Saturday, June 28, 2008

Post-Assembly Depression

As this year's General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA closes, I am again confronted with a very sobering and depressing reality. I must again face the fact that I am a minister in a denomination that is woefully unfaithful to Christ and the Scriptures, and that is led by false leaders (which is generally what God sends a group of people in consequence of their persistent disobedience to God.)

However, this time I am more depressed than in previous General Assembly years. The patent absurdities and blatant God-rejecting actions of this Assembly are beyond anything I have ever seen before (and I was a commissioner at the Syracuse Assembly (209th) in 1997, and that was pretty weird). For the first time in my 27 years as a PCUSA minister, I believe I must seriously start looking at what it means to live life as a disciple of Jesus who is affiliated with a group other than the PCUSA.

Has the PCUSA become so self-negating in relevancy and theological integrity that it has "broken covenant" with all Christians who are seeking to live faithful lives as disciples of Jesus Christ?

There are lots of things I could refer to and write about from this last week, but I will highlight two key and, perhaps for me, decisive actions that reveal the absurdity of this "no thought" assembly. First of all is the action to "investigate" the alleged practice of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in "persuading" PCUSA congregations to leave for the EPC. Only the most unthinking and unaware minds could ever miss the obvious reasons why churches are leaving the PCUSA, but apparently there was a large gathering of these minds in the San Jose Assembly. They were apparently willing to drink the "Louisville kool aid" which asserts that churches must be "drawn away" from the PCUSA in order to leave. This means being blind to all the reasons within the PCUSA itself which almost compel churches to leave. Let's not face our own faults, but instead blame them on a handy scapegoat, and what scapegoat is more handy than a member of our own Reformed family!

But the part where this action really becomes absurd is when we considered the background of other actions (see reference 1 below) by this assembly seeking to dialogue and improve relationships with Muslim, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic communities. Apparently, we are more desiring of working with groups such as Muslims who consider us to be lower than dogs and at the best, depraved infidels (though in this case I beginning to think the Muslims may have a point) than we are with a sister Reformed fellowship that just happens to be staying more true to our mission goals than we are. Again, we are apparently more concerned to please and placate our standing with the Anglican churches, who consider our lack of bishops an insurmountable flaw in our ecclesiology, than another Reformed body that has done a wonderful job of practicing the biblical mandate for equality between "clergy" and "laity." And one more time, we are more anxious to seek dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, who in official declarations have declared us to be "defective separatist" who are outside the main succession of the Apostles' teaching and authority, than we are with another Reformed church that freely recognizes as part of the whole church any Christian group where the Spirit is present and active. But no, we are going to accuse and persecute the Evangelical Presbyterians who are our closest family members while we seek friendship with those who think we are very deficient Christians at best or who loathe and detest us at worst.

(Let me be clear that I am for open dialogue with any group, fellow Christian or otherwise. I just think it is absurd to say we are seeking this with other groups when we are not extending the same courtesy to the EPC. This make us stink like the hypocrisy attacked by Jesus, where we are "white washed tombs" filled with "dead men's bones." Matthew 23:27-28)

Then there is the second key thing that has really got my Calvinistic goat, and that is the incredible absurdity of the actions regarding "retranslating" the Heidelberg Catechism. Of course, this is all to get rid of the word "homosexuality" in a negative wording in the text. This has nothing at all to do with anything to do with historical integrity or a search for the truth. In my learning about the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, it was always emphasized in my congregational experience and in my seminary training that the confessions guide us in part by being snapshots of the church at a certain time and place, and by showing us how different Christian communities have responded to the issues of their day in seeking to be faithful. In this way, some of the less noble aspects of our confessions were still instructive because they served as honest examples of how previous Christians sought to live out their faith. In the confessions we see both successes and failures in doing this, and thus the confessions teach us and guide us in our faithfulness today through their historical integrity.

Now, we find a new expectation being applied, which, if logically followed, would mandate the constant rewriting of all the confessions. Now, we are told, the Heidelberg Catechism must be "retranslated" to reflect where we are at as a church today at this time and place. Apparently, all the confessions should reflect who we are now. If this is so, we need to gut the Scots Confession to get rid of all the negative slams on the Roman Catholic Church. We need to rewrite the Barmen Declaration because it is very tied to the rising threat of National Socialism in Germany. Certainly, we are no longer in the same place politically anymore. And God knows not many of us PCUSA'ers relate well to the Trinitarian language in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Certainly, those demand some extensive revision to reflect "who we are today."

And why is it that a true reflection of who we are as a church just happens to be politically and theologically liberal? I guess I missed the declaration made by some authoritative body somewhere that "we" are all theological "progressives." So much for any evangelical, orthodox, or conservative's (that is to say, my) "freedom of conscience." Apparently, such freedom is the province of the liberal mind alone.

Anyway, this is what I'm thinking today as I work through my post-Assembly depression. Sometimes I think the PCUSA could do very well if we could eliminate General Assemblies altogether. They seldom ever help the rank and file in the churches, and more often than not bring us grief and torment. I've been able to keep most of the work of past assemblies, both positive and negative, in a hopeful and tolerant perspective, but this assembly has me wondering for the first time if the end has finally come to the PCUSA, or at least, maybe the end of the PCUSA has come for me!

Reference 1: Actions of GA relating to EPC and other groups.
On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities
On Response to an Invitation to Interfaith Dialogue. (Baltimore)
On Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities. (Chicago)
Mutual Recognition of Baptism with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Committee on Ecumenical Relations)
Episcopal Presbyterian Agreement. (Com. on Ecumenical relations)
On Investigating the Actions and Conduct of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. (Peace River Presbytery)