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Theology Matters Jan/Feb - Nov/Dec 1996

The Church of Christ Uniting (COCU): An Analysis of the Polity Issues by Dr. Daryl Fisher-Ogden, PCUSA pastor and professor of polity and historical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.  The 208th GA in June 1996 sent to the presbyteries for their vote changes to the Book of Order that would clear the way for full participation of the PCUSA in COCU.  If the amendment passes, participation would be mandatory for sessions, presbyteries, synods and the GA.  This article examines the serious theological and polity concerns raised by Presbyterian participation in COCU.  Theology Matters was sent to every PCUSA congregation as a resource in preparation for the vote by presbyteries.  COCU was defeated in the presbyteries.

The Church of Christ Uniting (COCU): An Analysis of the Theological Issues by Dr. Paul Leggett, PCUSA pastor in NJ.  According to COCU "the Scriptures have only a relative authority." Personal experience becomes authoritative and "Christian faith becomes a vague notion of 'spirituality.'"  "In effect, COCU is saying, theology does not matter, unity does matter."

COCU's Time Has Come and Gone by Robert Dooling, PCUSA pastor in CO. "The existence of denominations is NOT ...a scandal to the gospel but rather a sign of the wonderful diversity of God's people."

Questions and Answers on COCU.  These are grouped by "polity issues" and "theology issues."


The Upward Call of God: Submitting our Sexuality to the Lordship of Christ by P. Mark Achtemeier, PCUSA pastor and professor of systematic theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, IA.  Achtemeier writes, "real love means helping one another to discern God's will and to live truthfully in accordance with it."  Regarding the creation of man and woman, Achtemeier writes, "this divinely-willed complementarity and communion find their fulfillment and proper expression in the institution of marriage. " p. 1

Sex and the Single Life by Philip Turner, Turner is Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University.  This article is reprinted with permission from First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, No. 33, May 1993.  Turner examines the revisionist notion that sexual relationships outside the marriage of one man and one woman is permissible. According to Turner, the revisionist position is that "sexual relations are 'natural' to 'embodied' life, and so may be (and indeed usually are) necessary for the wholeness and fulfillment of individuals not matter what their marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identification may be."  Scripture takes a different view of sexuality.  Turner writes, "The struggle necessary if we are to direct our sexual energies to their appointed and life-giving ends becomes, in Christ, a battle with an old self that refuses to honor God and insists upon its own way.  In the power of the Spirit, this old nature must be put off and a new one put on. ..It is the teaching of the churches that both married and single people are called to say yes to this struggle and recognize it as part of the 'upward call of God.'"  p.7


Losing the Life of Our Dreams: A Christian View of Suffering by M. Craig Barnes, senior pastor of National Presbyterian church, Washington, DC. He is the author of Yearning: Living Between How It Is and How It Ought to Be; and When God Interrupts: Finding New Life through Unwanted Change.  Barnes observes that "suffering is a part of our lives" and yet we almost believe we have a "RIGHT, to live without this suffering because it is preventing us from being whole."  Barnes looks at Created Limitations; Rehearsing Identity; the Use for Suffering; and the Choice.  p. 1

The Terrible Necessity of Tribulation: C.S. Lewis on Human Suffering by James R. Edwards, PCUSA minister and chairman of the Religion and Philosophy Department at Jamestown College, Jamestown, ND.  Edwards observes, "God's job is not simply to keep his creatures happy or contented; he wills to see them changed, ultimately into his own likeness."  Edwards continues, "When we suffer we often accuse God of too little love.  the truth is actually the reverse; our pain in such instances is the result of a 'love that will not let us go,' to quote the hymnist."  p. 4

Baptized into Christ's Death by Shirley Smith, pastor of Mt.. Horeb and White Plains PCUSA churches.  Smith writes, "Only the mystery of the cross can shed light on the darkness of human suffering.  It is Jesus Christ's birth , life, ministry, death and Resurrection that gives to our lives the meaning we so long for." p. 7


Changing the Vision of Heaven: Abortion and Relative Truth by Terry Schlossberg, Executive Director of Presbyterians pro-Life and co-author of Not My Own: Abortion and the Marks of the Church.  Schlossberg paraphrases G. K. Chesterton who wrote that in continually changing the standard we leave the circumstances unchanged and thereby fail to make any progress.  Chesterton wrote,  "As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same."   Schlossberg examines: the conflict of truths; truth and faith; truth and ethics and truth and caring.  p. 1

On Education and Self-deception by Dean Turbeville, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Hendersonville, NC.  Turbeville argues that education has limits; language and self-deception; the start reality and the need for education of the soul.  p. 8


Keeping Faithful: Homosexuality and Ordination by Jack Haberer, Senior Pastor of Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.  Haberer first lays out the arguments of many people who support homosexual behavior then he addresses each one in turn looking at the faithful biblical response and how various authorities address each argument.  p. 1

The Bible and the Practice of Homosexuality by James R. Edwards, PCUSA minister and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Jamestown College, Jamestown, ND. Edwards looks at each pertinent OT and NT text explains its interpretation, then some pro-homosexual  advocacy people's objections to the text and finally a response to their objections.  This is a careful exegesis of the Hebrew and Greek texts that deal with sexual expression.   Edwards then addresses some questions raised such as the cultural attitudes toward homosexuality in the Ancient Near East and Why are references to homosexuality relatively infrequent in the Bible. p. 10

Why We Believe in Heresy by Thomas C. Oden, Professor of theology and Ethics at Drew University.  He is the author of numerous books.  This article is reprinted by permission from Christianity Today, March 4, 1996.  Oden writes, "God allows heresies to challenge the church in order to bring us to a fuller understanding of the truth."  He concludes, "Some think that specifying boundaries at all will be tainted by hubris and splattered with blood.  The apostolic Faith has learned under the guidance of the Spirit that when the boundaries are accurately stated. conflict and hubris are tamed and purified."  p. 15


No Other Gods by Robert L. Wilken, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.  Wilken's argues, "Practical atheism, that is to say, secularism, has undermined beliefs, attitudes, and conventions that have nurtured our civilization for centuries....Nothing is left untouched, whether it be our most cherished institutions, or the roles that have defined one's place In family, neighborhood, and city, or assumptions about duty, love, virtue, honor, and modesty....The ferocity of the current assault on the legacy of Christian culture, however, has brought a new clarity of vision.  The alternatives are set before us with unusual starkness: either there will be a genuine renewal of Christian culture--there is no serious alternative --or we will be enveloped by the darkness of paganism in which the worship of the true God is abandoned and forgotten. The sources of the cultural crisis, it turns out, are theological."   p. 1