Church Of Scotland Ordination Overture Results And Reaction

Almost all of the presbyteries in the Church of Scotland have now voted on the overture from the 2014 General Assembly related to ministers in same-sex relationships and it is clear that the overture has gotten strong approval from them.

While this is a major hurdle it is important to keep in mind some of the fine details. First, it is not final until the 2015 General Assembly takes a look at it and adds its concurrence. Considering the margin with which it passed the 2014 Assembly and the number of presbyteries that gave approval it would seem reasonable to expect the next Assembly to also approve it. But we need to keep in mind that at the moment the process has not been completed.

The second item to remember is that this overture does not change the official stance of the Kirk but only provides a mechanism for individual churches to depart from that stance in the ordination and installation of officers should the need arise.

And the headlines, even from the official publication Life and Work, are a bit inaccurate in that gay clergy have been permitted if they were celibate, but the overture proposes new policies for partnered clergy in same-sex civil unions.

One important aspect of this vote to keep in mind is that the margin among the overall votes cast is much narrower than the presbytery vote. Of the 46 presbyteries it is being reported that so far 28 have voted yes and 11 have voted no on the overture. That is a 72% yes vote. But if you look at the total from the presbyters, it was 1253 yes and 1006 no, a 55% to 45% split.

As the results were spreading through the news media the last couple of days the group Forward Together, a Church of Scotland affinity group opposed to the proposed polity changes the overture would bring, announced their new initiative — the Covenant Fellowship. Their Statement begins:

We believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. Our vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

The Church of Scotland is facing a severe crisis. A majority of Presbyteries has now adopted an Overture which would permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons in the Church. Many people feel that the only way to protest against this unscriptural move is to leave the Church of Scotland. Many ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow. While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within, although we recognise that not all will feel able to make such an unqualified commitment.

The Statement goes on to solicit from like-minded individuals and churches their signing on to the Declaration of support for these principles and protest of the actions of the Church of Scotland.

The Statement was issued in association with comments from the Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan, which were picked up by the media. He said, in part:

If approved, this (overture) will extend even further the disruption of the Church of Scotland.

Many well-known congregations (individual ministers and groups of worshippers) in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stornoway and elsewhere have already left the Church, or been split in two.

and

The hope is that the Covenant Fellowship, which begins today as a protest against recent events, will grow to become an effective campaign group within the Church on behalf of those who believe in Christian orthodoxy.

This statement and comments did not go unnoticed, and some of the language in the comments and the Statement elicited an official response from the Acting Principal Clerk of the General Assembly. The Rev. Dr. George Whyte says:

The Church of Scotland welcomes Professor McGowan’s continued commitment to remain a member and a minister but there are in his statement accusations which we believe are not accurate.

The proposed legislation which is the focus of the group’s criticism has been painstakingly considered by the Church across the nation. We know that for many people the discussion has been difficult and it has always been clear that we could never come to a common mind on the matter.

This pain and disillusionment has been felt by those, like Professor McGowan, who think the Church is going in the wrong direction and those who desperately want a Church which would go further on their chosen route. Yet the issue has to be discussed and we are a Church which recognises “liberty of opinion.” Our General Assembly has agreed that this proposal – to allow a congregation call a minister in a civil partnership – falls into that category. It is not, therefore, an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.

“We share Professor McGowan’s abhorrence of further disruption and we hope and pray that across Scotland Christians will find ways to continue to work together despite their varied opinions.”

In addition to the Covenant Fellowship, media was also reporting comments from a spokesman for the Free Church of Scotland. The comments expressed concern for the actions and direction of the Church of Scotland and concluded with the line “Although we are saddened by the present circumstances in the Church of Scotland, we are happy to provide a home to those who wish to leave.”

The Church of Scotland has seen the departure of a few ministers, congregations and members over the last few years since the trajectory was set by the 2011 General Assembly. But this new association seems to now more clearly define one side although being a brand new initiative we will have to see how it develops.

It is also tempting to map the current landscape of the PC(USA) and the directions of ebb and flow there onto where the Church of Scotland find itself now, and it almost seems that naming the new initiative the Covenant Fellowship invites that comparison. However, the lay of the land in the Kirk is probably going to be shifting rapidly and I will let the structures settle down a bit before I take the time to undertake that analysis.

What can I really say at this point to sum up these developments but… Stay Tuned!

