08 February 2012

fifteen years ago…

On this date in 1997, Banu and I were ordained by the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  After the church service was over, several of us had some cake in our apartment.  It was lovingly baked by our good friend, Rhonda, who did a pretty good job of reproducing the PC(USA) logo.  She even acknowledged my two favorite colors:  green and purple.  (The bluish color in the photo was a tad bit more purplish in real life!)

Fifteen years ago, I was also completing my final round of chemotherapy.  (I did wear bandanas on my head for a while longer.) 

Despite its faults, I am thankful that God called me into the Presbyterian Church.  I miss the language that was in our old Book of Order which said, “The Church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all of humanity.” (G-3.0200)  As long as we remember that we are a “provisional demonstration,” we’ll be less likely to commit the most egregious of errors!

05 February 2012

will ECO be an echo?

Last week, I preached on Deuteronomy 18, where Moses tells the people about a prophet to come after him.  I spoke about the person and role of the prophet, one who speaks for God.  (“Thus says the Lord!”)  I acknowledged that speaking for God is a tricky, even audacious, enterprise.

I also included in my sermon an update from our presbytery office on a meeting just over two weeks ago in Orlando.  This was the Fellowship of Presbyterians’ Covenanting Conference.  At that time, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO for short), was formally created.  This is the part of my sermon dealing with that: 

“While many of those in attendance say that they have no plans to leave the PC(USA), it was suggested that as many as 100 congregations will decide to become members of the ECO.  The exact relationship the new denomination will have with the PC(USA), including the Board of Pensions, is unclear.  However, we mourn this schism as the loss of even one congregation affects us all as brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Promoting disunity is clearly a violation of the ordination vows taken by teaching and ruling elders.  While orderly dismissal to another Reformed body is allowable, this may or may not be the process undertaken by those wishing to join the new denomination.  It is our deep prayer that the Big Tent which is the PC(USA) will continue to provide the opportunity for those with different theological opinions to be in covenant community with one another.”

To be fair, it is unclear if this new group actually is a denomination.  On their website, they call themselves a “new Reformed body.”  To me and many others, it feels like a new denomination, but I’ll let them define themselves.

I don’t know a great deal about the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, but I am concerned.  It concerns me when we split up into like-minded camps.  When birds of a feather flock together, they put themselves into insulated bubbles.  There is great value in hearing from others who can challenge us, who can call us out.  It helps us in discerning, in weighing the evidence, of how God is speaking.  Understand, I’m not excluding myself in all of this.

What ties us together is Christ.  By no means am I saying that theology doesn’t matter.  Still, even at our best, as the apostle Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly” (v. 12).  Where we’ve been isn’t as important as where we’re going.  He continues the verse, saying, “but then we will see face to face.”  We have to be careful; else we will harden our hearts against each other.  Kindness must be cultivated. 

Again, I emphasize that I don’t know very much about this group.  After reading their stated beliefs, there doesn’t seem to be much that I would disagree with.  I can’t help but think that the passage of the amendment removing the barrier to LBGT ordination is the real motivation.  But maybe I’m wrong.  I just would hate for ECO to become an echo chamber.  All of us, regardless of theology or politics, can be easily tempted to settle for that.