Via the WebElf Report, I ran across a quote that is meant to provide “homiletical background” for preachers writing sermons for Transfiguration Sunday. Without checking on Binky’s links, and with no hint from me, I’d like to challenge readers to 1) identify the author; or 2) at least identify the denominational affiliation of the author. I’ll reveal the answer tomorrow. Remember–no peeking.
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in today’s gospel is one of the stranger stories in any of the Gospels. Evidently Jesus had a powerful “religious experience” at some point in his public life, an experience which had a profound effect on him and on the apostles who were with him. As the story of this experience was related among the early Christians it took on a heavy overlay of theological symbolism. In the context of St. Matthew’s Gospel it becomes a turning point in Jesus’ life, an experience in which he saw that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die while he was there. Since Jesus was human he was fated to die just as all of us are fated to die. In his death, however, there would be something more. Since God was present in Jesus in a special way, God would also go down into the valley of death to show us how great was his love for us, to assure us that He would be with us at the time of our own deaths, and how all of us should face death. The manner of Jesus’ death was not fated. He could have declined to go to Jerusalem without sin. Yet he came to see that he had to go there and so he did.
Comments from preachers about the usefulness, helpfulness, or accuracy of this “background” is also welcome. Fire away, pastors.
UPDATE: Well, I think I’ve tortured you all long enough. The answer is…
The Rev. Andrew Greeley, Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, writer of sleazy novels, and really, really, REALLY bad interpreter of Scripture. From the sounds of it he may be a heretical theologian as well, but since he isn’t employed as a teacher of theology I doubt that anyone, including his bishop, cares much about that.
The quote above comes from Diogenes of Catholic World News, who in turn got it from here. Diogenes introduces it with this, to which I think a lot of Protestants whose pastors came out of mainline seminaries can relate:
It’s a fine illustration of progressivist discourse, and will explain the dread that grips believing Catholics whenever their pastor climbs into the pulpit.
Well, that’s a first. It seems I’ve been “tagged” by Kate at The Hairy Eyeball to provide “six unimportant facts/quirks/habits about myself” (only six?). It’s one of those Internet things. But I do appreciate her thinking of me. So here goes:
1. I have a collection of over 250 pieces of apocalyptic fiction.
2. I was the 1993 Class B United States Chess Co-Champion.
3. I worked as a part-time intern in the New Jersey Legislature in the mid-1970s, and never had to enter a witness protection program.
4. My favorite music is Gregorian and Byzantine chant.
5. I missed getting into the Ph.D program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill back in 1986 by a 3-2 vote of the admissions committee, mostly because I was too up front about my desire to use the degree to help prepare future pastors by teaching church history in a Christian seminary–and I’m still bitter about it.
6. I have no known quirks except blogging.
Now, Kate went on to list six bloggers, including me, whom she “tagged,” so I reckon I need to do the same. Those would be:
Toby Brown, the Classical Presbyterian
Benjamin Glaser, the Backwoods Presbyterian
Will Spotts, the Recovering Presbyterian
Bill Crawford, the Bayou Christian (who is also a Presbyterian)
Chris Larimer, the Greek Deacon (who is not Eastern Orthodox but Presbyterian)
Viola Larson of Naming His Grace (ditto)
The Rev. Janet Edwards, descendant of Jonathan Edwards and PCUSA minister, is going to soon be facing new charges resulting from her 2005 performance of a same-sex wedding, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
A Pittsburgh Presbytery committee plans to pursue new charges against the Rev. Janet Edwards for officiating a wedding between two women in June 2005, a spokeswoman for the Oakland minister said Tuesday.
Edwards and Pittsburgh church officials are negotiating to reach a resolution and the Presbytery could decide to not pursue the charges before Edwards’ case goes to trial, said Ashley Harness of New York-based Fenton Communications.
In case you’re wondering why a Presbyterian minister needs the services of a PR firm, I’d urge you to check out Fenton in general and Harness in particular.