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of October

Much of the Presbyterian related news in this time period was dominated by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly the decision to include the prohibition against same-sex marriage in their Book of Order, a decision I have already discussed. The press releases about the election of the Moderator and the Moderator-designate, a new Executive Secretary, and another about beginning the process to divest from fossil fuels got some wider distribution:

Presbyterian Church elects new leader – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church elects Moderator-designate – from Community Scoop

New national Assembly Executive Secretary for Presbyterians – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church to consider divestment of fossil fuels – from Community Scoop

At the same time church buildings face an uncertain future as congregations dwindle:

Historic Auckland church faces ‘imminent’ risk of demolition – from TVNZ

Community rallies to save old church – from The Dominion Post

In the debate over dividing Malawi into north and south countries, the Livingstonia Synod is take to task for taking sides in the matter in their siding with the current president oposing division.

CounterJab: Sorry, no room for Livingstonia Synod, Kyungu in federalism debate – from Nyasa Times

Elsewhere in the CCAP:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod to Repay Cashgate Money Embezzled By Church Officials – from allAfrica

In Northern Ireland a Presbyterian Church was damaged and an Orange Hall destroyed by arsonists:

Locals condemn arson attack on Donegal Orange Hall – from Irish Times

Presbyterian church arson ‘an attack on all Christians’ – from Belfast News Letter; includes comments from the Moderator of the General Assembly

Convoy Orange Hall: Donegal arson arrests made – from BBC News

 News from a PC(USA) related seminary:

Doris J. García Rivera installed as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico – from Presbyterian News Service

From Columbia, South Carolina, a story about Blythewood Presbyterian Church, a fairly new PCA church that is using the land it one day hopes to build its sanctuary on for a community garden in the mean time:

Blythewood Community Garden: A different approach to outreach – from the Columbia Metropolitan

And finally from Scotland: While members and pastors continue to depart from the Church of Scotland

Kirk ministers and members officially join Free Church – from Aberdeen Press and Journal

There was high-profile news of a major archaeological discovery on Kirk property

In Pictures: Largest Ever Viking Treasure Trove Discovered by Metal Detectorists in Scotland – from International Business Times

Retiree unearths huge Viking treasure trove in Scotland – from Japan Times

Viking treasure trove discovered in Scotland – from The Guardian

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church land – from Church of Scotland press release

And that is what caught my attention back then. On to the next one…

A Church Seeking A Pastor…

I rise to a point of personal privilege…

I rarely bring personal items into my blog stream, however on this occasion I would like to pass along the information that my church, La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church, is seeking a pastor. The Ministry Information Form is posted on the Church Leadership Connection system and the Pastor Nominating Committee has begun reading applications. The classified in the Presbyterian Outlook reads

Would you like to pastor a PC(USA) church that is highly missional in practice, committed to spiritual formation, evangelical in spirit, and reformed in theology? Consider La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church near Pasadena, California. Visit lvhpc.org to learn more.

La Verne Presbyterian Church
1040 Baseline Rd
La Verne CA 91750
lvhpc.org

Job Type: Full-time

For background information our long-standing mission statement is:

As a people committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit we nurture and equip each other to be disciples who perceive and carry out God’s call to our mission: to share the Gospel and address community and world needs to the glory of God.

Also from the MIF, how this position will help the church accomplish its mission:

The pastor will:

  • Model the serving, caring heart of this church.
  • Along with the Session, hold the mission and vision out before the congregation and regularly ask the question of all ministries, “How does this support the advancement of our vision?”
  • Lend direction and leadership in the effective interworking of the staff, ministry groups, and administrative committees.
  • Appreciate the advantages of our ministry group model while helping to ensure that the unique and varied ministry of each group effectively contributes to fulfilling the overarching vision of the church.
  • Attend to the administrative integrity of the church’s ministries.
  • Guide us in development of thoughtful, effective leadership training for all leadership positions within the church, helping to uphold the integrity of these positions.

Self-referral information is on the MIF.

An important note: I am not on the PNC and while I can answer general questions about our congregation I have no direct involvement in the hiring process.

It is left as an exercise to the reader whether having me in the congregation is a positive, negative or neutral feature. ;)

And now back to our regularly scheduled polity wonkishness…

 

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of September

As the year winds down I am hoping to get caught up with the news headlines posts – a daunting task considering how far behind I am and while I am also in the midst of a number of other drafts I am working on. So here are a few of the items that caught my attention the second half of September.

