Saturday, February 11, 2006

Candidacy, Ordination & All that Jazz

One of my Princeton Colleagues, Adam Cleaveland was blogging about preparing for his Candidacy Paperwork. As I read it over and responded, it reminded me of what I was doing around this time last year - preparing for my Candidacy in the Spring. Unlike Adam, I didn't grow up Presbyterian, so I had even less of a clue, coming here, what it REALLY meant to be Reformed. As I worked through my paperwork I began to question anew - "am I really Presbyterian? Am I really Reformed?" Over the course of preparing that paperwork, meeting with my Church and meeting with my CPM, I began to feel that I was. And after taking this 16th Century Confessions course with Dr. McCormack in the Fall, I felt that I could indeed find myself here. A few things I realized in that process:

1. There is a wide swath of ideas that can be found both in the Historical Reformed Tradition (read the Confessions) and in the Presbyterian Church today. The tradition is not rigid. Zwingli & Calvin disagreed on the Lord's Supper for goodness sake!

2. The Reformed tradition is really built on the Sovereignty of God and the Scriptures. In some ways, these are two of the most significant aspects of Theology today, and are extremely important to how we live as Christians in this Post-Modern[ing] World. (Yes, I just made up a new word/phrase, maybe I'll expand on it sometime) God's Sovereignty is important because in light of all the damage the loss of purpose has done to our understanding of what we do & the decisions we make, I think regaining a sense of purpose, divine purpose, is essential. If God is sovereign, we understand ourselves as second. We don't make the rules, we are subordinate to God. We are NOT subordinate to the Economy or Politics or anything else we've created, we are subordinate to God. Also, Scripture and it's authority is key because we have no other record of God and Christ's saving work than this document, which has served the Church for 2000 years (and, if you take the view of the 2nd Helvetic and some other Reformed Confessions, served the "Church" for thousands of years prior). We cannot just take Scripture as some nice book, a guideline, a suggestion or whatever. It needs to be authoritative. We need to be careful with how we use it in that way, but we need to be willing to submit to it. In an age that is talking so much about relativism, we need to understand that we recognize certain standards for our lives and conduct.

3. The Polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in particular, allows for power to be spread & the Holy Spirit to work in community, rather than in individuals (a la models that employ bishops, etc.) Coming out of such a model, I didn't see too much problem. But then you start to see the abuses of power by individuals, you see how disagreements can easily be settled by those with the power without coming to a right resolution.

4. Uhhh... I'm not sure here, mainly because other things have taken my mind off this right now. But I do know there are more things I appreciated & felt like I fit with.

A couple neat concluding notes. Going before the Presbytery was a unique feeling. I followed a contentious decision about a Church who had 2 of its pastors given paid leave by an Administrative Commission. By the time the potential Candidates were called to the floor (I was 1 of 3) there was 1/3 less people, if not more. I think we may have each been asked 1 question. They were throw-aways. But when our home-church pastors and others came up to lay hands on us & pray for us once we'd been accepted... standing before those Ministers of Word & Sacrment and other ordained Elders & Deacons... it was an amazingly affirming feeling. I'd always (well, from about 14 or so) felt that personal call to ministry, but seeing it affirmed in Community was awesome.

Finally, I got the word last weekend from my CPM Liason that my Internship (required to be a Clinical Pastoral Education internship) was approved to be at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. He was amazing throughout the process. He's gone above and beyond what would be expected. He had told me it didn't look good, got a sense from the committee, but was willing to submit the request on my behalf anyway. He e-mailed me to tell me that it was approved. Going in I had felt frustrated. I was frustrated because I felt that arbitrary rules were getting in the way of what I believed was best for me and my family (long story short, TPH was the closest and actually paid you for your work - which matters a lot when you have a newborn baby). But I saw in that the Holy Spirit, working in community, despite what I had thought. If that doesn't confirm one to the Presbyterian Church... well, I don't know what will...


theonegoing said...

This is exactly what I needed to read after spending a weekend with some old friends who view mainline denominations as trash. I found myself explaining the positive aspects of PC(USA) leadership (especially at the session level) and the basic tenets of Reformed theology. I drove home today feeling like I didn't know what was going on... Your blog entry summed up a lot of what I needed to read at this exact moment... I guess God really is sovereign, eh?

Roodman said...

Don- Congratulations. You have pushed further in the denominational world that I ever did. I think that some people are meant to be pastors in the Presbyterian church. I certainly wasn't cut out of that mold but I think you are. And, I have a lot of love for the PCUSA even though they booted me from the process. I think God has each of us at places where he can use our unique gifts.



Chase Vaughn said...

