The Menlo Park Difference

March 7, 2014

It’s been a long time since Mr. Show with Bob and David has been on HBO, but there are a few sketches that come to mind even now. Especially when I read about the PC(USA) in the news. In particular, "The Fairsley Difference":

One grocery store comes into prominence, and its hometown competitor goes out of business when the new store advertises how they are different than the others, because (among other things) their employees are free of active sores and lesions.

That’s what it feels like to be a part of the PC(USA) sometimes. Quoting John Ortberg in this RNS article about why he led his mega Menlo Park church out of the denomination, he writes, “Surprisingly, there are many PC(USA)-ordained pastors who do not believe, for example, in the deity of Christ or in salvation through faith in Christ.”

So, after years of bullying the denomination, of backroom meetings where powerful churches drew a line in the sand, telling us that if we voted to allow the ordination of LGBT deacons, elders, and ministers, they would pack up their toys and go home, all of a sudden when they’re talking to the media, it’s not about gays and lesbians at all? It’s about the deity of Christ? And we don’t believe in salvation through faith?

In order to join a PC(USA) church, you affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each week in worship, most Presbyterians affirm a creed, which often includes the deity of Christ and often salvation through faith. 

And now, I’m feeling like old Mr. Gibbons, “We have apples! We’ve always had apples! Your children are safe here! No one is defecating in our aisles!”

In our church polity, we vote on many social issues. We discern the will of God, guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. It has been the same for generations. If a particular congregation doesn’t like how the national church votes, then they have a problem with our polity, not our theology. If a church wants to leave, then so be it. They can pay for the property (which the PCUSA owns) and hopefully the dismissal will be gracious.

But quit lying about it on the way out. If you leave because you can’t handle gays and lesbians in leadership, then be as honest about it with the press as you were with the rest of the denomination. And stop misrepresenting who we are.


Pastor and truth

Carol, I know people keep saying it is in our constitution--the deity of Christ, salvation by faith in Christ, etc. But in my mind and heart, that really doesn't matter when so many reject those "essentals."  And I think you know of many yourself.(But perhaps that is me doing the same thing to you that you just did to John Ortberg, thinking I know your true intentions better than you do.)  And after all insisting that same gender sex is not sinful does come from a rejection of the authority of Scripture, and I believe that rejection came first and led to so many other problems which are troubling the church such as the deity of Christ.


I just have to say one more thing. A Christian who is willing to sell their own home to pay the extreme amount SFP Presbytery is asking should be seen as as someone who is willing to follow Christ totally in what they believe is true. Why pick on him? I think that my favorite New York reporter says it just right in his article, "The Terms of our Surrender."

They asked for 8 million.

The Presbytery asked for 8 million. Some say the property is worth 40 million. It seems like MPPC got a bargain. (I haven't confirmed these values...)

The money & property


There is certainly disagreement about the value. The SFP's Presbytery Engagement team changed the amount due to their counting some property not owned by Menlo Park. Mary Naegeli wrote about it on her blog. Here is a quote:

"The PET said it had not properly accounted for assets of a separate private foundation, The Church of the Pioneers Foundation, from whom the church leases office and residential property. The PET felt that the terms of dismissal should be increased to several times the earlier, agreed-upon amount."

You can find that information at Tell Me This Isn’t About the Money. Menlo Park felt that the battle over that was not worth the trouble.

Tribal Church

Carol, if you will check nFOG on page 21 at G-1.0303 a., b., and c. you will find that the PCUSA actually no longers requires a profession of faith in Jesus Christ to become a member. Session is given authority to determine whether or not a person understands the meaning and responsibilities of membership. Surprisingly - and sadly - no mention is made of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior as a requirement for membership. That requirement has been removed. This realization is one of many others that has led our Session to recommend moving out of the PCUSA.

In addition, we have always ordained LGBT individuals. I've known them and you have surely known them. They've been my friends and colleagues in ministry - and one was even my college roommate. The difference is sexual behavior of many kinds is now no longer considered an impediment to ordination - even for married and single heterosexuals.

John Ortberg did not lead his congregation out of the PCUSA. Unless I am mistaken, he did not get a vote. Clearly - from the vote count - the membership chose to depart. Did Ortberg have influence over that vote - absolutely - but could he command it? Hardly.

You're right, it says "public

You're right, it says "public profession of faith." But it's in our liturgy.... and G-1.0101 (two paragraphs earlier) says the baptism of  "those who enter the covenant of membership upon their own profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior witnesses to the truth that God’s gift of grace calls forth a response of faithfulness." 

