Saturday, July 28, 2012

An alternate universe news report??

I copied this from an online friend who originally wrote it.     He opened it with this: 
Please tolerate my foolishness please .... a weird news report:
Jesus of Nazareth's controversial stance in favor of traditional marriage has ignited a storm, leading to him and his followers being banned from municipalities across the nation.

The controversy centers around his hyper-conservative and narrow-minded view of marriage (quoted in Matthew 19:1-6) as between one man and one woman. Civic and religious leaders are up in arms as a result.

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston banned, Dan Cathy, the CEO and founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants, due to his agreement with Jesus of Nazareth. "The guy is a homophobe," commented Menino. "Even his own religion and fellow citizens can't stand Jesus and his followers! Like us, they are trying to silence him too. No wonder: they act like he is God, or something. We can define morality, just fine, without Jesus of Nazareth."

Mayor Rahm Immanuel of Chicago has weighed in. Recently, he banned Chic-fil-A restaurants, due to their founder's affirmation of Jesus' conservative view of marriage between one man and one woman: "I may not be able to do anything about street murders in my city (Chicago has a higher murder rate than that of Afghanistan), but I sure can keep Jesus and his followers from entering this fair city."

Citing their policy on freedom of expression, Facebook shut down Mike Huckabee's forum for freedom of religion and speech for evangelicals and catholics who believe the teachings of Jesus. "Even though I make billions of dollars, and control millions of people's opinions, I am one of the 99%," said Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social media juggernaut, Facebook, "In our attempts to foster open debate, we will censor evangelicals and catholics who believe such hate speech as espoused by Jesus of Nazareth."

We called Emperor Caesar's Homeland Security for their opinion of Jesus and his followers. An official released this prepared statement, "Jesus and his followers are very dangerous. They refuse to adopt the morality of their culture. We applaud your efforts to stifle them. We are working on a final solution for them, and know that, together, we will save the world from these people and their subversive views."

"I swear, I do not know the man!" emoted Neo-Oprah-dox theologian, Bishop Bubu of the Church of the Couch. "Jesus used to be the cool kid who cared for the poor and powerless, and stood against abusive civil power and religious hypocrisy. But now, he clearly stands against us. As you know, we Progressives are ever-evolving in its view of everything. Jesus is going the other way - back to Creation - to define marriage between one man and one woman. I may not believe much anymore, but one thing I can tell you with conviction: Jesus is no Progressive."

The Presbyterian Church's Committee on Tolerance and Diversity has also taken a strong stance. We caught up with the chairperson, while attending a seminar, "Tickling Our Ears." He solemnly remarked, "After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, we decided to delete Jesus and his writings from any influential position in our church. Sadly, the only just and loving way to protect our freedom of conscience and behavior was to remove Jesus from our midst. We cannot, yea we must not, tolerate his diversity. But, we continue to pray for more light to shine upon his heart and mind."

The PCUSA is presently in federal court, suing Jesus for ownership rights to the Kingdom of God. If they prevail, they will rename it: "Rainbow Realm of Pan-Gender Deity."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Watching the PC(USA) GA

Like many Presbyterian polity geeks, I'm sitting home watching the PC(USA)'s 220th General Assembly via streaming video.

You may have heard of a few things going on:  Israeli Divestment, same sex marriages.    I"m not going to review them here, except to say they both lost, and your local paper may not have the full information, nor the expertise to understand what our polity is all about.

No, this blog entry is about the overall BLOAT of the General Assembly docket, as well as the bloat of the number of advisory committees that give orders advice to the various committees that review the overtures sent in by the presbyteries.

These advisory committees weigh in on almost every overture that comes in, and it makes you wonder what some of them are doing putting out an opinion on an overture that really has no relationship to the area they are supposed to be advising on.

Today, I watched as the discussion of same sex marriage started three hours late.  This was due to the battle over divestment the night before.   The GA plenary schedule was already 3 or 4 hours behind by the time they started the SSM deliberations.   In the middle of all of it, they had to break for dinner.

They came back, and went for another two hours.    As I finished watching for the night at around 12 midnight, they were still going over another committee's report.    OK, I get it, every GA commissioner has a right to express an opinion, and to propose amendments, but good grief .. please be prepared.       Then you have the commissioners who ask for some clarification by calling on the resource  person from an advisory committee.   Oh great, lets just have the staffers do the testimony, deliberation and decisions then.

Then you have the Young Adult Advisory Delegates ... !!  Yes, I realize that its good to have the voices of youth at the GA, but how are these kids selected?  Most have no grounding on Scripture (a lot of what I heard is of the well, the Jesus I know'  type of response), and hardly any Polity knowledge.     These kids are the ones most easily swayed by the personal feeling types of arguments used by many of the liberals.