Maybe the most interesting is a new partnership between Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary:

Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to launch NYC campus – from Religion News Service

I have previously mentioned churches who have offered sanctuary to immigrants, but now there is the announcement of this as a movement:

Inaction Spurs New Immigrant Sanctuary Movement – from Texas Observer

Church network offers sanctuary to illegal immigrants to avoid deportation – from The Washington Times

A church burglary:

Historic church robbed days before last service: Board Member: I believe it was an inside job – from KSAT San Antonio

A delegation from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan visited the Church of Scotland during the month including the time of the Independence Referendum. They found the visit interesting, to say the least:

Delegation from Taiwan in Forfar – from Kirriemuir Herald

Taiwanese Moderator’s Message to Scotland – from The Church of Scotland

The passing of an influential pastor who served for 50 years:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod Hero Rev Chalera Laid to Rest – from allAfrica

And finally, a milestone anniversary for a historic church in North Carolina:

Historic African American church to celebrate 150th year – from The Times-News; “During the last full year of the Civil War, a slave founded a new church in the community that, 17 years later, would be incorporated as Mebanesville.”

And now, on to a couple of Canadian developments…

Moderator-Designate And Clerk Announced For The National Youth Assembly

So much I could be writing about over my lunch hour today but I have to give preference to a fellow geologist…

This morning the Church of Scotland announced that the selection committee for the Church of Scotland Youth (COSY) National Youth Assembly (NYA) has chosen Ms Hanna Mary Goodlad as the 2015 NYA Moderator and Ms Catriona Muckart as the 2015 Clerk. They will be installed at, and help run, NYA 2015 and will be part of the report of the NYA deliverance to the Church of Scotland’s 2016 General Assembly.

Needless to say, the Life and Work article got my attention when their opening line about Ms Goodlad is “Hannah Mary lives in Aberdeen and works as a Geologist for an oil company.” She received her initial training at Glasgow University and did additional work at Imperial College, London.

Hanna Mary grew up in Shetland and the article says that she has been active in the church with children’s and youth work. While in London she helped at a homeless shelter, and with her church she has traveled to Tanzania to help teach at a school for deaf children. In addition, she has been a representative from the Church of Scotland to the Scottish Youth Parliament.

In the article she is quoted in part as saying:

Growing up in a small community right on the edge of Scotland gave me a hunger for the inclusion for those who feel marginalised for whatever reason: geographically or indeed socially. My aim is to be an approachable and accessible leader for the young folk already within our Kirk but I also want to also reach out to the young people across the breadth of Scotland who want a connection with the Kirk, at whatever level that may be.

I am passionate about the Church of Scotland, passionate about the never ending good works of our Kirk and I am passionate about Christ. It is my desire to see the position of young people within the Church of Scotland grow. We are an accepting, open group of young Christians with our love of Christ and one another under pinning everything we do.

Ms Catriona Muckart, the new Clerk, hails from the village of Clashmore and is currently a member of Dornoch Cathedral. She is in her third year of school at the University of Stirling studying sociology and criminology. We are told “In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, she says perhaps with more enthusiasm than skill!”

Ms Muckart is quoted as saying:

I’m very humbled to have been selected as the next clerk of the NYA and am excited about what the role will bring. I’m looking forward to working with Hannah and the rest of the NYA during my year as clerk and journeying with them in faith.

We congratulate Heather Mary and Catriona on this honor and extend our prayers to them as they prepare for and help lead the NYA, as well as for the remainder of the year as they represent the NYA within the Kirk. And we certainly look forward to hearing more about the themes for the NYA next August. Best wishes.

UPDATE: The Church of Scotland main site has issued their announcement of the appointments.

And while the article is subscription based at least we have the great headline from The Press and Journal

Aberdeen scientist appointed to lead Kirk’s national youth assembly

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of September

Yes, I really am four, soon to be five, installments behind on the news headlines coverage. So here goes one and we will see if we can get caught up.

The Presbyterian-related news for early September was dominated by the Scottish Independence Referendum and the place of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland in that debate. I mention this only as reminder since I dealt with that in its own piece at the time. But stay tuned because the IndyRef decision was not for the status quo but for restructuring the relationships within the United Kingdom, a task that is only beginning.

