Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors’ Offshoots’ Category

A Stingy, Mean-Spirited Orthodoxy   3 comments

Books with Menorah

Above:  Two Books and a Menorah, January 16, 2015

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I am quite fond of Judaism, from which my religion, Christianity (yes, a generally liberal version thereof) flows, and which many conservative Christians seem to consider severely lacking.


Purity codes and tests disturb me.  Jesus violated them, and I have almost always been allegedly impure, according to them.  My context is the Bible Belt, in which I have always been a relative heretic, although I am actually fairly orthodox in the context of Christianity as a whole–the one in which Protestantism constitutes a minority.

A recent news story reminded me of J. Gresham Machen, who broke with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1936 to found the Presbyterian Church of America, which as called itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1940.  He published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923.  In that volume he argued that he and people who thought like him were Christians and that liberal Christians belonged to a religion other than Christianity.  Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, made the same claim recently.

I have no use for the Holier-Than-Thou Club, members of which define me as hell-bound infidel.  Their orthodoxy is narrow-minded, stingy, and mean-spirited.  It functions to define them as the “in” crowd and people like me as the outsiders relative to true religion.  These self-righteous people and I reside in parallel theological realms.  I want nothing to do with their dimension.  No, I prefer a kind, humble orthodoxy–one which acknowledges that it might be mistaken on some points.

Father Anthony de Mello, S.J., related a wonderful story in The Song of the Bird (1982):

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the master, “God is the Unknown and the Unknowable.  Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.”

The disciples were bewildered.  “Then why do you speak about him at all?”

“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

De Mello continued:

Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.

(The Song of the Bird, pages 3 and 4)

God exists beyond the realm of complete human comprehension.  The best we mere mortals can do is to grasp part of the truth of God.  I am certain, therefore, that I am both correct and incorrect about a great deal, and that much of what I assume to be right is really wrong.  I sing my theological song anyway and leave the particulars to God and grace.  I strive for a generous orthodoxy, not a stingy and mean-spirited one.






Two Kings   15 comments

Ahaseurus and Haman at Esther's Feast

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service,

and in him we inherit the riches of your grace.

Give us the wisdom to know what is right and

the strength to serve the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:1-18

Psalm 7

2 Timothy 2:8-13


I will bear witness that the LORD is righteous;

I will praise the Name of the LORD Most High.

–Psalm 7:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


This is a devotion for the day after Christ the King Sunday.  Pope Pius XI created that festival in 1925, when dictators governed much of Europe, interwar tensions were rising, and the Holy Father perceived the need to issue a reminder that God is in control, despite appearances.  The original date was the last Sunday in October, opposite Reformation Sunday in many Protestant churches, but the Roman Catholic Church moved the date to the Sunday before Advent in 1969.  In the middle of the twentieth century many U.S. Protestants observed Christ the King Sunday on the last Sunday in August.  I have found evidence of this in the official materials of the reunited Methodist Church (1939-1968).  Today observance of Christ the King Sunday (on the Sunday before Advent) is common in many non-Roman Catholic communions.  I have detected it in the Revised Common Lectionary and the Common Lectionary before that, as well as in official materials of Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Cooperative Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, and other denominations.

In contrast to Christ the King we have the fictional Ahasuerus, a pompous figure whose courtiers manipulate him.  He and others figure in the Book of Esther, which the germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) refer to as a low comedy with burlesque elements, as well as a serious side.  (Comedy has a serious side much of the time.)  The Book of Esther pokes fun at authority figures, one of the oldest pastimes.  Ahasuerus, humiliated when Queen Vashti refuses his summons, decides angrily to replace her.  Before he can reverse that decision, his advisers intervene.  This opens the narrative door for Esther to become the secretly Jewish Queen of Persia just in time for Haman to plot to kill the Jews.  Esther might have been a tool of schemers initially, but she becomes an instrument of God.

St. Paul the Apostle might not have written 2 Timothy, but the letter is of the Pauline tradition.  Certainly the Apostle did suffer hardship due to his obedience to God and agreed, as the text says:

If we have died with [Christ Jesus], we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself.

–2:11b-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Regardless of the situations of our daily life and how they became our reality, may we obey God and do the right thing.  This might prove to be quite dangerous, leading even to death, but so did the path of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.