Even so .. none of this would be an issue, if it weren't for the sheer number of these overtures coming from the Presbyteries.  The number of overtures for the Social Justice committee is staggering, then you have the others change in Polity .. Church Orders .. and so on.

Which is why, over the past three or four GAs that I've watched, the last night of the GA always lasts way past midnight so that all the business can get accomplished.  And for what .. pronouncements by the PC(USA) to tell Iran to play nice with its neighbors.    Oh yeah, I can just imagine the Ayatollah saying to himself Gee, the Presbyterians of the PC(USA) are upset with what we're doing, I'll have to fix that right away." !!      Hey guys .. GET A CLUE .. the days when people paid attention to what the PC(USA) said are long gone.  In fact, they were way before the PC(USA) was born during the merger.

Looking at the GAs of the EPC, PCA .. even our spiritual cousins, the Church of Scotland, and Free Kirk of Scotland.     They don't have these late night sessions, they don't even have staffs 1/4 the size of ours.      Yet they get things done, decently and in order.  and, in the case of the Church of Scotland, actually get ahead of themselves so they can call a free afternoon in the middle of a GA.

But I guess that's what happens when a denomination gets more worked up about calling on parents to stop spanking their kids, than spreading the life changing Word of God to a nation, a world that is looking for the Truth.

Then again, this GA affirmed that the denomination has many interpretations of Scripture, so no one should prevail.    As Pilate said .. What is truth?   In the PC(USA) we don't have the ONE any more.

... and so it goes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

PC(USA) Membership Declines Again !!!

The PC(USA) released on Friday, latest tally of denominational statistics.  For those who have been following the numbers of evangelicals leaving the PC(USA) its not a surprise.

From the article on the PC(USA) website:
The total membership of the PC(USA) at the end of 2011 was 1,952,287, compared to 2,016,091 in 2010, which is a decline of 63,804 members.  

The rest of the report is also discouraging: 

Eighteen new churches were organized in 2011. Seventy-five were dissolved, compared to 77 in 2010. Twenty-one congregations were dismissed to other denominations, five fewer than the previous year.
75 churches dissolved, probably due to lack of new members.  Why is that, is the PC(USA) becoming even less relevant than before??   21 dismissed .. only 21 ??  What about those who just said we're outa here.     Based on the survey of EPs done by the Presbyterian Outlook, there are over 800 more churches that are either in the process of dismissal, or are in a period of discernment.
Slightly fewer than 55,000 individuals joined by profession or reaffirmation of faith, nearly one-third of who were 17 years old or younger. Adult baptisms totaled 5,740, a decrease of 408, and the number of child baptisms declined by 1,038 to 21,422.
Fewer baptisms, fewer new members, fewer child baptisms.   Where are all the people going?  Well some are going to other reformed denominations.    The Redeemer Presbyterian Church (and its satellites) in NYC is growing every year .. this is a PCA church.    A complementarian  church with no female TEs or REs, which holds to the WCF.  Why would families join such a church??   Perhaps right teaching ??

Membership loss came through certificate of transfer (23,082, compared to 29,835 in 2010); death (31,754, which was 717 fewer than 2010); and “other” (95,613, compared to 88,731 the previous year). The “other” category includes those who were members of churches that were dissolved or dismissed to other denominations. Two-thirds of the “other” category encompasses the removal of members from the rolls who are no longer active and have not become involved in another community of faith.
Seems the 2/3s that have  been removed are those that were formerly on the inactive lists which is no longer required by the PC(USA).     So, no more padding the books any longer.

So what does the Stated Clerk see as good news:

“The loss of membership through certificate-of-transfer is the lowest number it has been in at least four years, which is encouraging,” he said, “and per-person giving rose in 2011, reversing a downward trend in 2010.”
So we're seeing less people leaving through Certificate of Transfers,  what about those who just walked?  All a certificate means is that the denomination they moved to (or the member) asked for one.      Per person giving rose .. well it would have to in order to cover those members who have left, or are withholding money due to PC(USA) polity and doctrine changes.

I said last year in another venue, that the membership drop would bring the PC(USA) under 2 million.  I fully suspect that this time next year will find a membership have drop from 1,952,000 to 1,880,000.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The recent GAPJC decision.

OK ... so now the Book of Confessions can't be trusted by the PC(USA) to tell us what standards should be used when examining people coming up for ordination to church offices.  That throws out half the PC(USA)'s constitution.

Normally, I would have a lot to say on the matter but, as usual, someone else has said it better than I have.  So I direct your attention to this blog post.

