An Appeal to Those Attending the Fellowship PC(USA) Event

I will be anxiously following the conversation and information coming out of the Fellowship PC(USA) gathering that is happening very soon in Minneapolis.  I will be watching as someone who does not believe the PC(USA) is “deathly ill” or that the passage of amendment 10-A was a departure from faithfully following God and the teachings of the Bible.  I will also be watching as a Co-Pastor of a church that has had division and conflict over the passage of Amendment 10-A.  This division has led to a significant number of people leaving our church, a decrease in giving, and the unfortunate but necessary release of two of our staff because of the decrease in giving.

One thing I have learned in the last several months is that if you are going to be part of a church then you need to be able to support the whole of the church and not just those people with whom you agree and are comfortable with.  A body will tear itself apart if one group acts in a way that says, “We are following Jesus more closely than you.” Members of a body need to be able to say to one another, “I may not agree with your particular interpretation of Scripture on this matter, but I believe that you are a faithful follower of Jesus and are seeking God’s leading through Scripture as much as I am.”

My appeal to those going to the Fellowship PC(USA) event is that if you do seek to create a “new Reformed body,” while still remaining in the PC(USA), that you honor the intention stated on your website to do so in a manner that is a “mutually helpful association with the PC(USA) and its related institutions.”  If your intentions are to remain as part of the PC(USA) then you must also affirm that those of us outside the Fellowship are also faithful, Biblical Christians who are just as committed to theological orthodoxy and following God as you are. It’s fine if you think that we have erred in our judgment, but it is not “mutually helpful” to impune our motives or our faith.

I hope and pray that this event can lead toward a way that is mutually beneficial and helpful for the entire PC(USA) to move forward, instead of a way that is only best for one group within our denomination. 

6 thoughts on “An Appeal to Those Attending the Fellowship PC(USA) Event

  1. Thanks, Shawn. I’m sorry you have had to reduce staff. Praying for you and your family and all of the rest of churches struggling. I really like the way you invite us to observe faithfulness in each other.

  2. I am one of the pastors attending the conference in Minneapolis. I am attending because I, as well as many of my colleagues, am looking for a place within the PCUSA I can call home. Few are looking to leave. Most are simply looking for validation. I have been challenged as a schismatic because I advocate standards for those who seek and/or respond to the call to service within the church. I find it amazing when some sports teams are encouraged to put morals clauses in their athletes’ contracts when the church is encouraged to take them out. I do not claim to be holier than those who would feel differently on the issue than I. However, we are called to be discening. Paul encouraged New Testament Christian to dissassociate themselves from non-repentent sisters and brothers. Yes, I agree we should build each other up rather than tear one another down. Within my own presbytery I have been encouraged to not bring up any new amendments at the present time. It appears as though some questions from the floor may be considered “out of order” or “innapropriate.” I have been in the PCUSA since I was 5 years old. I am coming up on the 25th anniversary of my ordination, and I feel very unwelcome in the church I have given so much of my life and heart. In the long-run, I really don’t think the survival of the PCUSA is important one way or the other. I think the glorification of Jesus Christ, the spreading of the Gospel, and the nurturing of fellow believers trumps the survival of the PCUSA. It is my hope that the church I love so dearly will see that for itself and begin to concentrate of the things that speak to our “chief end.”

  3. Craig,If I am reading your comment right then it is an example of what I was writing about.If you and I both want to remain in the PC(USA) then we need to be able to say to each other, “I disagree with you on this matter but I still believe you are faithfully trying to follow God and uphold Biblical standards and teachings.”You write:”I have been challenged as a schismatic because I advocate standards for those who seek and/or respond to the call to service within the church.”and”I find it amazing when some sports teams are encouraged to put morals clauses in their athletes’ contracts when the church is encouraged to take them out.”You seem to be implying that because someone may not agree with the specific standards or morals you advocate for that they want no standards or morals for our officers. This is simply not true and, in my opinion, it insults their faith and commitment to God. A more faithful and Christian way to make your point might be to say, “I understand that we are all trying to follow God’s teachings and conform our lives to Christ. I also acknowledge that we all want our officer to be held to Godly standards and morals. The problem is that I think many supporters of 10-A have erred in interpreting Scripture and dismissing what I see as a clear Biblical standard.”That kind of wording doesn’t question my commitment to Christ or make my faith inferior to yours. All it does is question my judgment or interpretation, and I can handle that. I’m wrong quite often, so if you tell me that I’ve made a mistake I don’t find that insulting.If the Fellowship is going to exist within the PC(USA) then their needs to be acknowledgement that our differences are in interpretation and judgment, not in commitment to God, the Scriptural witness and to following Christ.