Adapted from this post:


Good Trees for God   5 comments


Above:  A Visual Protest Against Police Brutality and Corruption, June 11, 1887

Artist = Eugene Zimmerman (1862-1935)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-4792


The Collect:

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy.

Without your help, we mortals will fail;

remove far from us everything that is harmful,

and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46


The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 4:27-31; 5:14-16 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 17:2-13 (Tuesday)

Leviticus 16:1-5, 20-28 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:65-72 (All Days)

1 Peter 2:11-17 (Monday)

Romans 13:1-7 (Tuesday)

Matthew 21:18-22 (Wednesday)


These readings present us with some difficult material.  In the Torah an animal sacrifice atoned for unintentional sins, offering an unauthorized sacrifice led to death, and idolatry carried the death penalty.

So you shall purge evil from your midst.

–Deuteronomy 17:7b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Also, in the readings from Romans and 1 Peter, resisting authority is a sin, regardless of the nature of that government.    I will address these matters in order.


One was supposed to keep a distance from the holy and approach God in a certain way in the Law of Moses.  Thus one had instructions to offer sacrifices just so, for example.  And touching the Ark of the Covenant was deadly.  In contrast, Jesus, God incarnate, ate with people, many of whom had dubious moral histories and bad reputations.  I side with Jesus in this matter.


One ought to be very careful regarding instructions to kill the (alleged) infidels.  Also, one should recognize such troublesome passages in one’s own scriptures as well as in those of others, lest one fall into hypocrisy regarding this issue.  Certainly those Puritans in New England who executed Quakers in the 1600s thought that they were purging evil from their midst.  Also, shall we ponder the Salem Witch Trials, in which paranoid Puritans trapped inside their superstitions and experiencing LSD trips courtesy of a bread mold, caused innocent people to die?  And, not that I am equating Puritans with militant Islamists, I have no doubt that those militant Islamists who execute Christians and adherents to other religions think of themselves as people who purge evil from their midst.  Violence in the name of God makes me cringe.

When does one, in the name of purging evil from one’s midst, become that evil?


Speaking of removing evil from our midst (or at least trying to do so), I note that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after struggling with his conscience, participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  I let that pass, for if one cannot kill (or at least plan to kill) a genocidal dictator in the name of morality….Sometimes life presents us with bad decisions and worse ones.  Choose the bad in very such circumstance, I say.  In the Hitler case, how many lives might have continued had he died sooner?


Christianity contains a noble and well-reasoned argument for civil disobedience.  This tradition reaches back to the Early Church, when many Christians (some of whom became martyrs) practiced conscientious objection to service in the Roman Army.  The tradition includes more recent figures, such as many heroes of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  Many of those activists suffered and/or died too.  And, in the late 1800s, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, hardly a bastion of liberalism at any point in its history, declared that the Ottoman imperial government, which had committed violence against the Armenian minority group, had no more moral legitimacy or right to rule.  Yet I read in the October 30, 1974, issue of The Presbyterian Journal, the midwife for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973, that:

When a Herod or a Hitler comes into power, we must thereby assume this is the Lord’s plan; He will use even such as these to put His total plan into effect for the good of His people here on earth.

–page 11

That was an extreme law-and-order position the editor affirmed in the context of reacting against demonstrations of the 1960s and early 1970s.  A few years later, however, the PCA General Assembly approved of civil disobedience as part of protests against abortions.


If one assumes, as St. Paul the Apostle and much of the earliest Church did, that Jesus would return quite soon and destroy the sinful world order, preparation for Christ’s return might take priority and social reform might move off the list of important things to accomplish.  But I am writing in 2014, so much time has passed without the Second Coming having occurred.  Love of one’s neighbors requires us to act and even to change society and/or rebel against human authority sometimes.


The barren fig tree in Matthew 21:18-22 was a symbol of faithless and fruitless people.  If we know a tree by its fruits and we are trees, what kind of trees are we?  May we bear the fruits of love, compassion,and mere decency.  May our fruits be the best they can be, albeit imperfect.  May we be the kind of trees that pray, in the words of Psalm 119:68 (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979):

You are good and you bring forth good;

instruct me in your statutes.