Friday, April 20, 2012

OK ... I know that Lark News is a satire site, and yes, it shouldn't be taken seriously, but this post from the archives of Lark News definitely hits the nail on the head, as I fully expect that we're going to find that the membership of the PC(USA) declined below 2 million in 2011.
Presb. Church USA launches ambitious plan to lose only 5% of members
LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (USA) has launched a campaign to slow the rate of decline to 5 percent, according to the denomination. “People at the grass roots need hope and motivation,” says a spokesman. “This is a positive goal we can all get behind.” The Minus 5 Campaign aims to lower the attrition rate in spite of the denomination’s continued struggle with moral issues, which has led to even greater exodus of members. Instead of losing 12 to 15 percent of members every decade, the group will now “work in great unity and joy to lose only five percent.” “This is the rallying cry we’ve been needing,” says a pastor in Pittsburgh, Pa. “It’s heartening to people at the local level to know we’re determined not to shrink as rapidly.” •

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just another liberal Protestant denomination !!

I'm not going to claim that I found this originally, I did not.   I am going to say that this speaks to many in the PC(USA) who are ready to do what the Book of Order says, that if we can't agree with the decisions of the 'majority' we should peaceably withdraw.      If only the liberals would let us get on with it.

Anyway ... if you change ELCA to PC(USA) and Lutheran to Presbyterian, you'll see this letter speaks for many orthodox Christians in the PC(USA):

[See following open letter (readily available on the Internet) from Lutheran theologian Carl E. Braaten to his bishop, Mark Hanson, in July 2005, regarding the Lutheran Church. He says, in effect, that liberal Protestantism is not Christian.}

The Reverend Dr. Mark Hanson, Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois 60631

Dear Bishop Mark Hanson:

Greetings! I am writing out of a concern I share with others about the theological state of affairs within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The situation might be described as one of “brain drain.” Theologians who have served Lutheranism for many years in various capacities have recently left the ELCA and have entered the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church in America.


When Jaroslav Pelikan left the ELCA and became a member of the OCA, I felt it was not terribly surprising. After all, he had been reading and writing about the Fathers of Eastern Orthodoxy for so many years, he could quite naturally find himself at home in that tradition, without much explanation. A short time before that Robert Wilken, a leading patristics scholar teaching at the University of Virginia, left the ELCA to become a Roman Catholic. Then other Lutheran theological colleagues began to follow suit. Jay Rochelle, who for many years was my colleague and the chaplain at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago joined the Orthodox Church. Why? Leonard Klein, pastor of a large Lutheran parish in York, Pennsylvania, and former editor of Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter, last year left the ELCA to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Why? This year Bruce Marshall, who taught theology for about fifteen years at St. Olaf College and was a long-standing member of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue, has left the ELCA to enter the Roman Catholic Church. Why? David Fagerberg, formerly professor of religion at Concordia College, although coming from a strong Norwegian Lutheran family, left the ELCA for the Roman Catholic Church, and now teaches at the University of Notre Dame. Reinhard Huetter, a German Lutheran from Erlangen University, came to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago fifteen years ago to teach theology and ethics, now teaches at Duke Divinity School, and this year became a Roman Catholic. Why? Mickey Mattox, a theologian who recently served at the Lutheran Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg and now teaches at Marquette University, has recently begun the process of becoming a Roman Catholic.

In all these cases the transition involves spouses and children, making it incredibly more difficult. Why are they doing this? Is there a message in these decisions for those who have ears to hear?
All of these colleagues have given candid explanations of their decisions to their families, colleagues, and friends. While the individuals involved have provided a variety of reasons, there is one thread that runs throughout the stories they tell. It is not merely the pull of Orthodoxy or Catholicism that enchants them, but also the push from the ELCA, as they witness with alarm the drift of their church into the morass of what some have called Liberal Protestantism. They are convinced that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has become just another liberal protestant denomination. Hence, they have decided that they can no longer be a part of that. Especially, they say, they are not willing to raise their children in a church that they believe has lost its moorings in the great tradition of evangelical (small e) and catholic (small c) orthodoxy (small o), which was at the heart of Luther’s reformatory teaching and the Lutheran Confessional Writings. They are saying that the Roman Catholic Church is now more hospitable to confessional Lutheran teaching than the church in which they were baptized and confirmed. Can this possibly be true?