Edwards, a parish associate at Community of Reconciliation, did not return a phone call. Harness released a statement from her.
“While another trial now seems inevitable, along with it comes an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about how we can truly open our hearts and our doors to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters,” Edwards said in the statement. “I know these conversations will not be easy, but I am hopeful because my Presbyterian tradition teaches me that it is only through dialogue and struggle together that something more beautiful and more pleasing to God can be born.”
Translation: I am hoping that my fellow Presbyterians will ignore the PCUSA constitution, just as I did, and thereby allow me to avoid the consequences of my actions. I will make any trial a political circus in which I will put the constitution on trial, and hope that one result will be that my blatant disregard for the standards I vowed to uphold when I was ordained will be overlooked among the general uproar. I am going to do this because I know that I cannot win on the merits, nor will my position prevail in fair and honest debate across the denomination, so I am trying to change the facts on the ground. And with any luck, I’ll get away with it.
It’s actually pretty easy to translate these kinds of statements. You just have to speak the language.
(Via Layman Online.)
UPDATE: According to the Presbyterian News Service, one of the two women Edwards “married” (Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole) has weighed in:
McConn, a longtime Presbyterian and former member of Dallas Presbyterian Church in Dallas, WV, currently worships at a Unitarian congregation. Cole was raised Methodist but now is a practicing Buddhist.
“The church’s actions are extremely hurtful toward me and Nancy and toward other gay couples,” Cole told the Presbyterian News Service. “We’re determined to stand by Rev. Edwards as she faces these charges and continues to speak the truth about our marriage. And we’re quite determined that no matter what the church’s actions are they in no way undermine the sacredness of our marriage.”
Whatever. I’m sorry they’re feeling hurt, but I also don’t understand why a Christian denomination should take advice from non-Christians about the meaning and definition of marriage according to the teachings of Christianity. Given that they are not, in fact, married, apparently the state of Pennsylvania isn’t interested in their views, either.
First Things editor Anthony Scaramone sat down with New York City pastor Tim Keller to talk about the latter’s new book entitled The Reason for God, and I recommend the interview to anyone who is interested in the work of reaching out to an increasingly secular and skeptical society. Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), one of the city’s largest, is best known for his book Ministries of Mercy, an excellent treatment of the Christian responsibility for the “least of these.” In The Reason for God, Keller sets himself the task of writing a new sort of Mere Christianity for 21st century America. Scaramone asks him, “What would you say is the greatest difference between how someone must approach apologetics today as opposed to when Lewis was doing it in the 1940s and 1950s?” Keller responds:
First of all, I’m inspired by Lewis, and my book is inspired by his book, but I’m a preacher first of all, not a writer, and I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis. And yet everybody’s doing that, and I take it as a compliment, but it’s pretty unjustified. However, he’s the benchmark, so everybody’s going to be compared.
Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there’s just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.
In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn’t keep their attention, because they really couldn’t follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn’t something that they were trained in doing. I don’t think they’re irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.
I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments.
There’s a lot more in the interview. Check it out.
Last week, evangelical environmentalists gathered in Orlando for a conference on the use of styrofoam cups in church. No, not really (though that subject did come up the the United Methodist Church several years ago). Instead, this was about global warming, and as usual the rhetoric was straight out of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” according to the Orlando Sentinel:
Calling climate change “the civil-rights movement of the 21st century,” evangelical Christian leaders gathered at a daylong environmental conference in Longwood Thursday.
Global warming is “an offense against God,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, at Northland, a Church Distributed. “America needs our biblical outrage. We as a nation will face a judgment from God if we don’t do this.”
We’ve seen this act before. The reason Cizik can claim that global warming “is an offense against God” is because he is as sure that climate change is anthropogenic as he is that Jesus rose from the dead. There is no scientific controversy, there are no unanswered questions, there is no doubt that can be expressed. For Cizik and the evangelicals who stand with him, this has become an article of religious faith, just as it is for the followers of Al Gore.
