Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Denomino Theory

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." -John 10:10 (From today's readings).

The old Protestant denominations are falling like dominos. I have to conclude that this is one way in which the thief kills and destroys. He picks the weakest denomination first, topples it, and the next ones fall like dominos.

I call this the "Denomino Theory," and it is one reason why it makes no sense to try to run from one denomination to the next.

This week's news that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has dropped its ordination standards to the level of the secular culture has met with nary a wimper from society as a whole. Here is their announcement from,
To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

May grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance (Jude 1:2).

The debate about ordination standards has been a Presbyterian family struggle for much of the last three decades. We have sought to find that place where every congregation and every member, deacon, elder, and minister of the Word and Sacrament can share their gifts in ministry while, at the same time, the integrity of every congregation, member, deacon, elder, and minister is respected.

This year, the conversation has focused on Amendment 10-A that was passed by the 219th General Assembly (2010) and sent to presbyteries for approval. While we wait for official tallies, it appears that 87 presbyteries will approve10-A during the week of May 9, which is the majority required for approval.

If this becomes official, the new language outlining the gifts and requirements for ordained service will say the following:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This decision begins with an unequivocal affirmation that ordained office will continue to be rooted in each deacon, elder, and minister’s “joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”

This action also has important effects on our life together as a church, namely:
in keeping with our historic principles of church order, each session and presbytery will continue to determine the suitability of individuals seeking ordination within its bounds.
persons in a same-gender relationship may be considered for ordination and/or installation as deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament within the PC(USA); and
all other churchwide standards for ordination remain unchanged.

Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep. Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PC(USA) an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep.

However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another. We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

We hold to the strong affirmation that all of us are bound together as the church through Jesus Christ our Lord. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:5-6).

It is Jesus Christ who calls individuals to ordained ministries, and all those who are called to ordained office continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all and Head of the church. It is this same Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our faith and to whom we cling.

No doubt, there will be several news stories and other reports about this change in the days ahead. A number of resources, including frequently asked questions and liturgical resources, are available for you at Office of the General Assembly website. In addition, for those who wish to comment on or inquire further about 10-A, please contact or call (888) 728-7228, x8202.

We invite you to join us in prayer:

Almighty God, we give thanks for a rich heritage of faithful witnesses to the gospel throughout the ages. We offer gratitude not only for those who have gone before us, but for General Assembly commissioners and presbyters across the church who have sought diligently to discern the mind of Christ for the church in every time and place, and especially in this present time.

May your Spirit of peace be present with us in difficult decisions, especially where relationships are strained and the future is unclear. Open our ears and our hearts to listen to and hear those with whom we differ. Most of all, we give thanks for Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and Lord, who called the Church into being and who continues to call us to follow his example of loving our neighbor and working for the reconciliation of the world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Cynthia Bolbach
Moderator, 219th General Assembly (2010)

Linda Valentine
Executive Director General Assembly Mission Council

Landon Whitsitt
Vice Moderator, 219th General Assembly (2010)
People will probably want to add the U.C.C. Denomino as the first to fall, but I got tired of drawing curved letters, so my illustration is incomplete.

For those interested, the United Church of Christ pages proudly claim to be the lead denomino on their web page:
The PCUSA joins at least 10 other Reformed churches that welcome LGBT clergy, including ancestral churches in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, said Lang in the statement. "But this victory also reminds us that our ultimate goal still lies in the future; a day when all of our churches will welcome everyone, and exclude no one," he said.

The change, which opens the possibility that people in same-sex relationships can be considered for ordination, is expected to take effect July 10. It is the latest move by a Protestant denomination toward the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy.

In 1972, the UCC ordained the Rev. William R. Johnson as the denomination's first openly gay pastor.

In August 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to eliminate a ban on partnered gay clergy and committed to allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as church leaders. The nation's largest Lutheran denomination had previously permitted openly gay and lesbian clergy as long as they remained celibate.

Last year, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly lesbian bishop – the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles – in the face of objections from some conservative Anglicans.
When dominos fall, they do not pick themselves up.

When denominations fall, they will not be able to pick themselves up.

A more powerful force from above has to reach down and pick them up, or it will come to sweep the board clean.

In either case, there will be lots of wounded to care for, so don't run from the disaster area. Instead, head straight in, with your Bible in your bag to help treat the survivors.


  1. ToilNotSpin1:34 AM

    Dearest UP, I read this in the paper this morning and it is indeed upsetting. It is, in fact, your post which comforted me a little! I believe you are right---there is no point in going denomination hopping if this is the one thing you are hoping to escape; it seems to be moving faster than we are. And the answer, to prepare for the wounded and bring lots of Bibles in bags is genuinely Christly. I wonder what else we could put in those bags that might help?

    Blessings, dear friend

  2. The older I get, the more I appreciate congregational polity as opposed to "top down" episcopal structures. It at least allows individual congregations to remain faithful to the Word, even if the majority choose to leap off a cliff.

    Anyway, when one looks at the thought processes underlying these changes, what one finds is something like this:

    I have a "gift," which I determine, irrespective of the Word.