In other news…

In a tragic accident in Chicago

Chicago woman killed by gargoyle falling from landmark Second Presbyterian Church – from The Washington Post

Second Presbyterian Church Being Check Out; Family Files Wrongful Death Suit – from Sloopin Blog

The network of Arizona sanctuary churches expands to Tempe

Churches Offer Sanctuary to Immigrants in Danger of Deportation – from The Wall Street Journal

In the Church of Scotland the departure of pastors and parts of congregations continue:

Tarbert group of 94 quits the Church of Scotland – from BBC News

Statement on congregation departure in Tarbert – from Church of Scotland

Gay Inclusiveness Costs Church of Scotland Clergy – from EDGE Media

Church of Scotland [presbytery] moderator intervenes over gay minister row – STV

In Malawi, the Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP comes out against the political proposal for an independent North Malawi/Nyika Republic as being politically motivated and having left the people out of the process.

LIVINGSTONIA SYNOD BLAST THE CALL FOR THE FORMATION OF NYIKA REPUBLIC – from Face of Malawi

Livingstonia Synod clarify stand on North Malawi independence – from Nyasa Times

The death of Northern Ireland political and religious leader Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley:

Ian Paisley, the Dr No of Ulster politics, dies aged 88 – from The Guardian

Ian Paisley – obituary from The Economist

In the mould of an Old Testament prophet, Paisley founded his own church – from The Irish Times

And a milestone anniversary for a church in Dover, Delaware, that was planted by America’s original presbytery

Dover’s Presbyterian Church celebrates 300 years of service – from Dover Post

Now, on to the second half of the month.

A Brief Note On Texas Church Property Court Cases

There was a brief ripple on the church property legal front this past week as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Texas Supreme Court Decision regarding the Episcopal Church cases. Personally I found this to be an expected outcome and frankly a non-event for reasons I will explain in a minute, but it occasioned a look at another Presbyterian case that has some related characteristics.

The Texas case is the one I discussed recently where the Texas Supreme Court overturned the summary judgement granted to the mainline Episcopal Church in the lower courts based on it being a hierarchical denomination. The Texas decision then sent it back down to the trial court for a full hearing on neutral principals but The Episcopal Church appealed it to the U.S. Supreme Court which this past week included it in a summary order of the cases that they declined to hear.

As I said in the lede, nothing in this struck me as unusual as the high courts prefer to weigh in after a case has run its course in the lower courts. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has, to my knowledge, yet to accept any of the recent church property cases for review. As a more experienced observer of the Episcopal church property cases, Allan Haley who writes at the Anglican Curmudgeon, says in his analysis of this order:

The order was expected, because neither decision by the Texas Supreme Court was final. The U. S. Supreme Court almost never agrees to review lower court decisions until they are final. In these two cases, the Fort Worth matter was sent back to Judge Chupp’s court for a trial, and the Church of the Good Shepherd case was likewise sent back to the trial court in San Angelo for further proceedings.

The action by SCOTUS now frees both of those cases to move ahead.

Reading further in his analysis I was interested to see that the parties who have left the mainline Episcopal church have filed for summary judgement and how, in his view of the cases, now it all comes down to one specific question:

In Fort Worth, Bishop Iker’s attorneys have filed a motion for summary judgment which is scheduled for a hearing in December. Given the decision by the Texas Supreme Court, the only question remaining for the trial court to decide is whether or not ECUSA managed to create a valid trust in the Diocese’s property which the Diocese did not revoke when it decided to withdraw in 2008. In Texas all trusts are deemed to be fully revocable at any time, unless the language creating the trust states otherwise.

I am not sure that is the only issue to be resolved but I don’t follow these with the focus or knowledge Mr. Haley does. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

This news has brought to the forefront another Presbyterian case that I have not previously included in these discussions, that of Windwood Presbyterian Church in Houston. As a Christian Post article details the history, they began the process of getting clear title to their property back in 2008 and departed for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians this past May with the property issue still unresolved. As in the Episcopal cases they initially lost on summary judgement in the Texas courts because of the hierarchical church argument but the August 2013 Texas Supreme Court decision caused the Appellate Court to vacate their earlier decision and send the case back to the trial court for a full hearing.