Religious activism on the environment should be directed at both the grass-roots and the national political arena, speakers said, urging everything from congregational recycling to lobbying for legislation.
“Evangelicals have become the go-to religious community on climate change,” Cizik said. “The political center of gravity has unmistakably shifted on this issue.”
That’s a total reversal of “a mere six years ago,” he said. “It’s gone from being irrelevant to being at the center of the action.”
And if you listen closely, you can see what this is really about. It’s about political influence, and a perceived way back into the halls of power. Apparently the thinking is that alliance with Republicans on abortion and homosexuality-related issues didn’t get evangelicals anywhere, so now it’s time to try an alliance with the Democrats on the environment. Yeah, I know, folks like Cizik will deny ’til the cows come home (or stop spewing methane into the atmosphere) that a desire for political say-so has any role here, but I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. If the NCC can play this game, so can the NAE, and that looks to be just what’s happening. And even if it isn’t about power per se, there’s no question that it is about applying the certainties of Christian faith to the uncertainties of politics and public policy, and doing so in a way that brings the church into disrepute. Cizik and his friends no doubt like the idea that they come across like Old Testament prophets–just as Bob Edgar did on economic and foreign policy issues when he was in charge of the NCC. Instead of prophets, however, they look like the NCC does every time it takes an issue on which there are various prudential considerations and understandings and treats them as though the solution is revealed from heaven itself via the Book of Hezekiah. Evangelicals shouldn’t be falling into that trap.
(Hat tip: Toby Brown.)
The PCUSA’s Presbytery of Mississippi, having defeated an effort to overture the next General Assembly to cut ties with the EPC, has instead sent a letter to Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick. In it, they whine, distort, misrepresent, and generally thrown a temper tantrum over the events connected to Grace Chapel Presbyerian Church. The letter comes from the Layman Online:
Grace and peace to you from the Presbytery of Mississippi. Thanks to much help, we are recovering from Hurricane Katrina. However, other foul winds are blowing, and we seek your help. Our concern deals with the best way to respond to the unwelcome interference and hostile actions of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the harm this is causing in our presbytery.
For example, in 1995, this presbytery organized a church near Jackson, Mississippi called Grace Chapel. We invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the property and support during the congregation’s early years. August 5, 2007, with active encouragement from the EPC, and against our wishes, the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the PC(USA).
We are aggrieved because the congregational vote was railroaded by the pastor and session who adamantly refused to permit the Presbytery to address the congregation before the vote was taken. We are angered because the vote intentionally defied a stay issued by our Permanent Judicial Commission. When we appointed an Administrative Commission to deal with this, Grace Chapel informed us that they have joined the EPC and filed suit against the Presbytery. We are now a defendant being sued by a church claiming EPC status!
We would not be in this position but for the active involvement of the EPC, which encouraged the congregation to leave, and which accepted this congregation while the Presbytery was contesting the election. This is hostile. This is morally wrong. It is illegal.
We object to representatives of the EPC visiting Grace Chapel and encouraging the congregation to quit the PC(USA). We object to the EPC’s unlawful attempt to enroll a congregation that is still a member of the PC(USA). We object to the EPC’s refusal to remove Grace Chapel from their roll even after we communicated to them the irregular and unconstitutional nature of Grace Chapel’s attempt to separate from us.
We have expressed our concerns to the EPC’s leadership, but have received no satisfaction. Therefore we request that the Stated Clerk and the general counsel of the General Assembly Council file a formal complaint with the governing bodies of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the New Wineskins Association of Churches requesting them, jointly and severally, to cease and desist from recruiting or receiving congregations of the PC(USA) before they are officially dismissed, and to meet with representatives of such bodies for the purpose of coming to an amicable agreement with respect to such matters.
We look forward to working with you as we all continue to pursue the peace, unity and purity of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Now, I didn’t think I was really in a position to answer all of this, so I’ve given that opportunity to the Rev. Steve Bryant, pastor of Grace Chapel, who is in the best position to refute this letter. So without further adieu, take it away, Pastor Steve:
The Presbytery of Mississippi letter to Kirkpatrick is based on mistaken information.
I. The facts regarding the EPC’s role in Grace Chapel’s disaffiliation from the PCUSA:
The Presbytery of Mississippi alleges “unwelcome interference and hostile actions of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church… the active involvement of the EPC, which encouraged the congregation to leave…” And, “representatives of the EPC visiting Grace Chapel and encouraging the congregation to quit the PC(USA).”
The EPC did not seek us out and at no time did the EPC encourage us to “quit the PC(USA).” After the Synod of Living Waters Administrative Review Committee wrongfully accused us of having “violated our ordination vows” for following the Property Policy of the Presbytery of Mississippi, we began to realize that God was calling Grace Chapel out of an increasingly hostile denomination. The first step in our discernment process was to carefully review material available on the EPC Website (Book of Order, Essentials, position papers, etc.). Upon studying this public information, a number of our Ruling Elders commented that they felt as though they had “finally found a denominational home.” On behalf of the Session, I contacted John Adamson, chair of the National Transitional Presbytery. No one in the EPC initiated contact with the Session. No one in the EPC initiated contact with any member of the congregation. After I initiated contact with the EPC upon the Session’s request, Mr. Adamson emphatically stated that the EPC is not in the business of proselytizing congregations, nor was he “selling the EPC.” Further, he counseled me to urge the Session to pray diligently about our decision, as either way, it would no doubt be a painful and difficult decision. Mr. Adamson was invited to an informational meeting with the congregation wherein members were given the opportunity to ask questions regarding the EPC. At that meeting, Mr. Adamson never once denigrated the PCUSA or suggested in any way that we should leave, nor did he paint a perfect picture of the EPC. He simply answered our questions and encouraged us to make our decision prayerfully.
II. Regarding the Presbytery of Mississippi’s assertion that “the congregational vote was railroaded by the pastor and session who adamantly refused to permit the Presbytery to address the congregation before the vote was taken.”
Initially, the Session envisioned having representatives from the Presbytery of Mississippi and from the EPC to conduct informational meetings for the congregation. However, several factors ultimately led to our decision to invite an EPC representative only:
A) The Presbytery of Mississippi’s COM sent a letter an offensive letter to the Session declaring that if we went ahead with our vote we would be removing ourselves from the “True Church,” which we took to mean the Body of Christ.
B) The Session invited Executive Presbyter Bill Deprater and COM Chair Steve Ramp to meet with the Session for the purpose of considering their demand to meet with the congregation. At that meeting, a Ruling Elder asked the Executive Presbyter a simple question regarding the PCUSA’s funding of abortions in the medical plan. In an attempt to answer the question Deprater offered to have the PCUSA pay for an abortion for my wife (Elizabeth Bryant).
C) At the same Session meeting, a Ruling Elder pointed out several major flaws in the Presbytery’s “Recommended Guidelines” for a process of dismissal to COM Chair Ramp. When Ramp could not satisfy Session’s reasonable concerns, Ramp was asked what would happen if we chose not to follow the “Recommended Guidelines.” Rev. Ramp said, “Oh, you don’t want to go there; there have been enough lawsuits already and you don’t want another one.” We interpreted his statement as a threat.
After much discussion, the Session decided not to subject the congregation to any more potentially hostile Presbytery of Mississippi representatives.
III. Additional facts are ignored by the Presbytery of Mississippi’s letter as well as the accompanying report:
The Louisville Papers
In an effort to “assist” presbyteries in dealing with churches that want to leave with their property, a series of memoranda was drafted by PCUSA lawyers, outlining draconian tactics to employ against the churches. The memoranda known as the “Louisville Papers” recommended the following tactics:
a) the use of “administrative commissions” specifically for church property disputes, offering advice regarding how to remove the local pastor and/or governing board of the local church;
b) advising how to freeze local church assets and physically seize property;
c) placing a cloud on local church property titles by filing affidavits in property records, irrespective of state law or the facts of any property in dispute;
d) mailing letters concerning contested property to any banks or other financial institutions that hold accounts for the local church, which letters “order” that no assets be released to the local church;
e) instructing presbyteries to investigate the religious background of any judge assigned to the case in order to exploit potential partiality or religious bias;
f) that presbyteries in their pleadings “use spiritual language” in order to posture themselves in a positive light, and to negatively refer to the local church in the caption and in pleadings as “schismatic”; and
g) that presbyteries, through the use of administrative commissions, try and keep the local church in a defensive secular legal posture, counseling “Let the schismatics seek Caesar’s help.”
IV. The Presbytery of Mississippi Property Policy
The Presbytery of Mississippi, on the other hand, initially decided that it was a better policy to allow churches which wanted property rights confirmed by a court order to receive a property rights determination from a court, without the Presbytery attempting to enforce the trust provision. The parties agreed that it would be accomplished by the local churches filing a “friendly” lawsuit in state court, asking the court for a declaration of property rights. Thereafter, the Presbytery and church would enter into an agreed declaratory judgment declaring that the church enjoyed exclusive ownership and control of the church’s property and that the Presbytery could not attempt to control the property. It was understood that this final declaratory judgment would prevent any dispute over who owned or controlled the church property in the event a church decided to leave the PCUSA.
On March 19, 2007, Grace Chapel filed the “friendly” lawsuit, which asked the Madison County Chancery Court to declare that (1) Grace Chapel enjoys full and exclusive ownership of all its property; (2) the Presbytery and the PCUSA have no rights or interest in Grace Chapel’s property and (3) the Presbytery and PCUSA have no right to interfere with Grace Chapel’s ownership or exercise of its rights in the said property. On March 23, 2007, less than a week after the “friendly” lawsuit was filed, the Presbytery and Grace Chapel submitted an agreed Final Declaratory Judgment to the court. The agreed Final Declaratory Judgment was then entered by Madison County Chancery Judge Cynthia Brewer.
The Final Declaratory Judgment entered by Judge Brewer declared that “all property…held by, for or in the name of Grace Chapel…is held and owned in fee simple for the sole and exclusive use and benefit of Grace Chapel, which it holds…in accordance with the laws of the State of Mississippi, [Grace Chapel's] recorded deeds and [Grace Chapel's] Articles of Incorporation.” The Final Declaratory Judgment further ordered that the Presbytery or any person or commission acting on behalf of the Presbytery had no right to (1) control directly or indirectly the use or ownership of Grace Chapel’s property or (2) take any “retaliatory action” against Grace Chapel or its officers, agents, or employees that directly or indirectly violates the terms of the Final Declaratory Judgment or that affected Grace Chapel’s property rights.
To date, approximately 10 churches still remaining in the Presbytery of Mississippi have obtained virtually identical, agreed declaratory judgments from the Presbytery.
V. The Synod of Living Waters Administrative Review Committee’s condemnation
In July 2007, the Synod of Living Waters condemned the Presbytery’s policy and declared that all Ruling and Teaching Elders who “participated in the passage and implementation of the Property Policy had violated their ordination vows.” The Session of Grace Chapel, along with many leaders in the Presbytery of Mississippi, were deeply offended by this harsh condemnation. Further, we believed that the Synod Administrative Review Committee’s harsh tone of their report and the demands therein, were a prelude to even more harsh action from the Synod.
VI. The Presbytery of Mississippi “Recommended Guidelines”
Recognizing that two congregations (Covenant and J.J. White) were exploring the possibility of leaving the PCUSA, and in the absence of a constitutional policy governing a process of dismissal to be used by congregations and Presbyteries, several members of the Presbytery of Mississippi proposed a mandated policy. The proposed mandate was not well received by the Presbytery and ultimately was amended to render the document as being merely “Recommended Guidelines.” To insure that there would be no confusion about the proposed policy, I offered the amendment which titled the document “Recommended Guidelines.” However, Presbytery leadership continues to misrepresent the Presbytery’s will in communicating “Recommended Guidelines” as though it were in fact a body of mandated policy.