Adopted from this post:



Christian Liberty to Love Our Neighbors   3 comments


Above:  Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress


Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-05791


The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 14:13-18 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 15:1-9 (Friday)

Jeremiah 15:10-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 26:1-8 (All Days)

Ephesians 5:1-6 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (Friday)

Matthew 8:14-17 (Saturday)


I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord,

that I may go about your altar,

To make heard the voice of thanksgiving

and tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Lord, I love the house of your habitation

and the place where your glory abides.

–Psalm 26:6-8, Common Worship (2000)


Christian liberty is the freedom to follow Christ without the shackles of legalism.  All the Law of Moses and the Prophets point to the love of God and one’s fellow human beings, our Lord and Savior said.  Rabbi Hillel, dead for about two decades at the time, would have continued that teaching with

Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Many of those laws contained concrete examples of timeless principles.  A host of these examples ceased to apply to daily lives for the majority of people a long time ago, so the avoidance of legalism and the embrace of serious study of the Law of Moses in historical and cultural contexts behooves one.  St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, resisted legalism regarding male circumcision. In my time I hear certain Protestants, who make a point of Christian liberty from the Law of Moses most of the time, invoke that code selectively for their own purposes.  I am still waiting for them to be consistent –to recognize the hypocrisy of such an approach, and to cease from quoting the Law of Moses regarding issues such as homosexuality while ignoring its implications for wearing polyester.  I will wait for a long time, I suppose.

My first thought after finishing the readings from Jeremiah was, “God was mad!”  At least that was the impression which the prophet and his scribe, Baruch, who actually wrote the book, left us.  In that narrative the people (note the plural form, O reader) had abandoned God and refused repeatedly to repent–to change their minds and to turn around.  Destruction would be their lot and only a small remnant would survive, the text said.  Not keeping the Law of Moses was the offense in that case.

The crux of the issue I address in this post is how to follow God without falling into legalism.  Whether one wears a polyester garment does not matter morally, but how one treats others does.  The Law of Moses, when not condemning people to death for a host of offenses from working on the Sabbath to engaging in premarital sexual relations to insulting one’s parents (the latter being a crucial point the Parable of the Prodigal Son/Elder Brother/Father), drives home in a plethora of concrete examples the principles of interdependence, mutual responsibility, and complete dependence on God.  These belie and condemn much of modern economic theory and many corporate policies, do they not?  Many business practices exist to hold certain people back from advancement, to keep them in their “places.”  I, without becoming lost in legalistic details, note these underlying principles and recognize them as being of God.  There is a project worth undertaking in the name and love of God.  The working conditions of those who, for example, manufacture and sell our polyester garments are part of a legitimate social concern.

Abstract standards of morality do not move me, except occasionally to frustration.  Our Lord and Savior gave us a concrete standard of morality–how our actions and inactions affect others.  This is a paraphrase of the rule to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  I made this argument in a long and thoroughly documented paper I published online.  In that case I focused on the traditional Southern Presbyterian rule of the Spirituality of the Church, the idea that certain issues are political,  not theological, so the denomination should avoid “political” entanglements.  In 1861 the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (the Presbyterian Church in the United States from 1865 to 1983) invoked the Spirituality of the Church to avoid condemning slavery, an institution they defended while quoting the Bible.  By the 1950s the leadership of the PCUS had liberalized to the point of endorsing civil rights for African Americans, a fact which vexed the openly segregationist part of the Church’s right wing.  From that corner of the denomination sprang the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973.  This fact has proven embarrassing to many members of the PCA over the years, as it should.  The PCA, to its credit, has issued a pastoral letter condemning racism.  On the other hand, it did so without acknowledging the racist content in the documents of the committee which formed the denomination.

May we, invoking our Christian liberty, seek to love all the neighbors possible as we love ourselves.  We can succeed only by grace, but our willingness constitutes a vital part of the effort.








Adapted from This Post:


Guide to Posts About the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC)   Leave a comment

Burning Bush Logo

Above:  The Burning Bush Logo

Image in the Public Domain


“Lead Me, Guide Me”:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1979-2000:

“Let Us Break Bread Together”:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2001-2014:


“Through the Church the Song Goes On”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America–Some Reflections   12 comments

Dutch Reformed Part VIII Cover Photo

Above:  My Copies of Some Books I Have I Have Discussed in This Series

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor




Lo, the apostolic train join your sacred name to hallow;

prophets swell the glad refrain, and the white-robed martyrs follow;

and from morn to set of sun through the church the song goes on.

