It’s 95 degrees today – too hot to discuss anything serious – so I’m going to write about the Presbyterians and Episcopalians, who seem intent upon turning their sacred franchises into a comedy show.
As you know, presbyopia is the visual malady that renders its victims unable to see what’s right in front of their noses. Presbyterian comes from the same root word, presbys, meaning old, or perhaps in this case, over the hill. The theory behind the denomination is that if your church is run by a bunch of geezers who have been around the block a few times, they will keep you from doing anything excessively stupid.
The theory worked OK until 1965, when membership peaked at 4,254,597, and the church’s liberals proposed a new confession. “The Confession of 1967,” named for the year it was adopted, downplayed the authority of the Bible in favor of assorted social issues. By the end of 1999, membership had plummeted to 2,560,201, a 39.8 percent drop.
Last month, the PCUSA decided to test the basement again. At their general assembly June 20 in Alabama, the denomination approved what Richard Ostling of AP called a “two-sided unity plan” – surely one of the most hilarious phrases ever to emerge from the theological conflicts of our generation. As Ostling describes the rewards, “For the conservatives, a church law remains in place that requires clergy and lay officers to limit sex to man-woman marriage. …”
Sounds good until you look at what the liberals got: The right to ignore that law wherever and whenever the locals feel like it.
I’ll spell that out: If a homosexual is nominated for the ministry or lay eldership, and the regional presbytery or local congregation so wishes, they can shrug off the law and confirm the guy/gal anyway. Unlimited exceptions! If this is a “two-sided unity plan,” then so was the Hundred Years’ War.
In defense of the Presbyterians, the last time the homosexual issue came up (2002), 73 percent of the regional presbyteries voted conservative. But as in every denomination I know of, the man in the pew is far more conservative than the man in the pulpit, who has been enlightened by the Bible-rejecting theological thugs in the seminaries. The dank spiritual atmosphere on those campuses might be fairly illustrated by Princeton Seminary. I recall that one student in the ’70s was wont to carry a Bible around from time to time. He was often greeted by clumps of other students with the chant, “Dan, Dan, the Bible man!” Think about that.
Footnote: PCUSA officials now project a loss of 66,000 members in 2007 and 85,000 more in 2008.
Now let me pick on the Episcopalians a bit. They’re just like the Presbyterians, except they’ve usually made better investments. You know you’re an Episcopalian if you’re watching “Star Wars” when they say, “May the Force be with you,” and you instinctively respond, “And also with you.”
The mindset of the Episcopalian is nicely captured by the classical question, “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is four: One to call the sexton to bring a new bulb, one to pour the wine, and two to talk about how much better the old bulb was.
On the same day that the Presbyterians were approving their “two-sided unity plan” in Birmingham, the Episcopalian House of Deputies was hard at work in Columbus, Ohio, digging its own grave. During their 75th General Convention, they overwhelmingly refused to even consider a resolution that affirmed Jesus Christ as the “only name by which any person may be saved.” If the phrase sounds familiar, that’s because it’s from Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The doctrinal rot continues to ooze in several directions. One is the election of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whom CNN asked if homosexuality were a sin. She replied, “I don’t believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. … Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender. …”
What makes all this so funny is that as a leader in the house-church community, I continually get this question from traditional churchmen (especially pastors): “But what do you do about heretics? How can you avoid heresies if you don’t have seminary-trained pastors?”
I try not to laugh in their faces.
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