  4. Shawn,Thank you for your post and desire for an outcome of the Fellowship Gathering that is beneficial to all in the PC(USA), as one who is attending the gathering, this is my hope as well.Thank you for sharing about the difficulty your church has faced over 10-A, such as the loss of members and reduction in staff. You are also aware of how painful these times can be. There is, however, one big difference between your situation and my situation. You, by your own admission, wanted this change and I did not! I think that is an important distinction in our understanding of each other. When we make changes in our congregation because we think it is the best for the Kingdom we have to deal with the fall out, but we know it is the right thing. This time we are experiencing fall out and a hindering of our evangelical witness from something we didn’t want.I don’t want to have to deal with these denominational issues. I am looking forward to seeing some of my friends at the Fellowship Gathering but I wish we were meeting under other circumstances. Our church is in the midst of building a transitional living facility for homeless and potentially homeless families within a 501c3 that we created and I serve as Executive Director. We are at the beginning stages of planting a church, and contemplating an expansion of the building on our property. The last thing I want to deal with are the logistics and the pain of discerning how to move forward with the realities of our denomination.I love the denomination but my congregation and I are at a point where we have to take an honest evaluation of what is best for the Kingdom. I will tell you the final straw for us. We have a 34-year-old man in our congregation who just finished his Ph.D. from Cambridge and was set to become the New Testament Professor at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, a position which is sponsored by the PC(USA) world mission. However, the week 10-A past and before it went into effect he was called by the denomination and was told, “Because you are a denominational employee you must speak for all Presbyterians, therefore, if asked publically about the passing of 10-A you must either be silent or support it.” REALLY? I thought Jesus Christ was Lord of the conscience and we are in a “big tent”. I guess the tent hasn’t gotten bigger with the passing of 10-A, but it has moved! And I feel like I am getting sunburned! What about all of those denominational employees that were certainly not silent when amendments similar to 10-A didn’t pass? He respectfully withdrew from the position much to the disappointment of the Seminary. I also heard stories of the outright lies that had been told him by denominational staff and the massively bloated GA staff that is present even after several rounds of cuts. (Perhaps a sign of deathly ill?)This one example, however, is only the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Even in our Presbytery, which is fairly evangelical, I have seen candidates for ministry that come into our Presbytery that are not reformed let alone orthodox Christian by any stretch of the imagination. These individuals get on COM and CPM and examine candidates that come from our church and associates coming into our congregation. So while some will say we don’t HAVE to ordain anyone new. But we know churches will do it and have done it, Presbyteries will do it and have done it. If a minister transfers to a liberal church in an evangelical Presbytery the Presbyteries will probably not hold to the standards they believe in. Did you see recently that one of the things the GA is advising is to have pro 10-A COMs and con 10-A COMs in each Presbytery? This is how united we are that the denomination is saying we need to separated within our Presbyteries. The fact of the matter is I like being Presbyterian, I like the accountability that is created in Presbyteries, I like that we are not “free Presbyterians”. If we were “Free Presbyterians” then I wouldn’t care what other churches do, but I am charged with a spiritual responsibility in the PC(USA) with other churches, and other teaching elders and ruling elders are also charged with this responsibility over me and my congregation. This is our covenant life together. But how can I, our leadership, our congregation, and our candidates exercise and submit to that spiritual authority when there is almost no common ground left? I don’t know what we consider to be essentials anymore; I don’t know what we consider Christian essentials let alone Reformed essentials. So I don’t know how to live out my ordination vows with such great ambiguity. I want to have the accountability and unity in mission and ministry that we are supposed to have as Presbyterians. I like that we have freedom of conscience within the bounds of scripture. I hear you saying “We are all trying to be faithful to scripture.” Honestly it is really difficult to see an honest wrestling of scripture as the inspired Word of God, by many of those on the left. I have heard from many “I don’t care what scripture says, it is just man’s opinion.” “It is outdated” “God is doing a new thing” We don’t view scripture the same. I am not a fundamentalist, I am not a literalist, but I am one that believes that scripture needs to change me and have authority not just be “a guide or an opinion.” I am however willing to concede for the sake of argument that those on the left and the right “have drastically different ways of interpreting scripture.” So how do we hold these drastically different ways in our denomination system.Those attending the fellowship or considering some kind of way forward are accused of disrupting the unity and our connectional nature by even thinking about other options. But I would submit that we desire, long for and in many cases miss the connectional nature of our denomination and the bonds with other Presbyterians. When the tent gets too wide it is hard to feel a bond and the desire to be connectional. So many of us have found other ways to connect, support, encourage and hold each other accountable. We are not all the same, we have various approaches to ministry and great dialogue, but we know we are all starting from the same place. And when we navigating those relationships and Presbytery is difficult, time consuming, costly, often sometimes pointless and takes away from our missional endeavors. We want those relationships that we have with people who are on the same page to have more official judicatory responsibility. And quite frankly I know that those who are significantly left of me, don’t t me having influence in their congregations. They don’t want my evangelical Presbytery to tell them that they can’t call a pastor who isn’t living the former G.6.0106b. So on the one hand they have standards relaxed but in many cases won’t be able to do what the book of order would allow them to do in a different Presbytery. This is going to compound the chaos and the fighting within a significant number of Presbytery. Presbyteries that are split are going to fight for certain pastors to get into the congregations to maintain or gain back the “balance of power”. I for one just don’t want to do that anymore, but I don’t want to lose the connectional nature that I think is so important.So if we can agree that we are so far spread apart that you don’t want me caring spiritual authority over church, and I don’t want you caring spiritual authority over my church. But we both like the connectional and covenantal nature that is hallmark of our Presbyterian way of life, then we have to figure out an option forward. So I would hope those who are critical of the Fellowship and thinking that we are wanting to break our connectional or covenantal nature, might see just the opposite. We feel like the covenantal relationship that we entered into has been broken with no signs of restoration. We don’t want to be de-facto Congregationalists; we want the covenantal life that drew us to the Presbyterian Church.

