Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ready for a Book of Order downgrade?

Not everyone knows that the PCUSA Book of Order is quietly getting the Readers Digest treatment in draft form over the next several months. By September 1, 2007, the Form of Government Task Force (FOG) will be releasing a draft of its suggested rewriting of the Book of Order.

General Assembly in June 2008 will work on the draft and vote on a final version. Then presbyteries will need to approve or disapprove the changes to our constitution during the year from June 2008 to June 2009. Thus, we’ll all know about it eventually.

But right now, we are being invited to comment on some preliminary drafts, helping the FOG Task Force refine its work. Cindy Bolbach and Sharon M. Davison, FOG Co-Moderators, are taking a proactive approach to receive feedback. They reached out in an e-mail: “The task force invites your involvement and solicits your help in the following ways:

1. Read with us the resources listed in our bibliography;
2. Read the documents we have posted on the website [here and here];
3. Share your comments, questions, and insights with us;
4. Continue to hold the task force in prayer as it continues its work.”

“We hope you will share this invitation to dialogue and discussion with all within your organization,” they ventured. So here I am, sharing. You can send your comments to FOG by e-mail.

Troublesome first impressions
I have not had time to study the documents carefully, but even a cursory reading of the first part of the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” was rather disappointing. I read it with the superb first four chapters of the current Form of Government open for comparison, and the new diet version seemed anemic and left a bitter taste in comparison.

Why would I want to jettison the rich theology of the current foundational chapters of the Book of Order for the new draft language, which begins, “The church bears witness to God’s sovereign activity in the world as told in the Bible and understood by faith….”?

“As told in the Bible”? Tales are told. God’s Word, however--awesome and authoritative--is grandly revealed by God. Likewise, a Bible left to the whims of subjectively being “understood by faith” can be twisted like a putty nose to say or mean nearly anything.

This is not a good start.

Then I immediately ran into what looks to me like the classic heresy of Modalism in the sections about “God,” “Jesus Christ,” and “the Holy Spirit.” So let me get this straight: Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit aren’t God? It’s at best a highly awkward Trinitarianism.

Aren’t Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit co-eternal with God the Father, and weren’t they, too, intimately involved in Creation? You wouldn’t get it in the new draft language of 1.0101.

Didn’t Jesus, the eternal Son of God, exist before the Incarnation? And doesn’t he “sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” right now? And won’t he “come to judge the living and the dead?” You wouldn’t know it from the draft section 1.0102, which gives us only the Incarnate Jesus.

Is the Holy Spirit the only eternally present Person of the Godhead? Are the Father and the Son now distant, having once operated in the past? Are they currently dormant? You’d think so from the new section 1.0103.

Thus, at this early point, I’m still left wondering, Why trade the valuable Form of Government we’ve got for pottage? I don’t remember anyone demonstrating that the old Book of Order was broken. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

And when the new draft ain’t fixin’ it, but rather messin’ it up, it makes even less sense to me.

Take a look at the drafts (remember, they’re not final documents yet). Compare them to the first four chapters of the current Form of Government. And then send the FOG Task Force your commentary, too. They invited it.


Blogger Backwoods Presbyterian said...

Why can we not just leave well enough alone? Can anyone please answer that for me? Why do we need to revise the BOO? Why? Why? Why?

Of course they compose a committe of people hardly qualified to perform much work and it will be ratified by people who do not even know what is in the current BOO. Here we go again...

10:36 AM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Nav said...

We should leave the first 4 chapters of the Form of Government alone. It is the remaing part of the FOG where a lot of reduction could / should occur to allow for much more flexibility in non-essential areas while keeping the essentials firmly in place. Of course, that means we need to debate what is essential and what is not. Such a process is needed but in our current state of distust, nothing this committee produces will be passed. Another example of time, money, resources being wasted.

12:14 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Karen Kolbinsky said...

For nearly 20 years my husband and I have been members of a PCUSA church we came to love as our own "church family" .. at this time, we feel like we've been abandoned by those who we have trusted our souls to as overseers within the church.

Where are the shepherds? Why aren't there more men taking a stand for truth to defend the innocent, the just, the multitudes who are being scattered like sheep by wolves who've come in under the cover of not only sheep's clothing but that of a shepherd.

I know there comes a day when the sheep and goats will be divided by the Lord's Own Hand. It's still heart breaking, a huge disappointment to realize leaders we've trusted are cowtowing to an element within the church that has chosen the word of apostates over the words of the sad it this? How tragic? What shame this denomination has brought to the Name of Jesus throughout the whole earth?

Is it any wonder the faithful everywhere are separating themselves and do not want to be associated with the gang of imposters who have accused the true brethren while claiming themselves to be the "true" church? Are they blind or just sleeping?

2:06 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

Karen, I hear your lament! I often feel the same.

At the same time, I think that not all error is strictly intentional. Yes, some people promote a different gospel, knowing full well that it is not orthodoxy and reveling in that fact. They're the John Shelby Spongs and Marcus Borgs and Marvin Ellisons of the world, and they get all kinds of popular press and acclaim for their heresies. They should be ashamed rather than proud.

However, I would suspect that a whole lot of other people are simply unfed. Or they're Bible bulimic. Or they've had so much theology lite tossed at them carelessly that they wouldn't know sound doctrine if it fell of the shelf and hit them on the head.

So they read something, get a vague impression that it's somewhat religious in tone, and they're okay with it. It could be pap, but they just don't have the logical and analytical tools to know. They don't have the schooling in the catechisms or the biblical literacy or the critical faculty to do much more than form a vague impression and go with it because "it feels okay."

I know this is rather elitist speculation on my part. I'm guilty. But I think it does explain in a more benign and less conspiratorial way the path to the error that is abundant in our church.

Quite simply, it seems to me that people are more naive sheep than sinister wolves. They don't WANT to do bad theology; they just haven't bothered or been led to do better. The result is still horrible theology, but its less intentional than it is pathetic.

--Jim Berkley

2:41 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Karen Kolbinsky said...

I appreciate your response, and I fully agree, the "wolves" are not PIPs but rather people posing themselves as "authoritive interpreters" for a God they don't know. I remember once hearing a pastor from the PCUSA comment that most of his peers would not recognize the "Holy Ghost" if He were to tap them on the shoulder and say "BOO" (funny! I never really thought of that as a pun before or what BOO stands for) wonder if he did.

5:09 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger PJ said...

This is, of course, not the first time church leaders have undertaken a Form of Government revision/simplification. Looking at the scope and weight of detail in the FoG, an OGA task force tried to divide things up into foundational commitments and current practices. The former would be more unchanging and authoritative than the latter.

Much to no one's suprise, the sections on diversity and inclusivity were abiding foundational commitments, and the sections on moral living (G-6.0106b, and so on) were current practices…

7:43 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Brian Ahier said...

Looks like a few years of FOG as they try to rewrite the constitution...

10:30 PM, November 04, 2006  
Blogger MikeZ said...

It didn't take long to find this in the FOG Task Force page:

5) The FOG Task Force shall be guided by the principles proposed by Recommendations 1-4 from the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church.

Perhaps some sections of the BoO - like some sections of the Westminster Catechism - need to be revised. But that shouldn't be done lightly, or by people unsuited to the task.

3:07 PM, November 06, 2006  

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