If people want to add faith in Jesus Christ, why not have it added?

The rationale says, "With a spirit of love in Christ for the PC(USA) and the presbytery, MPPC’s leadership is wholeheartedly recommending this course" [to seek dismissal]. The membership chose to depart. Ortberg is the pastor and sent out a wholehearted recommendation to seek dismissal. Did I say command? I don't think  so... Did I say lead? Probably. I think that's accurate. 

So easy to say it ...

How easy it is to look at me, who affirms and welcomes LGBTQ persons to the fullness of life in Christ and the church, and to say that I have come to my conclusions because I have "rejected the authority of Scripture." And how gratifying it must be to know that you haven't, and that your positions, pure like the driven snow, come only from an unyielding and ever-faithful adherence to Scripture. 

If our church is being troubled these days, it's because of our growing adherence to Scripture and the fullness of God's Message. May God give us all the more these kinds of troubles, and to God be the glory.

Divinity of Christ

So, from what I understand, the definition of "divinity of Christ" that is being used is that no one apart from a human being believing in Jesus Christ can be saved? Does that mean a person needs to parrot the Sinner's Prayer? What about the Old Testament? What about all the scriptural evidence that says Jesus (in his divinity) came to save the whole world?

John 3:17 "For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that all might be saved."

Ephesians 1:8-10 "With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." 

Romans 14:11 "For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’"

John 10:16 "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice." 

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself."

John 12:32 "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’"

Acts 3:20-21 "so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets."

Psalm 145:10 "All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you."

Acts 10:36 "You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all."

In Revelation 1:18 Jesus said, "I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades." Which pairs well with  Luke 4:18: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."

This Sunday's lectionary is Romans 5:18 "Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all."

I could go on, and on, and on... but the point is that many Christians take these Scriptures seriously. And there is ample scriptures that say Jesus is God and came to save all of creation. To put restrictions on that would be to bind the sovereignty and love of God.

Teri Peterson writes about this too (

Faith in Christ

Too many times conservative Christians have been accused of proof texting, but isn't that what you have just done. The "all" in those texts is modified by the whole text. For instance John 3:16-17 does not stand alone: "He who believes in him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil. etc."

Surely Scripture explains Scripture,and using the tired old words that we must parrot the sinners prayer is no help at all. Some will pray that old prayer and some will grow into faith from their infant baptism but it will all be the same faith that Jesus died to save sinners.

Divinity of Christ...

It is interesting that this subgroup is addressing an issue which was presented in the initial blog as being a disingenuous component of Ortberg's rationale for being called away from the PC(USA) and to another reformed body.  Since it is unlikely that the position of the blog has been reformed nor that such an aspect of Ortberg's concerns would now be deemed truthful, it seems that there is present some need to offer additional and helpful commentary on the person and work of Christ, perhaps in an effort to demonstrate, at least in part, that a variety of interpretations exist among the faithful -- on this there is no disagreement.  It does not mean, however, that all interpretations are correct.

How am I not reformed?

How am I not reformed? Wait. Is this Holton? We're in the same Presbytery.... We eat lunch together. Why would you write "the position of this blog"? You know me... you can talk to me directly. Did you just mean "changed"?

I just picked up the thread of conversation when I read your second link... I was responding to you.

Is your interpretation the correct one? What is it?

...And we sit together on the

...And we sit together on the Maryville College Board of Church Visitors:-)  ...Reformed...right, I was afraid that word might send us on a tangent and should have chosen a different one.  As you rightly surmised, my comment about being "reformed" as used in the comment: "unlikely that the position of the blog has been reformed," was not addressing your reformed identity, but was referring specifically to the assertions of the blog remaining unchanged.  Since I/we were/are leveling some thoughtful critiques re: the blog, ones which could be taken personally, I thought it wise to speak to the particular and serious issues of accuracy and tolerance as it relates to the blog.  You are kind to follow-up and I look forward to having lunch with you again soon!

What I see in the Rationale

What I see in the rationale is 

•concern with how the lordship of Jesus is lived out (I addressed that above)

•young leaders going to independent or more innovative denominations (young leaders are declining across the board, Evangelicals are losing the most young adults.)

•They want more multi-site campuses (that's a reason to leave a denomination??)

•PCUSA is declining (so is every denomination. Evangelicals are declining faster in younger generations.)

