Author Archives: Steve Salyards

The Curious Case Of The Kuyper Prize

So apparently the tent is not that big…

But I am getting ahead of myself here.

First, in case you need the elevator pitch on what is happening, Princeton Theological Seminary announced that the Abraham Kuyper Lecture would be delivered by a Presbyterian pastor of some note, the Rev. Timothy Keller who is about to retire as the senior pastor of a church in New York City. A bit of a ruckus arose because TE Keller is apparently not the right type of Presbyterian pastor – it turns out that he is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. An initial attempt by the President of PTS, TE Craig Barnes, to explain the situation apparently did not help and so, with the gracious consent of both the Kuyper Committee and TE Keller the prize will not be awarded this year but in the interest of academic freedom and hearing a variety of voices Mr. Keller will still give the lecture.

When I initially heard about the prize I must admit that I was a bit surprised at the choice of Tim Keller. On the one hand, considering the description of the prize is:

The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is awarded each year to a scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the ‘spheres’ of society. A condition of the Prize is that the recipient deliver a lecture on a topic appropriate to the aims of the Center. This lecture normally opens the annual spring conference, which is usually on a related theme.

Tim Keller – with his pastoral and missiology work – has easily done this. He founded, developed and put a program of expansion in place for church planting in an urban setting. If you want a statistic here, his multi-site congregation is roughly half the size of the combined total of the 101 PC(USA) congregations around him in New York City Presbytery. He has left a mark on Manhattan of “social, political and cultural significance.” On the other hand, my jaw dropped a bit at the chutzpah of a unit of PTS inviting a Presbyterian of another flavor to give the lecture knowing that he did not share some of what are becoming essential tenets of the modern PC(USA). It was no surprise to me that the controversy broke out.

Several strong voices of opposition appeared on the internet regarding the decision and how TE Keller was a part of a religious tradition that, while Presbyterian in governance, did not model the inclusiveness now expected in the PC(USA) and at its seminaries. Exempli gratia: Carol Howard Merritt, Traci Smith, and a faculty, staff and alumni online petition.

On the other hand, I was appreciative of the Kuyper Center reaching out to TE Keller and although I understand the motivation behind the criticism I was saddened to see such a strong reaction. I will not deny his overall theological views and their incompatibility with the modern mainline, but I want to take a few steps back and consider all this in a wider temporal and spacial context. A few points came to mind.

First, the topic of the lecture is not about what we as American Presbyterians disagree on but on something which we share regarding the social impact of the church. I believe that the walls that American Presbyterians have put up in the name of orthodoxy do a disservice to the proclamation of the Gospel and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. (I sometimes wonder if we are a bit too much like an award winning heretic joke.)

Second, Tim Keller seems like a reasonable leader for those in the PC(USA) to reach out to if the point is to develop this dialog. Within each denomination the membership is spread across a range of opinions on any given issue and it is helpful to remember that within the PCA there are some who became a part of it when the Reformed Presbyterian Evangelical Synod merged with the PCA in 1982 and those from the RPES gave up their ordination of women. While TE Keller did not come in through that branch, his church has been the target of criticism for having deaconesses serving along side deacons in the church leadership. As the PC(USA) knows very well, church beliefs evolve and maybe an evolution will be seen in the PCA’s stance with time. And I dare say, we acknowledge there are those within the PC(USA) who do not affirm the latest moves towards inclusiveness and might there actually be a few individuals who are still not fully in favor of the ordination of women?

Finally, what does this controversy say to PC(USA) ecumenical partners, many in Latin America and Africa who still do not ordain women? Is this saying, there are certain non-negotiables in what we say presbyterianism means and you don’t fit it? Or is this broadcasting a double standard for what it means to be an American Presbyterian versus a global Presbyterian?

I should probably finish by saying there has been a lot of criticism of PTS for the flip-flop and to a wider audience I suspect the perception is turning out more negative than positive. Again, Exempli gratia: Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, and Rod Dreher. In the mainstream media there are stories from the Washington Times and the Deseret News picked up the RNS story. And it appears in Abrahan Kuyper’s homeland a Dutch news site has picked it up as well.

And so with that, we will see how this all goes. One commentator has even noted that Abraham Kuyper would not qualify for the prize named for him under these new unwritten expectations.

So how large is the tent? Hang on to your hats as we try to find out.

Brief Comment On The Central (now Alps Road) Presbyterian Church Decision, Athens, Georgia – The Exception That Proves The Rule

I began my previous property post on the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church court arguments with the reference to the cliché “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This is a very apt phrase to keep in mind when dealing with church property cases because the law varies significantly between states and each case has its own particular circumstances. Earlier this month we got a very good example of this in a court decision from Athens, Georgia.