VII. Grace Chapel’s vote to Disaffiliate
On August 5, 2007, as a result of the our frustration with the PCUSA’s continued departure from Biblical principles, our disgust at the escalating hostilities directed toward conservative and evangelical congregations in the PCUSA (i.e., “Louisville Papers”), and in light of the Synod’s condemnation and the possibility of imminent action against those who had followed the Presbytery’s property policy, Grace Chapel’s members voted–by a margin of 105-27–to leave the PCUSA and to affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In disaffiliating, Grace Chapel instantly severed all ties with the PCUSA. Grace Chapel has been accepted by and is now affiliated with the EPC.
VIII. The Presbytery of Mississippi’s violation of the Final Declaratory Judgment
Perhaps due to the Synod’s disapproval of its policy and fear of Synod retribution, the Presbytery has now changed course in dealing with churches that have obtained a final judgment. In response to Grace Chapel’s disaffiliation and in an apparent violation of Judge Brewer’s Declaratory Judgment, the Presbytery formed an Administrative Commission on August 27, 2007, which has the purported authority to: assume “original jurisdiction” over Grace Chapel (despite Grace Chapel now being affiliated with the EPC); make decisions for Grace Chapel regarding, among other things, control of Grace Chapel’s property; remove Grace Chapel’s leaders and decision makers (called its Session); and remove Grace Chapel’s pastor. The Administrative Commission, chaired by Bubba Martin, has recently taken and continues to take steps to effectuate the Presbytery position by, among other things, investigating Grace Chapel and sending letters and surveys to members of Grace Chapel.
Facing immediate and irreparable harm by the Presbytery’s violations of the Declaratory Judgment, Grace Chapel moved for and Judge Brewer granted a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) against the Presbytery on August 29, 2007. The TRO enjoined the Presbytery from taking any further actions to attempt to control Grace Chapel’s property or further violating the Court’s Declaratory Judgment. In an attempt to seek a peaceful resolution, the Session of Grace Chapel gathered with the members of the Administrative Commission. At that meeting, the Administrative Commission proposed a joint worship service wherein both the Presbytery of Mississippi and Grace Chapel, EPC, would pray for one another and ask the Lord’s blessings upon our respective ministries as we went our separate ways. However, the next morning, Grace Chapel was informed that the Administrative Commission and their attorney had removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, asking the Federal Court to dismiss Grace Chapel’s attempt to enforce the Judgment. This was also one day before Judge Brewer was to hold a hearing on whether the TRO should be extended.
The Presbytery’s position seems to be that despite signing a judgment acknowledging that it does not have any right to determine who can control or use Grace Chapel’s property, and even though Grace Chapel is now affiliated with the EPC, the Presbytery still has the “ecclesiastical authority” to award the property to whichever faction of Grace Chapel it chooses. Our view is that the Presbytery has undertaken an effort to gain control of Grace Chapel’s property, an EPC church, under the guise that it has “ecclesiastical prerogative” to decide who the “true church” is. Our view is that under the Mississippi statutes regarding non-profit corporations, the Presbytery lacks the legal authority and its actions are not enforceable.
Grace Chapel’s motion before Federal Judge Dan Jordan asking the court to remand the case back to state court was granted on December 21, 2007. We are prayerfully awaiting a hearing before Madison County Chancery Court Judge Brewer, on March 24, 2008. In the meantime, Grace Chapel remains hopeful that the Presbytery will choose to end this unfortunate and unnecessary litigation, honor the Chancery Court’s judgment it agreed to, and allow Grace Chapel to continue its ministry in the EPC without further interference.