•They want the Presbytery to make decisions faster

•They want their own property 

I'm sorry... I don't see much theological depth here. But, I really don't want to say anything bad about Menlo Park. I just want them to stop saying things that are not true about the PC(USA).

What I see in the rationale...

Apparently there was enough theological depth and sound rationale that an overwhelming majority of the members of the congregation voted to recommend seeking dismissal.  What's especially interesting, however, is that nowhere in the "MPPC & Denominational Affiliation" letter is there any mention of the pastors or the church not being able to handle gays and lesbians in leadership (I may have missed it).  It seems that a host of issues have led MPPC to feel called by God to seek dismissal.

Right. That was my

Right. That was my point.

Whether LGBT ordination is the symptom or the cause of the formation of the ECO (many have suggested that there is a difference) it was the line in the sand for many.

Right. That was my...

Choosing to believe the MPPC when they say that a range of issues led to their feeling called away from the PC(USA) does not imply a denial of issues related to human sexuality nor that they did not play a part in their discernment.  It does mean, however, that the MPPC has decided not to feed into the emotion of the debate nor allow for the sometimes misguided presumption of the narrow-mindedness of those for whom such issues have unfortunately become the end all and be all - here again, this does not appear to be the case with MPPC.  If one aspect of their concerns, i.e., the deity of Christ, is taken out of context as being a red herring, then I fear we are presuming the worst and doing the same.

A Bigger Picture

There are many folks who share the views expressed in this blog; however, it is important to note that while John Ortberg does at times indeed speak on specific issues/matters, he has nevertheless been clear and consistent about not being a single issue pastor or congregation.  My understanding is that John Ortberg has been very involved with the Fellowship of Presbyterians from which came the "White Paper" [see link]; and I have little doubt that he affirmed the letter's contents, which illustrate that a much broader conversation is in play:  ...I'm concerned that making comments like, "But quit lying about it on the way out." does not honor the depth of John Ortberg's concerns about the theological trajectory of the church-at-large nor does it adequately take into account his personal sense of call away from the PC(USA) denomination.  Brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree on these and other important matters would likely be better served if they engaged these situations, i.e., Menlo Park, in such a way that more than simply an aspect of the truth was presented and if such conversations had an eye toward building up the Body of Christ.

Hsiegling,To say that many


To say that many pastors do not believe in the deity of Christ is not true. It is a lie that was told to the newspapers. It makes us look bad. And as a pastor in the PCUSA, I have a right to defend myself and my colleagues.

To say that many...

I have never been convinced of the use of the word "many" as it relates to the number of pastors who are said to not believe in the deity of Christ within the PC(USA) either.  Also, I would think that the question in the Presbyterian Survey of '11 which (at least to an extent) seems to undergird that perception, is open to some measure of interpretation itself.  A better word might be "some"; however, I don't think we can say "none."  I too want to defend myself as a PC(USA) pastor and our denomination from statements which function to divide rather than upbuild, which is why I have spoken so passionately re: the perceptions orbiting MPPC's decision to seek dismissal.  Quite frankly, I wish MMPC could have resolved to stay...but that is another matter.

Nothing new

For decades I have heard "conservatives" of all stripes objecting against the fact that the PC(USA) is allowing people to minister in ordained capacity who do not believe in what they see as essentials of the Christian faith. For many if not practically all of these "conservatives" it has never been all about sex. It has always been about central teachings of Scripture and Confessions. That's why many individuals and congregations have left the PC(USA) before ordination of practicing homosexuals became possible.
Recently, we have had cases in church courts where the Bible and Confessions were stripped of all their authority, with court decisions basically saying that if there are different interpretations among Presbyterian Bible scholars, the courts will not take any interpretation as authoritative, which, practically, means that anything goes... and the PC(USA) stands for nothing...

Stewards of truth, not tradition

I mistakenly posted this on the FB thread first, and am re-posting here.

As a previous poster wrote, we are to be stewards - but not of "tradition," as he posits - rather, stewards of the truth. It is the truth on which there are significant differences, regardless of what the BoO and BoC say. For years, we have ordained both pastors and elders with our fingers crossed, using a set of "vows" that are impossible to define - and that we actively resist defining. 

The GAPJC finds it impossible to interpret Scripture; governing bodies at every level appeal to GA to settle differences (instead of wrestling with Scripture and one another - how many times does one hear "the argument is over," and "it's been settled" in such pseudo-attempts at conversation or debate); pastorsdo in fact publicly pledge to disobey the BoO - and, some would insist, Scripture - to do what they "feel right" about doing; pastors who do in fact publicly preach and blog that God is only a creation of human minds, that the supernatural is for people with small, unsophisticated minds, and who have succumbed to the temptation to be "relevant" above all.  Our congregations may not be "defecating in the aisles" but the pulpit is another thing.