But Mr. Haley’s comment above about whether a valid trust was created caught my eye because that will clearly play a role in this case. Windwood was a member of the PCUS at the time of the union creating the PC(USA) and the PCUS churches had the option of avoiding the trust clause.  I quote from the fourth page of the Appellate decision (emphasis mine):

The Book of Order also contains a provision permitting a local church, with in eight years of the formation of the PCUSA, to opt out of the trust provision if it had not been subject to a similar provision before the formation of the PCUSA. Windwood never exercised this right.

While Windwood has multiple arguments for it’s clear ownership of the property under a neutral principles approach, it seems that their not having exercised this option is a significant hurdle they have to cross. This would appear to be an acknowledgement by the church back in 1991 (eight years after the union) that they are subject to the trust clause in a hierarchical church. I am curious to see how all this balances out as the courts see it.

As a side note, I would point out the case of Timberridge Church in Georgia where Atlanta Presbytery successfully argued that the opt-out was only one of several tests of whether the trust clause was in place and that the congregation was still subject to it in spite of exercising the option. But to my knowledge, that case is unique regarding the interpretation of the opt-out option.

So, as usual, each case carries its own nuances. And, based upon past history on these cases, whichever side prevails in the trial court appeals can be expected. We will see where all this leads.

Presbyteries Begin Voting On Same-Sex Marriage Actions

With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.

If you want the official tally of the voting on all amendments that is still there and shows that to date three presbyteries have officially recorded their votes ( 1 yes and 2 no on both 14-F and Blehar at this time ). Also interesting to note that the official page for the Belhar Confession does not have nifty map.

And for the polity wonks it is helpful to remember that the PC(USA) now has two less presbyteries for a total of 171 meaning that it takes 86 to approve a Book of Order Amendment and 114 to approve a change to the Book of Confessions.

For up-to-the-minute unofficial reporting I see that the Covenant Network is keeping an on-line tally with the presbytery voting results including the number of yes and no votes, something the OGA does not include. As of two weeks ago their tally was two presbyteries on each side.

While I will be doing a much more detailed analysis as more data are available, here is a quick comparison of the first four data point in comparison to 10-A. I will leave it for another time to discuss whether the comparison of two amendment that deal with significantly different equality questions is appropriate. Abstentions are included in the totals and the percentage after the total is the change in the number of total votes from 10-A.

Presbytery 14-F Yes 14-F No 14-F Total 10-A Yes 10-A No 10-A Total
New Castle 73 (74%) 24 (24%) 99 (-14%) 79 (69%) 34 (30%) 115
Palo Duro 25 (45%) 30 (55%) 55 (-35%) 35 (41%) 50 (59%) 85
San Diego 22 (22%) 76 (77%) 99 (+14%) 21 (24%) 66 (76%) 87
Yukon 27 (59%) 19 (41%) 46 (-22%) 21 (36%) 38 (64%) 59

So far we have two presbyteries with no on both, one yes on both and one switch from no to yes. In three out of four cases we see a significant decrease in the number of total votes cast. With 167 presbyteries left to go there is still a lot of data yet to be collected so I won’t go any further with this analysis now.

 

Church of Scotland

This past May the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland approved an act related to ministers in civil partnerships that affirms traditional language but includes proposed language (all found as an Appendix to the Legal Questions Committee report) for churches to request to depart from the traditional standards and it is now being voted on by the presbyteries as special legislation under the Barrier Act. There are 46 presbyteries and a majority of 24 are required for concurrence leading to the General Assembly giving it final considering in 2015.

The Principal Clerk’s office does not keep the official tally of the votes online but a group of evangelicals in the Kirk, Forward Together, has been monitoring voting. In a statement from last week (30 October) they indicate that they know of three presbyteries who have already voted no on the overture. That statement also contains a list of known dates of presbytery votes with the largest single day on the list this past Tuesday (4 November). The deadline to vote is in December.

In particular, the vote against by the Presbytery of Lewis received some publicity probably enhanced by the issuance of a statement following the vote. The story was picked up by the Stornoway Gazette and the KaleidoScot web site, among others.

Holding an alternate viewpoint on the question is Affirmation Scotland which says that they are disappointed the legislation does not go farther but supports it as an intermediate step. One of their affiliated churches, Greyfriers Church in Edinburgh, has recently made it clear that they are an inclusive congregation and that should the act be confirmed they will be an affirming congregation and request a departure from the act should the circumstances arise.