–“Holy God, We Praise Your Name,” hymn #619, Rejoice in the Lord (1985)



A few months ago I decided that I should spend part of this Summer researching and writing about U.S. Dutch Reformed liturgy.  The project would require much effort, concentration, and time, I knew, and I looked forward to it.  I had no idea, however, that I would wind up drafting some very long posts.  Part VII, for example, was 78 pages in longhand and required three days (off-and-on) to type.  These surprises were positive ones, for my brain had more fun than it would have otherwise.  My fingers, however, required rest along the way.

This process has lasted, with some breaks, for about two months.  I posted Part I of the series on May 16, Part II on May 18, and Part III on May 22.  Then posts became longer.  Part IV debuted on June 6, Part V on June 9, and Part VI on June 22.  I published Part VII, the longest post of the series, yesterday, July 5.  And so here I am, with with much of the content of these posts fresh in my mind, ready to offer a few broad conclusions.


The “Others”

Among the constants in human society and theology is the impulse to label groups as “other.”  Often, in the name of righteousness, people have killed or committed other violence against the “others” or merely denied them civil rights and liberties or kept a “safe” distance from them.  The “others” have been people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds, national origins, people who have disagreed on certain points of theology, and people who have violated traditional concepts of gender.  Yet the “others” and those who have defined them as such have all carried the image of God and been more alike than many of them have known or suspected.  Jesus Christ came to, among other things, break down artificial barriers, which he did, making powerful enemies in the process.  We humans find the scandalous generosity of grace intolerable much of the time.

Definitions of identity–often of the “I’m not…” variety–appeal to many people.  Dutch identity used to work that way for many more people in North America than it does today.  Cultural assimilation over decades and centuries settled many arguments.  Among the most emotionally difficult related issues was the language of worship.  The Reformed Church in America (RCA) moved on from that matter long before the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) did, but subsequent waves of Dutch emigration kept the question alive well into the twentieth century.

Among those of the CRCNA persuasion the purity of doctrine has long been a major concern–an obsession, really.  With that obsession has come not only the refusal to merge with other denominations but the splintering of the CRCNA during times of increasing openness–liberalization–on the official level.  Two denominations–the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches (OCRC) in the 1980s and the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) in the 1990s–formed for this reason.  The former merged into the latter in 2008.  One example of liberalization in the CRCNA was the official opening of all church offices to women in the 1990s.

Homosexuals and their heterosexual allies remain very much the “others” in the Dutch Reformed denominations in North America.  Calls for compassionate treatment of homosexuals and for guarantees of their civil rights and liberties coexist with official denials of these civil rights and liberties and of a dearth of compassionate treatment.  Those heterosexual allies who act on their moral convictions risk conviction in ecclesiastical courts.  One day the nearly unanimous verdict of generations not yet born will be that all this was as morally offensive as using the Bible to justify chattel slavery.  That verdict has been becoming more commonplace during the last few years, fortunately.  “Homophobes ‘R Us” is an immoral identity for any denomination or congregation.


Some traditions, such as sexism and homophobia, are unequivocably bad.  Yet others are beautiful and reverent.  This does not mean, however, that one should make a fetish out of liturgy and preserve it in amber, as if it were an ancient insect.  And neither should one disregard liturgical tradition because it is old and chase after the latest fad(s).  No, as Lutheran liturgical expert Philip H. Pfatteicher wrote:

…the new is not always found in opposition to the old but arises from the old as its natural growth and development.  Stability and continuity are essential elements of catholic Christianity.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (1990), page 10

One does not learn that valuable lesson from PowerPoint presentations, overhead projection transparencies, and “seven-eleven” praise choruses in worship.  Entertainment is not the worship of God.  And we have much to learn from tradition in liturgy without treating it like an exhibit in a museum.

