

    Thanks, Grace, for taking time to read what he has written. That means a lot.

    I'm thinking that he is hurting, searching, and confused spiritually.

    Well, maybe. But are you any different?

    From my perspective, it would have been wiser to be welcoming, and encouraging to him, but to teach and counsel better concerning what membership in the Christian church is actually all about.

    I think the congregation did that and said that he qualifies with their understanding of what the church is about.

    My huge concern right now would be if any one in this congregation actually cares if this wonderful man ever does come to trust in Christ as Savior, and Lord??

    I have no idea what that means. All I hear you doing is reciting Christian night language at best, slogans at worst, for an experience of psychic or social well-being.

    I think most folks, including the folks at St. Andrew's would hope that people experience that.

    Or, do they just care if folks agree with all of these political, and social concerns, and to have interesting philosophical discussion?

    I suppose you could dismiss the ministry of this congregation in that way if it made you feel better about yourself. I for one, think that they do some pretty courageous and important work.

    In fact, I will go so far as to say that they follow the message and ministry of Jesus more than most.

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  13. Is it valuable if I question the premise behind point 6 of Progressive Christianity? ;-)

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  14. John, do you really not understand what I'm saying at all? How can it be possible?

    I'm not trying to dismiss the social concerns that these people have. Of course not. Why would you even think this?

    There is something wrong with a church, conservative, or more progressive, that doesn't care about social concerns. I don't think they can be following Jesus, either.

    But, this isn't all that the Christian church is about by far.

    John, we're going around in circles with each other.

    I'll back away from our discussion here. Kind of at an impasse. Loss of words right now.

    Appreciate your hanging in with me alot, and for sharing. Also, think your work with PFlag is totally awesome. (Just wanted to tell you that before, I go.)

    Sincerely,
    Grace.

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  15. John, do you really not understand what I'm saying at all? How can it be possible?

    I will let you off the hook a little here, Grace. It isn't just you. But you are a fine representative of folks who use religious language in a similar way.

    I grew up with that language (ie. "know the Lord") and thought I knew what it meant. I now realize that the language is mostly rhetoric without content. Many evangelicals seem to think that it is self-explanatory.

    That language has no meaning or resonance with more and more people. Or it means something totally unrelated to what it means for evangelicals.

    I'm not trying to dismiss the social concerns that these people have. Of course not. Why would you even think this?

    Because you wrote it:

    Or, do they just care if folks agree with all of these political, and social concerns, and to have interesting philosophical discussion?

    I don't take personal, social, political, and global well-being lightly. In fact, I would find it difficult to think of anything more important for the church to be about.

    You also wrote:

    But, this isn't all that the Christian church is about by far.

    OK. I'll bite. Tell me what the church is about. I know you are astounded that I make that challenge. The Christian church has assumed that it knows the "problem" and has the "solution." It has assumed it for so long that it feels no need to explain itself.

    The church has spoken of problem and solution in coded theological language that in effect has become empty symbol.

    If these symbols (ie. Lord and Savior) were once meaningful to people when the earth was flat and heaven was up above and people needed saving from hell by a Lord who is a supernatural being who became a human, that stuff no longer cuts it.

    This mythology is just that, mythology with little more meaning than the myths of Zeus and Hera.

    What are progressives to do with the inherited religious language?

    1) Believe and shut up.
    2) Throw it out and the Christian tradition with it.
    3) Find a way to reinterpret it by exploring what this language might have originally meant in its context.
    4) Start with (3) and then utilize what is salvageable from the Christian wisdom tradition as a resource (among others, especially science) for helping us cope with and speak to and engage in our great work here at the beginning of the 21st century--a significant time for the future of humanity and Earth.

    I and folks like Robert Jensen and St. Andrew are probably going with option 4. This is why we need St. Andrews and Robert Jensen and those who care about Earth and humanity to participate in this sacred work of Earthkeeping.

    Appreciate your hanging in with me alot, and for sharing. Also, think your work with PFlag is totally awesome. (Just wanted to tell you that before, I go.)

    Grace, thank you for your kind words about PFLAG and about our discussion. I do appreciate your willingness to keep coming back and forcing me to clarify my thinking!

    And I think you are a sincere person who wants to do the right thing, and who does the right thing!

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  16. Thank you for your kind words.

    John, the reason I'm astounded is because you are an ordained Presbyterian clergyman. I love you, but I don't understand, and even more I can't fathom why the leaders of your presbytery are not totally grieved, and concerned for you, and your congregation. It blows me away.

    You are this wonderful, caring man who is doing so many good things. What's happened here is a tragedy, and the church's lose.

    Please don't be offended. Try to understand that I'm not trying to be malicious, or judgemental, but I genuinely care, and mean the best.

    Hear me out, and if ever you are upset with my comments, or think we've shared enough together, feel free to be honest with me, and I'll back away from our discussion.

    I certainly don't believe that the earth is flat, or that there are angels playing their harps "up there" floating in the clouds, either. I've never met any adult Christian who thinks in this way.

    And, yet the affirmation of Jesus as Lord is at the center of my life. A relationship with Him has made all the difference. I've seen people come to faith in Christ, and be totally transformed. How can this not be considered meaningful, and relevant?