So I heard that PCUSA's statistician raised the numbers for members that have left and will leave the denomination. Why do you think that the PCUSA(along with the other mainliners) has been dwindling (that's an understatement) over the past few decades or more, while conservative, historically faithful Reformed groups that have split of the mainline(and other conservative groups like SBC) are growing. The PCUSA stats guy(i can't remember his name) said that many have left because of inclusivism(why evangelize if Christ's work is not epistemologically necessary, only metaphysically necessary) and the liberalism that has passed down from seminary into pulpit and now into the pews.

What is your thought on this mass exodus from mainline denominations?

Don said...

Chase - although I can't speak directly to your statistics, since I don't know exactly what they are (but would love a citation if you know of one) my thoughts on the general exodus of members from "mainline denominations" is manifold.

First, despite my ability to say that I am happy in the Presbyterian Church, I in no way limit God by the sad state of the divided Church. I am becoming more and more of a believer that our divisive witness to the world is NOT what Jesus had intended his Church to be. God certainly does not reside in only one denomination. And I believe he is saddened by the fact that we believe that it is necessary to break from each other and settle in groups of like-minded people.

Now, as for Mainline denoms in general losing members to other denoms... personally, I believe that as a united witness we need to stop "poaching" believers from other communities. If you think something is wrong where you are, do something to change it. Dialogue, listen, it's just silly our comsumer mindset in the community of Christ.

Also, it should be noted that numbers don't mean squat. When Jesus died on the cross all his disciples abandoned Him, did that mean he was wrong? I think not. At the same time that doesn't mean that losing members is somehow good either. It's not.

Now, I don't want to get into a long and drawn out discussion on the nature of the gospel and whether or not Jesus atoning work on the cross is somehow dependant on us to make it efficacious. If you want to talk about "historically faithful Reformed groups" you should note that the doctrine of Election makes for a far different understanding of evangelism than is present in most conservative, evangelical circles today. Although I'd be interested to see your explanation of how these "other" groups are more historically "Reformed". (I believe those denominations actually take their roots from the "Radical Reformation" and the Anabaptist traditions, which are NOT part of the Calvin-Zwingli-Bucer-Bullinger-Knox... "Reformed" tradition)

Now Vaughn - I'm not sure in what spirit you made that initial query, it came off a little smug. I hope I misread that. But I really hope you see that I am totally against divisions and devisivness in the Church. I hate to see Christians attacking other Christians and thinking that they have it all wrapped up. Do I disagree with some people? You bet. Do I dialogue, argue and attempt to draw others to my side? Yes. But all in the hope that in the end we can lead each other to Christ and not anger each other and drive wedges between us.

If this too is your hope, I welcome your comments, queries and disagreements, but if all you want to do is stir up stuff, then please, save it - or at least make the drive up and we can argue over a beer, face-to-face.


Don said...

Chase - oops - sorry I got your first and last names mixed up in that second-to-last paragraph, that was not a shot at you.

Chase Vaughn said...

The statistics I'm speaking of are from Dave Shiflett's book Exodus.

I definitely understand that election changes evangelism. I was not saying that the SBC is reformed. I line up with the Dutch Reformed tradition, not CRC(not reformed enough) More like URCNA.

I only ask you opinion because I don't talk to many mainliners that are not raging liberals. I see your a Princeton guy. I plan to attend Westminster Seminary soon. It was started by ex-Princeton professors J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Ned Stonehouse, etc. They left after Princeton decided to have a more diverse faculty in the 1920's.

So, I just wanted to hear your ideas about the PCUSA since I am from a tradition that considered the mainline too moderate and not true to historic Reformed theology. Just wanted to know if you were a theological conservative working for reform within or more of a theological moderate to liberal.

Liked your blog.

Don said...

Chase - thanks.

Truth is, it all depends on who I'm with and who you ask. I'd hazard a guess that there are people who would call me a liberal and some people who would call me a conservative. In our current theological situation in North America - I don't think either "side" has got it right, not entirely that is.

My main problems with "liberals" would be that there is little concern for holiness or personal piety. All that matters is what we do here, socially. And the personal relationship with Jesus is subordinate to the social dimension.

My main problems with "conservatives" is how they've gotten in bed with politics and think that they can somehow create a theocracy and solve all our problems. (which is the classic 19th Century Liberal ideal - interesting how we play musical chairs) And faith is entirely personal and other-worldly and all we're doing is trying to get God to come back, by evangelizing the nations or buying land in Israel or whatever - all so we can get to heaven, get crowns & reign for 1000 years (or something silly like that).

As for the PCUSA in particular, what I like is that there is diversity and I believe that we're called into a world that is diverse. I believe that we should NOT split, excise or excommunicate others. Even if their heretics, I'm a believer in the parable of the wheat and the tears. Jesus alone can determine the difference. So, I'd rather be part of a denomination who allows for diversity than one that squashes it. I also look forward to the day that we can all set aside "denominations" and take up the name "Jesus" - I think Paul said something about that somewhere in the Bible too, but I digress...