Being in Georgia the hierarchical church gets strong support as laid out in the 2011 state supreme court decision of Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Inc. v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, Inc. (Timberridge decision). The court wrote in the conclusion:

Like the trial court, we conclude that neutral principles of law demonstrate that an implied trust in favor of the PCUSA exists on the local church’s property to which TPC Inc. holds legal title. See Barber, 274 Ga. at 359; Crumbley, 243 Ga. at 345. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding to the contrary.

The critical word in that block is “implied,” sort of like “if you are a PC(USA) church than the trust clause applies to you – end of story.” Very few states have given this level of deference to hierarchical churches. But the latest decision shows that it is not necessarily that simple and it is probably best to wait on analysis until you have the data.

In the case of Central Presbyterian Church, now Alps Road Presbyterian Church, a decision was handed down earlier this month that made a preliminary award of the property to the congregation. [And our thanks to The Layman for posting a copy of the decision.] The difference in this case is the strong documentary evidence that from the highest levels of the PCUS and then PC(USA) the understanding was that the trust clause was a theological understanding. The section begins with this:

Testimony showed that CPC believed that its property rights were not going to be affected by the reunion (or by any amendments to the PCUS constitution pre-dating the 1983 merger containing similar trust language). This belief was informed by a 1981 letter written by Rev. James Andrews, the Stated Clerk of the PCUS at that time, regarding a similar trust clause proposed by PCUS. The letter stated that the new trust clause in the PCUS constitution would not change the Presbyterian Church’s historical position on property. He writes, “These amendments do not in any way change the fact that the congregation, in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., owns its own property.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. I). In 1982, Rev. Andrews affirmed the denomination’s position in a report to all of the PCUS commissioners. The report reads, “The language dealing with trust does not in any way establish any kind of an encumbrance on church property as that term is understood in connection with real estate.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. K)

These communications, while not speaking directly to the PCUSA trust clause but
rather to the PCUS trust clause, are very important because in the Articles of Agreement
between PCUS and UPCUSA, PCUSA stated its intention to be bound by the representations
of its predecessor denominations. (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. G)

And that is just the start of that section.

The court clearly needed to address the Timberridge decision and how it relates to this one. The flavor of that finding is evident in the opening lines and since you know the bottom line of the case you can probably figure where the section goes from here:

In this case, there is a sharp conflict in the evidence as to the PCUSA mode of government (unlike in Timberridge where the parties agreed that the PCUSA was hierarchical). Petitioners presented evidence suggesting that the PCUSA structure of government is a hybrid congregational-hierarchical structure. Respondent’s witness testified that the PCUSA is hierarchical with a representational form of government.

Bottom line – take these property cases one at a time based on their own merits. Corollary – who knows what interesting material from American Presbyterian history may come to light in doing so. It will be interesting if we see more of those James Andrews quotes in the future.

I will leave it at that for today. From what I have been tracking there is a lot more property stuff in the pipeline and we will see where all this leads.

Stay tuned…

Musings On The News Report Of The First Presbyterian Church Of Bethlehem Property Arguments Yesterday

Once again, in the “where angels fear to tread” territory, I wanted to muse a bit and post some brief comments on the arguments in the Northampton County Court (PA) yesterday between the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Lehigh Presbytery, and the minority “stay” group.

The article from The Morning Call of Allentown is titled “Court arguments reveal deep divide in First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.”

I am going to cast this in the light of the most recent case law for Presbyterian disputes over property in Pennsylvania right now, the 2014 Peters Creek decision.

And with those two inputs, maybe there is something appropriate to Mark Twain’s quip “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

Now, it is worth noting that these were oral arguments to decide if this case needs to go to a full trial. The article quotes Judge Baratta as saying:

“I really would hate to render a decision at some point that’s going to hurt members of the community in matters of faith,” Baratta said. “If you’re getting close to a resolution I will do whatever I can to work with you, to push you over that line. But please, consider, 10 years from now when you look back on this, it may not be as difficult an issue as it is today.”

The argument from the majority of FPC Bethlehem is that the deeds do not mention the denomination and the church never explicitly accepted the PC(USA) Trust Clause. The judge responded “So you’re saying they didn’t really mean all of the Book of Order … only the parts they liked?” The majority’s lawyer responded that was an ecclesiastical question and not the scope of the civil courts. The judge replied that it could be looked at under neutral principles.

I must presume the judge has done his homework on this one. Part of the Peters Creek decision was laying out the boundaries of the neutral principles and the trust law related to the church trust clause. Under that decision it seems clear to me (reference Twain quote above) this court can deal with the property issue. Also under the Peters Creek decision a formal acceptance of the trust is not necessary but actions that would acknowledge PC(USA) ties and thus by inclusion the trust – like saying you are a PC(USA) church in your bylaws and charter and accepting the current Book of Order – are enough to demonstrate implicit acceptance of the trust clause. The decision quotes an earlier Presbyterian property decision that says (p. 19)

“In order for a court to find that a trust has been created, there must exist in the record clear and unambiguous language or conduct evidencing the intent to create a trust. No particular form of words or conduct is required to manifest the intention to create a trust. Such manifestation of intention may be written or spoken words or conduct indicating that settlor intended to create a trust.”

While a final decision in this matter would involve the close examination and history of the church’s bylaws, charter and property documents, the exchange between the judge and the lawyer is telling and may suggest that FPCB has a bit of an uphill battle on this.

But the initial questioning of the Presbytery’s lawyer was no less problematic. That revolved around the precedent that had been set and why three other churches were dismissed with property but FPCB has not yet been dismissed. The response was that a mutual agreement was reached in the other cases but was unable to be reached here. As noted above, the judge clearly hopes that something can be negotiated in this case and that it will not go to trial.

The lawyer for the minority was apparently there, according to the information in the article, to report back to the judge that while his initial order from November required the two groups to share the space the minority group had been running into problems with some of its activities.

My thanks to The Morning Call and their correspondent Sarah Wojcik for a good article. It is objective, balanced and tells the story with direct quotes while providing a reasonable national context for what is happening within Lehigh Presbytery.

But this was a preliminary hearing and to apply the situation in this case against the standard laid out in Peters Creek will require more documentation and that will come as admitted evidence if this does go to trial. From the little that was reported on from yesterday’s court appearances I would think the advantage goes to the presbytery but it is far to early to say that with any high degree of confidence.

So a decision, should one be necessary, should come within 90 days. The judge hopes this can be settled before then. As with much of what I discuss…

Stay tuned.

Moderator Designate For The Presbyterian Church In Ireland 2017 General Assembly

It is the first Tuesday in February and as I begin writing this the 19 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are meeting to independently vote on the nomination of the Moderator for this year’s General Assembly. There are four individuals who have qualified for the ballot:

  • Rev. Brian Boyd B.Sc., B.D., who has served as the pastor at Kells and Eskylane for the last 25 years. Ordained in 1986 he has served larger church including as convener of the Alcohol and Drug Education Committee.
  • Rev. Tony Davidson B.A. (Q.U.B.), B.D. (Aber.) became the pastor of First Armagh Presbyterian Church in 1994. He has extensive experience with the larger church having been the convener of the Irish Church Relations Committee, Inter-Church Relations Board, Church Relations Committee, and the Nomination Committee most recently.
  • Rev. Charles McMullen, M.A., M. Litt., B.D. currently serves at West Church, Bangor, where he has been since 1999. His service to the larger church includes serving as convener of the Magee Fund Scheme Committee, National and International Problems Committee, and Global Concerns Committee.
  • Rev. Noble McNeely,  B.Ed., B.D. is the pastor of First Holywood Presbyterian Church, a position he has held since 1997. He has been extensively involved in local and church-wide panels and has served as the the convener of the Youth Education and Mission Committee, City Area Committee, Ministerial Studies and Development Committee, Board of Christian Training, and the Council for Training in Ministry.

As a side note, it is a good reminder that the Presbyterian Church of Ireland does span the whole of the isle and while the headquarters is in Belfast in Norther Ireland, Rev. Boyd’s parish of Kells and a previous parish of Rev. Davidson in Limerick are both in the Republic of Ireland.

So the presbyteries have voted and we can say…

Congratulations to the Rev. Noble McNeely, pastor of First Holywood Presbyterian Church who has been endorsed by 10 of the 19 presbyteries. (Picture from his church web site.)

Rev. McNeely was ordained at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church in Belfast in 1982 and before being installed at Holywood also served at First Ballymoney.

He grew up in Crossgar and holds an Education degree from Stranmillis College, with a specialisation in jewellery and silversmithing. From college he taught Craft and Design at Deramore High School (now Balmoral High) in Belfast for two years. He then continued on and earned his B.D. from Union Theological College in 1981.

An interesting note on his wife, Florence, who is a physiotherapist. This is a similar line of work in the caring professions to Claire Sellar, the wife of the current Moderator, who is an occupational therapist. (Probably jumped out at me since my wife is also a physiotherapist.) Noble and Florence have three adult children.

Concerning his nomination, the official announcement quotes him as saying:

I am sincerely humbled. I have served the wider church in a number of roles and I see my nomination as Moderator as another opportunity to serve Christ and His church.

At the same time, I recognise the responsibility that has been entrusted to me and I pray that with God’s help and the prayers of the Church, I will be able to fulfil expectations.

While we expect Rev. McNeely to take over the @pcimoderator Twitter feed, he does have his own @mcneelynoble which is not heavily used. In addition, I could not find one for First Holywood, but the Young Life group there does have a slightly used one at @YLHolywood.

I would note that Rev. McNeely was the strong favorite in the voting with the other thee individuals fairly evenly splitting the remaining nine votes. (Boyd – 3, Davidson – 2, McMullen – 4)

We look forward to hearing more from the traditional press conference tomorrow morning and I will add links here following that event.

UPDATE: The press conference got good media coverage and reports can be read in the Belfast Telegraph – including a post with video clip – as well as the News Letter. Topics reflected in the coverage include a call for politicians to build bridges between the sides and his view, consistent with the current position of the church, that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Our congratulations to Rev. McNeely on his nomination and prayers and best wishes as he prepares for the Assembly and for his whole moderatorial year.

The World Is A Messy Place

As we settle down after Christmas dinner on this Lord’s Day I share with you a few thoughts from the last 24 hours. It was a period filled with worship at three different churches with three different styles and about as many theological perspectives. (Full disclosure: the pictures of the three churches below were all taken well before the service began.) Needless to say – considering the season – I heard the second chapter of Luke read three times.

One of the things that has always struck me about Luke’s writing is the historical details. His mention of specific figures outside of Israel lends an authenticity that was certainly intended by the author to give his audience some context for the events he narrates. In this part of the story he gives us the references to Caesar Augustus and Governor Quirinius.

But with the repeated readings I got a bit distracted and a couple of the Greek words in Luke 2:1 caught my attention so I got sidetracked into word studies. The first is the word for enrolled or registered – apographo. A technical term related to the census that conveys the official nature of it. As an interesting side-light, that word is used in only one place out side of Luke’s narrative and that is in Hebrews 12:23 where it speaks of the firstborn being registered with the assembly/church in Zion.

The second Greek word is oikoumene which is translated something like “the inhabited world.” The simple lexicon I had with me conveys the reference to the earlier Greek-speaking world and then the Roman world. The sense certainly seems to be to those considered civilized as opposed to the barbarians or to put it another way – us versus them.

Now I should be clear that I am working off my small lexicon and I look forward to exploring these words more with my more extensive ones. But for the moment I think this is enough to convey what struck me this weekend.

The idea is that Jesus was born into a messy world, in a small province of a big empire ruled from a city far away, with a governor to represent the rulers and a local king (admittedly Herod is mentioned mostly in Matthew and not Luke) who only retains power by the permission of the occupying rulers but has enough latitude to wield that power in horrific ways among the local population. The terms discussed above suggest official control, taxation and a sense of who is controlled, maybe even welcome, and who are the outsiders and not being controlled. Furthermore, we know from archaeology and hints later in the Gospels that there are multiple factions within the region that cooperate with the occupying forces to various extents to keep hold of power. And factions who want to get rid of the foreign powers by various levels of violence and terrorism. Yes, into this messy world God became incarnate in the form of a new born baby.

Why at that time we can not be certain – that is a matter for God’s sovereignty. But at this time, in this world we still have a lot of messy situations. Some of these situations are in places mentioned in the second chapter of Luke. Some of them are where others of us live. Some are messy in the sense of physical violence, some political turmoil, some racial discord, some due to corrupt institutions… the list goes on. The world is still a messy place, and we would be hard pressed to say if it is any more or less messy than the one Jesus was born into.

And yet, into our mess the Word is still with us. Born once in human form and subject to the social, economic and political forces of his time he overcame them not by force or political power as the world expected but by his spiritual and divine power exercised in the context of a messy world.

And so we find ourselves in a similar situation this Christmas: Much pain and hurt, much political uncertainty and frustration, much economic unevenness, and much social tension. And yet, the message of Christmas is that God was and is with us, gave his life for us and will come again.

Even so, Come, Lord Jesus

 

Presbyterian Presidents

While it was very tempting today to riff on Chesterton (“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”) or Psalm 20 (“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”) I decided on a different path. Instead, we have the potential for another self-identified Presbyterian to be elected the head of the executive branch of the U.S. government so I thought I would take a brief look at other Presbyterians in that position.

There are a number of lists of the religious affiliations of Presidents, including Wikipedia, Pew Research Center, and Adherents.com. From these lists, it is clear that the largest single group is the presidents who were Episcopalian with about eleven total. This is closely followed by the ten-ish Presbyterians. And coming to a fixed number is a bit challenging because of switching in their lifetimes.

But some presidents were life-long Presbyterians and easily identifiable with that denomination. These include:

  • Andrew Jackson, raised and self-identified as one his whole life, although he technically did not join a church until after he was president.
  • James Buchanan, raised and educated (Dickinson College) in a reflection of his Scots-Irish Presbyterian roots, but like Jackson did not officially join until later in life.
  • Grover Cleveland, a son of the manse but with age is reported to have become less devout
  • Benjamin Harrison, a lifelong and active Presbyterian. More on him a but further below.
  • Woodrow Wilson, a son of the manse often held up as a model of Presbyterian presidents. However, being politically and academically active during the fundamentalist/modernist debates, he came down on the modernist side at a time when the PCUSA was still dominated by the conservatives.

Two presidents became notable Presbyterians later in life:

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose upbringing and earlier life included family participation with the River Brethren sect of the Mennonites and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his presidential years and especially in retirement at Gettysburg Presbyterian Church he was an active member.
  • Ronald Reagan, was raised in his mother’s Disciples of Christ church but after moving to southern California was associated with Bel-Air Presbyterian Church much of his adult life.

And three presidents drifted towards the Methodists:

  • James Knox Polk, whose middle name Knox reflects his mother’s Scottish roots and descent from John Knox’s brother. While raised Presbyterian, later in life he would identify with the Methodist church, although he would regularly attend Presbyterian services with his wife.
  • Ulysses S Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, I am lumping together as, at least according to Adherents.com, their paths are about the same. While accounts are not entirely consistent they both may have had Presbyterian connections early in their lives but they were not the most religiously active later and generally were more visible with their wives’ Methodist traditions.

It is worth noting that Abraham Lincoln, while not an adherent to a religious institution, did regularly attend Presbyterian services with his more devout wife Mary.

Another interesting note is that Jame Madison, while never identifying as a Presbyterian, was a student of that great colonial-era Presbyterian scholar and theologian, John Witherspoon, at the College of New Jersey.

And speaking of the College of New Jersey, it is probably worth mentioning that the son and namesake of clergyman and second president of that institution, Aaron Burr, Sr., was a vice-president of the U.S., but these days is better known for a particular incident.

Let me return to Benjamin Harrison and his Presbyterian faith. While Wilson is held up as the Presbyterian scholar and academic, I enjoyed finding out more about Harrison and in the humble, day-to-day faith associated with the Calvinists he may be a better representative for what it means to be an active member of the church. For an interesting read on his faith there is an article by William C. Ringenberg, “Benjamin Harrison: The Religious Thought and Practice of a Presbyterian President.” While his grandfather, President William Henry Harrison, is typically counted as a nominal Episcopalian, it was his grandmother, a strong Presbyterian, who helped raise him and left her mark. Upon graduation from college he considered a career in the ministry and while widely acknowledged as having the gift of oratory, his innate interpersonal skills were lacking and pastoral work would have been more challenging. He chose law, and politics, instead.

Throughout his life he was active in the local church, serving as a ruling elder, Sunday school instructor and other positions. Maybe the most telling statement in that article about his church activity is this:

A long-time usher, Ben passed the collection plate on both the last Sunday before going to Washington for his inauguaration [sic] and the first Sunday after he left office

Need I say more?

So as the first polls are about to close, will we have another self-identified Presbyterian become president? The experts say no, but it ain’t over until the voters have their say. We shall see.

Stay tuned
Postscript:

Reading through some of this stuff, it seemed to me that another interesting path to chase down could be Presbyterians who served as U.S. Secretary of State including such interesting political and Presbyterian names as William Jennings Bryan, John Foster Dulles and Condoleezza Rice. But I will leave that for another day.

Moderator Designate For The 2017 Church Of Scotland General Assembly

Rev Dr Derek BrowningTwo weeks ago the Presbyterian Mother Church – that would be the Church of Scotlandannounced that the Rev. Dr. Derek Browning had been selected as the Moderator Designate for their 2017 General Assembly in May.

Rev. Dr. Browning is no stranger to many in the Church of Scotland, especially those familiar with the Assembly, as he has had a regular presence on the platform as the Business Convener for several years now. (You can consult the picture at the end of this article.)

His primary call is as the minister at Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh, having served there for the last 15 years. He began in pastoral ministry at Cupar Old and St Michael of Tarvit Parish Church in Fife in 1987.

He studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from which he ultimately completed a MA Honors History degree.  He did his ministerial training at St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews, and later completed a D.Min. at Princeton Theological Seminary.

His extended list of service to the church is too long to recite here, but it is worth noting that besides his service as convener of the Assembly Business Committee, he has served as a presbytery moderator and on the national Prayer and Devotion Committee as well as the Stewardship and Finance Committee. He has also served as the chair of the Board of Directors at the Eric Liddell Centre.

It is noted in the announcement that in his work with the Assembly Arrangements Committee and the Business Committee, he has had significant responsibility for organizing the Heart And Soul event  that is held on the Sunday afternoon of Assembly Week. In the press release he is quoted as saying, “The theme for Heart and Soul 2017 is ‘Word of Life’ and this rich and layered theme speaks to me about many things but ‘inclusion’ is one of those words of life. The issue of social inclusion is a key one in society and the church.” He continues, “People find themselves excluded for all sorts of reasons and the Church must play a role in bridging the gaps between individuals, communities and nations. The Church has much to offer, and has much to learn. Jesus was often found not only at the heart and centre of things but also on the fringes and the margins and that is where the Church must be.”

The articles says “he believes social inclusion is clearly a “gospel issue” and hopes to use his time as Moderator to highlight ongoing work carried out by churches that support people on the margins of society.”

The article also speaks briefly of his faith journey and how as he was feeling pulled in multiple directions upon completing college, including working for the BBC in London or for Shell Oil. But, he knew he had to address his spiritual pull first. The article says:

“I was in my early 20s when I felt a call not only to be a Christian, but to become a minister,” he said.

“For some people this is a gradual realisation, but for me it was a sudden awakening that I couldn’t put off until I had dealt with the questions it posed, and explored the possibility.

“My ministry afterwards has stuck with those two themes: dealing with questions and exploring possibilities.”

The announcement was widely covered in Scotland with articles by the BBC Scotland, The Glasgow South and Eastwood Extra, Herald Scotland, The East Lothian Courier, The Edinburgh Reporter, and The Courier.

I will conclude with my personal congratulations to him. I had the pleasure of spending a week in June sitting in from of him (and he has posted a picture on Twitter which clearly demonstrates that I do not improve the view). It was a pleasure to get to know him at the PC(USA) General Assembly that week and trade snarky insightful remarks. Commissioners to the Kirk General Assembly, be aware that he has a sharp and dry wit. I look forward to following the proceedings.

So best wishes to Dr. Browning as he takes on this new role. I have every confidence he will bring as much honor to the office as it will bring to him. And prayers for this time as he prepares for his moderatorial year.

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[Editorial notes: Pictures from Dr. Browning’s Twitter feed (@DerekBrowning2) or from the week he spent curating the Church Scotland Voices Twitter feed (@churchscovoices).

In addition, my apologies for the delay getting this posted as well as an overall lack of posting. I have taken on a major responsibility that has dominated my time and I am afraid blogging will be a lower priority for the next 10 months. I will try to do what I can.]

Giving Thanks For The Saints 2016

By all Thy saints still striving,
for all Thy saints at rest,
To Thee, O blessed Jesus,
All praises be addressed:
Thou, Lord, didst win the battle
That they might conquerors be;
Their crowns of living glory
Are lit with rays from Thee.

It is the first of November, a day set aside on many liturgical calendars as the Feast of All Saints. And while I do not observe it in the sense of a liturgical feast day, I do use the occasion to remember and give thanks for those I have known who in the past year have joined “all Thy saints at rest.”

Apostles, prophets, martyrs,
And all the sacred throng
Who wear the spotless raiment,
Who raise the ceaseless song;
For these, passed on before us,
Saviour, we Thee adore,
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would serve Thee more and more.

I remember and give thanks for:

  • Alice – A friend with an incredible story and wonderful spirit who I wrote about earlier
  • “Mrs. B” – A good friend of my wife’s family whose faithfulness, enthusiastic witness, and honest faith I came to respect
  • Bill – a lifelong Presbyterian who was faithful in his participation but quiet and humble in manner
  • Lynn – Another faithful witness who suffered much at the end but knew in whom her trust lay
  • Grace – Where do I start? A daughter of the manse (Lutheran to be specific) who knew what she believed and was not afraid to tell anyone. She had the most gracious spirit, possessed the gift of hospitality and was not afraid to use it, and had a faith that was both simple and intellectual. She lived life on her terms and to the Glory of God. (And in yesterday’s post in the picture at the end the “Little Luther” is standing on a German version of Luther’s Little Catechism given to me by Grace.)
  • Norm – a gentleman and respected public safety official who in the midst of a very long battle with cancer did not lose his faith, humor, positive outlook and sense of adventure.
  • Phyllis – A gracious lady with a love of, and talent for, music – especially used for the glory of God.
  • Joe – A humble but talented minister who lived a long and faithful life in the service of God and could always work in a word of praise to the Lord
  • Jack Rogers – known to many for his faithful service to the church and one I hope to say a bit more about in a future post.

And so on this day I give grateful thanks to the Lord of All for having each of them in my life at one time or another and the witness and encouragement they have each been to me.

Then praise we God the Father,
And praise we God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit,
Eternal Three in One;
Till all the ransomed number
Fall down before the Throne,
And honor, power, and glory
Ascribe to God alone.

[Verses from “From all Thy saints in warfare” (slightly altered) by Horatio Nelson (a nephew of the famous admiral of the same name)]

Reformation Day: How To Distract A Holy Roman Emperor

So it’s been 499 years since a crazy German monk allegedly nailed a debating document of 95 theses to the door of a castle church and started a movement that continues today.

There is no question that Dr. Luther’s efforts bore tremendous fruit, including in ways he did not imagine. But in many aspects he was, you could argue providentially, aided by a significant set of circumstances present at the time of his attempts to reform the Roman system. Where others had suffered for their attempts to challenge doctrine – like Jan Hus before Luther, or his contemporaries William Tyndale, Heinrich Moller, and Patrick Hamilton – Luther found safer ground for his thoughts. The prince ruling his region, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, got him safe passage and provided him protection from those who sought to arrest and punish him. And it should be noted that the invention of the printing press with moveable type significantly help Luther get his message distributed quickly and widely to be read by a broader audience, thus making it harder for authorities to silence him. And certainly Luther’s force of personality in writing and speaking was a considerable advantage as well. (You can check out the Lutheran Insulter web site if you want a taste of that.)

But today I want to take a moment to look a little bit higher and consider the top political power in that part of the world at that time – the Holy Roman Emperor.

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Charles V (from Wikimedia https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Charles_V_in_Armour_-_WGA20378.jpg)

That would be Charles V. He was a native of Spain, He was a native of Flanders from the house of Hapsburg and assumed the leadership of the house of Burgundy upon his father’s death in 1506. He ascended to the Spanish throne through his mother’s line in 1516 and was elected the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 upon the death of his grandfather. So he was not a ruler over the German states when this whole thing with Martin started, but as it progressed he became involved. He was present at the Diet of Worms and hearing Luther’s defense and possibly the famous “Here I stand” speech, rendered the verdict. He issued the formal verdict on May 8, 1521.

[Correction: Thanks for the email pointing out I got his early life wrong in my interest in focusing on 1517 and following. I think I have it corrected now and regret the error.]

But in an interesting historical coincidence it was on that same date that an offensive alliance against France was signed by representatives of Charles and the pope. This protracted conflict became the major concern for the emperor and certainly diverted his attention away from that monk in Saxony. His edict was never enforced.

The online version of the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that Charles considered the matter more of an ecclesiastical one and settled by the papal bull of 1520. In addition, in spite of the alliance against France, the Encyclopedia also tells us that Charles was not particularly fond of the pope and had his eyes on consolidating some of his holdings in Italy. In light of that, it is not surprising that France and the pope were the major parties objecting to him becoming the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Both the French conflict and the Italian/papal conflict were settled by treaties in the summer of 1529 on terms generally favorable to Charles. So now the coast is clear to return to the German states? Not quite…

On the eastern and southern sides of the empire the Turks were advancing and having conquered much of Hungary they reached as far as Vienna in 1529. While trying to juggle the Lutherans in Germany, Pope Clement VII in Italy and the Turks in the eastern corner, Charles made some preliminary attempts to reunify the Germans around religion at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Little progress was made and soon Charles was occupied with a new advance by the Turks the next year.

At this point I will not try to narrate a play-by-play of shifting European political alliances – have a look at the Encyclopedia entry if you are interested – but the bottom line is that between these shifting powers and the threats from the Turks religious unity in Germany was not a pressing concern for him. He finally had the opportunity in 1546 and 1547 to return to Germany with military power, but while taking back some measure of political control the religious situation had progressed to a point where Charles let the status quo remain and Lutheranism had established it’s foundation.

Charles died in 1558, having placed other family members to administer the parts of the empire. The shifting political alliances continued throughout his life and beyond making political solutions impossible without strong military backing. And the hoped for reforms from the Council of Trent were slow in coming and received throughout the western churches with a variety of reactions.

I readily admit that this is a cursory treatment of the wider political situation at the time, but the bottom line is that in a complex world the need to contain this particular religious rebellion was not perceived as a top priority for the emperor. He was distracted with other conquests and maybe a bit ambivalent about getting political power involved in an ecclesiastical dispute. The catch on the latter point is that in a world of established churches the ecclesiastical is political. (Consider Calvin and Geneva for more on that.)

But it gave Dr. Luther and his followers the space they needed and, unlike other reformers who were not as fortunate to have that slight buffer around them, in Saxony the Reformation had the elements it needed to establish itself and spread from there to large sections of Western Europe.

So on this Reformation Day, we remember not just the hard work of Martin Luther and the risk he took to challenge the established church’s doctrine, but also the favorable ground his thoughts landed on to be able to take root. And if distracting the Holy Roman Emperor is part of that, so be it.

Happy Reformation Day. And I am not sure whether to encourage you to enjoy, or possibly cringe, at the build-up in the coming year to the 500th.

luther_kleine

 

Church Of Scotland National Youth Assembly 2016

NYA2016logoAs I write this the 2016 National Youth Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be getting underway in Stirling. I have frequently expressed my appreciation for this event because it provides a forum for young adults (ages 17-25) to get together and discuss contemporary issues and how they interact with society and their faith. Furthermore, their discussions and conclusions are then presented to the Church of Scotland General Assembly the following May. (If you are interested in more detail, have a look at the National Youth Assembly report to the 2016 Assembly as well as their longer Supplementary report which has more detail and narrative as well as pictures.) In addition, other entities within the Kirk, like the Church of Scotland Guild and the Go For It initiative work with the NYA and its leadership.

So this year’s Assembly convenes the evening of Friday August 19 and will adjourn mid-day  on Monday August 22. It will be meeting again this year at Gartmore House in Stirlingshire.

The discussion topics this year are Gender Justice, Mental Health, and The Future of Ministry And Fresh Expressions. This is an event with a moderate profile in Scotland and the Minister for Mental Health Maureen Watt MSP will address the Assembly delegates on Sunday concerning what the Scottish Government is doing to address the problem. The NYA Facebook page is one way to follow along with these discussions as well as to see links to some of the background readings that were posted in advance of the Assembly.

The new NYA Moderator is Andrew MacPherson and the Clerk will be Lyndasy Kennedy and you can read more about them in the Kirk press release from April. In addition, a new article was posted yesterday previewing the weekend and giving some of the late-breaking details.

The best way to follow along is certainly Twitter so keep an eye on the hashtag #nya2016. You should also be looking at the official NYA account (@cosy_nya) as well as the NYA Moderator Account (@nyamoderator). Also a chance you will see something on Andrew’s personal account (@StAndrewMac). The NYA will be covered by the curated account Church Scotland Voices (@churchscovoices) under the operation of Fiona Marshall for the weekend who can also be found on her personal account, @LikeWatervrDude. And we can expect an appearance of the Church of Scotland Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Russell Barr, who tweets at the official account (@churchmoderator). Might see something on the Moderator’s official Facebook page as well. Other groups include the Go For It initiative who will be there (@GoForItcofs) as well as representatives from the United Reformed Church’s Youth Assembly in January (@URC_youth). And probably worth including the official Kirk account @churchscotland. Finally, let me include two individual accounts, that of the Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt, mentioned above (@maureensnp) and the Rev.Liz Crumlish who works with, and will be representing, the CofS Path of Renewal project (@eacbug). UPDATE: And I missed Lyndasy Kennedy, the Clerk, at @GhettoSmurf90.

And so, with that, I will wish the delegates and staff of the 2016 NYA well and know that we will be praying for them this weekend. It will probably take a bit for some of their deliberations, decisions and recommendations to be processed and reported, but we look forward to hearing about those at the appropriate time. And have a wonderful weekend of fellowship, discernment and spiritual renewal.