A dear friend (Dr. Jeff Winter) and one of my pastor’s (many years back) recently wrote into the Layman.org about one of his observations at this last Summer’s General Assembly. With his permission, I am posting it here.
During my 26 years of ordained ministry within the PCUSA I have spent a lot of time hanging out at General Assemblies. You can call me committed to this denomination or just crazy. When I was a teenager I logged in many hours wandering around circus side show attractions. I loved when Ringling Brothers came to town. I have discovered that a General Assembly and a circus side show have a lot in common. They both can be outrageous.
At this year’s General Assembly in San Jose I listened intently to the 90-second speeches that were delivered by passionate Presbyterians before the committee that was addressing ordination standards. If you have never been to a GA let me explain that before a committee begins its work, there is time set aside for people to share their feelings — pro and con — about the overture the committee is considering. In this case the debate focused on the ordination standards set forth in our constitution.
I was particularly dumbfounded as I listened to the speech by a young man who traveled across the country to make his opinion known. He stated that he was a student at Union Seminary in Richmond. I was startled when he explained a late night conversation he had with his homosexual partner about Jesus Christ. He related how he was lying in bed next to his partner and asked him what he thought about the person and work of our Savior? I facetiously thought to myself, “Wow, here is another way to share the Gospel … one homosexual man sharing with another homosexual man about the Good News.”
As a denomination we have been very concerned about the loss of membership. Standing before the committee was a young man who was contextualizing for everyone another way to do evangelism. When he finished his speech that advocated the elimination of “fidelity and chastity” from our ordination standards he walked to the back of the room where he was hugged by Michael Adee, director of More Light Presbyterians, and other pro-gay and lesbian Presbyterians. I stood near this young man and said to myself, “I can’t believe what I just heard.” I was flabbergasted by his words.
The next person who stood up to speak was from Midland, Texas. His speech was so different from what everyone just heard. I was so touched by his presentation that I asked him for a copy of what he said. Here is his presentation.
“I am speaking against changing ‘fidelity and chastity’ in the Book of Order. Being here takes me back to 1996. I was battling the homosexual desires that had been a part of my life since my youth. I was married, but miserable. I was desperate for something that would give me license. I was desperate to have my ears tickled with doctrine that fit my feelings and desires. I found it in gay theology, and armed with that, I left my wife and began my life as an openly gay man. But soon I became weary of a theology that was based on ME. It fell flat, and I felt none of the liberation and grace that I thought was coming. I soon discovered that Jesus was not a white-robed wimp, walking around talking softly and stroking a lamb. He was a powerful, risen Savior who offered me more than good feelings and sentimental, saccharine love. He offered me abundant life. My marriage has been restored. I have three kids. I love the life that gay theology tempted me to leave. I was led astray by false teaching, and rescued by the perfect teacher. I thank God for pastors, elders, church elders and a Book of Order that are willing to stand for truth, and to stand with me as I surrendered all of my life to God. Please do not limit hope for those struggling with unwanted same sex attraction by changing ‘fidelity and chastity.'”
I am so glad Mr. Goeke had the courage to share these words. Such a presentation is so rare at a General Assembly especially at this year’s gathering in San Jose where homosexuality was proclaimed as a wonderful gift from God. We live in very difficult times. As I look at our denomination’s struggle with homosexuality I pray that we can move beyond the circus side-show attraction we now present to a watching world. May we declare to others a Gospel that transforms the lives of all people, even those who have same-sex attraction.
Rev. Jeff Winter, pastor
Faith Community Church of Martha’s Vineyard
This is my “third” son Jacob in his acting debut. He is the tin man.
It would be easy for me to reflect in a metaphorical way about the lack of a true brain, true heart and true courage in the PCUSA, but I won’t. OOOPS! I just did.
Not long ago, I was honored to be a guest as the Wycliffe staff celebrated the completion of 12 New Testament and full Bible translations. We praised God for his faithfulness and honored many who have spent many years of faithful devotion to seeing God’s Word spread in tangible and powerful ways. I heard of the efforts of Wycliffe and others to give to certain language groups their own written language, where only an oral language exists. Much of the work of Wycliffe today is in creating literacy, so that people will be prepared to receive the Bible in their own languages. The Lord is working in amazing ways through the faithfulness of His disciples in bringing God’s Word to so many millions of people who do not have the Bible in their own language. As Christians God’s Word is central and foundational to all that we believe and do. In the infallible Word, we have God’s special revelation to us, given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Yet our modern & postmodern Western world today is quickly moving away from reading and literature, even within the Christian church. As terrific ministries such as Wycliffe work in third world countries to promote literacy, literature and reading with a focus on God’s Word, our Western world is quickly moving away from literature to image. What does this mean for us as Christians? How does this effect the work of the Holy Spirit through His infallible Word in our lives? Are we the same?