I have decided, without any doubt about it, that I could not re-invent myself to become something else than I was raised to be by my Madagascar missionary parents—an heir of the Lutheran confessing movement. Through theological study and ecumenical engagement I thought I had learned something about what it means to be Lutheran. I have written many books and articles, preached and published many sermons—leaving a long paper trail—over a period of five decades, explaining what it means to be Lutheran. There is nothing in all of those communications that accommodates liberal protestantism, which Karl Barth called a “heresy,” an assessment with which I fully agree. If it is true that the ELCA has become just another liberal protestant denomination, that is a condition tantamount to heresy. The most damning thing in my view that can be charged against the ELCA is that it is just another liberal protestant denomination. Are all these theologians wrong in their assessment of the ELCA?

I wish I could deny it. I have been looking for some convincing evidence to the contrary, because I am not about to cut and run. There is no place I know of where to go. I do know, however, that the kind of Lutheranism that I learned—from Nygren, Aulén, Bring, Pinomaa, Schlink, P. Brunner, Bonhoeffer, Pannenberg, Piepkorn, Quanbeck, Preus, and Lindbeck, not to mention the pious missionary teachers from whom I learned the Bible, the Catechism, and the Christian faith—and taught in a Lutheran parish and seminary for many years is now marginalized to the point of near extinction. In looking for evidence that could convincingly contradict the charge that the ELCA has become just another liberal protestant denomination, it would seem reasonable to examine what is produced by its publishing house, theological schools, magazines, publications, church council resolutions, commission statements, task force recommendations, statements and actions by its bishops. The end result is an embarrassment; there is not much there to refute the charge. As Erik Petersen said about 19h century German Protestantism, all that is left of the Reformation heritage is the aroma from an empty bottle. A lot of the pious piffle remains, but then, so was Adolf von Harnack a pious man. All the heretics of the ancient church were pious men. Our pastors and laity are being deceived by a lot of pietistic aroma, but the bottle is empty. Just ask these fine theologians—all friends and colleagues of mine—who have left the ELCA. They are not stupid people; they don’t tell lies; they don’t make rash decisions. They are all serious Christians. What is happening is nothing less than a tragedy. The ELCA is driving out the best and the brightest theologians of our day, not because it is too Lutheran, but because it has become putatively just another liberal protestant denomination. I would think that this is a situation that ought to concern you immensely as well as all the leadership cadres of the ELCA. But might it also be the case that the very persons who ought to be troubled by this phenomenon will say to themselves (perhaps not out loud), “good riddance, we won’t be bothered by those dissenting voices anymore? We wish more of their ilk would leave.”

I must tell you that I read all your episcopal letters that come across my desk. But I must also tell you that your stated convictions, punctuated by many pious sentiments, are not significantly distinguishable from those that come from the liberal protestant leaders of other American denominations. I do not disagree with your political leaning to the left. I am a life-long political liberal, unlike many of my friends. My wife and I opposed the unjust war against Vietnam in the 60's and 70's, and we have with equal conviction opposed the foolhardy invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. We also supported the ELCA in its ecumenical actions to re-institute the episcopal office by means of passing the CCM as well as to adopt the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Vatican. But none of that equates with transforming Lutheranism into a liberal protestant denomination, in terms of doctrine, worship, and morality.

When I finished my graduate studies at Harvard and Heidelberg, I was ordained by the ELC and served a parish in North Minneapolis, simultaneously teaching at Luther Seminary. At that time I was instrumental in founding Dialog, a journal of theology, together with Robert Jenson, Roy Harrisville, Kent Knutson, James Burtness, and others, in order to draw midwest Lutheranism into the world-wide orbit of Lutheran theology. We were not ecumenically oriented at the start. At that time no Luther Seminary professors were dealing with the issues posed by Bultmann, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Barth, Brunner, Aulén, Nygren and many others. Dialog got the reputation of being a journal edited by young upstarts who thought they knew better. It seemed to us then that most of our professors were not very well informed. But they were good Lutherans, not a single heretic among them. Heresy was not the problem at that time. The journal that our group founded in 1961 has now become the voice of a liberal protestant version of Lutheranism. Robert Jenson and I resigned from the journal as its editors in1991 to found a new journal, Pro Ecclesia, a Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology. In the last fourteen years we have published the articles of theologians of all traditions—Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox—exhibiting the truth that we all share common ground in the Great Tradition.

The same cannot be said of Dialog anymore. It has become a function of the California ethos of religion and morality, nothing seriously Lutheran about it anymore, except the aroma of an empty bottle. Too bad. I was its editor for twenty years and Jenson for ten years, but now in our judgment it has become, perhaps even unwittingly, the very opposite of what we intended. The journal now expresses its belief that to be prophetic is to become the mouthpiece of the denominational bureaucracy, that is, to attack the few dissenting voices in the ELCA.