    I want to share it, irrespective of the Word.

    Therefore, it would be discriminatory to not allow me to exercise my gift in the context of the Church body, irrespective of the Word.

    Stated differently, it is nothing but institutional Narcissism masquerading as Christian service.

    So much for dying to one's self and allowing Christ to live in and through us.

  3. TNS,

    I was thinking of the analogy of the first responder, but came to the realization that there will always be some victims laying amongst the rubble who will continue to reject the Bible even though that is the only way to free them.

    We must also carry along in our bag mercy, hope, love, and prayer as adjuncts to and results of the first aid.

  4. Randall,

    The Denominos will eventually stop falling. Perhaps when they come up against a greater force. The domino theory of the spread of communism seems to have come up against forces that have halted its spread.

    Could congregationalism be one of the forces that halts the collapse of Protestantism?

    Will a new structure of organized Protestantism be erected that would not be prey to institutional narcissism?

  5. ToilNotSpin2:43 PM

    I think the idea of Christians as first responders in this time of spiritual catastrophe is wonderful.

  6. Kristy12:22 PM

    I'm sympathetic, because I came to the Episcopal church during (and despite) the ordination of Gene Robinson. (I have changed my mind since then, but that's not what I want to focus on now.)

    But does everyone really think that simply "handing out Bibles" will suddenly mean everyone agrees on what it is and how it should be interpreted and applied?
    People who believe in the full inclusion of LGBT people cite Biblical principles. People who advocate for killing them also cite Biblical principles. You might include a handbook on how to interpret and apply scriptures, but you should probably expect to have your framework examined and challenged.

    Also, please try to understand the foundations of others' beliefs or motivations.
    Selfishness? Institutional narcissism? Really? This is no more helpful than your opponents accusing you of bigotry and hatemongering. I know this happens, too, and I know it's difficult to listen for the less malicious voices. But please apply the golden rule.

    Here's a hard question, but please consider it: how convincing do you find people's "love" and "mercy" when they accuse you of rejecting God's revealed truth, and being the manifestation of Satan's work in the church?

    What if people are truly struggling with the relationship between our evolving knowledge of scripture and the creation around (and within) us?

    Thanks for the forum for discussion, and wherever your conscience takes you, please stay in earnest dialogue and more earnest communion. Peace.

  7. Kristy,

    I don't think the picture I was painting was simply handing out Bibles.

    The Bible is where all the denominations should be able to come together in Christ. In it is the healing balm. The fact that we can be so easily toppled suggests to me that we denominationalists are missing something.

    Where should we look for what we are missing?

  8. Kristy2:28 PM

    Underground Pewster,

    Thanks for the response.
    My short answer would be, "Everywhere God is."
    I don't know if scripture will unite people who have very different frameworks for understanding it. People have sincerely tried going "back to the Bible" over and over again - I came from a sect that formed from such an attempt about 150 years ago. That movement has already splintered into at least two major denominations (mine didn't recognize the other), each of which has several subgroups. If we can't understand one another, how can we have a shared understanding of the Bible?

    I guess my point is, if it's possible to choose a starting point or foundation for knowledge and faith, what if we came together in Christ as Logos to understand the Bible, instead of coming together to the Bible as God's Word to understand Christ?

    Or maybe we can at least come together to discuss the question: which is the more direct manifestation of God's presence in the world - the Church or the Bible? (I realize this is in some ways a chicken-or-the-egg kind of question.) To me, it seems the church is, and that the Bible is a product of the church, and that both manifest God's Spirit and Word - but that they also manifest humanity, with all its imperfections. That shapes my understanding of the Bible in different ways than when I thought of the Bible as the complete, direct, and ultimate Word of God.
    For instance, I once would have said that, absolutely, God ordered the Israelites to commit complete genocide, because the Bible tells me so. Now I would say that the best we can learn from those passages is that it is horrifically easy to commit the worst possible acts in the name of God, and to enshrine them in Scriptures so that later generations may find it easier to do the same.

    In response to LGBT issues, I'd say that I see several elements in Biblical purity codes, one of which is the very obvious principle that sexuality should not become destructive, exploitative, or idolatrous. But don't we also see (even today) that in societies struggling for survival or threatened by outside influences, sexual ethics are geared toward procreation and making absolutely sure patrimony goes to a biological descendant? And do we consider these goals an ideal basis of sexual ethics anymore? They're better than no ethics at all, but don't they often hold people back from healthier relationships and degrade the plight of women?
    Would we welcome the commandment that, if a man violently rapes a virgin who isn't engaged, he should pay for her and keep her as his wife (Deut. 22:28-29) - unless it was to rescue her from being unmarriagable "used" goods and probably a complete outcast?
    And once we acknowledge that we have a very different understanding from Biblical authors about the purpose of sexual relationships, and that both sides of the LGBT debate probably have similar ideas about what makes a healthy relationship, isn't applying Biblical rules to this issue much more complicated? If we can be the spiritual descendants of a culture that made women marry their rapists, can't we worship together - or at least recognize each other as truly Christian rather than instruments of Satan - even if we never agree on this issue?