A non-essential church: a very brief blog discussion with the moderator
A short while ago I wrote a blog post commenting on Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow’s letter published on Presbyweb. Rev. Reyes-Chow then graciously commented on my blog and I responded again, mostly asking questions. I am including the full texts of our discussion with my further reflection below. Here is my original post:
As St. Augustine put it 1500 years ago, “when regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.”
I was fascinated to read the Moderator of the PCUSA, Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow’s comments today posted on Presbyweb, following the vote of the Presbyteries not to ratify the changes pushed forward by the General Assembly, which would have made it even easier for this once great, soon to be obscure denomination, to ignore clear unambiguous biblical ethics and ordain openly unrepentant homosexuals to the offices of elders and deacons. Instead of affirming the decision of the Presbyteries and appealing to progressive congregations not to continuously put forth divisive, unbiblical and clearly heretical overtures, he instead makes this statement:
I think about our hopes for humanity – for those close to us, those who oppose us, those we love, those we call stranger, and those we may never meet face-to-face. Do we really want them to grow into who God intends, or do we want them to grow into who we think they should be? Too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on Earth.
Sometimes, to allow others to grow into whom God intends, we have to allow room for them to discover God on their own – even at the risk of them making choices we would not make. As a parent and pastor, I find this difficult because I want to guide my children and the community I serve in a particular direction.
His statement has a certain pious sound. But what precisely might be meant by, “…too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on earth”? So let me see if I understand things. The Presbyteries have once again affirmed as essential that those ordained to ministry must abide by the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. In response to this, the moderator calls for us not to “define & control God for the other”. In essence he is affirming that fidelity in marriage as defined between one man and one woman or chastity in singleness is not an essential, and by defining it as such, we are defining and controlling God for the other.
There are few ethical positions in scripture that are more clear than these basic truths on marriage. Yet, moderator Reyes-Chow reveals his bias on the issue by dishonoring the re-affirmation of the Presbyteries. His statement is even more troubling than this. What other essential of the faith might Rev. Reyes-Chow view as strictly defining and controlling God for the other? By definition an essential of the faith is strictly defining what we believe to be true about God and reality. To say that we believe that Jesus rose physically and bodily from the dead and that the tomb was empty is an essential of the faith and is strictly defining what we believe to be an absolute historically verifiable objective fact. I know that even this is much too narrow for many ordained leaders in this denomination, but to deny this is to deny the faith and to deny Jesus Christ. The moderators statement, which is made with no caveats, clearly indicates that to state something as essential is to strictly define and control God for others. It might be best to think of the PCUSA now as the church of the non-essential middle-way.
Then Rev. Reyes-Chow responded in this way:
Adel – While I do most often try to avoid actually commenting on posts that are dealing with me, felt moved this AM to do so.
I will certainly be coming out with a statement at the end of the month after the vote deadline has passed. While I did participate in a joint statement with Gradye, you have got to give me a LITTLE credit that I do NOT hide my opinions about such things. It is well documented on my blog, in publications and during the question and answer time at General Assembly about where I have stood on these issues in the past. I do hold my commitment to being honest and transparent in high regard. And REALLY, this was written before the threshold had been reached and was wholeheartedly generated by my father’s heart on my daughter’s birthday and my tiring body as I turned 40.
Still . . . as I have said in some responses to your post on FB, it is my job to listen to the WHOLE church and as I have done, I continue to lift up the great breadth of what the church is feeling and experiences disagreements, pain, anger, righteous indignation, despair, death, hope, new life, joy, excitement, etc. And while some may disagree with any of the reasons behind these feelings, as moderator, much of my job is to speak back to the church what I am hearing.
Again, I usually refrain from commenting on posts such as this, but for some reason have felt called to do so this time as I have seen your name pop up on other blogs that I frequent. I have no expectations from this comment, only felt called to respond in this particular case.
I then responded to Rev. Reyes-Chow this way:
Welcome and thank you for your comment.
I do appreciate the balance that one must walk as leader in such a diverse denomination. I also understand that you have been open about being on the more progressive end of this issue.
I do not believe I have mis-represented your position, and you have not attempted to deny what I have said.
