Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NCC Holds the Line...in contempt

Can someone please tell me why the anti-Trinitarian heretics of the Swedenborgian Church were granted admission to the NCC?

Can someone please tell me why the PCUSA is funding the NCC so extravagantly while we starve our own missionaries?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Correspondence on discipline and doctrine

Here's my initial email.

Rich,

I'm heartsick as I write this, but I don't know to whom I should turn.

Is Holston Presbytery aware of the theological positions of John Shuck? He broadcasts them on his blog, casting vitriolic derision on anyone who asks why a Presbyterian minister denounces the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the unique/ontological divinity of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Many (if not most) of his "theological explorations" end up equating God with the universe, or some other panentheistic concept. This is most repugnant because it represents a thorough collapse of Trinitarian Godhead. Given the level of misuse and neglect of the Trinity throughout our denomination (on both "sides"), the last seems especially troubling.

Am I alone in my concern for both him and the sheep entrusted to his care? I've gone to him personally, and communicated privately and semi-publicly. I'm not sure what else I can do

--
Chris


Here's the response I got.

Chris,

Thanks for your email.

You ask, "Is Holston Presbytery aware of the…" I can't speak for all of Holston Presbytery… but I can speak for myself and in regard to the Constitution of the PCUSA. So, let me try to address those concerns from my perspective and the Constitution.

I am aware of John Shuck's blog site. John is free to express his opinions and theological views—although much of what is on his blog are the viewpoints of other scholars and theologians—even if they are different from yours or mine or even mainstream Presbyterianism. John (and any ordained officer or church member, for that matter) is not free to depart from the practice of Presbyterian polity or Scripture.

The examination of officers and candidates for ordination is where an individual's conduct and beliefs are tested and judged by the Constitutional standards and according to the session's or presbytery's sense of orthodoxy. Church discipline in the PCUSA is designed to bring about repentance, reconciliation and restoration for those who have acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA.

John has appropriately and Constitutionally been examined by the Committee on Ministry, approved for membership in Holston Presbytery, and John has affirmed the Constitutional Questions required of ordination. I am not aware that John has acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA. (Just as I am not aware that you have acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA.)

I and the Committee on Ministry are charged with the responsibility of caring for pastors and congregations. Ideally, as the entire body of Christ, we all care for one another. So, my answer to your question, "Am I alone in my concern for [John] and the sheep entrusted to his care?" would be "No, you, Chris, are not alone."

Richard L. Fifield

I've sent comments along to other ministers within our presbytery, asking them to talk with John or the COM or the EP. No response has been given.

I was always proud (in a good way) to be from Holston. Good work is going on there. The gospel is being faithfully proclaimed (in word and in deed) by presbyters, deacons, and "laity." But when it comes to exercising discipline (formal or otherwise) against "troubler(s) of Israel," I'm guessing this is going to go in pretty much one direction.

I imagine that my CPM will see this as further evidence that I'm too adversarial to lead a church. Maybe. I doubt that the "heretics" at the various congregations I've served would say so. I'll talk Spong and Borg with them, and gently express what criticisms (and true statements) I find therein. But they are church members. Sometimes they are officers - but none are ministers.

As I read Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, the most pastoral approach to take with people that are unsteady in their doctrine is an educational one backed up by prayer for illumination and kindness. But this is not acceptable with those who would teach and lead. To turn a blind eye or deaf ear is not only unloving to the person who is stumbling in their doctrine, it's downright hateful to those who are under their teaching authority.

When I spoke with a friend in the Renewal network, I was asked if this was a hill I was willing to die on. The answer is "yes." I will risk my future in the PCUSA in order to clarify our denominational position towards those who mock the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus and decry God's merciful provision of salvation through Christ as mere exclusivist provincialism.

To that end, here are my public questions of complaint.

1. I'm not a polity guy, so there are things that aren't always clear to me. But my reading of the "shall" statements in our Directory for Worship (especially 2.2007, 3.3101(1), and 3.3401d) seem to necessitate that sermons be based upon the Scriptures. Would that mean that sermons based on the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary are acts contrary to our Constitution?

2. If doctrine doesn't matter, why would Timothy be instructed to watch both his life and his doctrine , because his (and his hearers') salvation was impacted by it?

3. Is preaching about the rotting body of Jesus an acceptable position within Holston Presbytery?

The problem isn't that Mr. Shuck reads and posts about these things. I'm all for that sort of freedom. The problem is that he believes them - so convinced is he of the truth that the Bible is not inspired (a belief he sees as sentimental at best, spurious, pernicious, and moot at worst), Jesus' body is still in the grave, and that there is no afterlife that he PREACHES these doctrines from a pulpit of Holston Presbytery. He veers dangerously close to (if not into) gnosticism, docetism, and unitarianism. If these doctrines - which are condemned by the Church catholic - are acceptable in a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in our denomination, then I need to know now before vows bind me any further.

As for me, there seems to be a veiled implication of my activity that is contrary to Scripture or our Constitution. I must admit that I have acted contrary to both. When I see the standards of righteousness and justice set before me in the pages of Holy Writ, I know that I not only fail to meet them but in many cases I willfully transgress. When I led a catechism class through the Westminster commentary on the Decalogue, I caught a renewed sense of my error (both in omission and commission). I was also driven even more forcefully to Christ as my only righteousness before the Godhead (and a foreign righteousness, at that).

That's why resurrection is such a big deal to me. I sin in my body and in my mind. And Paul declares that Jesus was raised for my justification ( Rom. 4:25). If Jesus is just a man, then he died for his own sins and not for mine - and that leaves me with a vain faith and no hope.

I have spoken with Mr. Shuck personally. I have communicated with him electronically. A number of ministers and elders from around the country have communicated with him and he still does not recant. I have no other option but to ask the church to intervene - for his sake and for the sake of his hearers. And if this action is considered unloving, mean-spirited, or arrogant then I need to go somewhere else, because I can almost guarantee that at some point in the future, I'll need a loving rebuke too.

Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir! Amen.