Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Sunday Dinner: A Parable of the Modern Church

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I knew a family once who always had busy, crowded Sunday dinners together. They lived in a big, old house that had a huge living room and an old-fashioned formal dining room. As the family dinners grew with grandchildren, cousins, and friends, Grandpa turned the dining room into a parlor and the living room into a veritable dining hall. He built a long table that could seat 20, 25 in a pinch. With additional chairs and folding tables, they could accommodate 35 at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Grandma usually fixed roast beef, ham, or fried chicken, potatoes, a vegetable, and homemade rolls or bread. As people became more health-conscious, they asked Grandma to add a second vegetable. After that, she often served a fruit platter or a light soup, sometimes skipping the potatoes. It was a bit more work, but some of the kids pitched in and sometimes even Grandpa helped out. Sunday dinners remained a beloved tradition.

One day, some family members announced that they had started eating vegetarian (strictly speaking, they were “lacto-vegetarian” because they didn’t object to dairy products). They asked Grandma if she could add a vegetarian alternative to the meat dish. So Grandma found tasty meat substitutes and learned to cook tofu.

Family and friends continued to enjoy their time together around the long table, sharing not just dinner, but their lives as well. It was there that Grandpa told everyone he had decided to retire; baby announcements, job changes, engagements, reports of illnesses, and prayer concerns were all heard first at Sunday dinner.

Then a few of the vegetarians told the rest of the family that they just couldn’t bear to look at “those poor, dead cows, pigs, and chickens”. They still wanted to come to Sunday dinners and visit, so they said they would eat their strictly lacto-vegetarian dinner at the kitchen table.  They were joined by a few others who had decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. Having people eating in the kitchen was inconvenient, especially with all the extra dishes she was preparing, but Grandma soldiered on.

As people settled into their Sunday dinner routine, news and concerns from one table didn’t always get carried over to the other. A vegetarian friend who particularly enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s company found it hard to choose between tables and simply quit coming to dinner. A couple of roast beef fans who were especially fond of some of the vegetarians also found choosing too difficult and started making other plans. A few die-hard meat-and-potatoes types even thought about establishing a vegetable-free zone in the parlor.

One or two people got mad at the vegetarians for separating themselves and they too quit coming. And one by one, as a favorite friend or relative drifted away, more people stopped coming. Finally, Sunday dinners came down to Grandma and Grandpa and an occasional child or grandchild sharing a simple meal at one end of the large and mostly empty table.

One Sunday, as she looked at all the empty space, Grandma was suddenly very sad. She had tried to give everyone what they wanted, but she couldn’t give them the one thing they needed – a desire to share food and fellowship together despite their differences.

Posted in Christianity, Personal | 2 Comments »

A new home and a new look

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

After a couple of months of effort, The Curmudgeon has progressed to a new blogging platform – indeed, a new blog. The climb from Blogger to WordPress with a brand-new custom theme is just about complete. There are still some tweaks to the design, some broken links, and some formatting changes required by the move to a wider format. The move seems to have scrambled some of the links (including the “newer” and “older” entries) If you spot any problems, please leave a comment. Thanks for visiting.

Posted in Personal | No Comments »

A toxic orthodoxy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The title of this post is my own; I doubt my “guest” here would agree with it. But I think that threats of retaliation and un-Biblical litmus tests do indeed suggest some level of toxicity. I have previously written about ill effects of dogmatic insistence on a young Earth and a literal six day creation. In a recent commentary on Moody Radio, Bryan Litfin, Associate Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Institute, identified some others. With his permission, I have reproduced his remarks below.

Misplaced Priorities
by Bryan Litfin

I had a disturbing experience recently when I was interviewed on Moody radio about the viewpoint held by some Christians called “progressive creationism.” I’ll explain what that is in a moment, but my goal isn’t to rehash that topic today. It was the response from listeners that disturbed me, and that’s what I want to focus on. I think it’s an example of misplaced priorities when it comes to the Bible’s emphasis.

Basically, progressive creationism argues that God created the universe over billions of years. This is not the same as Darwin’s evolution, because progressive creationists do not hold that man descended from other hominid species. They say God directly created certain species, including man, over billions of years. It’s an old-earth view of creationism. In this way, God’s Word and the scientific record can be reconciled. Again, my point here isn’t to revisit that topic.

It was the response from listeners that disturbed me. When I said on the radio that progressive creationism is an acceptable Christian view, and indeed one I find plausible, some listeners responded negatively. They wrote letters to me and to Moody vehemently disagreeing. That of course is fine; there’s nothing wrong with theological debate. But there were accusations flying as well, including the suggestion that certain creationist viewpoints must be a litmus test for teaching at Moody. There were threats about withholding donations, or not sending students to Moody, and even accusations of infidelity to God’s Word. Though I didn’t feel personally threatened by all this, I was bothered by the lack of discernment I was hearing. I thought, “Is this what we’ve come to in the American church today? Have we been so deluded to let a side issue become the centerpiece?”