If I have misconstrued something that you have written, I would be happy to receive correction.
I have simply pointed out that your statement coming right at the end of the voting, carries a certain weight.
Your statement written to the whole church, admittedly prefaced with some comments about your daughter, carries weight among those who have little real understanding of the issues at stake.
The statement of not defining God for the other, without any qualifications is completely offensive to me, especially when discussing parenting and raising our children within our churches.
Do we not define God regularly for our children when we talk about God being Triune? Do we not define God when we speak of God’s love? Do we not define God when we speak of sin and being born in sin? Do we not define God when we speak of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross? Do we not define God when we urge our children to trust Jesus, his cross, and his physical bodily resurrection for salvation? Are we not called to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Are we not to train our children in the essentials of the gospel?
Whether or not we like it, we define God for our children and for our church all the time, in both word and deeds.
Your statement at best is an urging to hold all belief statement lightly, and to consider no belief as essential. Your statement at worst can easily be understood as universalist/pluralist in nature. I preferred to give the benefit of the doubt.
If I have somehow misunderstood, you are welcome to clarify, retract, or correct the record in whatever way you see fit.
Thank you for your comments, and you are welcome any time.
I want to first of all extend my gratitude to moderator Reyes-Chow for discovering and commenting on my blog post. I am grateful for the discussion, though I would like further discussion and I am extending him an invitation for further dialogue on this vital issue. First let me make an observation about how the moderator did not respond. He did not say that I misunderstood him, and he never intended to say what I observed in my initial blog posting. He also did not say that he wanted to correct me, because I took him out of context. He did not say, Adel, my brother, you got it all wrong, I do believe we must teach our children the essentials of the faith and define those essentials for our people. In fact, in my follow-up to him, I asked him to correct me if I misunderstood or misinterpreted him. I do not know if he received that message, but I do know that he did not correct any of my initial statements.
What I do know is that every belief that was once considered essential to being Presbyterian has been questioned and even rejected by many many ordained leaders in the PCUSA.
- The inerrancy of scripture is rejected by the “what we believe” statements on the official PCUSA web site.
- Pluralism and Inclusivism are looked on approvingly, while exclusivism is regularly demeaned as narrow-minded and foolhardy.
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ is regularly attacked with pride and impunity.
- Faith is looked on as being completely subjective, with little or no objective truth involved.
- The physical bodily resurrection of Jesus is often either openly rejected, or so redefined as to be objectively meaningless.
We must now face the reality that many ordained leaders of our churches hold belief systems that are much closer to Universalist Unitarian (with some reformed language), than to historic orthodox Presbyterianism.
Rev. Reyes-Chow’s original statement that I quoted in my original posting, clearly indicates a desire to move the denomination further in the direction of total subjectivism in the arena of essentials. His statement that “…too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on earth…” clearly indicates a rejection of divine special revelation through the prophets and Christ, written infallibly in the pages of the Bible. To say that God clearly reveals in scripture that he is Triune in being, is to say that God plainly and clearly strictly defines himself. To say that we believe that Jesus Christ rose physically, bodily, objectively in a historically verifiable way is to strictly define God as God has strictly revealed and defined himself. These are only two of the many essentials that God has strictly defined reality and himself.
The other aspect that is a major problem with Rev. Reyes-Chow’s comments is that it is self-refuting.
To say that we should not strictly define God for others either…
- says that we know God would not want us to define him for others, therefore…
- …we strictly define God as one who does not want people or the Bible to strictly define him for others.
- or says that God does not reveal himself objectively to prophets or in Christ, so..
- …we strictly define God as one who does not reveal himself objectively…
- …or we strictly define God as a non-revelatory being (or ground of being).
Either way, the statement strictly defines God, therefore is self-refuting. His statements are more at home with forms of pluralism than with historic orthodoxy. He states in his response to my blog entry that “…much of my job is to speak back to the church what I am hearing.” He must therefore believe that much of what he is “hearing” is a desire for greater pluralism and openness to nearly all beliefs, or no beliefs at all to be accepted within the “big tent” of Presbyteriansm. But once again, if I am misunderstanding things, I am always open to correction.
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