I have just recently been re-reading the book The Gutenberg Elegies: the fate of reading in an electronic age, by Sven Birkerts. He is a literature professor and author. This is one of the most penetrating books on our modern culture and our world written from a non-Christian perspective, though he at times uses Christian and religious language to refer to the issues that he is addressing. He begins the book with his own observations working with university students (many of whom are literature majors). He observes how difficult a time these students have in interacting and absorbing good literature. They could read and understand the books, but they just didn’t “get it.” After spending some time questioning his students and listening to them, he writes, “And what emerged was this: that they were not, with a few exceptions, readers–never had been; that they had always occupied themselves with music, TV, and videos; that they had difficulty slowing down enough to concentrate on prose of any density; that they had problems with what they thought of as archaic diction, with allusions, with vocabulary that seemed “pretentious”; that they were especially uncomfortable with indirect or interior passages, indeed with any deviations from straight plot; and that they were put off by ironic tone because it flaunted superiority and made them feel that they were missing something. The list is partial.” The book explores what it means to be human in a print/literature based society and what the modern age is giving us in a visual/information based society. We can see what we have gained, but what have we lost? Are we the same? At the end of the book he writes this,
“My core fear is that we are, as a culture, as a species, becoming shallower;
that we have turned from depth–from the Judeo-Christian premise of unfathomable
mystery–and are adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral
connectedness. That we are giving up on wisdom, the struggle for which has for millennia been central to the very idea of culture, and that we are pledging instead to a faith in the web. What is our idea, or ideal, of wisdom these days? Who represents it? Who even invokes it? Our postmodern culture is a vast fabric of competing isms; we are leaderless and subject to the terrors, masked as the freedoms, of an absolute relativism. It would be wrong to lay all the blame at the feet of new technology, but more wrong to ignore the great transformative impact of new technological systems–to act as if it’s all just business as usual. There is finally, a tremendous difference between communication in the instrumental sense and communion in the affective, the soul-oriented sense…The devil no longer moves about on cloven hooves, reeking of brimstone. He is an affable, efficient fellow. He claims to want to help us all along to a brighter, easier future, and his sales pitch is very smooth.”
I recommend this book to you. The implications of the thesis of this book is profound to us as Christians. We must, each one of us, struggle with what it means to live faithful Christian lives within our modern world. The technologies that make our lives so much easier, have profound effects on our sensibilities and how we perceive the world and God. What we feed our minds, ultimately will come back to shape our thinking. Even the form that we receive information profoundly affects our ability to perceive wisdom and truth. Neil Postman’s books Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death also examine the modern world that we live in and the sensibilities that they engender in us. How will you respond?
What the postmodern liberal, neoliberal, and emerging churches have in common is a view of humans as essentially good. At the heart of the PCUSA ecumenical movement we find a pluralism that is in no way biblical. When humans are essentially good, the problems within the world are put on the shoulders corrupt social systems, thus liberation rather than salvation is what is needed. A great deal of the funds that are given in good faith by people in the pews for missions is instead sent on to liberal, liberation groups as clearly documented in many areas, including here. The views of so many of the ordained leaders of mainline denominations are in no way biblical and is all together a different religion.
I stand upon the shoulders of the great reformers in once again proclaiming the essential belief about the human dilemma. Human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 2:7) in that we have many of the same types of characteristics as God does. Thus we have intellect, which is not simply a physical manifestation of our brains, but is also an attribute of our soul (1Cor. 2:11). This also means we have the capacity to examine ourselves and to have some understanding of ourselves and others (Ps. 4:4; 2Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:4). Humans also have an implanted moral conscience, which can be seared by our sinful nature (1Tim. 4:2), but nevertheless still gives us some knowledge of right and wrong (Rom. 1-2). We are also volitional and have the capacity to make choices and move toward accomplishing our choices. Because of our sin we cannot always do what we want to do or what we believe to be morally right (Rom. 7:18).
Humans are also completely fallen. Holistic depravity is at the heart of what it means to have a sin nature (Ps. 51:5). Human depravity does not mean that humans are as bad as they can possibly be, but rather that sin effects every human capacity (Isa. 64:6). Even our best achievements are still tainted by sin and evil (Ps. 53:1,3; 14:1,3; Job 25:6). Sin means all of the following: failing to meet God’s standards (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 5:12-13) and the consequences (Mark 3:28; Rom. 3:25), departure from God’s law (Titus 2:14), wrongdoing (Rom. 1:18, 29), wickedness, anything that might be opposed to God, lack of faith, disobedience, transgression, etc. Humans are fundamentally sinful (James 1:14-15) and are bonded to sinful passions (2 Peter 2:19). Our intellects are darkened and warped (Rev. 3:17). Our wills are twisted and we are powerless to choose God (Gal. 5:13,16; 2Cor. 4:4; Eph. 4:17-18). We are emotionally corrupted, with differing degrees of disorders: There is no true peace, joy, and love without God (1Peter 2:11). We are morally corrupt, although we still have some initial understanding of what is right and wrong, but we twist it (Heb. 9:9,14). We are estranged from God and others. We have a freedom in regards to others and ourselves, but because of our sin nature, we do not have the freedom to choose God (1Cor. 2:14; Luke 16:4,9). All of us sin and are depraved (Rom. 3:9-20) and we are enslaved to our sin nature (2Tim 2:26; Rom. 6:6; Jer. 13:23; John 8:34; 1Cor. 2:14; 2Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1,2; 4:17-18).