 

Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

In their General Assembly about a month ago they reaffirmed their support for marriage between one man and one woman and the Assembly sent to the presbyteries special legislation under the Barrier Act that would confirm that language in their Book of Order.

The act must be approved by a majority of the eleven presbyteries, two synods and two church councils.

It is relatively early in their process so we will see what announcements are made as it moves forward.

 

Conclusion

At this point the process is moving forward in each of the branches. While the Church of Scotland voting will be wrapping up in the next couple of months the other two branches will take a bit longer. As I indicated above, I will be taking the PC(USA) voting data and adding that to my database to see what observations we can make about that branch. For the other two there is a paucity of previous votes for statistical comparisons so we can only keep an eye on them as current snapshots of their denomination. We will see what happens.

For All The Saints — All Saints Day 2014

Come, let us join our friends above
who have obtained the prize,
and on the eagle wings of love
to joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing
with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King
in earth and heaven are one.

As is my custom on All Saints Day, I remember and give thanks for those in my life who in the past year have left us in the Church Militant to join the Church Triumphant. While saddened at the loss, they remain in my memory as servants who have faithfully run the race and now have claimed their prize for faithfulness in ministry

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…

This year I remember

  • Vincenta, who suffered with much but held tight to the Gospel throughout
  • Hope, who in her own practical and direct way – that could sometimes rub you the wrong way – was nonetheless always the gracious, generous and hospitable hostess
  • Dave, who was so very generous in his time, talents, gifts and service to the local church
  • Jack, who truly laid aside noble birth to serve the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Odessa, who in her lifetime spanning more than a century spent a majority as a pastor’s wife, supporting him, their family and the church in ministry
  • Beth, who likewise counted it an honor and a calling to support her husband in his varied ministries

To God the Most High I give thanks for these saints, for their lives, their examples and the difference they made in this world and the inspiration they have been to me.

One family we dwell in him,
one church above, beneath,
though now divided by the stream,
the narrow stream of death;
one army of the living God,
to his command we bow;
part of his host have crossed the flood,
and part are crossing now.

[Text from Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above by John Wesley]

Reformation Day Thoughts On A Reforming Pope

On this Reformation Day I would like to spend a few minutes talking about a pope that is not of the traditional nationality for popes, is an outsider to the Holy See and upon taking office sets his sights on reforming the church starting at the top with the Curia and the administration in Rome and thereby raising resistance and concern from the traditional insiders. Current history? Hardly.

Some of the Reformation era popes are fairly well known. Leo X is remembered as the pope that authorized selling indulgences to finance St. Peter’s and then excommunicated Martin Luther when he complained about it (and some other stuff). Clement VII, who happened to be a cousin of Leo’s, is known for his disagreements with Henry VIII and getting Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgement on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But until I started doing the research for this post I am not sure I was ever aware of Adrian VI whose short papacy lies between those two.

Adriaan Floriszoon Boeyens was a native of Utrecht, now in the Netherlands, and was the last pontefice barbaro, that being a non-Italian pope, until – wait for it – John Paul II. He is also one of only two modern popes to keep his given name upon becoming pope. While highly regarded for his loyalty, intellect and administrative abilities much of his higher church duties were in Spain, which is where he was in January 1522 when the other cardinals elected him. They had reached the conclusion that no one in the room in Rome would receive enough votes and upon considering others Adrian was overwhelmingly elected. When he arrived in Rome to be installed it was the first time he had ever been in Italy.

Adrian had no illusions about the state of the church and immediately set about trying to reform it. One biography describes his efforts and the response like this:

History presents no more pathetic figure than that of this noble pontiff, struggling single-handed against insurmountable difficulties. Through the reckless extravagances of his predecessor, the papal finances were in a sad tangle. Adrian’s efforts to retrench expenses only gained for him from his needy courtiers the epithet of miser.

Another says:

Adrian VI. lost no time in adopting measures designed to put an end to the religious troubles agitating Europe. He rightly began with the Roman Curia, but made slow progress, because the evils which he sought to eradicate were deep seated and of long standing.