Thomas Day, author of Why Catholics Can’t Sing:  The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (1990), recounts a story from the early 1970s.  An elderly lady in a grand old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, parish was having difficulty adjusting to the revised liturgy.  So, during the passing of the peace, she fingered her rosary and murmured instead.  When a man extended his hand to her and wished her God’s peace, she replied, “I don’t believe in that s–t.”  Then she returned to her rosary.

Although I approve of the passing of the peace and participate in it on a regular basis in my Episcopal parish, something about the story resonates with me.  I have found myself becoming more of a liturgical traditionalist than I used to be while remaining left of the theological and political center on most issues.  Thus my opinion of contemporary worship is that elderly woman’s summary of the passing of the peace.

Therefore I have a major problem with Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the new official hymnal of the RCA and the CRCNA.  The contemporary tilt of the majority of material is bad, but I object to more than that.  I note that the title is Lift Up Your Hearts, not Lift Up Your Minds or Lift Up Your Intellects.  American Evangelicalism contains a broad spectrum, part of which places too much emphasis on the emotions and too little on the intellect.  I am describing Pietism, push-back against stale doctrinal orthodoxy enamored of abstraction and removed from the realities of daily life.  Yet, just as two wrongs do not make a right, two extremes do not balance out into an equilibrium.  Lift Up Your Hearts contains little to stimulate my intellect, one of the major ways I relate to God.

What Lies Ahead?

One of the volumes most helpful to me during the process of preparing this series of posts has been Divided By a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium (2006), which four college professors–two from each denomination–wrote.  They researched, wrote, and published before the RCA-CRCNA Reformed Collaborative became as intensive as it has in 2014, so some of their conclusions might not apply any longer.  Others, however, hold up well.

On pages 187-193 then professors analyze three possible scenarios for the future of the RCA and the CRCNA.  They are, with some material I have added:

  1. The two denominations, already aging and fading away, might remain separate and die slowly.  The RCA would not exist anymore if not for its Midwestern and Western synods, which have opposed plans for organic union with other denominations more than once.  And the CRCNA has explored union with other denominations, calling off plans for merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) and being disappointed when the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) nixed another possible union in the 1960s.  The CRCNA is too conservative some denominations and too liberal for others while remaining quite conservative.
  2. The RCA and the CRCNA might merge to the left and for survival, leaving many points of disagreement left unresolved under the banner of diversity.  This would result in an exodus to the right.  The URCNA, the OPC, the PCA, the rump Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO:  A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, and other denominations on the conservative end of the Reformed spectrum would benefit in this scenario.
  3. The RCA and the CRCNA might merge to the right and for purity, prompting an exodus to the left and taking with it most of the Eastern part of the RCA.  In this scenario the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] and the United Church of Christ (UCC), historically the preferred merger partners in the RCA East, would benefit.

Lift Up Your Hearts is a milestone book for the RCA and the CRCNA in so far as it indicates that the CRCNA is no longer accusing the RCA of apostasy (as it did in the middle 1800s and later) and that the RCA has ceased to publish negative comments about the CRCNA.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are positive, but I wonder where the organic future of each denomination should lie–together, separately and intact, or separate from each other and joined with others.  I, as an outside observer, have no “dog in the fight,” but I hope for the path of which God approves.


The title of this post reflects the fact that the story of the RCA and the CRCNA is, like the saga of Dune, far from over.  I have reached conclusions based on the course of events from 1628 to the middle of 2014 (just a few weeks ago), but I anticipate extending this series.  Perhaps I will write about other details of services, comparing and contrasting the same element over time in a given post.  Now, however, I need to focus on other matters.  And, as developments continue to unfold, I might write more posts of a broad nature.  Time will tell.



Day, Thomas.  Why Catholics Can’t Sing:  The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste.  New York, NY:  Crossroad, 1990.

Pfatteicher, Philip H.  Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990.

Smidt, Corwin, et al.  Divided By a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 54.










Guide to Posts About the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (1981-)   1 comment

Burning Bush Logo

Above:  The Burning Bush Logo

Image in the Public Domain


Solemn Promises:  Baptismal Vows in Rites of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Predecessor Bodies, 1906-1993:

“Lead Me, Guide Me”:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1970-2000:

“Let Us Break Bread Together”:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2001-2014:

“Through the Church the Song Goes On”:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America–Some Reflections: