LHHPC Discernment Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is LHHPC having these discernment discussions?
There are 2 primary reasons why we have begun these discernment discussions. The first reason is the concerns that the Session and many members have regarding the direction and theology of the PC(USA). Secondly, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos asked each church in the Presbytery to begin a process of discernment as to its primary mission and whether that mission can best be pursued within the PC(USA).
2. What concerns are there about the PC(USA)?
The leadership of LHHPC believes that the PC(USA) has become increasingly progressive over the past several decades. If this only meant progressive in the political sense, it wouldn’t be a major issue, although many find its pro-choice position and its treatment of Israel to be problematic. More important is that the denomination is progressive in its theology. There is also concern about a good many judicial decisions in the courts of the PC(USA).
3. What do you mean by a progressive theology?
Progressive Christianity can be difficult to define as it tends to place great emphasis on experience and feelings which can vary widely from one person or group to another. They will generally hold at least one and usually more than one of the following beliefs:
– Progressives are often very uncomfortable with the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ, particularly with statements such as “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
– Some will reject the concept of the Trinity.
– They often reject most or all of the miracles, including the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and the virgin birth.
– The second coming of Christ is often ignored or rejected.
– Their outreach efforts tend to focus most heavily on social justice issues rather than evangelism.
– Some believe that all religions are valid expressions of faith in God and can lead to salvation.
– They are the least likely of any Christian theological group to believe in a literal interpretation of any given Scripture.
4. Why is the increasingly Progressive theological nature of the PC(USA) a problem?
LHHPC is an evangelical congregation, particularly in its leadership. That means it would take positions directly opposite of those listed above as characteristics of Progressive Theology. This means that there are serious questions about whether our congregation is a good “theological fit” with our denomination. Coupled with the historic refusal of the PC(USA) to adopt any “essential tenets” of the faith and there is a prescription for ongoing theological disputes that consume a great percentage of the time and efforts of leadership at all levels. Recent years have seen increased politicization of theological discussions. Time could better be spent on more productive efforts. Ultimately, it robs a congregation of many of the benefits of being part of a denomination.
Another tension point is the redefinition of behavioral faithfulness in the PC(USA). We at LHHPC are committed to being disciples who seek to grow in our obedience to Jesus Christ and Scripture in both our belief and behavior. There is concern about the increasing permissivenessin the redefinition of sexuality expressed by the majority in the PC(USA). All are sinners and no one sin should be singled out for special attention, but the removal of the standard of living “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness“ for church officers goes against what many believe to be God’s call for elders, deacons and pastors. This change has brought our denomination into conflict with the historical tradition of the Judeo‐Christian faith and with the global church that does not affirm the decision of the PC(USA). This decision, which is framed as permissive at the present time, may become mandatory in the future. We are committed to welcoming all people, and are equally committed to calling all people to repentance and the transforming power of the gospel. Being “out of step” with our denomination in such an important area of life causes deep conflict of conscience and tensions about the very purposes of ministry.
5. What is the problem with recent judicial decisions in the PC(USA)?
The PC(USA) has its own court system, called Permanent Judicial Commissions (PJCs). Each Presbytery, each Synod and the General Assembly have their own PJC. Cases generally start at either the Presbytery or Synod Level and may be appealed all the way to the General Assembly PJC.
Recent years have seen an increasing number of decisions where the court used whatever logic, reasoning or justification necessary to reach what appears to be a predetermined outcome. Some examples include:
-The marriage of a female PC(USA) pastor to another woman was deemed not to be a true marriage (in violation of the Book of Order as it then existed) because it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the marriage had ever been consummated.
-A Synod PJC ruled that the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) is not a “reformed body” because it has essential tenets. (Churches in our denomination can only be dismissed with their property to other denominations which are “reformed bodies.”) Since this case was never appealed to the General Assembly PJC it is binding only as to the two parties and does not affect LHHPC. The concern is that this same type of decision might be made by a GA PJC.)
-Another case brings to light a conflict in our Book of Order, which simultaneously holds that a church’s property is a tool for the accomplishment of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and that the property is held in trust for the use and benefit of the PC(USA). In a case that was decided after the church in question had already been dismissed from the PC(USA), the court ruled that Presbyteries must use “due diligence” in satisfying the “trust clause,” which is the requirement where the property is held in trust for the denomination. The decision stated that no single formula may be used. It has vastly complicated the dismissal process since no one knows exactly what is required.
You can read about these judicial cases and the theological dispute with the PC(USA) in the following document: An Evangelical View of the PCUSA
6. Are we singling out one group of sins and ignoring our own characteristic sins?
No. There is no single sin or group of sins that led the Session to engage the congregation in this season of discernment to consider whether to seek dismissal from the PC(USA). For over 20 years a growing movement within the PC(USA) has redefined the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness and Lordship of Christ in ways with which many strongly disagree. The change in the ordination standards in the Book of Order from what many understand as clear biblical principles is just one of many examples of the trend we see to compromise the authority of Scripture.
7. Please explain what “increasing tolerance of theological pluralism” means.
Increasing tolerance of theological pluralism means the denomination allows for a very broad spectrum of beliefs on all issues. This pluralism compromises the integrity of our convictions because the denomination will not define and agree on the essentials of our faith such as the nature and work of Jesus Christ and the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Disagreements over these basic convictions lead to deep tensions and disagreement in many other areas of our denominational life and ministry together. There is a great lack of trust between progressives and evangelicals that complicates the issue even further.
8. Why has this process gone on so long?
A decision to leave the PC(USA) is not one to be made lightly. Since ultimately it will be entirely up to the congregation as whether to stay in or leave the PC(USA), it is important that the congregation be given access to all the relevant information so that they can make an informed decision. This cannot be done in just one meeting immediately prior to a vote. Also, if a decision is made to seek dismissal from the denomination, the Los Ranchos Presbytery will need to see that this decision was made thoughtfully and without any rush to judgment.
9. Is our Presbytery (Los Ranchos) likely to change in the near future?
It is inevitable that it will change. Of the 53 churches in the Los Ranchos Presbytery, 11 are already in the formal discernment process, which means they have already take a straw poll with a large majority of the members voting to seek dismissal from the PC(USA). Several of these churches are among the largest in the Presbytery and indeed in the denomination itself. To date Los Ranchos has been voting largely along Evangelical lines, usually by at least a two-thirds majority. Since all of the churches seeking dismissal are evangelical churches, there is no question but what the voting patterns will change.
10. Can a presbytery force a church to accept a pastor it doesn’t want?
No, but there are reasons for concern for the future. There is precedent for a permissive policy to become a required policy. For instance, in 1974 Walter Kenyon was denied ordination because he believed that women should not be ordained as elders or pastors. He stated that he would work with women elders and ministers and would not block their ordinations, but would not participate in their ordination services. His Presbytery voted to ordain him but a challenge was filed in the court system which went all the way to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, which held that the Presbytery had erred by ordaining him because of his view of the ordination of women. He was later ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Many are concerned that similar procedures could be used against future candidates who oppose the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians and eventually those who refuse to participate in gay marriages.
11. Are all people welcome at LHHPC?
Yes! In Romans 15:7 Paul writes, “Accept (or welcome) one another, then, just as Christ accepts (or welcomes) you, in order to bring praise to God.” We thank God for accepting us by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every person is valued in the eyes of God and, therefore, in our eyes, also. We seek to remove all barriers to fellowship. We have learned, however, welcome does not imply total agreement with a person’s beliefs or behavior on every issue. Being accepted also means entering a community that not only accepts us but also challenges us by the very standards and beliefs that have shaped and formed that community. We agree with the statements Rev. Tim Fearer articulated in the video series that expresses a commitment to welcoming all people: “All people are welcome. All questions and conversations are welcome and encouraged. However not all positions or opinions are affirmed, in the same way that not all behaviors and lifestyles are affirmed.” We have some work to do to learn how to make this a reality—but it is work worth undertaking.
12. Would those who disagree with the majority position of our congregation still be welcome?
Yes, of course! We recognize there are genuine differences of opinion and ambivalence around this decision and these issues. This is one of the most difficult decisions any congregation can make. Faithful and godly people will disagree with each other. Your church leadership has given their best thought and prayer to these matters and trusts that all our members are doing likewise. No matter what is ultimately decided, we hope all will feel welcome and continue to engage in our fellowship and ministry here.
13. Does LHHPC now, and will it in the future, allow people to join who identify themselves as gay or lesbian?
Yes. The former and current Books of Order make the basis for membership the confession of faith of “all persons who trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ” (G.1.0302). Membership is seen as a step on the road of discipleship by which a person says he/she will join in the life and ministry of a congregation. The ministry of Jesus and his apostles in the Book of Acts began by calling people to follow Jesus. Transformation happens as we follow Christ. We grow in surrendering every aspect of our lives to Christ in obedience to Scripture. We want all who join to understand who we are and what we believe about the Bible and its expectations for faith and faithful living, as articulated in this document and in other ways. Those who understand, affirm, and want to join us based on that common vision are most welcome indeed.
14. I heard that LHHPC has joined the Fellowship of Presbyterians. What is that?
The Fellowship is an “umbrella organization” that includes members of the PC(USA), members of ECO, and brothers and sisters in Christ beyond these two denominations. It is an association of both individuals and churches that share a common evangelical perspective and a desire to further the mission of Jesus Christ in our communities and beyond. The Fellowship has developed a set of essential tenets to which its members agree to affirm. These essential tenets were the basis of the recent GIFT Hour course on essential tenets. Copies of these essential tenets have been widely distributed. You can get a copy in the church office.
Jesus-shaped Identity Biblical Integrity Thoughtful Theology Accountable Community Egalitarian Ministry Missional Centrality Center-focused Spirituality Leadership Velocity Kingdom Vitality
You can find descriptions of these values on the Fellowship’s website at: http://www.fellowship-pres.org/about/
The following are monthly letters from the Discernment Task Force regarding the state of the discernment process (Click to view. Right-click, save as to download).
In March of 2014, we spent 4 weeks viewing and discussing videos produced by Trinity Presbyterian Church regarding the core beliefs and history of the Christian faith and the Presbyterian denomination. The videos and written outlines can be viewed below: