Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Q & A from our First Reading

We thought it would be helpful to the discussion to share with you some of the questions and concerns we received last evening to summarize the discussion from the meeting. Happy reading!

Why is this not in the form of an overture?
We grant that the normal form of communication between Governing Bodies is an overture. However, the 218th General Assembly pushed our entire communion into uncharted constitutional territory. How does a Presbytery call a General Assembly to account? What mechanism is there in our polity that would allow us to declare a council’s errors? The answer is that there are none. Apparently the framers of our Constitution did not envision a day where a General Assembly might eviscerate our covenant and the Presbyteries would be forced to tell her so through not complying with an Assembly’s rulings. The constitutional means do not exist.

Another reason for not putting this in the form of an overture is because the errors were committed by a previous Assembly. Everything that is said in that last sentence is in the past tense. It is already done. To ask for it to be undone would require the reconvening of the Assembly which we have already seen to be a fruitless waste of time when asked of other, even recent, Assemblies. What reasonably can be done now is to declare the Assembly out of bounds and carve out a place for us to stand that is constitutionally, confessionally, and biblically sound.

Are you saying that Christians, Jews and Muslims do not worship the same God?
Yes. Ask a Muslim or a Jew if they will worship Jesus as Divine and they will tell you that they cannot. Ask a Christian if they can worship as long as they are not willing to worship Jesus as Divine and they will tell you that they cannot. The same holds true for the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. Both Judaism and Islam may refer to God on occasion as the God of Abraham, but our understandings are fundamentally different and irreconcilable apart from the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Are you saying that the worship of Jews and Muslims is somehow incomplete?
Yes. They deny the full Divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We affirm with Jesus that a day is coming and is already here when those who worship the Father will do so in Spirit and in Truth. Anything less than worship of the triune God is incomplete.

You are concerned about us distancing ourselves from the Church Universal. Do you understand that there are several issues that divide the body of Christ such as communion, baptism, polity, etc.?
Of course we do. We would be fools to not recognize that there are hundreds of denominations of Christianity throughout the world, each with their own distinctives. However, what unite us all are some core beliefs which are never in question. Key among these doctrines is the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the authority of the Scriptures. This Assembly’s errors are not errors of tangential doctrines upon which we can agree to disagree. These errors are errors in core doctrines, basic beliefs for all Christians, those which our Book of Order calls the faith catholic. It is for this reason that we have declared Status Confessiones. These rulings are breaches of covenant standing in the Church Universal. Thus these errors do place our standing in the Church Universal at risk, something which at least one PC USA mission partner with Park United Presbyterian Church in Zelienople has already indicated to us in person.

I am afraid that you are asking us to not recognize the work of other Presbyteries in their ordinations. Can you comment on that?
Yes we are. There is a reason for that. Prior to this Assembly, there was a means for correction if another Presbytery chose to ordain someone outside the bounds of the Book of Order. Remedial cases could be and were filed by Presbyteries and Presbyters against the body in question. The actions of the 218th Assembly have effectively removed these options. According to this Assembly and our Stated Clerk’s office, Presbyteries may ordain whomever they wish, regardless of belief or practice, without any correction, so long as our process is followed. According to these bodies, scruples of behavior and core beliefs of Christianity are now permitted and all court cases that supported these former means of redress have now been overturned. While minister members of other Presbyteries like Baltimore, Hudson River, and Redwoods were ordained in defiance of the Book of Order, according to this new environment, they now serve in compliance with the Book of Order. Since the Assembly undertook to create this new environment on its own, without ratification by the Presbyteries and without following our process for constitutional revision, we cannot agree in word or practice with their decisions.

I am in favor of this. However, I am not sure what this will accomplish. You have a great big gun here. I am just not sure where the target is…
Part of this concern is related to the previous answer about the form of the declaration. It is not an overture. Our means of redress are our resolutions. These resolutions, while addressed to the General Assembly, have more to do with how we intend to conduct ourselves as a Presbytery in light of these errors and serve as information to the General Assembly. The options for how we live faithfully as Presbyteries in this new era of constitutional anarchy are few. We believe this declaration provides a place for Presbyteries to faithfully stand regardless of the errors of our most recent General Assembly.

I am concerned that this is the work of just two presbyters. How do we make this the Presbytery’s work?
This is largely the work of two Presbyters. However, these two Presbyters have sought broad input from others in the Presbytery and outside the Presbytery. This document has undergone a number of revisions. Several have contributed to this and the Presbytery now has the opportunity to make it its own through first and second readings. This process is appropriate, decent and in order.

What is the goal?
The goal is for our Presbytery and any who will join us to stand for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. That might not sound like much to some but given the current environment in our denomination it is critically important to us.

What is advisory opinion 22 and why is it opposed in here?
Advisory Opinion 22 was released by the new Stated Clerk, Grayde Parsons, and his office within a week following the Assembly. The Advisory Opinion, distributed to the whole denomination through each Presbytery’s Stated Clerk, tells us that indeed local option is our present reality. It tells us that the General Assembly’s Authoritative Interpretations did indeed change the plain meaning of G-6.0106b and did indeed eliminate any precedent which supported it. With this we cannot agree.

This document is full of hyperbole. I hope that you will remove some of the passion from it so that your points can be clearly made.
We do not consider this document to be hyperbolic. We admit that we are saddened, hurt, and even upset at the actions of this recent assembly. However, we believe their actions are accurately described and opposed. Further, while many Presbyterians tend to devalue passion, we would ask, “How is one to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength without passion?” If our passion for orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and the One Lord Jesus Christ is evident here, we celebrate that and urge others to join us in it.

Why the term “tactical” errors?
One will note that this declaration is progressive. The first category of error is diplomatic. The second is tactical. The third is constitutional, then judicial, then confessional, then Biblical. This progression is intentional. The categories of error become more and more severe as the document progresses. Hence, tactical errors are significantly more benign than Biblical errors. Originally we labeled these errors “procedural”. The problem with the term “procedural” is that “procedural” implies something actionable; which would have raised these errors to the level of constitutional errors. The term “procedural” implies an error in either the Book of Order or Robert’s Rules. The simple truth of these first two categories is that these were permissible acts. The General Assembly was well within its power to establish a legal defense fund for property cases, to leave the overture in question together rather than separate it, and to revise an authoritative interpretation that it had just ruled as having no further force or effect. All of those actions were permissible but they were far from helpful. We might equate them with punting on a first down or going for it on fourth down with twenty yards to go in the first quarter when the scoreboard reads 0-0. These plays are permissible but tactically silly and would be called “errors in judgment” by any knowledgeable commentator or even armchair quarterback. That is what we mean by tactical errors.