The Bible doesn’t make a big issue of the age of the earth. Man has done that. Scripture emphasizes God as Creator, absolutely. But the specific “how” isn’t something that reverberates throughout the Bible. Defending six-day creationism is not the lynchpin of faithful Christianity. Nor is belief in evolution the root of all evil in the world. What science textbooks teach about human origins in the public schools is not a make or break issue for us.

We as believers have got to let creationism assume its proper place in our list of priorities. Sure, it’s an issue for debate among Christians. But when it comes to the unbelieving world, it’s time to stop attacking science as some massive demonic conspiracy, and stop attacking scientists as godless reprobates. Instead, it’s time for Christians to embrace the scientific enterprise, and engage unsaved scientists in serious debate and charitable apologetics.

Perhaps most importantly, we’ve got to start spending our dollars wisely. There’s only so much money to go around. We live in a world full of massive human need and suffering. Should we here in America become obsessed with our own culture wars at the expense of such need? When children are literally starving to death, and widows are oppressed by thugs, and orphans multiply daily, and young girls are forced into prostitution, day after day after day – do we really need a museum with animated dinosaurs and displays about Noah’s flood? Seriously – where do you think Jesus would spend his time? As for me, I have a hunch it would be with the poor and the oppressed.

For Moody Radio, I’m Bryan Litfin.

Professor Litfin is the author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal | No Comments »

PCUSA: Goodbye to all that

Monday, November 17th, 2008

My church and I have joined the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). After a long, divisive, frustrating struggle with a stiff-necked and ungracious Administrative Commission (AC), we (the session) finally said “enough!”. We scheduled an information meeting and vote without the AC’s permission.

More than 300 of 550 active members showed up last Sunday to vote on disaffiliation from the PCUSA. The vote was 270 to leave and 36 to stay. In addition to immediate disaffiliation, members voted to seek membership in the EPC and to retain our pastors, session, and Board of Deacons. Additional details are available at the Layman Online.

We still have the presbytery’s inevitable claim of an alleged trust in our property to deal with. We continue to hope that our dissenting members will choose to stay in their church family rather than cast themselves adrift in the PCUSA.

In a strange way, I am grateful to that unkind and unreliable AC. If they had shown some consideration for our church, we might still be trapped in their interminable process – and the PCUSA. Is this a case of God intending their evil for our good? I can’t say for sure, but as a new member of the EPC, I can say it’s a real possibility.

Posted in EPC, PCUSA, Personal | 1 Comment »

Paris!

Friday, November 14th, 2008

I love Paris.

I knew I would love it before I ever set foot in its streets. I knew it my junior year in high school (1961-1962) when I took my first French class. Last May 21, my wife Debbie and I stepped aboard the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – France’s 200 MPH passenger train) in Strasbourg, France to begin the final leg of a journey that began in Springfield, Illinois 47 years before.

When I was 16, the French language seemed unspeakably sexy to me. The thought of learning it was wrapped in the vague, lusty fantasies of a Midwest teenager. Our teacher, Miss McFadden, did her best to teach us to read, write, speak, and understand French, and some of it stuck with me. I never forgot how to conjugate a handful of verbs. I still remember a brief tribute to the month of March and its often unexpected turns: O que mars est un joli mois, c’est le mois des surprises. The language worked its magic on me, hinting at a world beyond the corn and soybean fields, beyond the grand metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, a world that revolved around – Paris!

I took two more years of French in college but they seem to have left no lasting impression on me. (To be honest, little of my squandered undergraduate career penetrated my indifference to higher education, at least little of an academic nature.) No matter; like Roy Neary’s vision of the Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I had an image planted in my consciousness. My mind harbored the ghost of a place I had never visited, a place that nonetheless beckoned to me over time and distance.

Oh, I had seen pictures of Paris. I had seen movies set in Paris. I studied paintings hanging on walls in Paris. I knew la Tour Eiffel when I saw it. I had read Sartre and Camus. I had sung folk songs that celebrated life in Paris. I knew a lot facts about Paris but I didn’t know Paris. I hadn’t experienced it on the ground, conversed with it (however uncertainly) in its native tongue, smelled or tasted it, absorbed its colors or its sounds. Like a fond memory, the longing to be there quietly occupied its corner of my mind, occasionally prodding me and reminding me of its presence.

After being invited to leave college for the final time in 1967, I lived in St. Louis and Chicago – and in New York, and San Francisco, and Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in a lot of places in between. They were all fun or interesting or satisfying places to live. I didn’t pine for Paris. I enjoyed those places; they just weren’t … Paris.

As the train crawled through the suburbs of Paris, I searched the skyline for the one landmark that I could not mistake. We had been in France – in Strasbourg visiting expatriate cousins – for five days. But only one thing would make my presence in Paris real. And then I saw that tall, familiar silhouette in the distance. I knew from my 47 years of preparation for this trip that the the grand Champ de Mars lay at its feet, and that just on the other side was the river that had been flowing through my dreams, la Seine.

My recently-resumed study of French (and the foresight to write down the address of our hotel) saw us from the train station to l’Hôtel Beaugency near the rue Cler without difficulty. That evening we celebrated our arrival in the City of Lights by dining at l’Altitude 95 restaurant on the first observation deck of its most famous structure. At any other restaurant in any other city, I would have said the food was good but seriously over-priced. But the end of a 47-year journey deserves a once-in-a-lifetime commemoration at a meaningful location. It was perfect.

I spent ten more days falling in love with this city. A normally picky eater, I resolved to eat whatever was put in front of me while in France. I was never disappointed. Six of those days were spent on a walking tour of the city. I have never been in a city where every street corner entices you away from your planned route. And when you finally tire of walking, the Metro waits a few blocks away to deliver you within blocks of your destination.

Debbie and I just returned from a visit with the cousins who have now been repatriated after four years in Strasbourg. Talking about Paris and writing about Paris are a far cry from being in Paris. But – for now – I can talk and write about where I’ve been, not just where I want to go.

These and other photos from Alsace, Paris, and Switzerland can be seen here (still many more to come).

Posted in France, Personal, Travel | 9 Comments »

Discipline in the PCUSA: An undisciplined process

Monday, October 27th, 2008

When our session announced a year a go that we believed God was calling our church out of the PCUSA into the EPC, it galvanized a small opposition group into action. Initially, they sent a letter to our congregation that listed their objections to the EPC. Whether by design or honest mistake, the letter contained many misleading and inaccurate statements about the EPC and its beliefs and policies. After that, the group went underground, refusing many invitations to discuss their concerns with the session, rebuffing several efforts at reconciliation, and never publicly giving any reason to remain in the PCUSA.

But underground didn’t mean inactive. Instead of addressing the issues, they mounted a full-scale assault on both of our pastors, several session members, a Sunday School teacher, and even the church organist. Part of the strategy was to file complaints against these people with a willing and compliant presbytery. On October 9, I received a letter from the moderator of an investigating committee along with copies of two complaints. These complaints alleged that I had intimidated an anonymous party and that I had failed to show this unnamed person (or perhaps another) proper respect. The alleged offenses seem to have taken place at a congregational feedback meeting held in August, 2007, so the time line went something like this:

My initial reaction was to cut the complaints up into little bits and send them back to the Investigating Committee. Instead, I explained why I would not be participating in their broken process. This was my reply:

October 13, 2008

Dear Moderator —;

I am writing in response to your letter dated October 8, 2008 concerning two complaints against me filed with the Presbytery of Wabash Valley. My purpose is not to respond to the accusations but to bring to your attention violations of both the Bible and the Book of Order.

According to D-1.0103, [t]he traditional biblical obligation to conciliate, mediate, and adjust differences without strife is not diminished by these Rules of Discipline. Although the Rules of Discipline describe the way in which judicial process within the church, when necessary, shall be conducted, it is not their intent or purpose to encourage judicial process of any kind or to make it more expensive or difficult. The biblical duty of church people to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court . . .” (Matthew 5:25) is not abated or diminished. It remains the duty of every church member to try (prayerfully and seriously) to bring about an adjustment or settlement of the quarrel, complaint, delinquency, or irregularity asserted, and to avoid formal proceedings under the Rules of Discipline unless, after prayerful deliberation, they are determined to be necessary to preserve the purity and purposes of the church. [emphasis added]

The meetings described in the two complaints took place more than a year ago. At no time in the intervening months has any member of our church fulfilled his or her “duty to try … to bring about an adjustment or settlement.” Had my accuser(s) honored this simple obligation, a five minute conversation would have ensued. I would have clarified my words or actions which were never meant to disrespect or intimidate anyone and I would have sincerely apologized for any offense given, however unintentionally. This did not happen, however, and any opportunity to bring about a resolution has been lost.

By shielding the identity of my accuser(s), the IC [investigating committee] has “abated”, “diminished” and indeed eradicated any possibility of my “coming to terms quickly” with my unknown accuser(s). By not admonishing my accuser(s) to be obedient to the Bible and the Book of Order and by pursuing these complaints in this manner, the IC is actively impeding any effort to bring about a resolution consistent with the principles that bind us as Christians and as Presbyterians. All that now remains are the “formal proceedings” that we are directed by the Book of Order to avoid. I find it particularly shameful and ironic that while I may have unwittingly created the appearance of disrespect or intimidation, this deliberate circumvention of Biblical and Presbyterian procedures can have no other purpose than to willfully disrespect and attempt to intimidate me.

I cannot in good conscience be a party to this un-Biblical and unlawful process. This letter concludes my participation in the IC’s investigation. I request that you include this letter in the official record of the investigation, lest anyone mistakenly believe that my silence bespeaks either an admission of guilt or a lack of due regard for the process the Bible and the Book of Order both prescribe. I assure you that, in choosing this course of action, I do not stand on any “right to remain silent” conferred by the Book of Order. Rather I stand on the right conferred by Christ himself to stand silent in the face of malicious accusations.

Sincerely,

I copied the Interim Executive Presbyter and the presbytery’s Stated Clerk. As expected, I have received no further communication. My experience with our presbytery has convinced me that the Bible and the Book of Order are little more than convenient sources of quotes. They offer no roadblocks to the pursuit of power and property that drives the presbytery and its local allies.

Add this to my list of reasons to leave the PCUSA and reasons not to stay. Of course, if this nonsense actually went to a trial (without my participation, of course), they would probably kick me out of the PCUSA. Oh, darn.

Posted in PCUSA, Personal | No Comments »

PCUSA: Why not stay?

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

As my church struggles through an endless process of discernment, yoked to an Administrative Commission that seems dedicated to stalling and dividing us, I decided I needed a clear answer to the question “what harm is there in staying in the PCUSA?” This is what I will tell anyone who asks:

Jesus had a special warning for those who lead “these little ones astray”. Our children are watching us. The 218th General Assembly took deliberate action to discard the Bible’s clear and consistent condemnation of homosexuality. It intentionally bypassed the Book of Order and gave presbyteries permission to ordain practicing homosexuals. Our denomination has approved what the Bible condemns. By remaining a part of the PCUSA, we are leading our little ones astray.

The PCUSA is officially “neutral” on the matter of abortion, neither condoning nor condemning it. (The 217th General Assembly did approve a statement that opposes “partial-birth” abortions.) But the PCUSA has financially supported the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a lobbying organization that opposes all restrictions on abortion. It has gone to court to oppose the federal ban on partial-birth abortions. The PCUSA went so far as to give the RCRC a “partnership in mission” award. By remaining a part of the PCUSA, we too partner with the abortion advocates.

The mainline Presbyterian church has been embroiled in a clash of world views since May 1, 1922, when Harry Emerson Fosdick, a liberal Baptist preacher, gave a sermon at First Presbyterian Church in New York entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” The “fundamentalists” he opposed were Presbyterians who believed in (1) the inerrancy of the Scriptures, (2) the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus, (3) the doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God’s grace and through human faith, (4) the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and (5) the authenticity of Christ’s miracles. Fosdick rejected those doctrines and laid out the principles of modern “progressive” Christianity that continue to divide the PUCSA. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we continue to waste resources opposing an enemy we have allowed to thrive in our midst.

Throughout its history, the Presbyterian church has declared what it believes. Sometimes this declaration has been in the form of a confession such as the Scots’ Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Apostles’ Creed is a similar statement of faith. Most Presbyterian denominations – the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for example – have summarized their beliefs in a handful of “essential tenets”. In fact, the fundamentals Fosdick opposed were the essential tenets of the Presbyterian church in 1910. These “essentials” are the core, non-negotiable principles that define what it means to be a Christian. The PCUSA no longer clearly states what its bedrock beliefs are. Where nothing is declared non-negotiable, everything is negotiable. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we agree that everything is negotiable.

The Presbyterian church has always respected individual conscience. As early as 1729, the Presbyterian church in the American colonies adopted measures that protected the right of the individual to disagree with the church in some areas. However, the right to declare a conscientious objection (called a “scruple”) did not extend to the core beliefs of the Christian faith. After the 218th General Assembly, the PCUSA declared that “the scrupling of either belief or practice is now allowed.” There is no longer any standard of belief or practice that presbyteries cannot waive when a candidate for ordination declares a “scruple”. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we agree that standards are whatever a presbytery and candidate agree they are.

According the Book of Order, “ordination for the office of minister of the Word and Sacrament is an act of the whole church carried out by the presbytery, setting apart a person to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament.” When a presbytery ordains a minister contrary to Scripture, every church and every member participates in that act. When a presbytery allows the candidate to “scruple” a belief or practice, every church and every member consents to that presbytery’s decision. By remaining part of the PCUSA, we join in the ordination of ministers whose beliefs and practices are unknown to us.

Posted in PCUSA, Personal | 1 Comment »