    It's not just about "night language," but the reality behind the language, the living Lord.

    Some of the most intelligent, educated, and caring people I know are orthodox Christians. I've mentioned before to you concerning people like Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the human genome project. He came to faith in Christ from an atheistic/agnostic kind of background. This man is probably one of the most prominent scientist in the entire world.


    I just can't consider the reality of the incarnation to be myth like the tales of Zeus, and Hera.

    Plus, to backtrack abit. I think there is a misconception of the thinking of folks in pre-modern times. Do you know that there were ancient Greeks who understood the earth was a sphere?

    And, there were plenty of folks in pre-modern times who were also skeptical, and had a hard time swallowing the apostolic witness concerning Jesus.

    Just to give one example, consider the testimony of Paul before King Agrippa. (Acts 26.) I mean, this man thought Paul was literally out of his mind. Others totally mocked at any mention of the resurrection.

    When I read through the book of Acts, naturalistic bias aside, I'm not sensing at all the flavor of myth here.

    I actually think that philosophical naturalism is truly the myth of our time. Many people are totally conditioned by this in contemporary culture. And, of course, it impacts their view of the divine as well.

    They've placed any concept of god in this narrow, rationalistic box, as if the Almighty can be totally limited by finite, human reason. This doesn't make sense to me really even from a rational human point of view.

    And, as I've shared, I can't see that the reality of the incarnation can ever be culturally bound.

    I think Jesus Christ is the hope of the entire world, and that the church exists to reconcile all people to God, and to each other in Christ.

    I do think it's important to share the "good news," in ways that are culturally relevant, and to avoid using terms that unchurched folks may not understand. We do have to contextualize the gospel.

    I mean my idea of "evangelical outreach," is not to walk up to someone, and ask out of the blue,"Have you been saved, or washed in the blood of the lamb?"

    Does this help?

    Sincerely,
    Grace.

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  17. John, the reason I'm astounded is because you are an ordained Presbyterian clergyman. I love you, but I don't understand, and even more I can't fathom why the leaders of your presbytery are not totally grieved, and concerned for you, and your congregation.

    Ha! I suppose some are. If they want to come and get me, they know where to find me.

    You are this wonderful, caring man who is doing so many good things.

    Thanks.

    What's happened here is a tragedy,

    What happened at St. Andrews Church is a tragedy. Mission Presbytery should be ashamed of itself. Even so, "tragedy" is over the top. I tend to reserve that word for untimely deaths and disasters.

    All right, Grace, let's get to it. You wrote:

    And, yet the affirmation of Jesus as Lord is at the center of my life. A relationship with Him has made all the difference. I've seen people come to faith in Christ, and be totally transformed. How can this not be considered meaningful, and relevant?

    It's not just about "night language," but the reality behind the language, the living Lord.


    No. The "living Lord" is the night language for the experience you are referencing. You choose to use religious language and you think you really are speaking with and having a relationship with a god. It is perfectly understandable since the church has been telling people to do that and to sing hymns about it and so forth for centuries.

    I don't think it is a bad thing. In fact, Hindus do it as well by conversing with their ishta devata. Most religious people communicate with their deities.

    It doesn't mean the deities are real. They are symbols. But I suppose that people have to think they are real in some sense in order to talk with them.

    Now that it is an interesting question. Do you have to believe your goddess is real in order to have a relationship with her?

    Bottom line, Grace. I don't desire to be mean to you, to trash your faith, or anything. I have no desire to convince you of anything. I don't think that your views are a "tragedy."

    I don't think you would have much fun at my church or at St. Andrews. But there are thousands upon thousands of other churches.

    That is the point of this post. Believe it or not, not all people are interested in your religion. They are not all interested in mine.

    But, some are interested in mine that are not interested in yours and they never will be interested in yours. And you never will be interested in theirs.

    So, let us minister to those who are interested in us. OK?

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  18. John, the reason I'm astounded is because you are an ordained Presbyterian clergyman. I love you, but I don't understand, and even more I can't fathom why the leaders of your presbytery are not totally grieved, and concerned for you, and your congregation.

    Here's the answer:

    "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

    For further reading, see The Auburn Affirmation.

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  19. Thanks, Fly! I love it when the system helps me.

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  20. Ah, ((John)) I want to cry. What you're doing is morally, and ethically wrong. And, not all are blind to see it.

    You're using your position of trust, and authority, mouthing traditional sounding terminology, to introduce a radically different faith into the structure of the church, using the resources of the PCUSA.

    Please don't continue down this wrong, and deceitful path. Come back to Christ, and to the gospel. You're loved, and we need you.

    I won't post here again. But, I'm holding both of us in prayer, and trusting God.

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  21. Grace,

    I deleted my last comment and have posted this instead as a reply. I know this conversation has caused anxiety for you. For my responsibility in that, I am sorry.

    Peace be with you.

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  22. John, our conversation has not caused anxiety, but grief.

    But, I will post here again, just will back off abit, and give some space. And, thank you for your caring.

    Peace be with you, also.

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  23. Thanks Grace. Your comment was a bit sharp, but I think I understand where you are coming from and where others who feel as you do are coming from, even as I see things differently. I made new post about it.

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