The "integral spiritual connection" is not severed when a church moves to another expression of what it means to be faithful and Reformed - while the underlying issue is indeed spiritual,  that connection is maintained by God, not any institution, new or old. Only the institution and institutionally-minded fret when another institution moves. 

Finally, it is not an "individualistic culture" that inspires a congregation to move. It is a desire to be connected in ways that surpass the BoO and which are manifested in collegiality and a common understanding of what faithfulness to what we have been given through salvation looks like as they work it out in fear and trembling. It is beyond patronizing to think and say that any congregation would go through the pain and expense of moving affiliation just to be "right" or to assert "individuality," or "because they hate..." whoever and whatever. 

As for the divorce metaphor, everyone who has experienced the pain of rending a sacred covenant should recoil from the comparison, and the hijacking of their experience to make a political point. Even Jesus pointed out that while divorce thwarts God's intent, we are hard-hearted people. That hard-heartedness in the visible church is the only thing this experience shares with divorce.

Menlo Park thread

From the Presbyterian Panel 2011 survey:

Among pastors, almost identical proportions strongly disagree or disagree (45%) and strongly agree or agree (41%) that following Christ is necessary for salvation. A majority of specialized ministers (56%) strongly disagree or disagree. 

Not a trivial matter over which to have such a sharp divide.


I apologize that your comment is not showing up... I'm trying to figure out how to approve it... I'm not sure why I can't figure it out. But thank you for commenting. 

Now the comment is there!

dldobler, It is pretty common for Presbyterians to believe that the Jewish people are saved. We uphold the Old Testament. We are grafted into their vine, through Jesus Christ. So, it makes sense to me that pastors would disagree with that statement.

profession of faith

The PCUSA Directory for Worship specifies that all new members make profession of their faith, and that the congregation reaffirm their own faith at the time of reception of new members; all of them affirming the faith that was professed for them at baptism, assuming baptism as infants (which is entrance into the church when we are unable to make such a profession). When Presbyterians or anyone else says that "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior," they may mean considerably different things. As pastor I based my confirmation class on that and the other several questions for membership. It was always important to me that members understand what they are saying, and to know that they have options for such understanding. Maybe now that so many literalists and legalists who would condemn to hell others they don't like are leaving, the PCUSA can become more progressive in these ways. 

The Gay Issue is Only a Symptom

For churches like Menlo Park and my own congregation that left the PC(USA) several years ago,  the gay issue is only a symptom of a much deeper underlying illness, having to do with the authority of scripture and yes, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Before leaving the PC(USA) I served for many years on Presbytery Council, as well as various committees.  At one meeting, a colleague announced that "Buddhists believe in the same God that we do, and we shouldn't be putting God in a box."  This very silly statement was met with nods and murmurs of agreement when, in fact, Buddhists do not believe in any supreme being at all. I studied with a Buddhist monk before I became a Christian and so I know happen to know this.  I wish this was an isolated example but unfortunately, it is not.  The PC(USA) is morphing rapidly into a kind of universalism in which we hold interfaith dialogue with other religions instead of seeking to convert and lead them to saving knowledge of Christ. If all religions are the same, then there is no point in evangelism or trying to convert anyone. What made the Christian faith so distinctive in the Roman world (and led to such intense persecution) is that Christians believed that Jesus alone is LORD, and refused to burn incense to Caesar or worship the other myriad gods in the Hellenistic world.  As a result, they were branded "haters of humanity" by Tacitus and others.  The other issue is authority of scripture.  Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord" and not do what I say?"  To claim that we uphold the authority of scripture and yet disobey the clear commands of God regarding sexuality is a contradiction in terms. The Letter of First John was written to address the emergence of Gnosticism - a group that claimed to be spiritually enlightened and yet they engaged in sexual immorality.  In response, John says repeatedly that anyone who claims to know Jesus but does not do what He commands is a liar .  A church that endorses sodomy and same-sex marriage is simply not the church of Jesus Christ, no matter how loudly they proclaim him "Lord, Lord."  The love of God is great, but it is not permissive.  It is a love that calls us to live a holy and obedient life, and not a life of sexual perversion and immorality.  On this, the church has been in agreement for 2,000 years.  It is only in our "enlightened" age that we claim to know better.