The foundation of Orthodoxy is gone from the PCUSA part 1
I have only recently become aware of David Robert Ord’s article posted on the PCUSA web site, as a clearly approved way of explaining what it is that Presbyterians believe about the Bible and biblical interpretation. This is the foundation of the mountainous theological errors of the PCUSA and other mainline denominations. I believe that it is vital that we read this article, which I will be including in full in my reflections, and understand the beliefs. It astounds me that such muddled thinking and horrendous theology permeates every nook and cranny of the PCUSA. You would think that being a pessimist by nature I would not find such reflections to be so offensive, but I continue to be outraged by the heresy that is espoused at all levels of this denomination with no discipline being administered.
If I were to summarize the position of David Ord, it is this: views on biblical revelation and interpretation are gray areas of Christian faith – they are not essential – what might be considered essential is toleration for a wide variety of views, which then makes no one view essential, only toleration of others views. This is the modern sense of the idea of toleration which holds that all views are of equal worth and value.
Let us take a look at the text of this article. I will include my comments in blue.
“You can prove anything from the Bible,” a person who knows little about the Bible assures me. As a Presbyterian minister with a deep respect for the Bible, I recognize that there is both truth and error in that statement. Error, inasmuch as the Bible obviously can’t be used to support every imaginable viewpoint. Truth, inasmuch as Presbyterians reach different conclusions on the same issue and support their conclusions with Scripture. For some of us the message of the Bible is consistent from Genesis to Revelation. To say the Bible is inspired is to say it is accurate and factual–and therefore contains only one viewpoint, that of the Creator. If other people arrive at different beliefs from reading the same Scriptures, it is obvious to us that the problem lies with interpretation. Either the scribes who copied the manuscripts
misinterpreted what they were copying and introduced error, or the person reading it is misinterpreting the meaning.
Can the author show significant scribal errors within our current Greek texts, that would affect any major doctrine of orthodoxy? No. This author simply makes this claim as an aside and the issue is settled that at least that possibility exists. This is a devious and deceptive tactic that should have no place with a so-called Christian denomination, unless that denomination is apostate.) To simply say, “either the scribes who copied the manuscript misinterpreted what they were copying and introduced error…” creates an agnostic view of the reliability of scripture. Unless this author is willing to give clear examples where scribes introduced theologically significant error that is at the heart of any of the essentials of Christian orthodoxy, I would suggest that he cease making such asides.
The fact is we have highly reliable copies of the texts of the New Testament. The science and literary work done with ancient extant copies has advanced to the point where most New Testament scholars (liberal or evangelical) believe that there is little more to accomplish. The few words & phrases that scholars argue & squabble over are of very minor consequence and affect no central doctrine of Orthodox Christianity. Those who argue that we cannot know how close our copies are to the original texts are arguing either from ignorance or are attempting to deceive.
For others of us, the Bible can be used to support a variety of different beliefs and ideas because it actually contains, not a monolithic point of view, but different points of view. These differing ideas were expressed, not just by named writers, but by sometimes quite large groups schools of thought such as priests and scribes, cloaked by a particular name like Moses over a period of about a thousand years. Battling about the meaning of the Bible is not new, not an innovation of the modern division between conservatives and liberals. There have always been a variety of different ways of interpreting Scripture.
Two major assumptions arise in this paragraph. The first is that if there are differing views of interpretation of a text, and that we cannot with any assurance claim one meaning for the text. This is absurd. If I were to interpret the above sentences of this author to mean that Christians should utterly ignore everything in the Bible because the different authors were hopelessly conflicted is to do a disservice to his writing. My interpretation would clearly be seen as extremely unlikely and clearly wrong, so too with the majority of biblical interpreters. Second, the author clearly has accepted higher critical readings and the documentary hypothesis of mainline liberal schools. Possibly the author does not realize that this kind of scholarship has been attacked and criticized by a great deal of scholarship in the last several decades, and is now viewed with a great deal of skepticism by many that used to advocate for it. The idea of different schools that wrote under the guise of Moses introduces intentional deception by the authors of the text, whether or not the author understands the documentary hypothesis in this way. Also, in the case of the New Testament, the early church utterly rejected this practice among Gnostic writers.
The apostles themselves actually differed over the interpretation of key Scriptural passages. Witness the battle over circumcision in the story of Acts. Consequently there existed in the early church two quite opposing viewpoints, both strongly defended from Scripture. Jewish Christians, headed by James and Peter, had the clear testimony of Scripture that circumcision and the law of Moses were based on an “eternal” covenant, and therefore essential for salvation for not only Jews but also Gentiles. Paul taught differently. Eventually, at a conference in Jerusalem not unlike our General Assembly today, they decided to tolerate each other’s viewpoint, remaining in fellowship while agreeing on some points and disagreeing on others. As a result two quite different churches emerged, one distinctively Jewish and the other liberated from the law of Moses.