  5. Dana, thank you for your well written and heartfelt response.Before I took my ordination vows nine years ago I thought long and hard about the significant Biblical and theological differences I had with the rationale and intent of G-6.0106b. I had a choice to take my vows, become a minister and support our denomination as a whole, or to say that the PC(USA) was not where I was theologically and I could not in good conscience be a part of it.Our Session recently voted to hold to the traditional standards of ordination, I may personally believe something different but as a member of Session I now have an obligation to support the Session’s decision and I will do so.Today, you and others face a similar choice. I was in the minority before, and now you are. I understand the desire to want to hold fast to the parts of being PC(USA) that you value, but I don’t believe that we get to pick and choose which parts of being PC(USA) we will honor and which we won’t. I can easily imagine the further pain and division my church would have experienced if some of our members who left would have said, “We are going to stay here but we would like to figure out a way to not have to work with or associate with the rest of the church as much because we are too far apart theologically.”

  6. Thanks Shawn,You’re question that you wrestled with prior to your ordination is a good one and yes it is one that we now have to wrestle with. We don’t want to pick and choose. We either need to support the denomination o seek a new reformed body where we can have the covenantal life.I guess what is frustrating to me is being criticized by some for attending the Fellowship and wrestling with the question that you all had to wrestle with in coming into the denomination. Your initial comments seemed critical of those attending the fellowship. Why are people critical for us rethinking our relationship in light of new realities, when you all had to think and pray through if you could be faithful entering into denomination? We are just asking can we faithfully stay in the denomination and if so how do we do that? Why are people critical even if a new body is outside of the PC(USA) if we and are congregations can’t maintain the covenant and we don’t want to pick and choose shouldn’t those on the left be applauding our desire to rethink our relationship? It just seems like a huge double standard.On a side note, I know it wasn’t intended this way, by the comments that I have heard from some about “we were in the minority and now you are so how come you can’t deal with it as we did.” are somewhat offensive. It is not like being a democrat or a republican and sometimes your party is in control and sometimes it isn’t. Again we see this as a covenantal relationship that has significantly shifted to the point where many of us think it has been breached. So we are lamenting being in the minority, we are lamenting what we see as a breach of the covenant.

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