One day a church historian will write the history of Lutheranism in America. There will be a few paragraphs trying to explain how the self-destruction of confessional orthodox Lutheranism came about around the turn of the millennium and how it underwent a metamorphosis into a liberal protestant denomination. Recently in an issue of the Lutheran Magazine you expressed your hope that Lutherans could some day soon celebrate Holy Communion with Roman Catholics. My instant reaction was: it is becoming less and less likely, as the ELCA is being taken hostage by forces alien to the solid traditions Lutherans share with Roman Catholics. The confessional chasm is actually becoming wider. So much for the JDDJ! The agreement becomes meaningless when Lutheranism embarks on a trajectory that leads to rank antinomianism.

Where do we go from here? I am going nowhere. Meanwhile, I am hearing rumors about a possible schism or something about the formation of a dissenting synod. None of that will redound to the benefit of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church we confess in the Creed. Each person and congregation will do what they deem fitting and appropriate in view of the apostasy that looms on the horizon of our beloved Lutheran Church. My friend Wolfhart Pannenberg has stated that a church that cannot take the Scriptures seriously is no longer a church that belongs to Jesus Christ. That is not an original statement of his or mine, but one said by every orthodox theologian in the Great Tradition, including Athanasius and Augustine, as well as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Does the ELCA take the Scriptures seriously? We will soon find out. Whoever passes the issue off as simply a hermeneutical squabble is not being honest—“we have our interpretation and you have yours.” Who is to judge who is right? The upshot is ecclesiastical anarchy, sometimes called pluralism. To each his own. Chacun son gout!

I am extremely sorry it has come to this doctrinally unstable situation in the church I was ordained to serve almost half a century ago. My father and two of his brothers served this church in Madagascar and China. My brother and sister served this church in the Cameroons and Madagascar. My cousins have served this church as ordained ministers in this country and abroad for decades. Knowing them as well as I do, I am confident in stating their belief that this church in some of its expressions is not remaining truly faithful to the kind of promises they made upon their ordination to the Christian ministry.

Can the situation which I have described in stark terms be remedied? Have we reached the point of no return? Are we now hopelessly mired in what Karl Barth identified as “Kulturprotestantismus?” I know of about half a dozen Lutheran renewal groups desperately trying to call the ELCA back to its foundational texts and traditions. Would they exist if there were no problem that needs to be addressed? How many congregations and pastors have left or are leaving the ELCA for other associations?

One day we will have to answer before the judgment seat of God as to what we have done for and against the Church of Jesus Christ. There will be no one by our side to help us find the words to use in response. All of us will have many things for which to repent and to implore God’s forgiveness. And we will all cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

Sincerely in Christ our Lord,

Carl E. Braaten

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Has it been that long ??

I've not posted in a while, about 4 months or so. Its not because there hasn't been things to comment on, just that others were doing it so much better than I.

However, next week the Fellowship of Presbyterians is having their Convocation Gathering in Orlando. I'll be there, along with 2,000 or so others. Some to hear what is going on, some to make a decision to affiliate/join/whatever with the FoP, and some to sow seeds of dissent and discord.

I'll be going with an open mind, ready to sign on to the FoP as an individual member, however, with the release of the schedule on Monday, Jan 9th, there doesn't seem to be any time set aside for an actual discussion or vote on the Essentials and the Polity.

FWIW ... the Polity paper is really not much of an issue, frankly because there's not much there. Which is a good thing, there is time to add in what is needed as far as any BOO is concerned.

The Essentials and Confessions is the area where there's going to be some contention. There shouldn't be an issue with keeping the Creeds, they are an orthodox declaration of what we believe as Christians. However, there is no need to include all the confessions as currently used by the PC(USA). You would want to keep Westminster along with its Catechisms, Heidelburg as currently written, and maybe the Barmen and Scots; but do away with the rest. All they do is dilute what should be an unequivocal message of belief in Christ, and what the church is supposed to be.

They are allotting 1 hour and 15 minutes for The Theology Project: Confessions, Essentials, and Commitments (with table conversation). That's an interesting description of what the NRB is supposedly going to be based on, and allowing 75 minutes for presentation and conversation, with an additional half-hour for Q&A does not appear to be enough time.

I guess they're assuming that everyone will be happy with what is presented, but will there be a way to introduce an alternative? There is a break-out session that is titled Theology: Going Deeper, presented by the same people who will be leading the main session. Will there be further discussions of a possible alternative, will the leaders be willing to relinquish ownership and allow for changes??

This is a question that will be on many peoples minds starting Wednesday evening. A friend said to me, "If it appears that we're given a take it or leave it proposition, there may be a small riot. Done decently and in order of course !!"

And so it goes ....