Archive for November, 2006

PCUSA: The Trinity – lost in the FOG?

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

The authors of the FOG Foundations Draft 5 have some work to do on their “Core Theological Commitments”. The triune God of the Bible is MIA.

Not surprisingly (this being the PCUSA), they couldn’t seem to bring themselves to mention “God the Father”. Indeed, the word “father” appears only twice in this theological “core”, both in scripture passages that do not name God so much as refer to him:

Thankfully, they didn’t choose a politically correct, gender-sanitized paraphrase, or even those references wouldn’t appear.

In section 1.01 God’s Activity, this inability (or unwillingness) to deal with the essential relationship between God the Father and God the Son leads to a bit of uncertainty about the Trinity itself, described in Jim Berkley’s blog. As he noted, Jesus (section 1.0102) and the Holy Spirit (1.0103) seem to be separate entities, apart from God (1.0101).

The confusion is evident in the statement that the God of section 1.0101 (not the Jesus of section 1.0102) created the heavens and the earth. The New Testament teaches that the Jesus of section 1.0102 was the member of the Trinity who did the creating described in the Old Testament: “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth”. (Colossians 1:16). So who is the God of section 1.0101?

Berkley offers the opinion that section 1.01 presents – not a Reformed understanding of the Trinity – but the heresy of Modalism. Modalism would answer the question this way: The Old Testament manifestation of God (1.0101) created the universe. Later, this same single person (not a member of the Trinity) manifested himself as Jesus Christ (1.0102) and was credited by Paul for the creation he accomplished in his earlier manifestation.

Further, the writers don’t seem to know – or be willing to proclaim – some important truths about Jesus. For example, section 1.0102 Jesus Christ creates the impression that he did not exist before his incarnation in human form. Nor does it mention that he is the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. Both of these lapses point to Modalism.

As Berkley observed, this is not a good start. It could be that the committee hurried over the theological foundation in order to get on with the fun business of writing a new constitution – and meeting an absurd deadline. A lot more is liable to be lost in the rush to have a new FOG ready for the next GA 19 short months from now.

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PCUSA: Chains and things

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

These chains that bind me
I can’t lose, I can’t lose these chains and things

These lyrics by blues great B.B. King and Dave Clark popped into my mind as I thought about what might bind a congregation to the PCUSA. Despite all the huffing and puffing by the TTF, I can find nothing biblical standing in the way of a local church that discerns unbelief permeating the denomination and chooses to no longer be yoked together with unbelievers.

So why would a Bible-believing church stay? There are lots of reasons, of course – “love” of the PCUSA, inertia, indifference, fear, ignorance and no doubt others. Most powerful, I think, are these chains and things.


Our chains are good principles gone bad, essential characteristics of our denomination that once ennobled us but have now been corrupted: connectionalism and unity.


The purported “connection” among members of the PCUSA – once based on shared belief – has become nothing but a constitutional artifact, mere words of men to which we assented years ago. Whatever doctrine, whatever essential tenets, whatever Reformed distinctives that once joined us have all been eroded and washed away.

Decades of humanism have slowly pushed the PCUSA right off its biblical and confessional foundation. In the face of such complete polarization and widespread abandonment of shared faith, any claim of meaningful connectedness is just hollow rhetoric.


The PUP report’s brand of “unity”, masquerading as oneness in Christ, is simply membership in a particular organization. Similar unity exists among Elks, UAW members, and the Flat Earth Society. It is the false invocation of Christian unity that allowed the TTF make this preposterous threat:

Christians cannot even entertain the notion of severing their ties with sisters and brothers in Christ without also placing themselves in severe jeopardy of being severed from Christ himself. (page 4)

This is theological baloney, of course, having no other purpose than to bolster the self-serving claim that to depart the PCUSA is to depart the Body of Christ. It seeks only to bind us with chains, not to unite us in a common identity in Christ.


The most pervasive thing binding us is property. It binds us through an obsolete and baseless trust clause. The trust clause is obsolete because the connections that once sustained it have long since been severed. It is baseless because the unity of shared faith and mission that once justified it is shattered. Is it even a “trust” clause in any meaningful sense of the word? Not if we examine the meaning of “trust”:

The second, legal definition derives from the presence of a relationship based on the first meaning. But does such a relationship exist throughout the PCUSA? Obviously not:

The connections are broken; unity is a ruse; the trust is gone. All that remains is a legal provision that the Stated Clerk and his minions want desperately to apply in civil courts.

Should a departing church contest the denomination’s claim? Yes, unequivocally. Our buildings, for the most part, are the product of faithful Christians who brought their tithes and offerings, their time and effort, their gifts and talents to serve God. They were not directed by the Bible or by the Holy Spirit to bring them to enrich the PCUSA.

No, they brought them to enrich God’s kingdom on earth by facilitating Christ’s mission on earth. A church, convinced that the PCUSA has turned away from God’s kingdom and Christ’s mission, should not easily surrender the product of such faith and obedience. Members of such a church should not consider themselves bound by a clause that has lost its ethical and theological base.

Despite the Stated Clerk’s overbearing efforts to inject himself into the process, the dispute is between a departing church and the presbytery. In my mind, the only question is, how should a church engage the presbytery?

Toby Brown offers some wise insight into this question. There are two playbooks, he writes, that might be used, the Mammon playbook and the Jesus playbook. It seems to me the Stated Clerk has picked the Mammon playbook. As Peggy Hedden so aptly described it, what’s missing from Kirkpatrick’s playbook is “something of Jesus Christ”.

A departing church should assume that the presbytery is more interested in serving Jesus than Mammon and follow the Jesus playbook. If the presbytery decides to follow the Stated Clerk’s example and play by Mammon’s book, the church can justly and – righteously – oppose Mammon in whatever venue his servants choose.

Ultimately, of course, a departing church should be like Jesus, prepared and willing to lose. The chains – connectionalism and unity – are just an illusion; they no longer bind us. Our commitment to serve Jesus in whatever place he calls us – our building, a high school gym, a parking lot, will free us from our things.

That’s how we can lose these chains and things.

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