One of his immediate challenges was the Diet in Nuremberg where the German princes were gathering and the duty of trying to keep them loyal to Rome fell to the pope’s legate Francesco
Chieregati, Bishop of Teramo. Adrian prepared for him Instructions to be read to the Diet which one source says is a document “unique in the history of the Papacy” and “is of exceptional importance to an understanding of Adrian’s plans of reform, and his opinion of the state of things.” Here is the Instruction delivered to the Diet on 3 January 1523 quoted in an essay written for the 400th anniversary of the Reformation:

“You are also to say,” wrote Adrian to Chieregati, “that we frankly acknowledge that God permits this persecution of His Church on account of the sins of men, and especially of prelates and clergy: of a surety the Lord’s arm is not shortened that He cannot save us, but our sins separate us from Him, so that He does not hear. Holy Scripture declares aloud that the sins of the people are the outcome of the sins of the priesthood; therefore, as Chrysostom declares, when our Saviour wished to cleanse the city of Jerusalem of its sickness, He went first to the Temple to punish the sins of the priests before those of others, like a good physician who heals a disease at its roots. We know well that for many years things deserving of abhorrence have gathered round the Holy See; sacred things have been misused, ordinances transgressed, so that in everything there has been a change for the worse. Thus it is not surprising that the malady has crept down from the head to the members, from the Popes to the hierarchy.

“We all, prelates and clergy, have gone astray from the right way, and for long there is none that has done good; no, not one. To God, therefore, we must give all the glory and humble ourselves before Him; each one of us must consider how he has fallen and be more ready to judge himself than to be judged by God in the day of His wrath. Therefore, in our name, give promises that we shall use all diligence to reform before all things the Roman Curia, whence, perhaps, all these evils have had their origin; thus healing will begin at the source of the sickness. We deem this to be all the more our duty, as the whole world is longing for such reform. The papal dignity was not the object of our ambition, and we would rather have closed our days in the solitude of private life; willingly would we have put aside the tiara; the fear of God alone, the validity of our election. and the dread of schism, decided us to assume the position of Chief Shepherd. We desire to wield our power not as seeking dominion or means for enriching our kindred, but in order to restore to Christ’s bride, the Church, her former beauty, to give help to the oppressed, to uplift men of virtue and learning; above all, to do all that beseems a good shepherd and a successor of blessed Peter.

“Yet let no man wonder if we do not remove all abuses at one blow, for the malady is deeply rooted and takes many forms. We must advance, therefore, step to step, first applying the proper remedies to the most difficult and dangerous evils, so as not by a hurried reform to throw all things into greater confusion than before. Aristotle well says: ‘All sudden changes are dangerous to states.”’

Amazingly frank words about the state of the church coming from the very top. And apparently an admission resulting from the pressure generated by Martin Luther’s calls for change.

A few historical points should be noted about all this. First, the Instruction acknowledges the corruption in the system but the church stood by the doctrinal standards that were also at issue with Martin Luther. In fact, part of the message of the legate to the Diet was for them to stand by and enforce the decision of the Diet of Worms against Luther.

Second, the Instruction was an acknowledgement that Luther and other reformers were correct on certain points and it should come as no surprise that Adrian’s acknowledgement of the need for reform of the system was seized upon by them as validation of those claims that reform was needed.

Third, the work and stress of reforming the church took a heavy and rapid toll on Adrian and from his installation on 31 August 1522 he served barely a year until his death on 14 September 1523. The essay says of his successor, Clement VII, “Although he had given evidence of efficiency and was free from extravagance, yet he lacked decision.”

Yet the need for reform was acknowledged and while the path was not straight and the wheels turned slowly, Adrian’s naming the problems helped pave the way for Clement’s successor, Paul III, to convene the Council of Trent.

Finally, an editorial note: Lest you think that I was being selective in my sources to prove my argument and show the medieval church in a particularly bad light, I would point out that every quote, source and link in this post is from a document from the Roman church. In particular, I was excited to find that collection of essays titled The Reformation: A Series of Articles Published in The Tidings which collected in one volume 24 articles published by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in their weekly The Tidings from November 1916 to May 1917 in their  recognition of the 400th anniversary of The Reformation. I may not agree with their doctrinal interpretation of the Reformation, but I have found it a rich source of historical information from the Roman perspective. [And for my friends on Twitter and Facebook – this was the unnamed “rabbit hole” that excited me last weekend when I found it and discovered a rich source of information for my Reformation Day post.]

And so with that I wish all my Protestant and Reformed friends a very good Reformation Day. May you always be reforming according to the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.