Where does this author come up with this interpretation Acts 14 & 15? It is difficult to tell if he has even read the book of Acts. Both Peter (who is prepared ahead of time by God) and James concur with Paul. There is no indication in the text that Peter or James were at odds with Paul to begin with, but only “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5). The issue was clearly settled at the end of the chapter and they were of one accord as a body, led by the Holy Spirit getting clarity of the truth. That might not mean that every single person was on board, but certainly the leaders were and there was never a sense that “two quite different churches emerged.” This heresy that began with the Tubingen school of Germany and continues with Bultmanian school of higher criticism is truly nowhere to be seen in the biblical texts, but continues to be promulgated by those within the denomination either in ignorance or in an attempt to undermine the authority of scripture.
If it were to be shown that even the early church was divided on major issues, such as Christian freedom and the role of the law within the Christian church, then we can certainly differ within the church today on what many consider to be essential tenets of the Reformed faith.
Yet, ultimately the author’s case does not stand up under close scrutiny, for there was no significant division within the theology and leadership of the early church. Only by so torturing the text and evidence as to make all interpretations possible are we to deduce that there were “two quite different churches.”
The great strength of Presbyterianism is its uncanny knack of fostering a fellowship in which people of different viewpoints continue to dialogue.
Yes, it is true that such an attitude can be terrific, if we are dealing with issues that the larger Christian church might consider to be non-essential. But, when we are dealing with everything that historically has been considered absolutely essential to the Christian faith, how can this be seen as a strength? The outside world and the greater church will view the PCUSA to believe everything and thereby nothing. When Dirk Ficca stood and asked the question of what was the big deal about Jesus, it highlighted the utter lack of any true convictions by the PCUSA. It showed to the church and the rest of the world just how divided we all were. There was never any serious discipline enacted. This clearly indicated that the PCUSA includes people who openly deny the historicity of the resurrection, the deity of Christ and every other essential of historical Christianity (let alone Reformed theology). The Lordship of Jesus Christ has thereby been passively denied by the PCUSA by their refusal to discipline heretics and heresy.
Not only in the same denomination but also in the same congregation it is often possible to find folks who believe every word of the Bible to be factual worshiping alongside sisters and brothers in Christ who treat the Bible as true in meaning but not necessarily factual, and still others who would not even agree that the Bible is wholly true in meaning, let alone factual.
I cannot even imagine what is meant by the latter two groups. Who are these “sisters and brothers who treat the Bible as true in meaning but not necessarily factual”? How is something true in meaning, but not factual? Does he mean that they believe the stories to be myth and parable, masked with the clothing of historic truth? How far can we extend this? How about the physical resurrection of Jesus? Can I believe that this is a meaningful myth?
Then what about those who “would not even agree that the Bible is wholly true in meaning, let alone factual”? What “meaning” are we willing to sacrifice for us to still consider those who are in this camp to be brothers and sisters? I consider myself to be a generous person, especially with people who are new to the faith (or have been exposed to long bouts of heresy within liberal congregations) but for leaders within the church who write position papers and theological explanations on the official PCUSA web site to foolishly include these positions as acceptable is to defend apostacy.
None of these viewpoints contradicts our Presbyterian Constitution. The church is charged with giving full expression to the rich diversity within its membership. Our Constitution requires us to promote inclusiveness, which means including all the different theological positions that are consistent with the Reformed tradition.
I would like to know when the term “diversity” was first applied to different theological positions? I have always understood diversity to mean people of different nationalities, classes, and of both sexes. Who is to say what “all the different theological positions that are consistent with the Reformed tradition” are? There are many ordained elders and pastors within this denomination who regularly deny the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is this acceptable? When did it become acceptable to deny this central tenet? We are not speaking about more peripheral issues, such as different eschatological views, but rather issues that are at the very heart of the gospel. How about someone who holds a view that is very similar to Mormonism? There is less difference between historic orthodox Christianity and Mormonism, than there is between historic orthodox Christianity and theological liberalism. Theological liberalism is more akin in its different forms to pantheism, agnosticism, and atheism, than it is to historic orthodoxy. How far do we draw the lines and who will decide. When we lose any sense of boundaries that are created by essentials, than all things are theologically permissible and what is left is to fight over orthopraxy (right action), since orthodoxy has already been lost. This is what we are seeing now within the denomination over the issue of the ordination of active unrepentant homosexuals. It no longer has anything to do with what one believes, but with allowable practices.
What that tradition emphasizes is that while the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and conduct, Christ is present with the church in both Spirit and Word. This means that before I can use any particular statements of Scripture as a guide in life, more is required than simply the ability to read. Otherwise I might read something that was never intended for me and subscribe to a practice that is contrary to God’s will for people in 1995. This is the mistake cults commonly make.
This type of practice certainly seems highly subjective. What does the author not understand about the word “only”? Even with these objections, I might still be willing to approve this statement if we were only dealing with issues that are not essential to what it means to be a Christian, let alone one from the reformed tradition. So, for instance, if we were debating the meaning of Jesus’ words about cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye when they cause us to sin, I would probably ask us to recognize different forms of speech, such as hyperbole (overstatement for the sake of making a point). But we are dealing with such as issues as the meaning of the atonement and the physical bodily resurrection of Christ. If we cannot agree on such essential doctrines then there is truly nothing that unites us as a Christian church or denomination. Unity comes from docrine and theology, not false emotionalism or property.
The 2nd half of the article and my comments will be available in the next post.
No comments yet.